Sun Nov 21 07:40:20 2021
Everyone shapes through life a rhetoric peculiar to them.
The traditional Western practice of rhetoric, the kind one learns in school, has it that each human is responsive to certain motions of thought such that by acting through those motions, persuasion and metanoia are affected.
But on what basis, by which assumptions, is such a rhetoric active? In order for each person to be pliant to the touch of this limited collection of rhetorical tools, isn't a fundamental "human substance" assumed to inhabit each person, a substance smoothed and hewn by those tools as a wood by a carpenter?
But can there be such a substance? At what point in prehistory was this characteristic material, known as "the human", born?
If such a suggestion seems absurd, that is because it is absurd in the sense of being inconsistent with common sense.
If rhetoric is a medium through which persuasion to points of view are expressed and transmitted, then, in a McLuhan sense, the message of rhetoric's medium is normative colonialism of thought. It is to tacitly posit a finished thing, called human, identified by its degree of receptivity to rhetoric.
Though rhetoric can be deployed in support of totally different opinions, the same communicative functions are employed. Rhetoric, as it is taught, takes what I view to be a somewhat cynical stance in that any position can be "argued". However, as any debtor can tell you, some points are easier to argue than others. It is easier to argue in favor of, say, public fire departments than, say, the social benefit of the impoverished selling their children into slavery.
The relative ease or difficulty of arguing certain points is of significance. It tells you something else that experienced rhetoricians know: you have to tailor your rhetoric to your crowd.
Looking at Trumpism. Trump rose to power not through the learned rhetoric of college educated debaters, but through the carnival barker's rhetoric of bullshit, exaggeration, and attention-garnering antagonism. The barker, when nobody is interested in the show he is selling, will look for clever ways to attack passers-by in an effort to draw attention. Once the crowd is big enough, the pitch for the show can resume.
Now, if you were skeptical of the suggestion that rhetoric, as one learns it in school, is a psychically colonialist force that identifies and relies upon a fixed and normative notion of humanity, just think of Clinton's now infamous "deplorables". Those citizens unresponsive to messaging of the milquetoast candidates, either on the "left" or the "right", who were instead activated by the vicious, patently truth-indifferent, rhetoric of the Trump campaign, are themselves maligned and degraded. Their reason - as Simone Weil once pointed point - acts as a proxy for their humanity, which is questioned for their failure to "see through" Trumps tincture of ham and vitriol. Trump himself surely sought to exploit his popularity for self-enrichment, but that too became part of his shtick. The especially jaded among his base thought: at least those liberal fucks aren't going to win.
When you next consider the shock and all-around disbelief that pervaded the centrist American public, including the "respected" and "responsible" media outlets, who thought a Clinton victory was a sure thing, you begin to see how the notion of rhetoric as a taught discipline is fantasy. The ease with which the centrist saw a charlatan in Trump ought to be a clue. The Trump base just as easily sees charlatans in the "responsible" candidates.
This suggests that all rhetoric is indifferent to truth. At this point two senses of rhetoric should be distinguished. Type 1 rhetoric is the sort I am trying to dissemble and debunk for its normative pretensions. It is the rhetoric learned in school, often by enrolling in courses with the word "Rhetoric" in the title. Type 2 rhetoric is an unstable category. Type 2 rhetoric is simply all of the real ways through which hearts develop and change. Type 2 rhetoric might be seen as a "genealogical activity" in the Nietzschean usage, wherein each living being is conceived of as a kind of "activity" whose physio-psychology develops as a historical, evolutionary, and personal process - that is, a genealogical process.
That is, though type 1 rhetoric can be "used" to "argue" any point whatsoever, type 2 may or may not argue anything at all. It is the totality of activities that lead to changing of minds, hearts, and beliefs.
These thoughts interest me as an artist. The work that I seek to do is about creating psychic space that is unfamiliar to those who choose to inhabit it. Within that space, a self-guided value exploration can be undertaken. My hope is not that the space will be "filled up" by the experiencers, but rather, that the experiencers will articulate their own power to create space. The rhetoric at work here is a convivial and toyful one. Its purpose is the induction of new habits of becoming that can enliven and vivify the person in their own course of development. To the extent that it "argues" for something, or "makes a point", is the extent to which it fails. But there are no pure failures.
The foreground discussion of rhetoric has bearing on this background interest in art-making. Once the illusion of type 1 rhetoric is dispelled, type 2 rhetoric is seen to be everything else, art-making included. More than that, type 1 is merely a subset of type 2. The power of type 1 is its insistence on a sanctified form of rational debate, and by extension, rational decision making, the ultimate implication being that human interest is the kind of thing that can in principle be correctly pursued. Consequently, type 1 implicitly designates large swaths of humanity as intrinsically foolish, witless, cretins. Such designation ignores reality - that people are moved through myriad means, some of which are non-narrative, non-argumentative.
My grander vision has it that narrativity, in general, is a vicious mistake of nature. Narrativity produces an artificial scarcity of personal identity by giving minds a seemingly concrete focal point of selfhood to fixate upon. In a sense, the whole, non-linguistic, arational, real self becomes obscured behind the obviousness of story. So easy to see are the narratives around which nations of people accrete, that those who orbit about them cannot see themselves, only the glowing center that is the story.
Anyway. Just a rambling journal entry.