Pragmatic “Fusion of Horizons” and New Babel Building: Rhetoric of the Public Sphere in the Transnational Era

It is increasingly interesting when I read transnational professional communication together with Habermas and Fraser’s public sphere theories. I am so excited! The newly posted “Transnationalizing the Public Sphere” is quite appealing to me. Because I am from a socialist nation that actually practice capitalism to some extent, I am quite interested in how human beings communicate under the postmodern context. This is especially interesting when new media and the internet engage us all in a global public sphere. I can feel this trend of transnationalism even inside myself, my own identities, and my ideal that all human beings are going to understand more about each other in our era.

Fraser’s idea that the post-national, postcolonial, multicultural, globalization demands a transnational public sphere, one that will replace the old fashioned nationalist communication approach. People nowadays have multiple identities, they speak multiple languages, they travel to different territories, they even hold another nation’s ideology, rather than that of their own geographical motherland. We can see this frequently on online forums, social networks, which are the medium of the cultural and ideology flow. Fraser already implied the urgency to engage not only capitalist societies, but also other parts of the world in the research and practice of public sphere. In this new piece Fraser outlined how Habermas’ public sphere is geographically limited to a certain nation’s sovereignty, national economy, national citizenry, national language, national literature, and national infrastructure of communication. In saying this, Fraser summarizes the most salient obstacles that have been undermining global friendship and understanding. However, Fraser’s answer for this huge and promising transnationalism is not in the social movements or the study of transnational public spheres, but first of all in understanding the institutional and normative premises that construct different public spheres, nationality, and transnationally.

Therefore, to Fraser, we should answer a set of questions before we embark on reaching a public opinion because “public” no longer has the same meaning years ago. We have to know our audience affected to make sure that our rhetoric is fair and justice to every audience. We have to consider and weigh the sovereignty of each nation we trouble happens. We have to consider rhetorical situations in our current communication context of transnational public spheres. We have to take into account the power dynamics of each rhetorical situation and the parties affected, and so on. What’s more, Fraser unfolds the mismatches between Habermas’ Westphalian states and todays nation states. We should identify new transnational public powers that can make transnational private powers under control. We should also mark the transnational citizenship and construct more inclusive public spheres for equal dialogues and common interests. According to Fraser, different communities should be included in a dialogue for the sake of true democracy.

Gadamer’s “fusion of horizons,” I believe, is intertextual to Habermas’ “exchange of ideas” in the public sphere, especially in today’s transnational public sphere that Fraser proposes. For Gadamer’s Truth and Method already hints the subjectivity-intersubjectivity issue, which can be understood further as national-transnational logic. Therefore, the rhetoric of the public sphere is pragmatic to current ethics. If Habermas’ public sphere is Utopian, then the transnational public sphere is not. We can confirm this by looking at any chaotic newspaper forum or comment column and find tons of examples to prove that we need such a pragmatic approach to reach consensus and mutual understanding.

By the way, thank you Dr. Holmes for sharing such an interesting piece! I even had fun reading the French and German version, though I only know a few words of German. Haha. I found “In the World of Public Sphere? Or, the World of Fragments” interesting, too. 


Foucault’s “Madness and Civilization” Again? Reflections on “Gangs and Their Walls”

Rhetoric Ideographs: Symbolic and Materialistic Combined Simulacra?

The very word “ideograph” reminds me of Chinese characters, which is a systematic ideographic language. Additionally, I thought of the power that resides in visual rhetoric because visual rhetoric is kind of an ideographic representation of meaning and its carrier, or form and content. This piece also reminds me of Baudrillard’s idea of simulation and simulacra. McGee’s focus is how ideology can be seen holistically inside one society’s ideographs, and among different society’s ideographs(17), paying attention to both materialistic and mythical demonstrations(4). However, McGee is not as much postmodern in the sense of pluralism as Baudrillard.

Beginning with different interpretations of the term “ideology”, McGee claims that all the definitions point to the brutal truth that “human beings in collectively behave and think differently than human beings in isolation” (2). Then he illustrates how the dynamics of the collective mindset and the individual mindset operates according to Symbolists and Materialists respectively(2). Symbolists such as Burke believe that ideology is what people voluntarily participate in whereas Materialists such as Marx holds that ideology is just an illusion or a “lie” that the ruling class uses to control the society(2). Burke’s emphasis on the tricked individuals who are more concerned with motive rather than reality and Neo-Marxians’ focus on the materiality of the political machine both leads to the fallacy of the “moral” issue(3). Therefore, rhetorically speaking, symbolists seek for how the material reality is represented through symbol using while Materialists interpret how the reality each society is endowed with could affect how people gain power politically(3). The symbolists’ activities are thus mythical and normative because they cannot get rid of the conventional use of symbols and the archetypal—religious or non-religious rituals. Materialists’ neglect of language studies witnesses their failure in revealing the reality that is constructed by language(3). However, symbolists’ neglect of “non-symbolic environment” found their theory unable to describe how the material environment construct social reality(3) because it is only part of the story.

