Monday, August 31, 2015

Quintilian's Institutio Oratorio, A Brief Summary of Book X

Writing, speaking, and reading are inseparably connected. If we want to be good speakers, we should also try to imitate, listening to and reading the best authors. No one author is perfect, so we should read a variety of the best. We should also read poetry, imitating what is good. Then, we should seek to excel and be even better than those we are reading. Those expert writers were different in their day than we are in ours, of course, so we shouldn't try to imitate them perfectly.

The pen is the best teacher of eloquence. Great difficulty precedes true excellence, but we shouldn’t try to perfect every tiny little thing in every sentence—meaning we can’t be perfectionists. Quintilian says he doesn’t know who’s worse: those who are pleased by everything they write, or those who are pleased by nothing they write. How can we perform our duty to the public if we’re always trying to perfect everything and revise what we’re writing instead of doing our best in the time allotted and then publishing it? We can only write and speak according to our ability, so we shouldn’t become annoyed with ourselves. We must not be idle; nor must we make excuses to not study until our minds are fresh or we are “feeling like it.”

In short, there’s no value in an orator who takes too long to produce something.

Translating is also useful. So is meditation. And memory.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Unwise Bee, A Brief Story by James E. Talmage

Sometimes I find myself under obligations of work requiring quiet and seclusion such as neither my comfortable office nor the cozy study at home insures. My favorite retreat is an upper room in the tower of a large building, well removed from the noise and confusion of the city streets. The room is somewhat difficult to access and relatively secure against human intrusion. Therein I have spent many peaceful hours with books and pen.

I am not always without visitors, however, especially in the summertime; for when I sit with the windows open, flying insects occasionally find entrance and share the place with me. These self-invited guests are not unwelcome, and many times I have laid down the pen and watched with interest the activities of these winged visitants with an afterthought that the time so spent had not been wasted. For is it not true that even a butterfly, a beetle, or a bee may be a bearer of lessons to the receptive student?

Once, a wild bee from the neighboring hills flew into the room. At intervals during an hour or more I listened to the pleasing hum of its flight. The little creature realized that it was a prisoner, yet all its efforts to find the exit through the partly opened window failed. 

When I was ready to close up the room and leave, however, I threw the window wide open and tried to guide and then to drive the bee to liberty and safety, knowing full well that if it was left in the room it would die just as other insects there entrapped had perished in the dry atmosphere of the enclosure. But the more I tried to drive the bee out, the more determinedly did it oppose and resist my efforts. Its erstwhile peaceful hum developed into an angry roar; its darting flight became hostile and threatening.

Then it caught me off my guard and stung my hand--the very hand that would have guided it to freedom--and finally alighted on a pendant attached to the ceiling, beyond my reach of either help or injury. The sharp pain of its unkind sting aroused in me rather pity than anger, for I knew the inevitable penalty of its mistaken opposition and defiance, and I had to leave the creature to its fate.

Three days later, I returned to the room. When I entered, I saw the dried, lifeless body of the bee on the writing table. It had paid for its stubbornness with its life.

To the bee's shortsightedness and misunderstanding I was a foe, a persistent persecutor, a mortal enemy bent on its destruction; while in truth I was its friend, offering it ransom of the life it had put in forfeit through its own error, striving to redeem it, in spite of itself, from the prison house of death and restore it to the outer air of liberty.

Are we so much wiser than the bee that no analogy lies between its unwise course and our own lives?

[Slightly adapted from James E. Talmage, "The Unwise Bee."]

I found this image on The Culinary Exchange:

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Brief Summary of the Antidosis of Isocrates

In this fictional defense speech, Isocrates pattern what he says after Socrates’ own defense speech when he, Socrates, was accused of corrupting the youth.
The following notes will, unfortunately, read more like a bulleted list than a discussion of Isocrates’ ideas. Nevertheless, the ideas are cool, and the list is, I think, worth reading.

Though I think I prefer Norlin's translation in the Loeb edition the quotations found below come from the text found in Isocrates I on pages 205-264 of Mirhady and Too's translation.

I think that’s Isocrates’ main argument is this: a rhetorical education—an education about words and using them well—will bind communities together, help people reason effectively, and give people the faculty to judge intelligently because what comes out of a person is evidence of what is inside him or her.

