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921Re: [biopoet] Re: No market for English majors?

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  • alex_c_parrish
    Dec 26, 2013

      While my urge is to defend rhetoric from yet another of its perennial detractors, I'll limit my comments on a public listserv to a few statements that might be helpful to folks who are unfamiliar with the history of rhetorical scholarship.

      1) Socrates, as was often the case, was employing irony when using sophisticated rhetoric to attack the rhetoric of the Sophists. He did this in order to make a point about beneficial vs. harmful types of persuasion, not to condemn persuasion outright. Brian Vickers explores this ironic episode more completely in his In Defence of Rhetoric (1988), if you are interested in more than my two-sentence summary.

      Not all rhetoricians are post-modernists, post-structuralists, or even Marxists. These labels have existed for a very short span in the history of rhetoric, and they do not represent the entire field. A very few of us (rhetoricians) even work under an evolutionary paradigm. And, while I can only speak from my own experience, the vast majority of people in the field with whom I have shared my work have been extremely supportive thus far.

      3) Rhetoricians do not merely identify "
      speech patterns but not their use, value, or veracity." Quite the opposite. Cicero, for instance, described the offices of rhetoric thus: to inform, delight, and persuade. To my mind, this implies good rhetoric should include a value judgment, a concern for truth, and an eye toward effective use. Otherwise, we might as well deceive, bore, and leave it up to others, right?

      4) Finally, the formalized study of literature is a descendant of rhetorical theory, beginning in the academy with the focus on belles lettres in the 18th and 19th centuries. Stylistics are still concerns in both fields, along with countless further instances of overlapping interest. To treat lit and rhet as unconnected pursuits seems pretty artificial to me. Their similarities are profound, and both are "worthwhile," to respond directly to Zach's assertion. I understand there is animosity in some departments, probably due primarily to a general lack of funding for the humanities, but it seems more fruitful to work together than to work against each other.

      Gerald Graff explains the mutual histories of rhet and lit more fully (as it is obviously more nuanced than what I suggest in 50 words or less) in his Professing Literature: An Institutional History (1987).

      ---In biopoet@{{emailDomain}}, <zach@...> wrote:

      Yes, it's ironic from the standpoint of what's truly worthwhile in the humanities (the actual meanings behind what's written) that the least important specialization--the one that's much less than "stale," which is only a time-bound flaw of fashion; the one that's been shown to be the most fundamentally empty for the longest period, from Socrates forward: the "knack" of identifying speech patterns but not their use, value, or veracity--now has the highest marketability.

      Sent from my android device.

      -----Original Message-----
      From: Alex Parrish <alexcparrish@...>
      To: biopoet@yahoogroups.com
      Sent: Thu, 26 Dec 2013 3:12 AM
      Subject: [biopoet] Re: No market for English majors?

      The market depends entirely on specialty and 'marketability.' Literature is generally stale, and has been for decades. On the other hand, rhet/comp specialists within the English department have a bull market, especially digital humanities types. Also hot, the rhetorics of science and technology, writing program administration, and cross-cultural/multilingual rhetorics.

      Dr. Alex C. Parrish

      School of Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication
      James Madison University
      Harrison Hall 2270
      MSC 2103
      Harrisonburg, VA 22807

      +1 (540) 568-3584

      Adaptive Rhetoric: Evolution, Culture, and the Art of Persuasion
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