Cross-posted on MAWG:
Polemics and Irenics in Argument Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it’s a start?
In her essay â€œThe Womanization of Rhetoric,â€œ Sally Miller Gearhart writes that she believes â€œthat any intent to persuade is an act of violenceâ€œ because the persuader has an intention of changing someone (53), and proposes that instead we should â€œforsake all this and think of ourselves not as bearers of great messages but as vessels out of whose variety messages will emergeâ€œ (60). I think this is an interesting position, and the reason I bring it up isn’t because I completely agree with her. In fact, I strong believe that everything is an argument, as is often argued, which makes Gearhart’s position problematic (isn’t everything violent if these two ideas merge?). (However, if the dominant metaphor, â€œArgument is war,â€œ is a subtext to our lives [Lakoff and Johnson, right?], then perhaps this idea of everything being violent is something to pursue?) I am interested in this because I feel it gets at a very important question about arguments, and that is how aggressive or violent should they be? Perhaps another way to look at this might be how much is the arguer collaborating with the audience and those with different opinions, and how much is the arguer working against the audience and those who disagree.
In Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness, Walter J. Ong writes:
Contest is a part of human life everywhere that human life is found. In war and in games, in work and in play, physically, intellectually, and morally, human beings match themselves with or against one another. Struggle appears inseparable from human life, and contest is a particular focus or mode of interpersonal struggle, an opposition that can be hostile but need not be, for certain kinds of contest may serve to sublimate and dissolve hostilities and to build friendship and cooperation. (15)
Johan Huizinga adds, â€œAll knowledgeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦is polemical by natureâ€œ (qtd. in Ong 45). At this time, I am inclined to agree, that all of our knowledge is created out of struggle and conflict. However, to what degree can this struggle be too aggressive or violent? I know this feels vague at this time, and I’m looking for some sort of guidance (both from myself by writing this out, and from you).
Another valid concern is how we might become too irenic. Ong believes that we have become â€œunabashed irenicistsâ€œ (24). Here I am inclined to agree. Americans tend to fear conflict, viewing it as something that must cause separation. While we often value differences (or is this merely lip service), we don’t really value differences in ideas. This is true from the introspective (how many people struggle to dispel conflicts within themselves?) to the large scale (you’re either with us or against us Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a minimization of choices, of differences). In groups, we try to dispel conflict through means such as voting, consensus, and compromise, all of which I believe just serve to mask conflict (voting hides the needs/wants of the minority who has lost; consensus is more a contest of who can last the longest; compromise masks the fact that neither party actually got what they wanted).
Which brings me to polyphony (multivocality) and collage in texts, including hypertexts and multigenre essays. I like these texts because they don’t mask conflict Ã¢â‚¬â€œ in fact, it is usually right there, in multiple voices and from multiple pints of view. In fact, an author can be upfront about his/her/hir own conflict within the self; the author doesn’t have to take a singular view on an issue, but can rather express all the voices in his/her/hir head. Additionally, I like these texts because of their potential to be, in my own made up phrase, â€œtexts that listen.â€œ By creating this term, I am drawing on my belief that we often do not listen to texts or to people, but rather wait impatiently to â€œcounter-argue.â€œ If a text has multiple viewpoints, perhaps it can quell this urge to â€œreadâ€œ with an eye for what you can attack in a counterargument.
Some ideas that I would like to intersect as I research and write include gender, aggression, verbal and psychological violence, polyphony, polemics, irenicism, collage/montage/bricolage (sp?), hypertext, texts that â€œlisten,â€œ and the metaphor â€œargument is warâ€œ (Lakoff and Johnson). Questions I have at this time include:
1. Does this make sense at this time?
2. I know this is a huge topic Ã¢â‚¬â€œ does anyone have suggestions for ways to focus?
3. What suggestions do people have for sources? I am considering Barthes and Bakhtin, but would love more ideas.
Gearhart, Sally Miller. â€œThe Womanization of Rhetoric.â€œ Feminism and Composition: A Critical Sourcebook. Eds. Gesa E. Kirsch, Faye Spencer Maor, Lance Massey, Lee Nickoson-Massey, and Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.
Ong, Walter J. Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1981.