Olsen’s Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work

Gary Olsen, ed.
Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies
From Joseph Harris’ Review

•    Olson’s Rhetoric and Composition As Intellectual Work brings together two sets of essays-one arguing for composition as an academic discipline and the other offering sketches of what scholarship in that discipline might look like.
•    The quality of writing is high, even when the arguments are familiar:
o    Olson agitating for ideological critique,
o    Thomas Kent explaining paralogic rhetoric,
o    Cindy Selfe urging attentiveness to technology,
o    Victor Vitanza discoursing playfully about sophistics,
o    Stephen Mailloux insisting that theory really does have consequences,
o    Susan Miller and Susan Wells digging around in the archives
•    Olson asserts that “composition should be an intellectual as well as a service discipline” (xii).
o    While Olson makes it clear that he is not arguing against teaching per se but, rather, against a view of the field as one “devoted solely to improving writing pedagogy” (xvi), his phrasing distances intellectual work from service and associates it with discipline.
•    Gary Olson argues against what he calls a “disturbing trend in the discipline” (499) to blur key terms and categories describing our work, arguing that “teaching is not research; it can draw on research and apply research and confirm or discredit research results, but it’s not coextensive with or identical to research”


Donald’s Origins of the Modern Mind

Merlin Donald
Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies
Chapter Eight: Third Transition: External Symbolic Storage and Theoretic Culture

•    Before the human body could be dissected and catalogued, it had to be demythologized
o    Demytholgoization illustrates the transformation in mythic (narrative) → theoretic (analytic)
•    Rhetoric is a set of skills that controls language use on the level of discourse
•    The Trivium: Rhetoric, Logic, Grammar
273: “Whereas oral-mythic cultures rely heavily on individual biological memory, modern cultures rely much more on external memory devices, mostly on various classes of graphic symbols, from pictures and graphs to ideograms and writing.  Thus, the shift is from internal to external memory storage devices.  As the pattern of memory use shifts toward the external symbolic store, the architecture of the individual mind must change in a fundamental way, just as the architecture of a computer changes if it becomes part of a larger network.”
308:  “As long as future recipients possess the ‘code’ for a given set of graphic symbols, the knowledge stored in the symbols is available, transmitted culturally across time and space.  This change, in the terms of modern information technology, constitutes a hardware change, albeit a nonbiological hardware change.”
309:  External memory is best defined in functional terms: it is the exact external analog of internal, or biological memory, namely, a storage and retrieval system that allows humans to accumulate experience and knowledge.”
314:  “The major locus of stored knowledge is out there, not within the bounds of biological memory.  Biological memories carry around the code, rather than a great deal of specific information.  Monads confronted with a symbolic information environment are freed from the obligation to depend wholly on biological memory; but the price of this freedom is interpretative baggage.”
344:  “the result was that, for the first time in history, complex ideas were placed in the public arena, in an external medium, where they could undergo refinement over the longer term, that is, well beyond the life-span of single individuals.  This meant that the EXMF could be fully exploited for the first time; where its use had been restricted to analog models, lists, and a few simple narratives, it was not the field of more elaborate symbolic structures.”


Donald’s A Mind So Rare

Merlin Donald
A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies
Chapter 7: The First Hybrid Minds on Earth

