Friday, July 20, 2012

Query About Rhetoric

What is normal and what is rhetoric? Normal speech is not rhetoric. It is "raw sense data and first-order predicate logic." (p, 19) But if you look closely at normal speech you find rhetorical elements. In any written text of any complexity, examples of which are scientific or economics texts, which texts are trying to get across complex ideas rhetoric, or skill with language comes into the picture. McCloskey is essentially making the suggestion, "why not focus on rhetoric?" But I have a criticism, since I think that if the project is to look only at rhetoric you will lose all hope for the seriousness that needs to be present. But the interesting thing is – that it is possible to get such a good book this way. For, it is rather edifying, to be sure. But when McCloskey triumphantly says, and I am paraphrasing, "look, we cannot divide the rhetorical from the normal speech anymore," she is noting her own device. And, therefore according to her, normal speech ought to just go away? Why?
     Concerning some comments I made to her, wherein I am talking about "reality", she says, in her letter to me, from July 07, that "there's no Real beyond what we humans can talk about." What is truly impressive is her demonstration that reality is hard to find in one particular example, which is economics writing, and that the entirety of economics writing can be considered fictional and yet not lose its power. But my  response is this: if we want to talk about the Real (she uses the capital as a device), we can. We can devote a whole book to the art of rhetoric, or we can devote our minds, if not our pens, to the Real. And it is our minds, not our pens that are truly important. McCloskey's 1992 book on rhetoric in economics, then, is merely the exercise showing how valid the former is [what I meant was not by comparison but as a stand-alone]. The Bible, for example, could be called mere rhetoric, and that is what irreligious people think it is. Others, however, believe there is something more to it.
     The end result of what she did was to lull herself or to condition herself by her own rhetoric. So it all depends merely on how seriously you want to take "The Rhetoric of Economics." Which is exactly the same as saying that it depends upon whether or not you choose to believe that [book, that] particular exercise in "Rhetoric." So, to say "rhetoric is all there is" is to totally miss the point that she is simply using the case of rhetoric, the example, (and a double example, of course, with economics being invoked, too) which is the  essence of her project. The limit of the project is precisely that one needs to turn one's back on the normal, and the result is that one ends up reducing everything to rhetoric. That is her project. Now you've created a wonderful world where everything is rhetoric. But you are willingly stuck there.

How, then can we put rhetoric in its place, or put it where it belongs, without getting obsessed on it? This is simply asking what the real (or normal) meaning of the word is. I would tackle that, rhetorically no doubt, by saying that rhetoric is an element in speech that can by varied, the adjustments and varieties of which are not for the purpose of making speech more moral. If I alter my style, or change my rhetorical style, I am not doing that to increase the goodness or morality of my speech. That is why we can say, "it is only rhetoric." Goodness, morality, and normalcy are precisely what are missing from rhetoric.

Now, I know I used the idea of the "normal" to open the present rhetorical exercise. There can be two types, it seems to me, of normal. Normal is either merely bone dry, "the rock is hard," "I am thirsty," OR normal speech contains an effort to help, to be moral. I do not directly use rhetorical effects in order to increase the good my speech does. If we think about this, we see it is true. Moral speech tends to bypass rhetoric. If I have to work with rhetoric for the sole purpose of helping or communication, it gets messy. The sincerity is lost. The other persons cannot know whether I am really trying to help or not. It is all over. Rhetorical speech is not direct aid, it is something more strategic.

To talk only of rhetoric is to leave something out. I felt McCloskey's work was most interesting – an
exercise in what happens when we focus only on the rhetoric. I thank her for that.

The work cited, as "p. 19," was the book called "The Rhetoric of E....." by Deirdre.

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