Where Does Rhetoric Begin in Courses?

where should we start in class? With organization? Research? Developing an audience profile?


Wherever you start teaching in a speech or argumentation or debate course, that is where you are positing the start of rhetoric. 

The question of a start is the establishment of ends. What is the purpose of rhetoric? Why learn and study it?  


I was gifted this great textbook from 1900 the other day, and the authors start with style. Most public speaking instructors probably cover style, near the end of the term, along with ethics, in the sense that "audiences expect different things so speak the way they want. Now, back to the importance of a bibliography."

This attention to style could be seen as evidence of the simplistic refutation of rhetoric as being surface-only, an affront to the deep consideration of the true that philosophy, et. al. deal with. 

It could be the understanding that style is the only way we have to understand truth. If it comes across in one way rather tha  another it wont matter how true it is.  

in starting with style, this book doesnt mince words. Theres a much better understanding of acceptability than we get today. Most public speaking courses convey an obsession with facts. Facts are the only style needed. Bring your references of various types and you'll be believed. Qe grade a lot more on references than oration, as if we have lost faith in rhetoric as a productive, creative force for good. 

Where is the faith in oratory to make the world? probably in the same spot we left our faith in students. The last time students were praised as a group I cant remember. Instructors at my university praise an I individual student, but with the tone of surprised exception. The student is impressive because students are supposed to be terrible, and this one isn't. It's a sad situation. 

Where is our belief or sense that the world is more than a selection of careers? That making money means you are successful? that good grades mean you know things? All of these questions should be able to dissolve easily in the hands of the trained orator. Then be reconstituted as immutable truths. 

But no. Far more important they learn how to cite a scholarly source isn't it? That's our style and hence our truth. If the facts dont work, we just shrugand call others stupid. If only we had a practice that could be used to reconstitute stupidity and facts into a pliable substance for making things, attitudes, people, and thoughts. 

Lost Technology

In reading through various meeting minutes and dictated letters from the 1930s in my recent research work, I found this great oddity: 



Aliens confirmed. Well, aliens by metaphor only. Who is left who can read or write in shorthand?  

The technology of shorthand I imagine is pretty much lost. This is clearly a secretary cleaning up her (or possibly his but it would be a rarity) notes on the transcript of the meeting recorded here. There were recording technologies, like wire recording, that were used in dictation. But typewriters were unable to keep up. I bet today you’d have a tough time on a laptop keeping up with dictation. Maybe not. But shorthand was a technology to keep up with dictation in order to type and send the letter anyway, or in this case to record and produce the minutes of a meeting.  

Shorthand is one of these things that had utility when there was a gap in the ability of technology to cover time. The mechanical typewriter is too cumbersome to compose at, and was used for final copy only. With shorthand you could get verbatim anything anyone was saying.  

The price for this was no joke. Many times in the archive I found discussions of budgets for these organizations, and one of the top concerns was the price of stenography services. Sometimes for the month this could be hundreds of 1930s dollars - which would be thousands today. A very significant office expense, but if you wanted to do business in a particular way and at a particular volume, you really had to have it.  

I wonder what other technologies like shorthand have fallen to the side. Will laptops or swipe keyboards be like this? Emojis? I wonder. 


To Campus

Woke up today and worked more on my long-term writing project about debating. I woke up with the question: If we are seeing a radical change in the way that people evaluate information, trust experts, consider what a fact is, and all that, why is our solution to just double-down on teaching the fallacies, tests of evidence, and scientifically derived notions of truth? It's like if something breaks, you try to figure out why it broke, not do the thing you were doing beforehand even more intensely. 

I actually just really don't think things have changed, we are just noticing that facts don't get us a lot and don't do a lot for us versus presentation, representation, and interpretation. Like salt though, facts make these different dishes have good flavor if used in the right amounts. 

Today I'm about to head to campus to pick up another ILL book that came in when I was in Maryland. In case you didn't see the vlogs from last week here they are!

I shot these in 4k on an action cam which i really liked versus using my handycam which seems a bit big, especially with the microphone and all of that. I think that the size is not that different from a DSLR or other style camera, and just as bulky, but the action cam is the only thing I have that shoots 4k. I think they turned out ok even though they are a bit choppy. I might move down to half that resolution and shoot at 60fps on a more narrow field of view, then the videos will look pretty amazing. Most people are just watching them in 1080p anyway, at least for a couple of more years. 