•    The minute you embed a brain into a cognitive community, you change what you must do in order to remember, think, and represent reality
•    The relationship between consciousness and culture is a reciprocal one
o    Immersion in culture that defines our human modes of consciousness
•    Subdivided working memory into self and other
o    Even in simple two person interaction, it’s important to control and monitor the attention of the other person
Chapter 8: The Triumph of Consciousness
•    The literacy brain is a cultural add-on to the normal pre-literate state of the brain
•    Literacy skills are the response to the invention of external symbols
•    Symbolic technology allows readers to think thoughts that were previously impossible for them to conceive
•    The mirror arrangement also changes the reflective power of the conscious mind, because the external memory field gives working memory a much more solid display system for representations
•    Our most challenging symbolic representations deliberately exceed capacity
o    Ex: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel plans
302:  “The most important of these is literacy.  Literacy skills change the functional organization of the brain and deeply influence how individuals and communities of literate individuals perform their cognitive work.  Mass literacy has triggered two kinds of major cognitive reorganizations, one in individuals and the other in groups
309: “Although this arrangement constitutes a very ordinary work environment in our highly literate society, it is an extraordinary historical development because it changes the long-standing relationship of consciousness to its representations.  We can arrange ideas in the external memory field, where they can be examined and subjected to classification, comparison, and experimentation, just as physical objects can in a laboratory.  In this way, externally displayed thoughts can be assembled into complex arguments much more easily than they can in biological memory.”
311: “The external memory field is not just another sector of working memory.  IT taps directly into the neural networks of literacy, located in brain regions that are distinct from those of working memory.  Working memory and the external memory field thus complement each other, and this allows the brain to exploit their distinct storage and retrieval properties.  This gives awareness a much richer structure.”
316:  “The external memory field is really a sort of Trojan Horse into the brain, a device that invades the innermost personal spaces of the mind.  It can play out cognitive instrument, directing our mind toe predetermined end states along a set course.”


Ong’s Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue

Walter Ong
Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies
From Robert Clement’s Review

•    Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue is divided into four parts of varying length.
o    The first (“Issues”) presents the essential facts of Ramus’s career and dwells upon the famous M.A. thesis which was to demolish Aristotle-and which legend has him defending valiantly against attacks from all quarters.
o    Part II (“Background”) is a flashback to the scholastic, humanistic, and pedagogical background into which Ramus was born.
o    The third section (“Ramism”) is a detailed explanation of Ramus’s dialectic and method, from its first elaboration in his various works through the attacks launched against it to its final revisions. In this section stylistics and rhetoric assume important roles.
o    Part IV (“Sequel”) concerns itself with the spread and modifications of Ramism. “The internal structure and development of the Ramist outlook advertises particularly the mechanistic, quantitative bent in the scholastic mind, and calls attention to the importance of the scholastic arts course (and, indirectly, of the medical course) as against the scholastic theological course in the development of the sensibility of Western man.” (p. 306)
•    All in all, this careful book succeeds in correcting and expanding our knowledge of the thought and works of Ramus through a patient examination and rigid reconsideration of the source materials, old and new.
From T. K. Scott, JR.’s Review
•    Ramism is shown to have developed a tendency in scholastic logic to identify knowledge with teaching, and teaching with a simplified spatial approach to reality, a tendency which was reinforced by the diagrammatic tidiness made possible by letterpress printing.


De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater

Thomas De Quincy
Confessions of an English Opium Eater
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies

From Robert Lurie’s Report:
Here is the classic “disclaimer” which seems, in some form or another, to have graced the beginning of every literary work dealing with sin up to the 1970s. From Moll Flanders to Naked Lunch, there was always, in the foreword or first chapter, some kind of apology, rationalization, explanation, or, in De Quincey’s case, an attempt to distance himself from the other confessions and then divert the reader’s attention entirely by slamming the French!

“Nothing, indeed, is more revolting to English feelings, thanthe spectacle of a human being obtruding on our notice his moral ulcers or scars, and tearing away that ‘decent drapery,’ which time, or indulgence to human frailty, may have drawn over them: accordingly, the greater part of our confessions (that is, spontaneous and extra-judicial confessions) proceed from demireps, adventurers, or swindlers: and for any such acts of gratuitous self-humiliation from those who can be supposed in sympathy with the decent and self-respecting part of society, we must look to French literature, or to that part of the German which is tainted with the spurious and defective sensibility of the French.” (“To the Reader,” p.xxii-xxiv)

De Quincey brings up a very good point here that most people still don’t quite understand: drugs have different effects on different types of people. The literary folks can’t help but read deeper meanings into the whole experience, whereas ‘regular folks” just like the way the drugs make them feel

“If a man ‘whose talk is of oxen,’ should become an Opium-eater, the probability is, that (if he is not too dull to dream at all) – he will dream about oxen : whereas, in the case before him, the reader will find that the Opium-eater boasteth himself to be a philosopher; and accordingly, that the phantasmagoria of his dreams (waking or sleeping, day-dreams or night dreams) is suitable to one who is in that character.” (“Preliminary Confessions,” p.2)

Like Charles Lamb, De Quincey varies his style by occasionally slipping into anachronistic language (or dropping Latin and Greek) when he feels the urge to wax poetic. Here he bids farewell to his life of poverty.

