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On Eloquence

On Eloquence

Denis Donoghue
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    On Eloquence
    Book Description:

    On Eloquencequestions the common assumption that eloquence is merely a subset of rhetoric, a means toward a rhetorical end. Denis Donoghue, an eminent and prolific critic of the English language, holds that this assumption is erroneous. While rhetoric is the use of language to persuade people to do one thing rather than another, Donoghue maintains that eloquence is "gratuitous, ideally autonomous, in speech and writing an upsurge of creative vitality for its own sake." He offers many instances of eloquence in words, and suggests the forms our appreciation of them should take.

    Donoghue argues persuasively that eloquence matters, that we should indeed care about it. "Because we should care about any instances of freedom, independence, creative force,sprezzatura," he says, "especially when we live-perhaps this is increasingly the case-in a culture of the same, featuring official attitudes, stereotypes of the officially enforced values, sedated language, a politics of pacification." A noteworthy addition to Donoghue's long-term project to reclaim a disinterested appreciation of literatureas literature, this volume is a wise and pleasurable meditation on eloquence, its unique ability to move or give pleasure, and its intrinsic value.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14505-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. 1 Taking Notes
    (pp. 1-20)

    As a result, the referential act of language is deemed to be its first duty. That is a dove. That is a sparrow. That is a lamb. But as language developed in complex relation to consciousness, it discovered possibilities beyond reference. Abstractions are among those discoveries. You can’t point to something and say “that is beauty” or “that is truth” or “that is objectivity.” In some degree, language becomes autonomous: thought “ceases to be practice.”² In some degree, because it is never entirely detached from things and its responsibility toward them.Alice in WonderlandandFinnegans Wakeare nearly detached...

  4. 2 The Latin Factor
    (pp. 21-43)

    The secondary school I attended, as a day-boy, was the Christian Brothers’ in Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland, about five miles from our home in Warrenpoint. I traveled the miles by train, bus, or, in agreeable weather, by bicycle. The teachers were an order of brothers, not priests. Once a priest, always a priest, but a brother could leave the order when he chose. So long as he remained, he lived in a community of his colleagues and was bound by vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Congregation of the Christian Brothers was founded by Edmund Ignatius Rice in...

  5. 3 Song Without Words
    (pp. 44-69)

    We normally advert to eloquence when we note the exuberance with which a word, a phrase, a sentence, or a line of verse presents itself as if it had broken free from its setting and declared its independence. This explains why we remember a certain eloquent moment and, a split second or an hour later, or never, the context in which it appeared. A selection from my own failing memory: “She should have died hereafter.” “. . . the seal’s wide spindrift gaze toward paradise.” “The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose.” “In the mountains, there you feel free.” “Cover...

  6. 4 Like Something Almost Being Said
    (pp. 70-99)

    This chapter is likely to be irritating, because I try in it to say something more about a kind of eloquence that seems to issue from under the words and nearly apart from them and yet in the event is helplessly verbal. I take up where the previous chapter left off, but with no hope of making a consecutive argument. I’m just trying again. I choose several occasions or provocations, starting with one—Augustine’sDe Musica—that is nearly beyond or beneath comprehension, because it presents a kind of thinking that is gone, or so nearly gone from current speech...

  7. 5 To Make an End
    (pp. 100-121)

    In this chapter I hope to draw attention to a particular form of eloquence that coincides with endings, moments in which a new direction is offered, if only as a relief from the old one, or a blessed release is provided in the feeling that the novel, poem, story, play, film is at last coming to an end.

    The lawyer-narrator of “Bartleby, the Scrivener” receives a note from Bartleby’s landlord: he has sent for the police and had the nuisance removed to the Tombs—the Halls of Justice—as a vagrant. The question of the legality of this proceeding is...

  8. 6 Blind Mouths
    (pp. 122-142)

    I have been saying that some distinctive forms of eloquence arise at the end; the end of a life or a phase of life, the end of a story. Especially distraught kinds of eloquence issue from a mind at the end of its tether. Or from a mind, still resilient enough, facing the objective lapse of its resources or coming to an outer limit of the medium it is using or being used by—as in dream, vision, prophecy, and mystical trance. Daniel’s vision of “a certain man clothed in linen” ends with an admonition to silence:

    And I heard...

  9. 7 For and Against
    (pp. 143-176)

    The most forceful rejection of eloquence I am aware of is Christ’s: “Get thee behind me, Satan,” an admonition extended in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 4 and 5) to an ethic recommending the plain style, plain dealing, humility, truth, and justice. But Christ must have been in some degree of thrall to Satan’s eloquence, “being forty days tempted of the devil,” as Luke reports (4:2), and submitting himself to it in “the holy city” and on “an exceeding high mountain,” before casting him aside: “Then saith Jesus unto him, ‘Get thee hence, Satan.’” Matthew and Luke dispose of...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 177-190)
  11. Index
    (pp. 191-199)