On Rhetoric


Credit to St. Peter's List of 60 Philosophy Memes

Credit to St. Peter’s List of 60 Philosophy Memes

For Ancient Rhetorics this week, we read Aristotle’s On Rhetoric (one of our exam texts). I know this reading cannot account for the scope of the text (which I am curious as to how many re-readings it will take…), but I am dwelling here in a few points of interest in an attempt to discern something articulable/to connect them to our conversations in class about historiography and ways of knowing rhetoric’s history.

I was really intrigued by Chapter 7 of Book I: “The Koinon of Degree of Magnitude—Greater or Smaller—as Applicable to Questions of the Advantageous and the Good in Deliberative Rhetoric” perhaps because of an interest in scale. To explain simply, I attribute scale in part to Franco Moretti’s concept of distant reading (which I plan on applying to On Rhetoric to see what emerges as patterns…). Close and distant reading (Moretti) are not binaries or diametrically opposed on opposite ends of the spectrum:

close —————————————distant

but move along a spectrum of proximity in reading a text or collection of texts (“close” being the reading we as a human individual can do within individual text(s) and “distant” being reading humans + computation can do across text(s) ); this is differential reading. Differential reading, or reading at scales, defamiliarize texts, making them unrecognizable in a way (putting them at a distance or oppositely at a proximity) that helps identify features otherwise unseen, to make hypotheses, generate questions, and figure out patterns and how to read them (Tanya Clement, “Text Analysis, Data Mining, and Visualizations in Literary Scholarship”). I am playing with Aristotle’s koinon like differential reading scales. Aristotle identified greater and smaller as degree of magnitude of importance as a form common to all species of rhetoric in questioning possibility or fact. Koinon are degree of importance/unimportance and possible/impossible. He then outlines 41 conceptions of koinon, ranging from “things exceeding something equal to a greater entity are greater than it” (six), to “what is scarcer is greater than what is abundant, though less useful” (fourteen), to “what all people prefer [is preferable] to what all do not” (twenty eight) as all the sources of pisteis or proof, means of persuasion, belief (31). Aristotle divides pisteis (proofs) into artistic and non-artistic:

  • non-artistic: witnesses, testimonies, other proofs which do not need to be invented
  • artistic: need to be invented

I found myself wondering what type of proofs historical texts and historiographic research are categorized as—artistic or non-artistic and how this might change the way we see what is possible in doing historical work. If we see historiography as non-artistic proof, perhaps we are limiting what we can see as possible history even as we try to broaden our perspectives of history. Perhaps if we see historiography as artistic proof, needing to be invented, we might change how we look at history. Something like differentiated reading, made available through distantly reading texts with computer assistance, might bring to the surface details about history we have not focused or gaze upon.  Thus my fixation on differentiated reading with the koinon as illustrative of pisteis: historical work has ambient perspectives that have not been in the vocal spotlight. This brushed up against the idea of amplification or auxesis from Chapter 9 Book I: Epideictic Rhetoric (epideictic being demonstrative or fit for display). Auxesis is an overstatement to stress size/significance; it extends thoughts/statements to increase rhetorical effect, to add importance, or to make the most of a thought. To maximize or minimize elements through amplification seems to fit with the conceptions of koinon in proof. From limited reading about rhetorical amplification, it involves identifying parts of a text by a process of division, where each text can be amplified. Amplification is equated to inventio or systematic discovery that investigates the possible means by which profs can be discovered. Turning this thought thread back to historiography, I wonder how this might affect the ways in which historical work is done. Or perhaps, how we imagine it can be done. Which left me wondering about stasis theory (something that came up in a conversation with Collin last week—an accidental Aristotle connection) and its application to historical research. Stasis theory leads to knowledge building, or perhaps debate and re-building, through achieving stasis. Achieving stasis means that parties involved in a dialogue about a given issue have reached consensus on (or agreed upon) the information and conclusions in one or more of the stases:

  • Question of fact: did the person damage the item? (conjectural)
  • Question of definition: was the damage minor or major? (definitional)
  • Question of quality: was he justified in damaging the item? (qualitative)
  • Question of jurisdiction: should this be a civil or criminal trial? (translative)

Where does most research fall along the stases? How does this impact the ways in which we know the field (ways of reading and researching)? How might our perspectives change if we focus not on what we’re reading/researching, but how we’re reading/researching?


microscopic, not myopic

This week’s readings on “microscopy” were absolutely captivating, providing an opportunity to engage with “scale”. My understanding of scale prior to these readings was more akin to an awareness of its existence and influence to generically understood (based on my limited knowledge) matters of concern such as: size of data set, how closely/distantly a text is being looked at, what can be made visible in terms of patterning, and different tools fitted to size/task of the data set.

