Writing Reading Responding for English 509 in the 509

This time around for classical rhetoric I did a more straightforward pre-read, post-read process. I think I would’ve been more organized to do it in a similar fashion for last week – but never mind that  now. I end after Gorgias and Isocrates because including Plato as well was running a bit long. Also I really dislike reading, engaging in the dialogued format.

Pre-reading Gorgias – Wikipedia, our increasingly less controversial friend – states that the Economium of Helen is a rhetorical demonstration to attract students. Professor Villanueva referenced this phenomenon (a bit starry-eyed at the glory days of rhetoric) as well in contemporary rhetoric.

Post-read, I thought that maybe I would spot the advertising rhetoric – but beyond the defense of Helen (and did I actually read this already in Contemporary Rhetoric? I don’t know) as a popular topic of the time, I didn’t really recognize. But I think his arguments as summed up in the end are thorough, if not convincing, “How then is it necessary to regard as just the blame of Helen, who either passionately in love or persuaded by discourse or abducted by force or constrained by divine constraints did the things she did, escaping responsibility every way?” (20). I also found prior statements to be a bit counter to the defense of rhetoric in the first place, “Those who have persuaded and do persuade anyone about anything are shapers of lying discourse” (11) and “for to tell knowing people things they know supplies corroboration but does not convey enjoyment” (5). I particularly like the later and agree with it though I’ve nothing new to add about it for my knowing people reading.

Gorgias’ rhetoric that I found most impressive was early on and contained many ideologies still in effect today, “For it is not natural for the superior to be hindered by the inferior, but for the inferior to be ruled and led by the superior–for the superior to lead and the inferior to follow” (6).

A powerful show a rhetoric keeping the class systems in place – because those in power, by this statement, are indeed superior. For someone hearing this it creates a powerful internalized less than effect – this same rhetoric happens today under the guise of “If you work hard enough in America, you can make it” e.g. if you are poor it’s your fault and you’re lazy. If you work hard and still suffer you are just somehow unintelligent – a very real and literal interpretation made by my own working-class father.

Isocrates touches on the same issue, “But why wonder at those who are by nature envious of all superior excellence, when certain even of those who regard themselves as superior and who seek to emulate me and imitate my work are more hostile to me than is the general public?” (16). This is a far cry from the have and have nots – that some people are better than others is a given – it’s a matter of convincing that you, that Isocrates,  was one of the betters. …another reference to class/caste hierarchy in 28, condemning his contenders to being less cultivated than their servants (because of course they have servants, and of course servants are not educated).

But I jump ahead of my pre-reading for Isocrates, which involved Wikipedia once again and rereading, revisting the timelines I found from last week. Isocrates is very influential rhetorician and teacher, Gorgias as one of his mentors (wiki) and generally is listed as one of the big deals, top 3 to 8 or so listed, on the timelines (honestly, I think before I thought people were just saying Socrates, the really famous and later one, incorrectly or weird – like with a hesitation, “Uh, I, you know, I-socrates). I noticed by years he overlaps sophists and classical rhetoric (http://prezi.com/rii-fdiwla18/composition-rhetorical-theory-a-timeline/) but he pretty clearly states where he stands on that, “For notwithstanding that I strive to live in a manner above reproach and without offence to others, I am continually being misrepresented by obscure and worthless sophists and being judged by the general public, not by what I really am, but by what they hear from others” (5). Not a sophist.

Isocrates rhetoric feels and sounds like present day political mudslinging campaigns and then from 10, I wonder if I am reading  a common man appeal? Saying he’s not born to the same abilities in Athens, and later in 11 a “hard work pays off” rhetoric. We see this idea more as Isocrates defines what he considers to be a good educated man 29-32. Arts, sciences and a specialized skills, demonstrated in writing, if I understand him correclty, versus oratory. But specifically those with judgment and day to day “applicable” knowledge – the ability to act on their feet – also morality (there it is again, moral=good rhetoric as read from Quintilian last week) and the ability to put up with assholes but also don’t get overexcited (31).  Someone who isn’t arrogant, which is funny after the big long, “I am awesome speech” we read – but again the theme of hard work over inheritance or, “men with character” (32). Also I finally looked up oligarchy, a word I hear used a fair amount but never bothered with until now.

I am already over word count so I’ll be mysterious and save the rest for class.

6 thoughts on “Writing Reading Responding for English 509 in the 509”

  1. So it’s a recurring question of inequality: Plato has Callicles say that rhetoric is great for having the superior lead the inferior mob, and supposedly Socrates is critiquing him, but Plato’s a bit elitist too — and then Gorgias says rhetoric is super-powerful and lying liars can make people do anything — and Isocrates says rhetoricians are better than those dumb Spartans. But aren’t people *supposed* to be equal under democracy? And if so, why do we need rhetoric?

  2. Your comments on Gorgias are interesting. I think it is almost difficult to tell he is advertising his rhetoric because he is so preachy about discourse. The fact that he was doing this to promote himself makes me want to roll my eyes. It is also interesting how he points out all of the negative uses of persuasion while defending a “traitor of the state”. Despite what we may today acknowledge about Helen’s disposition, he hardly considers the reality of her circumstances.

  3. But did they really believe in equality? Perhaps Isocrates did, but I don’t think the Plato or Gorgias (or Quintialian, or Tacitus) even pretended equality was possible. It seems they say the inequality is natural and unavoidable. Or, maybe they are trying to say ‘yes’ to equality while having slaves and that is what I am seeing. And if so, no wonder there are so many commonalities with US today because that is what our Olgarchy painted democracy is founded on – freedom for all white land owners, electoral college – rhetoric about freedom with fine print about being 3/5 of a person and no votes for women.

  4. No indeed – and I guess I find the assumptions and what it said and reinforced ideologically without actually being SAID or argued for most intriguing. You know, like a train wreck.

  5. Your commentary on the parallel between the claim Gorgias makes about the inferior vs. the superior and the hard work/”pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” ideology in America is very interesting. The idea of either being “born with it” (power, wealth, work ethic) or not without taking into account things like socioeconomic disadvantage is striking in that it existed in a different form then and exists still in various forms now in our own culture.

  6. So often, I think we forget that rhetoric is a way to maintain the class system. I mean, hey, it’s been how long since Gorgias and the hierarchy is still a thing? All the same, the favored form of rhetoric seems to lack any kind of dialogue genuinely dedicated to discovering the best truth for a given situation, rather, it promotes broadcasting your best ideas in an aggressive, yet still intellectual, manner as a means for discrediting and beating your opponents. Do you think there is a rhetorical method that honestly promotes equality or are we stuck in this 2,000+ rut?

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