Broadcasting Rhetoric

Still thinking about the time I spent in the media archive at the University of Maryland. They have a lot of documentation - transcripts and recordings and the like - but most exciting is their collection of the technology of broadcasting. They have a remarkably well-preserved inventory of early televisions and old console-style radios.  


I like this microphone a lot even though it’s busted. The principles are the same now - keeping it suspended and shock-absorbent helps make a better sound. I always wondered why they put the call letters on the mics even though there was no picture being transmitted. The archivist explained that they take a lot of photos of radio shows in those times and it was good for that. Also these mics were expensive and would just be moved from the studio to the event that was covered live, and the press would get photos there of it, hopefully. It’s all about good publicity.


I think shortwave radio is really cool, and I know I’m pretty alone in that idea, but all the home console radios of the 1930s had shortwave tuners so you could hear the news from Europe anytime you wanted. They also included the police band and sometimes aircraft frequencies as well (much later on than 1930s). The other great thing to read about was the lack of regulation in broadcast signal strength, so there were a lot of stories of station owners pumping out 500,000 watt AM stations and being heard across the country or even on the other side of the world. Hillarious I think, what a great way to get rid of the other stations. 

This unit had the back panel off so we could look at the antenna, which was pretty substantial. No wonder they could pick up everything clearly via shortwave or whatever. FM signals are about 20 years away for this unit, but the design of it really makes you wonder - this is a unit that is meant to be on full display in a family room, to fit in with the furniture, and be something you are not ashamed to see. Radio design today says little more than, “I’m a very advanced stereo system.” I wonder what this design said to people in the 1930s and 1940s? Does it say “furniture” or does it say “technologically advanced?” What’s the message in the design here?


You see these issues being addressed a lot clearer in the early televisions, which tried a lot to look like console radios like the one above. This unit is a great example of trying to bridge the TV/radio divide in a way that we can safely assume is speaking to the audience of the late 40s early 50s. 

This one also is trying to look like furniture but the presence of the screen and the attention that the screen compels is really an interruption here. Later models would come with cabinet doors to close off the screen when not in use. Even in the photo, your eyes want to go to the screen as the center of this unit’s design. Is that trained? Where does this compulsion come from? There is something about TV that compels attention even if you are not actively watching a show. You find yourself “looking up” at it without even thinking about it to see what’s going on. Also at this time 24 hour programming was unheard of, perhaps even something that would be undesired, so there was no point in having the TV available all the time. Having it in a cabinet makes the furniture appearance really easy - it’s just another hutch or cabinet in the living room.


With this one, the attempt to resemble a radio is gone, and the screen has taken over the focus of the unit. But the doors indicate that this is still meant not to disrupt the organization of the living room at all, and can be removed from the scene by shutting the doors. This fascinates me as the contemporary living room is arranged around the television. This design indicates that the television interrupted the living room design, and needed to be incorporated into the room in a way that made sense. Just sitting out there as a big screen wasn’t going to cut it.


This is the best photo and the one I wanted to close on. This is a custom made RCA black and white TV that was built for a bar owner who wanted a big screen everyone could see when they came into the bar to watch sports and other events. So this is evidence that there has always been this desire to have big, loud TVs in the bar. This unit, from the dawn of TV, shows that TV has always been obnoxious. I bet 1950s bar patrons also complained about how you can’t just have a drink without some TV blaring in the background. 

What a great collection, and I’m so glad to have seen it. Who preserved all this stuff? Who kept it in such good condition over the decades? It makes me think about how easily we throw things away and how cheaply they are made. I wonder what, if anything of our broadcast technology, will survive for future archives? 


Another Time, D.C.!


Another trip done. And the summer is almost done too. I learned quite a bit on this trip but now what’s ahead is the race to September. 

I agreed to help run and teach at a debate camp for the first time in a few years here in New York. Not sure what that’s going to be like. I figure if I can teach the students to read and research carefully on the internet as well as how to generate arguments from what they already know, that would be a win. In composition, I think the idea “generate arguments from your own knowledge and experience” is the sense of this weird concept of “voice,” which I have never really understood. 

I also have a lot of writing to do. A big research project is coming due in October, and right before that I plan to teach and speak in Morocco again. All of this needs to be planned and set up before courses get underway.  

Speaking of courses, I have done nothing in planning for my public speaking course which I am using two new books for. That needs some attention I think.  

