Rhetoric and Irony: Western Literacy and Western Lies

Rhetoric and Irony: Western Literacy and Western Lies

C. Jan Swearingen

Language: English

Pages: 344

ISBN: 0195063627

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

This pathbreaking study integrates the histories of rhetoric, literacy, and literary aesthetics up to the time of Augustine, focusing on Western concepts of rhetoric as dissembling and of language as deceptive that Swearingen argues have received curiously prominent emphasis in Western aesthetics and language theory. Swearingen reverses the traditional focus on rhetoric as an oral agonistic genre and examines it instead as a paradigm for literate discourse. She proposes that rhetoric and literacy have in the West disseminated the interrelated notions that through learning rhetoric individuals can learn to manipulate language and others; that language is an unreliable, manipulable, and contingent vehicle of thought, meaning, and communication; and that literature is a body of pretty lies and beguiling fictions. In a bold concluding chapter Swearingen aligns her thesis concerning early Western literacy and rhetoric with contemporary critical and rhetorical theory; with feminist studies in language, psychology, and culture; and with studies of literacy in multi- and cross-cultural settings.



















such views have recurrently sought ethically consistent and epistemologically sound alternatives to eristic dialectic, rhetoric, and logic, and in particular to the formalized thesis-defense or thesis-proof mode that ensures separation and division not only of subject from subject but of person from person as well. Monological, linear discourse modes have controlled Western textual conventions more often than not, but in becoming overly abstract or restrictive, have prompted revolt. German and

and the dramas. The philosophers were waging war with other "makers."55 The poets' "what is" the philosophers defined as "is not," as "not being," as false (pseudos), as deception and lying (apate). Epistemology, ontology, and veracity are being reassembled in all this, and reconstituted through a pointedly linguistic alchemy. Concern with veracity and lying as intrinsic to certain kinds and 42 RHETORIC AND IRONY uses of language surfaces early in Greek writing. The Homeric depiction of

(Categories). The elements and kinds of sentences, along with rules for determining their meaning, truth, and falsity, are examined next, together with rules for combining and arranging groups of sentences (On Interpretation). The Prior Analytics extends these rules further into a technical syllogistic system, Aristotle's deductive logic for reasoning from premises. The Posterior Analytics provides heuristics of discovery and demonstration, rules for inductive logic and for testing the

continue to be constitutive of what we call literacy.3 Claiming to retell the stories of early logic, rhetoric, and literature from the integrating perspective of early literacy necessarily runs the risk of what rhetoric has long termed the genetic fallacy, and deconstructionism, more recently, the myth of origins. This revisionist history of early literacy proceeds from the premise that there are specific and identifiable classical sources for modern concepts of linguistic relativism and

teaching of such a debased technical rhetoric. Cicero's exposition and analysis of the flaws in the lists and precepts reveal his awareness that the same questions had been defined at least as early as the debate Plato records in the Gorgias; some of the issues he addresses had long been set pieces for debate in the schools that trained teachers of rhetoric, a rhetoric about rhetoric that was transmitted by moots. Is rhetoric a "mere" technique to be mastered in drill at lower levels of the

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