“Rhetorical self defence” and ego-hunting

My dearest friend and fellow rhetor-in-life, @sargoth, wrote this great piece titled “Rhetorical self defence” this morning, and asked me to go rhetor on it for her—to make sure she wasn’t being entirely unkind to the ancients. Her exact words to me were: “yo. I could use some rhetorical input on this hack of a post. am I butchering the Ancients too much? :3”.

Nah, @sargoth, you were doing them a justice, and I’m going to tell you why.

The ancients did a good thing; they defined rhetoric as a thing long, long ago. My field is as ancient as thought. Mostly, this is a source of pride for me. Social standing back in these times was based upon how well a white man could argue. He was a ‘who’ if he could outwit his fellow white man with words.

Not too much is different now, is it?

@sargoth makes a few global moves in this post, and I’m going to get at them to ensure she is doing what any great rhetor should (my own subjective adoration of her skills both withstanding and not). So, @sargoth points out that there are two ways to do rhetoric: the old-fashioned, social epistemic way of the ancients and what she does in her cheat sheet. This dichotomy helps her perform what I read through my own rhetorical lens as ‘self-aware meta-rhetoric’.

Her natural skills of rhetorical analysis allow her to write this cheat sheet with its clever and applicable 6 pointers to “do good rhetoric” in an argument. Yes, kiddies, anyone can rhetor—and this cheat sheet can help you.

But why would you want to do a thing like that? Why rhetor at all?

Well, to know rhetoric is not only to see the world, but to make it. Rhetoric is power. Power of the highest order (if one believes in hierarchy; and, in this world, all is hierarchy). See, not too much is different these days. Rhetoric is still practised by white men (and others) in positions of authority; @sargoth points to a few.

Our world is controlled by people (men) who use rhetoric to persuade us to their motives, reflections of libidinal desires (pissing contests, essentially), and goals of domination. You master language, you master others.

I often get tired and slightly not compassionate when I see people attempting to push their rhetoric on the world. Most of the time, I am practising a counter-rhetoric on rhetoric—to limit oppression and repression of people by those more dominant.

One way to win this battle is to empower others to become rhetors and own their own language, both the way they read and intake language, and how they can speak back into the world. True ethical rhetoric gives, does not impose. This is at the heart of @sargoth’s self-aware meta-rhetoric. Yet, you can’t know that until you go rhetor in the first place.

Before we go there, I need to get Derridean. You see, I sleep next to two books: Foucault’s Archeology of Knowledge and Derrida’s Margins of Philosophy. If I was trapped on a desert island (a dream of mine), these texts would be with me. I’d probably use them on the other (combating boredom, you know.). In Margins of Philosophy, there’s this essay Derrida wrote, “White Mythology”. It’s a favorite. And in this essay, there’s a sub-essay titled “Flowers of Rhetoric.” Why don’t we take a look at it…

I’m not going to discuss the entirety of this essay because we’d be here for an eternity. However, Derrida asks,

Metaphor then is what is proper to man. And more properly each man’s, according to the measure of genius—of nature—that dominates in him. What of this domination? and what does “proper to man” mean here, when the issue is one of this kind of capacity?

After this, Derrida tells us that to answer these questions comes down to a “protocol of reading”, and I would agree. But what are we reading?

In the case of existence and living, we must read everything. We must read “man”. @sargoth is showing you all how to do that with her cheat sheet; she is reminding you that you can. This is performative rhetoric at its best and most ethical.

“Okay, Les, now when we read man, what are we reading exactly?” you ask.

Ego is the easiest part of a man to read. Simple as that.

Read the ego.

I know you are going to ask me how to read the ego, so I’m going to teach you before you can ask me. Derrida says,

Nothing prevents a metaphorical lexis from being proper, that is, appropriate (prepon), suitable, decent, proportionate, becoming, in relation to the subject, situation, things. It is true that this value of properness remains rather exterior to the form—metaphorical or not—of discourse.

?! My Derrida is telling us that men use rhetoric to affirm a “properness”; they bait us with language in an effort to show us what is “right”. The problem with this is that, usually, what men in power feel is proper is generally not. But how can we ever know that? You got it: we need rhetoric. Think about how doctors in the 30s used to give women methamphetamines like it was a natural stimulant for parenting. Yea, what those women needed was some solid rhetoric, not speed.

The second bit of that statement from Derrida I want to attend to: men use metaphor as a tool to inject their own agenda, but that proves that what is true behind all clever language is exterior to the form of their language. Derrida is telling us that we need to remove the form of man’s use of language and the metaphor itself. We need to uncover the value of the language.

To do that, we can use @sargoth’s cheat sheet. We can look closely at the man, read his ego. I’m going to give you an example, a metaphor. I encourage you to go rhetor on me.

The other night, I read the timeline of a “friend” in twitter. He was extolling a good deal of judgment on some new people to the discourse community in which he frequents, and has adopted a credible, long-standing reputation in order to do so.

He is a man in power in this community.

But instead of approaching those he feels could benefit from some learning and experience directly with a cheat sheet or education, he chose to subtweet them and subvert their authority. Derrida: Let us not forget that this sense of sovereignty is also the tutelary sense of kurion. To break down Derrida’s Greek, the person to whom I am referring did not produce a discourse that guides these incomers toward liberatory knowledge. Instead, he used their inexperience to flaunt his own reputation in this space.

Ironically, reputation is multi-faceted. I was watching, and was immediately saddened by this man’s drive of ego. I’d like to think he is smarter than this. It is not a terrible thing to be new to a discourse community; we all embody this position throughout our lives. And, often (if one is reading closely), sometimes the very speech acts that determine an identity come from a place one might not expect. Do entertain oppositions. The ego tends to assert itself when it judges others without actually entertaining conversation with another.

I am going to wrap this up now with a few global points of my own. @sargoth’s work is necessary and ethical. She resists the plight of her own ego by encouraging education, and sharing her knowledge-base with others. This is the kind of rhetoric she embodies when she rhetoricizes the rhetors of yesterday and today. @sargoth practices the very 6 parts of her list in her list. It is quite brilliant if you take a look at it.

She has the overall goal of education as she does this. That is her motive, her purpose, her libidinal desire. This is why I respect her highly. My own libidinal desires are showing, aren’t they? *winks*

I leave you all with some parting gifts of speech: if you are going to go rhetor on anyone, know why you are doing so before you figure out the why of the fellow rhetor in question. This will keep your ego front and center—and make you the better rhetor in the argument. And if you find yourself being rhetor’d by another, remember to make it open for everyone.

Sharing conversation is the least egotistical metaphor of all.


2 thoughts on ““Rhetorical self defence” and ego-hunting

  1. I’ve always found that the more a person understands complicated material, the better they are able to simplify it for others and not be threatened by other’s understanding of it. It is only those who are otherwise insecure that attempt to maintain a hierarchy of access to knowledge. That I could follow most of this (as a non-philosopher) speaks highly of you. :)

    • Thank you so much for saying this. A critique of much of my writing is that I am largely indecipherable. I have spent a lot of time trying to be more understandable–to encourage more access to knowledge. It does no one good to enforce the hierarchy, I feel :)

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