I collected scraps from three readings that engaged with scale in interesting ways (note: I might be discussing scale lacking some nuance…): interface/language with range and “tuning-in-ability”.

Matthew Jockers and Julia Flanders “A Matter of Scale”: “We’ve tried to create an interface that supports that kind of shuttling between different levels of scale: seeing patterns, seeing outliers, zooming in and zooming out. The tools aren’t very good yet, but they’re getting better” (17).

Jockers and Flanders work to dissolve the binary between micro/macro data sets that typically get associated with distinct rendering/reading processes and products. In advocating for more discursive markup languages, this seems to be a call for tools that will allow for simultaneously micro/macro analysis to keep both in sight.

“I think you and I must begin from this point of agreement and now work our way towards what the photographers call depth of field. How do we alter the f-stop and shutter speed so as to keep as much in focus as we can?” (17).

This imagining was absolutely engrossing and reminded me of the concept of mise-en-scene—as everything within the shot, from composition, to sets, to props, to actors, to costumes, to lighting—is taken in through the scene. If we had the ability to tune in to these different elements and their connections to the composition of the text, what might we see?

Elizabeth Losh’s “Nowcasting/Futurecasting: Big Data, Prognostication, and the Rhetorics of Scale”: “Because of the distance at which such large collections of cultural objects become legible, we are reduced to being passive spectators as the map grows progressively larger than the territory” (450).

Losh brought to mind questions of when (timing) we can engage with cultural objects, particularly those that are born digital. Traditionally, DH work has directed its attention to print text collections (that are thus past), but there is (was?) a push (by who/what?) toward using DH methods to study emerging (not yet) culture. I wondered, in reading this, if futurecasting was essentially establishing patterns/trends that are in the process of happening based on what has happened?

“Rather than aspire to a predictive humanities, the task of “nowcasting” rather than “futurecasting” may promise a methodology of more engaged research in which the cultural, political, literary, artistic, and material life of the present becomes the focus of attention” (447).

In terms of time, I am having trouble understanding the difference between “future” and “now”, perhaps based on how I am imagining “future” (I wonder what implications this has). It seems that both would be attending, or tuning-in, to happening culture more closely, instead of waiting for it to pass to collect and examine.

Geoffrey Rockwell’s “What is Text Analysis, Really?”: “Rather than developing tools based on principles of unity and coherence we should rethink our tools on a principle of research as disciplined play” (212).

Rockwell is complicating the scale of the text we engage with by working to reterm “concordance” as a hybrid text—instead of looking to establish unity across a text by looking for patterns of coherence, a hybrid tunes into a text that is created by the original text and user choice—a text that is not original (of the author) nor of the concordance provoker. This shifts the scale of text that is being engaged, allowing for different “play”, or methods of interaction.

Rockwell proposes a portal model for text analysis tools that “makes available a variety of server-based tools properly supported, documented, and adapted for use in the study of electronic texts”, a “virtual library” (215).

These are only a part of a much more complex and interesting picture imagining of scale, but I appreciate the ability to trouble the macro/micro binary (myopic vs. panoramic) as something more akin to focus stacking: the combination of multiple images taken at different focus distances to create a resulting image with a greater depth of field than any of the individual source images (from Wikipedia).

"Top left are the three source image slices at three focal depths. Top right are the contributions of each focal slice to the final "focus stacked" image (black is no contribution, white is full contribution). Bottom is the resulting focus stacked image with an extended depth of field." - from Wikipedia "focus stacking"

“Top left are the three source image slices at three focal depths. Top right are the contributions of each focal slice to the final “focus stacked” image (black is no contribution, white is full contribution). Bottom is the resulting focus stacked image with an extended depth of field.” – from Wikipedia “focus stacking”

If microscopy aims to view objects that cannot be seen with an unaided eye, having techniques for “disciplined play” (Rockwell) at varying scales allows for different, and perhaps simultaneous, focus; allowing for close looking that is far from myopic.