So my days should be full for the rest of the month, then we start another semester of teaching. I wonder when I am actually busiest? Is it when the regular semester is running, or is it in the summer? I prefer the summertime myself even though I miss the practice of teaching. What I really like about the summer is that there’s no debate work. I think I’m really over doing debate work in the traditional sense. But I’m just getting started on an expansion of debate work in a direction that I think is very valuable. More on that in another post.  

But it does remind me I’d like to write a grant application before September 1st. So why am I posting here? Time to get on it all.  

The Archive

I had the best time this week going to the University of Maryland special collections. I spent about three days there and that was a good amount of time. However I feel like I could just look at old stuff in the archives forever and not get bored. Seems like there’s a lot of it there. 



This is just a small part of the media archive which one of the archivists took me around to see. Most of this is history of broadcasting stuff - old TV broadcasts, films, transcripts and the like. I thought that the library might have a collection of transcripts or some recordings of the National Student Federation weekly broadcasts they did during the 1930s - often on the subject of the role of the university student in politics or the depression. My assumption is once the war came these broadcasts probably stopped. The NSF was very interested in being anti-military, anti-war, pacifist, and helping students build communes in order to make university affordable. I can’t think of a more relevant political platform for 2018 for students.

Archival material doesn’t have much value on its own no matter how it was acquired. It gets value through a process of rhetorical invention which is more hermeneutic than anything else. The researcher goes to the archive for sources for her arguments. She looks at the material with a sense of “what it is” in her head. The result is the genesis of persuasive rhetoric that explains the past to the present. This does not mean the archive has been used up. On the contrary, it should be preserved for a re-visit by another scholar over some time.

These materials are valuable because of their inventional capacity. The idea is they help us create a world based on what came before. This can happen by mimetic property: “They faced these same issues and did X,” or it can come through an identification: “They thought like we do, we think like they did, they recognized things about politics or the world that we feel are very modern, etc.” It can also come through recognition of a scene or a slate of possibilities as familiar to us today, as I did just above in my thinking about the NSF.


What helps us avoid a charge of revisionism here? I think this question is only relevant if you are doing a particular kind or type of history, a modality of history that even historians would consider to be oversimplistic and a bit rediculous. That modality is one where we recover the past to know what happened. We determine the facts and then we know about that time. No historian, I hope, does this sort of work. If they do, they are not really that interested in the critical application of history for today - it’s more of a sort of preservation of really nice dishes that are never used. That sort of preservation has value I suppose, but it’s a lot more dangerous to believe one has accessed or acquired the past rather than one has objects and texts from the past that need interpretation for us here and now. It is that operation that gives the archive value.

I had a great time talking to the archivist about some of the political issues involved in archiving. One is a shift in mindset by archives to be a lot more about product not process. A horrifying statement to anyone who works in composition or rhetoric to be sure. What he means is that there’s a trend for archivists to consider themselves creators of knowledge instead of just the custodians of a set of materials who investigate, sort, and make labels for that set. This seems like a good change as they can articulate what the archive itself means. In fact, there are people who do work on the history of the archive - meta to be sure, but meta interesting.

Finally there’s the archivist question of value. There’s limited space and limited labor to classify everything, but then there’s also limited understanding of what might be important in the future. How many rediculous coffee cups or jackets should be preserved in a collection? What if you toss the one set of forks that really matters for future research? This sort of thing seems very pressing and interesting and there’s no good answer. A question of situational reasoning to be sure, and worth some study.

It was a great visit, and I got a lot out of it. I made some vlogs about it, but the hotel internet and my hotspot were way too underpowered to upload what I made. I’ve been using Lumia Fusion on the iPad and I love it. It’s the perfect video editor for me - very basic and to the point. However my little iPad barely has the memory to hold the rendered files, so it would be good to be able to upload them right away. Once I’m home this afternoon it should be no problem. It was pretty annoying not to be able to post those videos every day. They’ll be up here soon.

A Very Special Collection


Started my work in the special collections at the University of Maryland this week and I have to say, it’s incredible what I’ve already discovered in these documents. It was well worth the trip. There are a lot of documents missing that would make things a bit clearer, but I’m already sitting at 1000% more information about this stuff than I was last week.

The project is tracing down who, and why, German university debaters came on a debate tour of the United States in 1930. I found a transcript in those old books that I love that are collections of debate speeches from across the country. If you have read this blog you know about the Edith Phelps Debater’s Annuals. So far I have found two transcripts of German debates against American debaters on the question of military readiness.