Here are a few specific points Isocrates makes (and here comes the bulleted list):

  • Speech is an image of a person’s thought (207).
  • Speech is synecdoche for character (216). It reflects who we are on the inside. Isocrates quotes his own previous speeches so people can read them and see for themselves what kind of a person he has been in the past. By reading those speeches, people can get an idea of his character.
  • We’re similar to those with whom we associate (223). They influence us and we influence them.
  • Philosophy is supposed to be a good thing, though it’s been “unjustly slandered” (237). We should seek the truth, but also judge nothing without discussion (238) because we need one another to discover truth.
  • Since older generations hand down practices to younger generations, the education of youth is of prime importance. Philosophy is for the soul what exercise is for the body (239). We need both, and the two disciplines are not totally separated, since the body influences the mind and the mind the body.
  • A speaker doesn’t need full knowledge (episteme), but doxa (240). [Is full knowledge for mortals even possible, I wonder?]
  • Students must obey teachers (241) because teachers are trying to help students to learn.
  • Nature and innate ability are both important, and so is practice. Nature can be and is improved by practice.
  • We need an education of what it means to be human (244).
  • We do what we desire. Often, we desire pleasure, profit, or honor (245).
  • The best speakers are responsible for most good. The best leaders pay more attention to logoi than other things (248). So, the power of speech doesn’t make people into criminals (249). (Only the misuse of the powers of speech does.) We teach our students the same things that we do and are. (This me of James Berlin's "Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class" in College English 50(5):477-494.)
  • The power to speak is the power to judge. Speaking well involves judging well. Speech is responsible for all our inventions (251). Speaking well is a clear sign of a good mind. True speech is the image (eidolon) of “a good and faithful soul” (252 this is also on 207, but the Greek says eikon instead of eidolon).
  • We use the same arguments on others that we use on ourselves.
  • Speech “is the leader of all thoughts and actions” (252).
  • What some people call philosophy isn’t philosophy (254). Those who are wise (sophoi) “are those who have the ability to reach the best opinions (doxai) most of the time” while philosophers are those who gain that wisdom as quickly as possible.
  • Speaking well is thinking intelligently (255). The more a person wants to persuade the more that person will strive for virtue: since the capacity to be a good person involves the capacity to do the right thing at the right time, and since speech is a subset of action, a good person who can speak well will say the right thing at the right time.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

On Theology and Logogy, A Brief Summary of Chapter 20 from On Symbols and Society

20.From The Rhetoric of Religion, 1-3, 183-196.

Kenneth Burke's The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology has many statements in it worth pondering. The book seems more profound each time I read it. The excerpt from Gusfield’s On Symbols and Society only covers pages 1-3 and 183-196, so this brief summary will only provide 3 very short paragraphs from Burke's book.

Introduction: On Theology and Logology
Theology is words about God (theos + logos). Logology, then, would be words about words (logos + logos). Statements theologians have made about God can be used metaphorically to talk about words, whether people believe in God or not. And it is also possible to thereby analyze statements about God as if they spoke about reason and language (logos). God-terms are summarizing words because they function as combining all into one.

Tautological Cycle of Terms for “Order”
The term order applies to nature and political “un-nature,” socio-political “order.” But might the terms in socio-political order become used in nature?
“Order” is how things are organized. But if “order” is a command, then other terms such as “obey” and “obedience” are implied. If things are innocent, then they cannot just “obey,” however. They may also “disobey” “order.”

The religious principles of faith and obedience are thus grounded in language (187). Things move. People act. Acting brings responsibility. Implicit in the idea of an act is free will. Pride is the attitude which results in disobedience. Humility is the attitude which leads to obedience. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Thoughts from A Sunday Afternoon Visit to a Small Memorial Park

When people ask me how many siblings I have, I usually say we are five: I have 2 older sisters, a younger sister, and a younger brother. But this last weekend I went with Ryan, my younger brother, his wife Ju, and my mom to visit the graves of two older sisters that I never met because they died before I was even born. Here are pictures of the stones:

And as we stood there looking at the graves, a few lines of William Wordsworth's 1798 poem came to mind:

"But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!"
'Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, "Nay, we are seven!"