McGee proposes that we think of the “trick-of-the-mind” seriously and do not astray to both sides’ tricks(4), namely, the “myth” camp that denies human capacity to control power through the manipulation of symbols, and the “ideology” camp that studies the influence of “power” on creating and maintaining political consciousness(4). He suggests such a model should embrace at once Marxist materialism and symbolist myth(4). McGee agrees with Marx’s idea that political “truth” is forever an illusion(4) in that such an illusion “is the product of persuasion”(4). Therefore, there is the possibility of falsity(4).

By illustrating that due to the nature of ideology—”political language” composed of “ideographs,” “political consciousness shapes each individual’s “reality”(5) and “hinders “pure thought'”(9). The characteristics of “ideographs”—”the rhetoric of control”(5), and the reality that people are “conditioned” by the “vocabulary of concepts that function as guides, warrants, reasons, or excuses for behavior and belief”(6). Therefore the set of “ideographs” chosen becomes dominant power dynamics in a certain society(6-7). However, the connection between language and the set of ideology it creates makes what we may call nation or society or community(7-8). Certain usage or frequency of words and terms determine our identities and thus unite or separate human beings, even the same word may have different connotations in different societies which contains subgroups of communities that have subcategories of “ideographs” (8). Additionally, ideographs which are bound to certain cultures make impossible the “pure thought”(9) that should be free of cultural, historic, and ideographical differences, which is contrary to the materialistic and rational “truth of the matter” which is the “pure” concern of philosophy(9). Thus, ideographs are only meaningful in their concrete history(10).

In each ideograph’s history, the precedent or fundamental meaning is the “common denominator”—”categorical meaning” of all situations(10). The evolution of an ideograph’s different meanings is therefore judged by certain historical contexts/situations, for new situations requires complemental interpretation or restrictions for the ideograph to adapt to new historical conditions(10). A comparative research for an ideograph’s vertical meanings “now” and “then”(10-11) becomes a mirror of history. McGee suggests that compared to the dominant narrative or ideographic meaning, popular culture has more weight on determining the accurate meaning of certain ideographs(11). It seems to me that McGee inclines to support the popular rhetoric rather than the rhetoric of a few political elites.

McGee also emphasizes the point that ideographs should not only be studied vertically, but also horizontally because they are structured so(12). Because the vertical will be challenged by the horizontal rhetorical constructions which are enforced by a super political power from above such as the cases of Nixon and Hitler(12-13). An ideograph of the “present,” therefore, is “resilient,” consonant and in “unity”(13-14). McGee’s definition of ideology falls into two categories: one that “is a grammar, a historically defined diachronic structure of ideograph-meanings expanding and contracting from the birth of the society to its present”; Another is one that “is a rhetoric, a situationally-defined synchronic structure of ideograph clusters constantly reorganizing itself to accommodate specific circumstances while maintaining its fundamental consonance and unity”(14).

For conclusion, McGee claims that pluralist trend is the old talk of Marxism(14-15). His characteristics of ideographs (15) are not clearly defined to some extent, and seem to repeat what he argues in the former part of the piece. To him, ideograph is cultural bound and subject to changes in another culture while at the same time may have similarities or consonance with each community’s behavior or practice(15-16). The diachronic and synchronic tensions that ideographs create should be our study objectives if we are trying to analyze a given discourse(16).

The Coming-of-Age of Genre Study: Miller’s “Genre as Social Action” and “Blogging as Social Action”

I love Miller’s piece! Reassuring the importance of form and content, Miller emphasizes the action that a discourse aims at, arguing that rhetorically effective genre should provoke such actions(151). She holds that genre “represents typified rhetorical action”(151). I am excited to read her statement because I did genre study of female bildungsroman for my MA thesis. Miller’s analysis of genre and her references reminds us of Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism as the continuity of Frazer’s The Golden Bough and Jung’s “collective unconsciousness,”  it is also the continuity of Austin’s “performative utterances,” Searle’s theory of “indirect speech acts,” and Halliday’s systematic functional grammar. However, to Miller, it is probably a fusion of materiality and the cultural characteristics the materiality inherently situates.

