There’s, of course, a potential theory being built in all this although I can’t imagine its final shape. One of my favorite criticism anthologies from my grad years was Nothstine, Blair, and Copeland that dared to show the behind-the-scenes machinations of a successful published article.
Ideas surrounding liminal rhetoric — those who speak on the borders of a culture — have always intrigued me. Pied Pipers, prophets, cultural surgeons, casuistic stretchers, comedians — so many pictures for that person. And, of course, my suitor metaphor. <shrug>
But most critics have little experience with the insider/outsider rhetorics. And I do know them firsthand. So I’m going to take little notes that, if past experience proves accurate, will develop into a larger, more public offering. Maybe you have some suggestions you see in all this too. 🙂 This inbetween my silly youtube stuff and crafting pics.
One trope that keeps popping up is what my brother chuckled about last night and named “the adhominem defense.” The adhominem fallacy, of course, is when you attack the person instead of the ideas:
Don’t believe him when he talks about his illegal immigration policy. He’s divorced!
The problem is that the retort is a distraction from the issues at hand. Wiki points out that it’s the converse of an appeal to authority, both as fallacious as the other. The attacker is trying to reform the discussion into the indefensible, private matters and take the upperhand in the process. It’s an argumentative sucker punch.
The adhominem defense doesn’t fit any boxing metaphor (king hit, rabbit punch, and feint don’t fit) because the initiator of the conversation didn’t know they were fighting at all. It’s a sort of tuo quoque, but more specific and passive-aggressive. Here are some examples:
- “Excuse me. You left your wallet here at the register.”
“What are you saying? That I’m stupid?”
- “Sir, last class period you said that we should keep the last five rows vacant.”
“Are you calling me a liar?”
- “I have some concerns that I’d like to discuss with you.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
- “When Lincoln spoke to farmers in a rural Midwest drawl, he was only slipping into the speech he had been brought up with. It by no means meant that all reasoning would stop. Middling style eased social mobility. They allowed one to speak in public without having to master the gentry’s tone.”
“How do you know? Did you ask him?”
In hearing a perfectly appropriate suggestion, reminder, or conclusion, the listener reads it as a personal attack, assumes the worst possible intent, and lashes out. The initiator is struck silent — either stunned at the tantrum being thrown (“Dear me, lady, I was just trying to give you your wallet!”) or pitched head-first into introspective searching (“Huh? Why do I need to ask Lincoln about my academic conclusions about his words? Did I miss that day in Rhet Crit?”).
And the discussion ends. The wallet gets left behind or the Lincoln observation lies fallow. It’s a lose-lose situation really.
What it comes down to, I think, is reading everything as agon. No, that’s not it either. It’s more than a contest or a debate. It’s a war. It’s reading everyone as the enemy. It’s yelling at the dog who won’t pee. It’s continuous line-drawing in the sand just daring for someone to cross you, even if it’s just a stumble over a pebble. It’s worse than run-of-the-mill tragedy — it’s pushing everyone over the edge that comes near you, even your allies and yourself.
Oh . . . and Happy Anniversary, m’dears! It’s been quite a year.
[tags]rhetorical criticism, scholarship, agon, Kenneth Burke, Tragedy, Comedy, Creative Casuistry, war rhetoric, fallacies [/tags]