There’s a passing mention by Phelps as to who was behind hosting these debates, so I went down that path and found it to be a rabbit hole. There are three, possibly more, organizations that rose out of World War 1 that have the express purpose to generate international understanding and goodwill among young people, often high school and university aged students, and they all have similar names. They all also have offices in New York City. So most of today was sorting out who was in charge of what and what they thought they were doing.  

The weirdest thing so far is the obsession these organizations have with hygiene and self-help. I’m not sure what the latter term means, I think it means getting the money or support together yourself to go to university. The first term is pretty clear. Although to the credit of one organization that was having a large, international conference on student self-help, one of the organizers wrote to a government official (not really sure who he was as his response letter doesn’t appear in the archive) asking him to make sure the students pass through Ellis Island 2nd class passengers not the steerage rate, as they are university students who are only traveling that way as that’s what the money could provide. Such a shame if their welcome was to go through that “process.” Not sure what it entailed, but I could imagine a pretty invasive and embarrassing examination of the body. Times haven’t changed that much. 

Tomorrow I’ll go in more detail though the boxes. Today was cut short - only a couple of hours of research - because Uber drivers here in Maryland (or the DC area) are incompetent. I have had the worst trips I’ve had in a while today. I even think one driver racially profiled me: When I got into the car he was playing some great hip-hop stuff, then it suddenly changed to old country. Do I look like an old country fan? I am a middle aged guy. I’m not sure I like this racial profiling thing.  

I hope to connect more dots tomorrow. Today I got a lot of great information but sadly it only opens the case further. More research to be done. Now there are a number of debate tours I have to track down. So far there’s an Oxford tour, an English Universities tour (would love to get the difference there!), Scottish (although in the secretary’s hand in the margin there is a note “Nothing mentions Scotland in the files, did he misspeak?” In talking about a typed dictation from the President of the organization), a Dutch tour, and a Turkish one. Tracking these down is going to be pretty time consuming but might be a really great piece of debate and higher education history. And here we are, thinking that international experiences are still kind of unusual for undergraduates.

Debate Topic(al) invention and iteration

Looking at the college policy debate resolution makes one thing very clear: The national community of debate practitioners in American policy debate have no interest in bringing in audiences for their debates. This is a debate practice that is solely and totally focused on itself.

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially increase statutory and/or judicial restrictions on the executive power of the President of the United States in one or more of the following areas:
• authority to conduct first-use nuclear strikes;
• congressionally delegated trade power;
• exit from congressional-executive agreements and Article II treaties;
• judicial deference to all or nearly all federal administrative agency interpretations of statutes and/or regulations;
• the bulk incidental collection of all or nearly all foreign intelligence information on United States persons without a warrant.

The elements of relevant national debate appear here to the layperson in the same way that academic debates always have – “I can understand debates about the nature of angels, but what do the heads of pins have to do with anything?” But it’s definitely not for normal people. The complexity and logic-gate structure of the topic means that the community wants to debate many different topics at once. Or it means they would like the illusion of many topics at once so they can continue to work on and argue the same arguments they have been using for the past few years. Neither is a good practice for the standard definition of the role of debate education.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Can it be defended? I think so, in the same way that most university courses, particularly at the higher levels in various majors, are also not for the general public. The university is teaching specialties which require matriculation through a particular path of classes in the right order to make sure that you “get it.” It’s defensible if the model you want to emulate is the model of the contemporary university with the pathway and the credits and the benchmarks and all that. This topic looks the part of some sort of genetically modified comprehensive exam question for Ph.D. The monastic, completive life is a good one, where a small community of like-minded practitioners gather together to help one another’s practice. Nothing wrong with it.


Although I sound argumentative and negative, I think that the collegiate policy debate community in the United States can do whatever their voting members wish to do (they will no matter what I write here, don’t worry). After all, they are the only ones attending, listening to, writing, and participating in the debates that will be held on this topic. In fact, there are multiple controversies in the past with policy debate that ensure that few debates, if any will be transmitted or recorded to audiences that are other than the people with a direct stake in the debate. Not the people the topic is about, the people who are debating and judging the debate happening in a college classroom early in the morning or late at night on a weekend.

I’ve always found debate to be attractive even though it is rife with fresh problems every day. One of the ways that I have always been able to return to debate after various absences and times away is because of this idea that debate takes up a position in “loyal opposition” to the standard schooling practices. That is, it keeps those practices from becoming the sole function of the institution. There’s some counter-discourse and practice going on under the auspices of the machine, even if it’s a small group.