It is really an enjoyment that Dr. Holmes selects all these connected writings for us. Miller’s interrogation on the core of rhetorical situation actually leads her to the conclusion that Bitzer’s exigence is the core. She says that exigence as “a form of social knowledge” according to functional linguistic theory(157), is different from what Bitzer’s definition “defect” or “danger”(157). Therefore, exigence, to Miller, is “a social motive,” “a set of particular social patterns and expectations” and “social need”(158). Interestingly, Baudrillard also mentions Watergate, but different from Bitzer’s view that it is the “protection of national interest”(158).

Contrary to Bitzer’s idea of exigence used for the interest or the expectations of the majority, Burke’s view that our era of “marked instability” explains why genre becomes a problem(158). Therefore, Burke’s “universal” rhetorical situation(161) requires the “forms of life”(160) in different cultural patterns should be studied because if we do not use symbols or archetypes, we cannot communicate human experience in different cultures(159). Only through the basic form of symbols and archetypes, can we reach a consensus, only through a collective unconsciousness can we see ourselves as the same?

I found it difficult to comprehend Miller’s levels of genres. Especially when she proposes the idea of “hybrid”(164). May I plainly understand them as different discourse registers? Such as formal literary genres, popular culture genres such as speech, blogs, and son on? My excitement of the genre got a headache when I try to understand her figures(160-162). I have to research them this weekend. Nevertheless, the implications and conclusion she arrives is brilliant and easy to digest. The conventions of a society that archetypal theory draw inspirations from focus on the collectiveness of human beings, or, at least, on a certain group of human beings. Miller sees how the conventions of society shape our group behaviors(163). Her use of the word “hierarchy” in depicting “levels of meaning” is both rewarding and terrifying, for we have to pill the onion step by step or drawing figures to illustrate the primary situations, which develops and changes from time to time. I did this in my study of Bildungsroman and its sub genre the female bildungsroman, then I had to apply it to a thick novel whose thread I lost from time to time. Therefore, I guess it is huge task to draw a figure of human history to see different cultures, or, simply how woman’s rights evolve throughout history.

I love Miller’s practical conclusion that genres help classroom education, although her conclusion seems a little lighter than her whole argumentation. In fact, my experience of study literary genre even helps me in real life. I think with a broader spectrum, rhetorical genre study should be more rewarding. Like what we do nowadays in the classroom, blogging, twittering, and other forms of social media composition can actually bring social change—the kind of recipe(Robert said this word on Tuesday) to our society and our world. Current acdemia witnesses the coming-of-age of rhetorical genre study, Miller and other pieces sort of leads us to the epiphany of genre studies. However, we also face challenges concerning the paradigms of genre study and how to evaluate different genres including composition on social networks provided that people have different cultural backgrounds. Would new media be a way to solve the problem? I mean, intercultural communication is difficult, and we probably have to go back to the most primitive symbol system, the collective unconsciousness that we share. For example, I can do a comparative study of two figures and see what symbols they apply to a certain rhetoric and how the symbols are similar or different in displaying meanings.

Therefore, these readings actually compose the coming-of-age of genre study.

Linguistic Turn Continued in the Postmodern Complex: Situation and Action Dilemma

Reading Bitzer, Vatz, and Biesecker leads me to the idea that rhetoric situation provokes action and permits different actions. The linguistic turn gives language an unprecedented privilege to shape and to construct, but postmodernist philosophy deconstructs this safe link between language and reality/matter and historical events. Therefore, we struggle due to our inability to present reality to the fullest, and we continue to misunderstand each other because we all want to grasp our own realities that are defined by our own histories and languages. According to comments on news reports, according to the status quo of the whole world, the current era is one that which is chaotic, yet we have to rely on our conscience to unite together as one. We are facing a dilemma of rhetoric, of different levels of situations/contexts, and different actions. I really want to go ahead with light speed and see what happens next. I really wish that our world will become a better place through the effort of us, the rhetoricians. To claim that we are the primary discipline is easy, but to carry the burden of leading all the disciplines to save the whole world by rhetoric is difficult. Classroom practice seems the hope to solve the problems.

