Thursday, April 11, 2013

Brereton and Burke

If I were to look back over the texts that I traced for our reading of Brereton, I believe it would highlight some of my (mis)understandings concerning the current-traditional period (as such things have come to be termed). In essence, I read through these texts the narrative of a change in the focus of education. After "casting off" the robes of classical inquiry, focusing on a well-rounded knowledge of greek and latin, we began struggling with our own vernacular and its place within studies. In this moment (that of the essays included in Brereton) we are witness to a dual transition--that of the resistance toward the Harvard model of composition and a wider systemic resistance to a model of education that seems more to look backwards to the ancients rather than building upon our understanding (which I feel might be one component of the German model). Yet here it is where the conception of writing as connected to literature seems to become solidified.

These voices were mainly advocates for a better awareness of English literature as that which fills a student with knowledge. Yes, personal experience still appears to be of some consequence, but literature has been offered as a surrogate for such meaning. While written works were a source of inspiration and imitation previously in the rhetorical tradition, this moment would seem to separate logical reasoning from style, and though it begins to move away from the extremely limited perspective of rhetoric as flourish, this imitation of style implicitly fuels much of the argument. And it is in this moment that I realize I've managed to view this period largely in terms of the stereotypes I've already decided I hold concerning it.

By framing my reading in my own historical context, I find myself struggling against the combative nature of much categorizing. In much the same way a binary is flawed in its absolute separation, I see myself resorting to classification that attempts to contextualize in regard to a current set of held beliefs...or beliefs of a previous period. Instead, I want to build another narrative, one which doesn't dismiss this period as the dark ages of rhetoric, but as a moment when the goal of education comes into conflict with the goals and reasonings of society. Coupled with the advances of science, technology, and engineering, we see frequent signs of a writing instruction that tries to cater to a new mindset, one of steady acquisition, dating back to (and probably before) Ramism. Because here we have begun dividing the intellectual arts into more rigid categories and unconsciously assigning worth and value. At the time of my selections from Brereton, I can only imagine there must have been a great desire to vindicate and justify the intellectual exploration of great literature and writing while combating a trend toward efficiency, as nearly all the arguments against theme writing resolve around the efforts and energies expended by instructors in comparison to the end results achieved.

Now, I bring Burke into this consideration strictly because his terministic screens might account for some of the challenges faced throughout the entirety of our "modern" history of rhetoric. Because language can be so critical to our understanding and perception of reality, the philosophical differences between each of the authors we read compares equally to the differences in language and terminology as a matter of defining a discipline as nebulous as rhetoric and writing. And so the ways that each scholar envisages writing differs entirely depending upon this context. Ong shows us how each period of thought can be connected with contextual histories stretching beyond the sole province of rhetoric, but the veil of language might be more difficult to pierce. In much the same way a metaphor might implicitly shape a situation or color it in a particular way (intellectual battling as a violent, war-like act), the language employed might also take thought along certain paths, and while looking back at a history we might believe that we have some all-encompassing way of summarizing or positioning a particular theory or theorist, yet our own terministic screens will limit and drive us to contextualize in equally biased ways if we cannot account for how such screens limit and shape discourse. I guess I'm not sure exactly how clear (or unclear) I might be at the moment, but through the reflection and deflection that comes through language, I think it makes perfect sense to end with Burke, as the realization that language can constrain and take symbolic action should make us more attuned to the ways in which the discourse itself shaped the thought of the individuals we read.

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