“So then, Oxford Street, stony-hearted step-mother! thou that listenest to the sighs of orphans, and drinkest the tears of children, at length I was dismissed from thee: the time was come at last that I no more should pace in anguish thy never-ending terraces; no more should dream, and wake in captivity to the pangs of hunger. Successors, too many, to myself and Ann, have, doubtless, since then trodden in our footsteps -inheritors of our calamities : other orphans than Ann have sighed: tears have been shed by other children : and thou, Oxford Street, hast since, doubtless, echoed to the groans of innumerable hearts.” (“Preliminary Confessions,” p.42)

By the time he finally gets around to really talking about opium, De Quincey delivers the most passionate writing of the entire book. Almost all of that writing is in praise of the drug.

“Oh! just, subtle, and mighty opium! that to the hearts of poor and rich alike, for the wounds that will never heal, and for ‘the pangs that tempt the spirit to rebel,’ bringest an assuaging balm; eloquent opium! that with thy potent rhetoric stealest away the purposes of wrath; to the guilty man, for one night gives back the hopes of his youth, and hands washed pure from blood; and to the proud man, a brief oblivion for ‘wrongs undressed and insults unaveng’d;’ that summonest to the chancery of dreams, for the triumphs of suffering innocence, false witnesses; and confoundest perjury; and dost reverse the sentences of unrighteous judges; – thou buildest upon the bosom of darkness, out of the fantastic imagery of the brain, cities and temples, beyond the art of Phidias and Praxiteles – beyond the splendour of Babylon and Hekatompylos; and ‘from the anarchy of dreaming sleep,’ callest into sunny light the faces of long-buried beauties, and the blessed household countenances, cleansed from the ‘dishonours of the grave.’ Thou only givest these gifts to man; and thou hast the keys of Paradise, oh, just, subtle, and mighty opium!” (“The Pleasures of Opium,” p.62-63)

A chilling portrait of how opium had insinuated itself into his daily routine.

“Whether desperate of not, however, the issue of the struggle in 1813 was what I have mentioned; and from this date, the reader is to consider me as a regular and confirmed opium-eater, of whom to ask whether on any particular day he had or had not taken opium, would be to ask whether his lungs had performed respiration, or the heart fulfilled its functions.” (“Introduction to the Pains of Opium,” p. 70)

De Quincey delivers some more inspired writing in his description of the happiest days of his life, which consisted of many winter hours spent sitting by the fire, reading, blissed-out on opium.

“Surely everybody is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a winter fireside; candles at four o’clock, warm hearth-rugs, tea, a fair tea-maker, shutters closed, curtains flowing in ample draperies on the floor, whilst the wind and rain are raging audibly without,” (“Introduction to the Pains of Opium,” p 76)

De Quincey defends his “frankness.”

“You will think, perhaps, that I am too confidential and communicative of my own private history. It may be so. But my way of writing is rather to think aloud, and follow my own humours, than much to consider who is listening to me; and, if I stop to consider what is proper to be said to this or that person, I shall soon come to doubt whether any part at all is proper.” (“The Pains of Opium,” p. 81)

Inexplicably, De Quincey is roused from his extended opium torpor by…a book about political economics?

