Re: The Flea

Beth W. Baldwin (bobaldwi@HAMLET.UNCG.EDU)
Tue, 15 Oct 1996 17:15:50 -0400

Paul suggests:

> > Perhaps contemporary rhetoric has neglected the study of ethos.
> >
> > I'm not talking about the outer actions of the speaker, the "ethical"
> > authority of someone, which sounds moralistic, but the inner ethos. A
> > person's intent and motivation on a subtle level. The way you instantly
> > have an intuitive response to someones body language and voice and facial
> > expressions. Someone's "flavor."

I don't think that rhetoric has ever neglected questions of deep ethos --
those questions which impinge upon not only the personal political
but also upon questions of spirit and religion. There's always been
a concern for the "good man speaking well," the "good woman speaking
poorly," "the bad man speaking well," etc. -- a concern that cuts
directly to the heart of the kind of ethics you suggest.

Some of us are fortunate to have more sensitivity to someone's "flavor"
while others need to exercise skills of observation. Sometimes we
get burned by misreading the "flavor" and end up turning into cynics
(having our own flavor changed through experience).

Like you, I often find it quite possible to get a sense of a writer's
ethos in spite of the words I read. There is a certain feeling that comes
from the sense of the writing's spirit, the way in which it was offered.
Sometimes, I really have to ask -- which is what real communication
is about anyway -- the responsibility of asking for clarification
before jumping to conclusions. For example, I feel that (with Nick's
help) we exercised that responsibility in asking Ian for clarification
and inviting him to participate in our conversation.

When it comes to pomo writers and the kind of verbal play in which
they often engage, I sometimes feel the playing and punning is useful
because it challenges us to think about language and the social
ideological processes that attend its use. This sometimes feels
like an ethical challenge -- a playful way to get us into a thinking/
reflecting mode. There are other times, though, when the play
seems over-done and affected (thus perhaps quite modern in an
Oscar Wildean, dandyish way). Depending upon the context, the affected
style seems agressive and communicates a lack of respect for the
person/s the writer addresses.

> > How does it affect the communication process? How much does our inner
> > feeling play a part in our communication? How much of it is communicated?
> > If we want to be effective thinkers and writers, is it more than a matter
> > of technique and theory and knowledge? Is there a rhetoric of the soul?
> > Should we study what makes us effective communicators on this level?
> > Should we bring up questions of motive and attitude and selflessness as
> > areas of inquiry? Of Teaching?

These are important questions. Our inner feeling certainly contributes as
much to our interpretations of communication as do the words themselves.
We need to examine our reactions, preferably in collaboration with others
so that we understand one another. So yes, we should study this --
rhetoric of the soul. I'm sure those who care less that I for
ethics will disagree.

Bob says:

> Another kind of interesting thing to note, for some people anyway, are
> Marshall McLuhan's reflections on how technologies make some things
> obsolete, including ways of thinking. I don't think it's out of the
> question that we're coming around to thinking about ethos in the context
> of working in a medium which makes knowing each other's ideas, positions,
> and thoughts very obviosly visible. In other words, rationality may be
> becoming industrialized, meaning we can turn the focus of our intellectual
> labors elsewhere -- the concepts of ethos, selflessness, etc. such as you
> have brought up.

I can't speak much to McLuhan because I'm not familiar with his work,
but I do think that this medium however *has the potential* for making
ideas, positions, motives, etc. visible. For that to happen, both parties
have to be willing and honest participants in the exchange. If that
is not the case, *hiding* motives and positions is just as easy here
as anywhere (if not more so in the absense of the visual/aural).

Nevertheless, turning our attention to these issues is a good thing.


Beth Baldwin, Ph.D. *
Office of Continuing Education *
University of North Carolina at Greensboro *
Greensboro, NC 27412-5001 *
910-334-5301, ext. 44 * *