Discursive Ideologies

Discursive Ideologies: Reading Western Rhetoric

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 231
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  • Book Info
    Discursive Ideologies
    Book Description:

    InDiscursive Ideologies, C. H. Knoblauch argues that European rhetorical theory comprises several distinct and fundamentally opposed traditions of discourse. Writing accessibly for the upper division student, Knoblauch resists the conventional narrative of a unified Western rhetorical tradition. He identifies deep ideological and epistemological differences that exist among strands of Western thought and that are based in divergent "grounds of meaningfulness." These conflicts underlie and influence current discourse about vital public issues.

    Knoblauch considers six "stories" about the meaning of meaning in an attempt to answer the question, what encourages us to believe that language acts are meaningful? Six distinctive ideologies of Western rhetoric emerge: magical rhetoric, ontological rhetoric, objectivist rhetoric, expressivist rhetoric, sociological rhetoric, and deconstructive rhetoric. He explores the nature of language and the important role these rhetorics play in the discourses that matter most to people, such as religion, education, public policy, science, law, and history.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-936-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[viii])
    (pp. 1-25)

    What we believe about words influences the ways in which we live our lives, what we think and say and do. Notice that I’m not referring to ourusesof language: it’s obvious that speaking, writing, listening, and reading have consequences for our lives. What I’m suggesting is rather less apparent: attitudes we have, assumptions we make, beliefs we hold, mostly tacit and unexamined, about what language can do for us, how language works, its connections to the world, the reliability of meaning, the truth-value of different kinds of statements, all affect our lives just as much as, and perhaps...

    (pp. 26-48)

    The story of magical rhetoric is not commonly discussed in histories of Western discourse theory, partly because of the mostly religious rather than secular contexts of word magic and partly because of the proprietary claims of Greco-Roman rhetoric and European enlightenment rationalism. The tradition clearly deserves recognition, however, according to the definitions I offered in chapter 1, where rhetoric is understood as the study and practice of public discourse, and discourse is understood as language in action—speaking, listening, writing, and reading. Magical rhetoric, which may include prayer, prophecy, spells, or incantations (as instances of magical composition), and the interpretation...

    (pp. 49-75)

    The dominant rhetorical tradition of ancient Greece and Rome, from Plato (429–347 BCE) to Quintilian, is characterized by a view of discourse that is arguably the antithesis of magical rhetoric, proposing, in essence, that language is all humble rather than all powerful. The reason for its humble status, even in disciplines (like logic and rhetoric) at the heart of liberal-arts learning, is the belief that the reality named by language is intrinsically coherent independent of verbal mediation. Plato’s theory of discourse, for example, is consistent with his view of other human mediations of the world-in-itself: why settle for a...

    (pp. 76-102)

    Rene Descartes (1596–1650) begins hisDiscourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciencesby describing his mistrust of books. Reviewing the course of his own early learning, he identifies the knowledge to be gained from books, including famous deeds learned from history, pleasing but impossible events from fiction and poetry, powers of eloquence from rhetoric, quantitative processes from mathematics, exhortations to virtue from moral treatises, the path to heaven from theology, learned disputation from philosophy, and professional skills from law and medicine. His catalog symbolically identifies the substance of that stable, bounded...

    (pp. 103-129)

    The early Greek sophists, whom Aristophanes called “a ruffianly race of tongue-twisters” (The Birds1694, qtd. in Dillon and Gergel 2003), had the misfortune of dying three times, each time more definitively than before. These itinerant teachers of the arts of discourse, who roamed democratic Athens in the age of Pericles selling their pedagogical services, died first of course in the customary way, generally between the later-fifth and mid-fourth centuries, BCE. But their reputations died as well, primarily at the hands of Plato, who argued successfully that a self-serving, manipulative relativism lay at the black heart of sophistic education, that...

    (pp. 130-162)

    Since rhetoric is always, in some sense, about people communicating, any story about rhetoric, including those discussed in preceding chapters, incorporates an idea of the social. Magical rhetoric ascribes to language the power of communicating with God and depends on the community of believers for its efficacy. Hence, Jesus says in the Gospel according to Matthew (18:20), “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” InPolitics, Aristotle writes that “since the individual is not self-sufficient when separated,” the community or state is “by nature prior to the household or to...

    (pp. 163-192)

    In the world of deconstructive rhetoric, a text is not a mirror held up to nature, as it was in the ontological tradition; it’s a mirror held up to other mirrors. Discourse is a house of such mirrors, texts facing other texts, words reflecting and refracting other words. Terry Eagleton illustrates the nature of language from the vantage point of deconstructive rhetoric by pointing to the peculiar character of the dictionary as a closed, self-referential network of endlessly interrelating signifiers and signifieds (Eagleton 1983, 128). When we want to know the definition of a word, we don’t rummage around in...

  10. AFTERWORD: Critical Reflections
    (pp. 193-200)

    Having elaborated a system of conceptual oppositions, grounds of meaningfulness, for understanding European rhetorical theory, let me specify the claims I’m prepared to make for it and also caution against the philosophical hazard of mistaking its limitations for virtues. Chief among the limitations is the tempting reductiveness of its categorical structure. We are quickly lured into reification if the tidy simplicity of this framework of discursive ideologies encourages us to avoid grappling directly with theoretical texts, situated in their own histories, and thereby experiencing the intellectual bazaar to which they belong, a teeming, cacophonous babel of voices. Once reified, the...

    (pp. 201-203)
    (pp. 204-204)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 205-208)