“At length, in 1819, a friend in Edinburgh sent me down Mr. Ricardo’s book : and recurring to my own prophetic anticipation of the advent of some legislator for this science, I said, before

I had finished the first chapter, ‘Thou art the man!’ (“The Pains of Opium,” p. 85)

When it comes time for De Quincey to detail “The Pains of Opium,” he side-steps the issue for the most part, and instead goes into long, detailed descriptions of his dreams and how extended opium use altered their character. Here is one of the insights he gained from these dreams:

“Of this, at least, I feel assured, that there is no such thing as forgetting possible to the mind; a thousand accidents may and will interpose a veil between our present consciousness and the secret inscriptions of the mind; accidents of the same sort will also rend away this veil; but alike, whether veiled or unveiled, the inscription remains for ever; just as the stars seem to withdraw before the common light of day, whereas, in fact, we all know that it is the light which is drawn over them as a veil, and that they are waiting to be revealed when the obscuring daylight shall have withdrawn.” (“The Pains of Opium,” p. 90)

De Quincey describes what it was like to give up drugs in the days before Betty Ford.

“I triumphed : but think not, reader, that therefore my sufferings were ended; nor think of me as one sitting in a dejected state. Think of me as of one, even when four months had passed, still agitated, writhing, throbbing, palpitating, shattered; and much, perhaps, in the situation of him who has been racked, as I collect the torments of that state from the affecting account of them left by a most innocent sufferer.” (“The Pains of Opium,” p. 103)

In the Book’s final passage, De Quincey discusses some lingering effects of his long period of drug use. (Funny, maybe he was still experiencing these symptoms because he didn’t actually quit. Hmmm.)

“One memorial of my former condition still remains: my dreams are not yet perfectly calm : the dread swell and agitation of the storm have not wholly subsided : the legions that encamped in them are drawing off, but not all departed : my sleep is still tumultuous, and, like the gates of Paradise to our first parents when looking back from afar, it is still (in the tremendous line of Milton)- ‘with dreadful faces throng’d and fiery arms.’” (“The Pains of Opium,” p. 104)


Eisenstein’s Printing Press as an Agent of Change

Elizabeth Eisenstein

The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe

Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies

From Eric Leed’s Review

·               It is impossible to develop a model which explains how this change takes place, a model which does for the history of communication what Thomas Kuhn did for the history of science with The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

·               I do not think Bagdikian is writing science fiction when he proposes that thiscould “be to politics what nuclear fission was to physical weapons, an increase in power so great that it constitutes a new condition for mankind. The new communications will permit the accumulation of a critical mass of humanattention and impulse that up to now has been inconceivable” (Bagdikian 1971, p.45).

·               How do the new means of communication affect an audience’s sense of “truth,” of”authority,” of the very intelligibility of preexisting resources of meaning? Media are treated as instruments of liberation or enslavement which create either an audience that is rational or a mass incapable of independent critical judgment.    

·               This concern with the effects of a medium on an audience neglects the middle term, culture-the symbolic realities which impose meaning on life-which is what an audience receives through the communications medium.

·               a classically “thick” description of how the introduction of a new medium reorients European culture, it also redirects our attention to the issue of how cultural transformations can be produced by changes in the means of communication. From her description of the relationship between print and the intellectual revolution of the Renaissance and Reformation, we can abstract some of the elements of a communications revolution and apply them to a contemporary context, identifying the differences and similarities in the patterns of transformation.

·               The main focus of her book is not on the ways in which print creates a new audience for books but on the ways in which it alters the shape of the “commonwealth of learning” and establishes a new division of labor among its citizens. Her general thesis is that the most significant effects of print lie not in the ways in which it transmits information but in the way in which it “fixes” and secures tradition.

·               Manuscripts have a precarious existence, vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters, dependent on shifting intellectual fashions and the availability of a corps of scribes. Moreover, print physically secures the corpus of the writ- ten tradition by a means the very opposite of that formerly in use. It is not by secrecy but by publicity, not by its limitation to a small band of adepts but by its broadest diffusion, that the security and potency of knowledge are assured.

·               Print did not itself create that classical revival which is identical with the Italian  Renaissance; nor did it produce Italian humanism. All of the elements of humanism-the emphasis on classical Latin style, the elevation of rhetoric above scholastic logic, the desire to emulate the ancients, the interest in language and non-Christian cultures-were present before print.

·               The most important effect of print, however, was that it changed the very conditions of intellection.

