February 2007

Wayne Field’s lecture on rhetoric is a fascinating historical guide to the art and perils of persuasion, but what I found most compelling was his portrayal of our fear of rhetoric. In modern U.S. politics, he notes, rhetoric is constantly degraded as the tool of a weak opposition. If one cannot or does not wish to address the points of another’s argument, the other’s stance is derisively dismissed as “just rhetoric” and thrust aside. Such stigmatization is a disturbing development from what Fields terms the “rhetorical citizenship” of the constitution and, indeed, all U.S. politics up to the 1950s. The push and pull of debate, the constant revision and compromise in the process of creating law is essential to the running of any republic or democracy.

Without rhetoric, we would be incapable of any coherent action as a group, yet we fear the power words can have over us. When someone can persuade another to do or to believe something, they have a great power. It is true that this power of persuasion has frequently been exploited (Hitler and McCarthy are two notable offenders), but rhetoric is a double-edged blade, and it relies on the audience’s belief. Too often the audience does not fully engage with rhetoric, and then, if things go wrong, blames the rhetor. However, without the audience’s consent, the rhetor has no power. It is the audience’s civic and personal responsibility to approach speeches, debates, and all other forms of rhetoric with skepticism. Moreover, the political audience must take up rhetoric among its members, as well, else there is no actual representation in a republic. The members must acknowledge not only the danger, but the necessity and benefits of both rhetoric and rhetorical analysis. The United States has stepped back from this responsibility, and it is high time to return to our rhetorical citizenship.

Wayne Fields is one of the better orators I’ve heard in a while, and I suggest you listen to this lecture, which you can download in realplayer format here.


In her essay How to Tame a Wild Tongue, Gloria Anzaldúa creates a portrait of true linguistic terrorism. In defense of Chicanos’ own dialects and multilingualism, Anzaldúa appeals to both her subjects and their perceived oppressors, though she clearly marks some sections of the essay as exclusively for her Chicano readers. The blend of Spanish dialects and English gives the reader a sense of the intimacy of her subject matter, and the author skillfuly conveys the impact of being denied one’s own language, home, and very identity. A powerful writer, Anzaldúa presents a moving case agains linguistic homogenization and ends with a surprising, bitter declaration of war against the current monolingual system.

The Williams rhetorical triangle will be up as soon as I get myself to a computer from which I can upload word documents. I think I can actually make the visual triangle.



Subject             Audience

Happy Lunar New Year! Go out and enjoy your fill of dancing dragons, red lanterns, and firecrackers! We had our big celebration last weekend, for some reason, and welcomed the year of the pig a little early. Still, we’ll probably go out for Thai tonight, wearing more red than I thought any of us owned. By the way, has China settled which animal is politically correct yet?

Just for the record, I changed hope to light in the eighth line of the Yew Tree sonnet. I would have liked to do something along the lines of light with warmth, but that would mess up my internal rhyme (I couldn’t think up any pertinent rhymes for /əv/, unfortunately). Any thoughts?

Also, for the scheme and tropes revision assignment, see the comments to this post.

valentine Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! This is a cutout I did for one of my friends back home that I thought you’d enjoy. Hope you have a wonderful day filled with good people and chocolate! Etiam, to all of my friends and family: I love you.


I neglected to mention this earlier, but I have a new teaball! Woot!

This is a short exercise we did for our visiting writer the other day.

I, Edna, gave up Harvard med for taxidermy; I was too good at fixing things. All the internship reviews were sterling, but so were the pelts of foxes, and old biddies pay as much for one as the other. Besides, in the upstate hills I was in my element. More so than in the surgery, anyway, though I do still like to doctor things. I guess that’s why I chose the field, as a compromise between nature and medicine. I did an elephant the other day, shipped on ice from the South African preserve and then to a client of mine out west. Boy, was the structure for that one a bugger to build! Took me the better part of two weeks to get it right. Still, it looks as natural as the whooping crane and cane toads that share its destination, starry-eyed and trumpeting.

Anything strike you about Edna? Do tell.

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