 Jacques Rancière from medium.com

Jacques Rancière from medium.com

The most important thing debate clubs and teams can do is engage with publics. This should happen under the sign of universal teaching as defined by Jacques Ranciere. The sign of universal teaching is when the only things you need to garner understanding are (at the minimum) two human brains, a text, and a conversation. I also add pens and paper to the mix or perhaps a computer (but no social media while you are laboring under the sign of universality, ok?). Rancière argues in The Ignorant Schoolmaster that the “old master” idea of teaching is structured in a way to keep old relationships alive at the expense of new ones. Teaching becomes a practice of “getting it right” in the eyes of the master who knows. What the master knows is that which secures the system. Teaching under universal equality means you have to say “My brain is as good as your brain.” A tough thing for many to say, and tougher to actually believe, but the faith in this statement – that two people can look at something, some text, and then figure out what it means together isn’t that far fetched. Of course you may already be saying, “That’s what happened to me when I got into debate! I knew nothing and teamed up with some other new kid and we read a bunch of stuff and figured it out!” Exactly. That part of debate practice is really one of the best parts. But was that topic written to encourage a breadth of research and investigation? Or is it deep cover to run the arguments from years ago, arguments that might be interesting and fun, but are more hand-me-downs to newer participants? Re-iteration of the re-iteration of another seems odd in an art that is based on invention for the situation and the audience. 

Topics like this one are frustrating because they are perfectly irrelevant in their relevance. They remind me of that science-fiction trope where one character is out of phase with the rest of the characters on the show: They’ve slipped into a pocket dimension, they are out of sync with time, etc. They shout and shout but nobody can hear them; characters walk right through them. “There has to be a way to communicate with them,” the character vocalizes for the benefit of the viewer. And then we are off to some weird technological stuff or alien stuff that allows a rudimentary form of contact to happen. Debate reminds me of this but instead of working to contact the aliens, they are just sort of dismissed. “Let them walk right through you, we have important stuff to do.” If there is a public debate, it’s conducted under the sign of old mastery where the debaters instruct the audience mostly about the quality of their questions, and how “real debate” doesn’t examine or look at the things that a normal audience of curious people would seek out given the same topic.

The public audience matters because it too is the sign of equality. That is, the gold standard for intercollegiate debate should be to get very deep in the research, construct really amazing arguments, and then deliver those in a meaningful way for publics who will form opinions on them. It’s actually a much better model of academia than academia has right now. Actually, it’s a model of public intellectual, or a rhetorical influencer. The trick though is to get around the idea of what real debate is, and think instead of debates as texts that must be lit up by the universal teaching, the sign of equality.

The audience member has a brain just like you do – although it’s popular now to laugh at the public (as it always has been) and say they don’t really understand what’s going on. This is also the rhetoric supported by so-called journalists who work for the mega news networks. The entire audience of millions of people watching CNN are led to believe they are special group who are the only ones who really get it. Same with academic departments. Same with the university. Perhaps debate can be one place where we practice the model of universal teaching? That is, we, together, can figure out what this text means. Let’s give it a go. I have faith in your human mind. Have faith in mine.

The topic also seems to hint at a desire that might or might not be there among those who supported it to have numerous rotating topics throughout the year. I think that this move is inevitable, as debate in all forms is succumbing to the pressure to be more about itself and less about one topic for a whole year. Most practitioners have abandoned the idea that debate is about the topic in any substantive form. It’s about how you can riff familiar chains of argumentation off of the topic in an interesting and surprising way. If you have a regular rotation of competitions to attend, this helps greatly as there is never a huge surprise in evidence, information, support, research at any competition. You have heard these arguments for years if you are a judge. The only question to be resolved is who did better with it this time? This can be a riff off of the topic, but often it is a riff off of something someone said in the debate.

I’m sure that the American intercollegiate debate community will have a great year. I really think they should do what they want. But there are some considerations the topic brings to mind that speak to another form of debating, another aim of debating that might get lost in the continuous return to the demand to preserve a collection of utterances instead of generating new ones. Debate was always fun when the notebooks are clean. New ideas, new plans, new stuff to go get and read, all of that. Most of the fun I’ve had in debate is filling that empty page with interesting text that I’ve heard or read about a topic that I really knew very little, if anything, about. The universal teaching, the sign of equality: Both are things that make debate not only in a position critical of most education, they allow debate competition to serve as practice for minds engaging other minds under a sign of equality, a prerequisite to any form of democracy or republic.