·               One can see how scholars, artists, and scientists increasingly take their dignity not from their ability to reproduce the old but from the ways in which they introduce new articulations of meaning within the established forms. The shift of effort from the replication to the codification of cultural patterns is reflected in the reversal of meaning undergone by the term “original.”

·               Eisenstein’s work gives us new insight into the traditional problem of how a shift of cultural function translates into a change in cultural structure.

·               Knowledge was packaged as “mystery,” with access to it controlled by and restricted to those who had been initiated into its secrets. “Many forms of knowledge had to be esoteric during the age of scribes if they were to survive at all.

·               Europeans became collectors of information par excellence, and the “information explosion” which they initiated burst old corporate structures designed more for the preservation than for the augmentation of knowledge. This meant, too, the rapid expansion of what we would now call an intelligentsia to include not just    professional and certified adepts but also learned and leisured gentlemen of scientific, antiquarian, or literary bent.

·               They, too, could acquire some small permanence, a whiff of immortality, if they added something-however small-to the storehouse of knowledge, or corrected a long-held error.

·               The effect of print on the ethos of those charged with the preservation and verification of the symbolic reality was to raise “objectivity” to the status of a new perceptual ideal.

·               It would now be logical to assert that the perceptions of an individual, freed from all his memberships, have a “universality,” an objective truth, not accessible to those enmeshed in the toils of inherited identities. These perceptions could now be integrated back into the corpus of human knowledge as science, philosophy,             “truth”-forms of knowing innately superior to “faith, illusion and childish prepossession.”

·               Print, in the 16th century, constituted a means by which Europeans could reproduce their symbolic reality in “exactly repeatable” pictorial and textual form.

·               The consumer of meaning is subjected to a barrage of advertisements, information, entertainment, sound, and image which makes it difficult to maintain essential cultural distinctions-such as those between violence and justice, love and sex, the “good” and the “best.” To survive this profusion of symbolic resources initiated by new media it is essential to develop new reading, viewing, and listening habits that involve suspending belief, engaging in automatic low- grade skepticism, or developing new techniques of falsifying information and evaluating            fictions.



Weinstone’s Avatar Bodies

Ann Weinstone
Avatar Bodies: A Tantra for Posthumanism
Area: Digital Media
From Robert Pepperell’s Review

•    “Posthumanism thus far has focused nearly exclusively on human-technology relations.”
•    Technology is often cast as a greedy and acquisitive external force, gradually gnawing away at the core of what it is to be human.
•    “Ann Weinstone largely avoids this problem, preferring to develop instead a posthumanism of human-human relations in which the rupture between selves–between one human and another–is abrogated: “In order to create the conditions for the emergence of a nonexemptive, nonelitist ethics . . . we will have to give up our reliance on concepts of the radically other, or the other as such” (p. 14).
•    a poetic iteration of the word ‘post’, with its dual associations of ‘coming after’ (as in posthuman) and as a form of communication (as in the postal service) manages to connect the renunciation of what has gone before and the ethics of personal communication (p. 185).
•    “If we want to fundamentally alter our experience and conception of self, we must break the law of the other, the law of the alien, the irremediably unfamiliar, of exteriority (or interiority) as such. We need to get drunk with each other so we can become posthuman (p. 107).
•    a doctrine of absolute undifference is unsustainable in the longer term since it contradicts habitual experience, which consists of an infinite series of differentiations embedded in our conscious state of being
•    “I am proposing, then, as a gesture that would invite a posthuman ethics to come, a commitment to an every day practice of writing in relationship via e-mail relations with those we have never met” (p. 206).
•    That we are not humans on our own, but become human through our intimate relations with others–what Weinstone calls our “entanglement” (p. 217).
From Kathryn Farley’s Review
•    Weinstone’s mode of inquiry stresses the interconnected nature of human relations in which notions of the self are inextricably tied to understandings of “otherness”. In fact, she interrogates the self/other binary classification, stating: “I am concerned with events that suspend the terms self and other and with the ethical consequences that flow from these events-in-common” (27).  She then goes on to cite trauma, pleasure love, devotion, illness and inebriation as examples of such events.

January 2019
« Dec