Monday, September 28, 2015

If rhetoric is wrong, I don't wanna be right

When I say I've studied rhetoric, I'm frequently asked this question:

What is rhetoric?

Which is a fair question. In fact, it is the yardstick of fair questions - it's straight to the point, no beating around the bush, no hidden assumptions. Especially since I've just claimed something, and am ever so directly being asked to clarify this claim.

Answers to this question differ.

When I'm in memetic mode, I answer along the lines of this here enormous picture you've no doubt seen long before you actually got to reading this part. It's point and click, basically - you point at something, say something related to it, then point at another thing, say something related to that, and so on.

I rarely use this answer, though, since the notion that such things as "truth" and "justice" and "a proper taste in culture" are pointable is hard to convey in everyday settings. Which is the opposite of effective, given the everyday setting I've recently pointed at. Thus, another answer is called upon:

Rhetoric is the art of making things up.

This is both easy to understand, and fun to demonstrate. It's easy to understand since it's what most people already think anyway, and thus comes as no surprise. It's fun to demonstrate, because it's true: as a rhetor, you are good at making things up. And since the most recent pointage happened to be at this very fact, you now have a proper and sufficient kairos to simply make anything up. Anything at all.

Even if these things are totally wrong. Especially if they are totally wrong.

Some think rhetoric is all about finding the proper thing to say. This is true to a point. In the process of finding this right thing, you have to discard many improper things. And most of these things are unexpectedly funny, seeing as they are both improper and wrong.

This, too, builds on preexisting doxa: most people have an intuitive sense of propriety and genre, and know what to expect from people in general. Public officials speak a certain way, doctors another, presidents a third, and so on. This is known. Thus, it can be worked with. Like, say, pointing out that it would be funny if Obama began a speech with the immortal words:

Dear fellow anime lovers of America!

This gives ample opportunity to goof around, and to get to the point: that your rhetorical superpowers consist mostly of making things up until you find something that sticks. Most of these things will never see the light of day, but those that do will be better because you've seen how much worse they could be. There is gold in them hills, among all the mud and lost irrelevant relics and animes.

It's all about making things up. And it's all about speeding up the process in such a way that it can be done on the fly.

...and about making sure you don't make too much an ass out of yourself whilst doing it.

Most of the time, it works. Then you fall in love, and all bets, definitions and pointers are off. -

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