I hate everything I am writing right now

I give up. I don’t like anything I’m writing and I just really like reading. I can’t seem to get a paper into any shape that I’m happy about. And it’s mid July now. What happened to the productive summer?

I’ve been avoiding blogging because I thought of it as a waste of time and energy that I could put toward other, more meaningful writing. But what a weird sentence. Writing isn’t writing unless it’s meaningful, right? Right?? So to this end, it's back to blogging as it might kick start a better writing quality in my other stuff. I hope it does. At the very least, blogging makes you feel like you've done something, so there's a faux sense of accomplishment that I'll get from these posts. But I really hope that writing is writing, and that some productive recognizable but unquantifiable good comes of this in the other stuff I'm working on. 

A big project I'm working on and thinking about is public speaking. The course. I teach it a lot and I'm usually pretty unahppy with how it goes. Since we live in the era of text, a tertiary literacy (riffing off of Walter Ong’s Secondary Orality idea) we should be very comfortable with the idea of what is meaningful and what is not. But instead of that we are racing to the shallow end of the pool – the facts. We think writing is good if it is factual, full stop. There’s nothing much more to it than that.

I really want to do my part to upend this but the rhetorical pressures are real. So what is it you teach? Oh, it’s like marketing but for all things and ideas in the world. There isn’t a soul alive at the university who wants to think outside of a career path for a course of study anymore. Or if there are, they are few and quiet. There have to be ways to make room for practices of daily existence and not just career planning. 


So to this end I have been working on Roman education and Roman pedaogy, something that is similar and familiar to being a young person in the United States would be being a young person at the end of the Republic and the dawn of the Empire. Ceasar was totally uninterested in the legality and the process of what he was doing, he just wanted to be in power. I think that’s probably where the comparison ends with Trump. Anyway, the transition for the Romans would have been pretty smooth. It would have been as if no transition had occurred at all (perhaps some future historian is reading this and laughing as in their field they identified this elusion with President Johnson. No not that one, the Lincoln one). This differentientation of Empire and Republic is easy to do if you are watching Star Wars or if you are looking at history. If you are living in it, much tougher to discern. The Romans are showing us this through their pastimes, notably declamation and the concerns therein.

Secondly the Roman pedagogy is good for my purposes because it is from a society that is not capitalist. Are they imperial, are they conquerers? For sure, but I don’t think they are capitalists. I think to have capitalism, you must recognize money as a material value in itself and not as an exchange medium. Perhaps the difference is that the exchange medium has a value that can be rendered. Anyway, people who have read Marx closer and better than me can comment on this. I think it’s good to show models of powerful societies to students that are not capitalist in order to get the wheels turning that they have all the choice in the world as to what sort of system or economy we are going to have and it starts with what they express and what they say.

So I’m thinking of a declamation style event at the end of the term that is similar to a TED Talk but it would be declamation TED, maybe something like Debate, Oratory, and Argument, DOA – an unfortunate acronym that is definitely an extension of my concerns about teaching this. For most people, the art of speech is dead on arrival – at the same time, they are up in arms about “communication skills” – whatever those are. People claim that these are the reason you get hired and fired and what builds a career and such. But if you asked them to name communication skills people would say all sorts of things that are really odd together: “Being able to write a proper email,” “Being able to look away from their phone for a minute,” “knowing how to engage in conversation,” “knowing how to give a presentation,” “understanding proper business etiquette,” Etc.

I hate to say it but there’s only one field historically that can handle all that and it’s rhetoric. Rhetoric is often thought of as oratory and persuasion, brilliant argument, etc. but more consistent through rhetorical history is the idea of appropriateness, or decorum. It’s mostly about attitudes and motives as Burke would say, and how we learn to respond situationally to what texts are presented to us.

It seems like looking back at the Roman educational system – the declamation and they way it was taught – was a method for dealing with a textual/oral culture that was somewhat overbearing and impossible to keep straight in your head. A lot of the panic about identity that comes out as racism now might be because of a loss of these abilities – complexity and confusion are good breeding grounds for finding scapegoats if you are not trained. This might be why the Roman declamation cases deal with torture, immigration, and people who are political or social minorities (women, slaves, children, children of slaves and citizens, foreign soldiers, poor people, etc). Still cooking on this but it’s coming together at least in my head.

So maybe all writing is writing. Maybe meaningfulness is what I am working on and writing is simply how you do it? Still not sure, but hoping that this post and the ones after it make me feel a bit better about the quality of what I’m making here at the midpoint of summer, whatever that is supposed to be for academic types.