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Comic Correctives: A Brief Summary of On Symbols and Society, Ch. 16

16. “Comic Correctives,” from Attitudes Toward History, 166-175.

The comic frame enables people to be observers and students of themselves. Instead of promoting passivity, it would stress maximum consciousness. It would help us be aware of ourselves and notice what improvements we can make. We would have a standard of judgment for what’s “irrational and . . . non-rational” (171). Dramatism, the comic lens, could help us glean knowledge even from books that other perspectives would deem not worth studying. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Positive, Dialectical, and Ultimate Terms: A Brief Summary of An Excerpt that Corresponds to Chapter 12 in Gusfield's On Symbols and Society

12. “Order,” in A Rhetoric of Motives, 183-203.

Positive, Dialectical, and Ultimate Terms.
Positive terms name things. These are words Bentham called “real entities” in contrast with the “fictitious entities” of the law (183). “In Kant’s alignment, the thing named by a positive term would be a manifold of sensations unified by a concept” (183). In other words, there are a whole bunch of sensations that pile up in order for us to use the positive term and say something like, “This is a house.”

Positive terms are most unambiguous when they name tangible things. “Hence, the positive ideal is a ‘physicalist’ vocabulary that reduces reference to terms of motion” (183).

Some things that can’t be seen are still rendered as “positive” because they are “seen” on dials or are capable of being recorded empirically or “observed.” Positive terms are words for physical and material stuff, and they are not transcendent.

Dialectical terms “are words that belong, not in the order of motion and perception, but rather in the order of action and idea. Here are words for principles and essence” (184). Since dialectical terms don’t refer to just one thing, the terms are ironic in a sense: when we are naming things in the realm of dialectic, we call something something that it both is and is not. “Here are ‘titular’ words” (184). They can’t refer to any specific thing that can be touched or perceived, but they do refer to a “specific” “thing” in general or in principle. Terms of this sort are often polar and can be contrasted with one another or paired with another. Burke says that he equates Bentham’s “fictitious entities” with “dialectical terms” because “they refer to ideas rather than to things” and are “concerned with action and attitude than with perception (they fall under the head of ethics and form rather than knowledge and information)” (185). 

Dialectical terms require more information than just the term itself (again, dialectical terms don’t just refer to one thing only).

The dialectic order puts things into a struggle with one another. The ultimate order puts things in a hierarchic relationship with one another. The ultimate unifies things. It is the “unitary principle” (187). So an ultimate term is a term by which all else is summarized. It is the principle of principles (189). Burke thought about calling this mystical. Ultimate terms are terms by which all else is understood or organized.

Ultimate Elements in the Marxist Persuasion.
It seems like we’ve reached the ultimate oneness of identification and substance, the-is-and-is-not sameness. [Zen?!]
Symbols transcend the things they symbolize. Burke writes that if we say that man is a symbol-using animal, we also say he is a transcending animal. “Thus, there is in language itself a motive force calling man to transcend the ‘state of nature’” (192). [Sounds to me almost like theosis?]

If we believe only in antitheses, we must reject the cult of commodities, but if we believe in hierarchies, we can see that the cult is sincere but ultimately inferior.

Any spot, point, or moment on a hierarchic line can represent the principle of perfection. [Might we say synecdochically?] Each tiny act shares in the creation of the ultimate, total act. “Perception must be grounded in enactment, by participation in some local role, so that the understanding of the total order is reached through this partial involvement” (195). We begin to see ourselves the same way, as part of a greater act. That’s mysticism

“Sociology of Knowledge” vs. Platonic “Myth.”
p. 201-202.
1. Mutual exposure of imperfect ideas (ideas bound to the sensory image).
2. Socratic transcending of this partiality.
3. Socratic summarizing vision of the pure idea.
4. Translation of the pure idea into terms of the mythic image.
5. Whereupon enters Mannheim, who proposes to develop a “sociology of knowledge” by treating the first and last steps as thought they were of the same nature”
6. Etc.

Moving towards ultimate universal ground. That’s what we do if we have identification as a term and try to delineate (trace) its logical possibilities. 

Book Review: The Rhetoric of American Civil Religion

I've recently received word from Taylor & Frances Online that a book review I wrote was published in the Journal of Religious and Th...