second blog post

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I don’t practice Santeria – but I do do stream of consciousness

Longinus’ On the Sublime got me thinking about the relationship between speaker and audience, or between writer and reader. Thinking about audience plays a pivotal role in the way one writes. Who are you writing for? Yourself? Academia? Your friends and family who will love you no matter what you say about them in your scalding memoir? For instance, this blog is supposed to be more colloquial than an academic paper, per Dr. Pandey’s instructions, so I’m trying to make it colloquial AF. I’ve always felt that I only do well in school because I write what the teacher wants to hear.

In eighth grade, the first time I liked English class, you could write whatever you wanted, as long you supported your claim. In ninth grade it was all about following a formula: plug in supporting text, appropriate transitions and summaries. That was the year I got my first (and only) D on an essay. The rest of the year, I followed the formula. I was happy to move on to tenth and eleventh grade where my teachers were hippies and thought I was funny. But there will come a time (hopefully) when I am not writing for a captive audience. What happens when I’m not writing for a specific person any more?

I have always been told that I am a “good” writer but have never felt that way. Sure I enjoy stringing words together on a page, or in a word document, more than attempting to articulate a verbal sentence, but I still find writing to be extremely difficult. I labor over every word. I average about an hour per page on the first draft of an academic paper. Writing is just so personal. I wish I had more friends whom write. Then I could ask them if it’s really supposed to be “whom” or not. I prefer texting to talking because it gives me the chance to look it over before I send it, much in the way that I usually think about what I am going to say before I say it, which usually results in not saying anything at all because by the time it has been through the “extreme vetting” of my mind, it is too late to make the goddam point. But thinking about an audience makes writing easier for me.

As a child, I wanted to be a writer because I wanted to make other people feel the way I felt when I read a sentence that moved me. I wanted to share Longinus’ sublime with people: that moment of “distinction,” as Longinus calls it, of “excellence in expression,” when the writer and the reader touch outstretched fingers in a da Vincian ET moment. It wasn’t until recently that I started to believe that maybe I can actually do that. Just because I’m not a “creative” writer, doesn’t mean I’m not creative and a writer. I want to be in the word doc where it happens. I want to mitigate the sublime, to bridge the divide between writer and audience. I don’t know yet how to do that, but I’m hoping to learn and I’m hoping to make a career of it. In a time when computers can compose more grammatically correct sentences in seconds than I can in a lifetime, I’m hoping that my hour-long pages will add up to something that the computers can’t. I’m hoping that they will move someone the way I have been moved by words. And I hope that I don’t give up.

first blog post

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Strategies for blame and shame, the unwritten chapter of Aristotle’s On Rhetoric

Aristotle outlines the strategies of epideictic, or ceremonial, rhetoric in Book 1, Chapter 9 of On Rhetoric. He spends considerably less time on this “species” of rhetoric than the other two. While deliberative and judicial rhetoric get four chapters each, epideictic gets only one incomplete chapter. Perhaps the old adage about speaking ill of the dead was on old Ari’s mind when he skipped the second half.

Chapter 9 begins by stating that the goals of epideictic rhetoric are praise and blame, but when it comes time to discuss strategies for blame, Aristotle basically says: just do the exact opposite of what I said about praise. Aristotle’s prescription for effective epideictic persuasion of praise is to “always take each of the attendant terms in the best sense” (79) and to employ the strategy of amplification, which can be called hyperbole, or lying. I thought that this section was pretty funny, and decided to see if I could make the opposite even funnier. Here is what his notes on effectively shaming a (most likely dead) person might have sounded like:

When blaming and shaming, one should always take each of the attendant terms in the worst sense; for example, one should call an irascible and excitable person “bipolar in a Tom Cruise way” and an arrogant person “boujee” and “a bitch” and speak of those given to moderation as actually in states of vice, for example, the simple one as “shit-brain stoner,” the spendthrift as “a democrat”;[1] for this will seem true to most people and at the same time is probably an astute argument drawn from “cause”; for if a person meets danger unnecessarily, he would be more likely to do so where he puts someone else in danger, and where he ingests some combination of alcohol and Adderall, and if he is an asshole to those he meets, all the more to his friends and family; for to be an asshole to everyone is overdoing it.

Since blame is based on actions and to act in accordance with wanton abandon is characteristic of a shitty person, one should try to show him acting in accordance with wanton abandon. If many similar examples are cited, they will seem to be a sign of vice and a wasted life. For example, be sure to mention each of the times that your dad showed up drunk to breakfast, and be sure to quote the exact amount of money that he stole from his kids’ college funds, and to mention the look on moms face when he drove the El Camino through your living room.

In epideictic, one should also use many kinds of amplification; for example, if the subject of blame is the only one to not have done something, or one of about a million who has done something; for all these things are shameful. For example, be sure to mention that your brother was the only member of the family that the dog never stopped barking at, or how he was a Patriots fan.

 

[1] I am a registered Democrat.