Re: The Flea

Michael S. Allen (allen.181@OSU.EDU)
Wed, 16 Oct 1996 10:48:43 -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."

Like Beth, I agree that rhetoric *has* kept an eye to the inner self, the
intent, the ethics of the speaker/writer. But as I read Paul's words I
wondered how students look at a teacher's "flavor." I was thinking of a
young man in my FYC class, the first day of class: slumped down in the
chair against the wall, looking like he couldn't be more bored (talk about
a "flavor"!). I always do an informal survey on the first day: how many of
you like writing? and I ask some students, individually. This young man
responded, "I hate it; hate writing class." I was glad for the response,
since I believe a lot of students--in Ohio at least--are severely pummeled
by the state-mandated writing proficiency test. I asked him if he hated
the proficiency test; he did. I said I did too. Within two weeks, this
young man has changed his seat and his first paper was pretty good. My
point: a lot of academic culture tells students that their opinions really
don't count--the teacher's do. A lot of students "read" that traditional
classroom in the gestures and language of teachers the first day.
***However, in academia, the feelings/flavor of teacher toward students
isn't much discussed; and students feelings/flavor toward teacher are not
so much a matter of ethos or ethics but of "student evaluations"--often
quantifiable measurements instead of morality. Does academic culture see
the use of language as a moral/ethical issue? It would if rhetoric were
respected; however, rhetoric is devalued, made a Derridian "supplement" or
"other" in academic culture; it has no "measureable" content; it's not even
a field, since "English" really means "literature."

Beth further says:

>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.

I agree here, too, but find it interesting how verbal play is *rewarded* in
literary texts but not in rhetorical texts (poor Erasmus!). It goes with
the prevailing academic culture that language is nothing more than a
container, a bag which can be thrown away once the factual/content potato
chips have been eaten. If "the person/s the writer addresses" assume that
all expository language should really be "clear and concise"--a concept
which modernism baptized and technological society nurtures--then there's
no room for verbal play. The problem, it seems to me, lies in the culture
behind the person/s addressed: communication is only for "clear and
concise" writing; and there is a wall between "literature" (where anything
can happen and which isbn't really part of the "real world") and "real
world writing" (in which language is only a container).