Bitzer continues classical genres of forensic, deliberative, and epidemic rhetoric(2), from which he defines the situational nature of rhetoric(3). He further argues that “rhetoric functions ultimately to produce action or change in the world”(3-4). I really love his idea that rhetoric is a “mediator of change,” which is both on the level of the mind and action(4). Reading this immediately reminds me of how I wished to make my classroom to become a place of debate and how students should become mediators of China’s social progress by using rhetoric and composition. In encouraged them to start blogs and other forms of social networks. The internet is really  an amazing thing to know the world without traveling. This also immediately reminds me of Dr. Hocks’ Computer and Composition course, which requires each of the students to start a blog. I can see that this is really a way to change and persuade the audience. I am excited to have such a blog because I become an actor on the stage of the internet where I can communicate and exchange ideas extensively with people who speak and read English. I mean, I therefore gain power through blogging by controlling a specific rhetorical situation(5) on my blog and in my writing. The part that I really love is toward the end of Bitzer’s subjunctive mood. He reemphasizes the importance of rhetoric as an indispensable part of the world, and that rhetoric should not be confined to the simple craft of persuasion. Besides, I guess by emphasizing situation, he is actually denouncing the practice of New Criticism’s overlook on historical context of any piece of literary work.

Vatz reassures Biter’s views on the rhetorical situation and puts forward that we should pay attention to the reality that dictates situation. His creativity lies in his idea that rhetoric should be the “supreme discipline”(161) because it creates knowledge. This idea is pervasive in our discipline’s literature. I guess it means that we are still not being paid attention to? What should we do to give the “scientists” a really good lesson rather than just claiming the fact to rhetoricians? I have been doing my part via my rhetorical senses to my husband who is a physicist, and by persuading my classmates in the technical writing classroom, and may be in the classroom later on.

When I finished the two and began to read Biesecker, I had a strong feeling that  situation is really important and we have to connect all the historical events and maybe people together in order to get closer to reality. For instance, I have been reading Baudrillard’s  Simulations(translated version) which was published in 1983. I found Biesecker’s ideas quite similar to what Baudrillard says. Maybe people in the same historical context think similarly unless some genius mind really goes beyond one’s time. Baudrillard’s pessimist tone on the impossibility of accurate description of the real and hyperreal ends in simulacra, meanwhile, Biesecker emphasizes “différance” and hails Derrida’s contribution to rhetoric because he provides her a premise for another perspective, or, power to act differently(124-125).

I am recovering from my headache, and I am happy to have Dr. Holmes and so many brilliant classmates who inspires and teaches me. Matt did a really great presentation! That picture is hilarious.

Reality and Imaginary Interwoven, The Difficulties and Possibilities of Theorization

Interestingly, I read something about the collapse of invention as a rhetorical canon and the rise of empirical science(“A Humanistic Rationale for technical Writing” by Carolyn R. Miller).She talks about the intricate nature of reality and how difficult it is to transmit it accurately. This makes me feel comfortably easy to stand in the shoes of Liu. Having found a research/theoretical gap in the rhetorical term “invention”, which even Plato and Quintilian did not bother to define(55), Liu traces the earliest definition of invention in Ad Herennium—”the devising of matter, true or plausible, that would make the case convincing”(55). Thus, making the three terms he illustrates at the beginning of his argument “later development(s)”(55). Again, when I connect the three words “discovery”, “creation”, and “invention” with the rise of empirical science. BANG! I think Liu and Miller are actually hitting the same point that the advent of science has changed our notions of rhetoric, at least some professionals that are outside of our discipline. then, this is also related to the relationship between science and rhetoric and whether they are mutually exclusive. The whole world is hailing science and technology while neglecting or not paying attention to our field, also the reason why some scholars have been calling for attention to the overemphasis of objective reason and logic without adequate awareness on the subjectiveness and omniscnece of rhetoric.

As I continue to read this piece, I confirmed my direction of thinking because Liu also mentioned the “god-terms” “discovery” and “creation”(55). Moreover, he mentions the “empirical-objectivist model of composition—romanticists’ discursive production”(55). This is exactly what happen when we see back in history in Bacon’s essays. The New Instrument represents what science and technology is, the concrete matter as opposed to our discipline—the abstract, impractical, hard to define and theorize. Bacon even diminishes rhetoric’s invention as a non-inventive action because he does not see our invention discover anything unknown(55). Here is the gap from which science and rhetoric divorced! I don’t like Bacon in this way although I remember his brief, logical, even sophistic essays. How could I not even thought of this issue when me and Mr. Liu both read him?! It is difficult to theorize knowledge, indeed. Is it because he is older than me? Just kidding. I know this gentleman in person, and I respect him a lot for his contribution to comparative and Chinese rhetoric.

Maybe it is always convenient to draw from literature, especially poetry the ultra subjectivity of rhetoric, for poetry represents the most powerful imagination of human beings. Liu’s comparison between Coleridge’s “Creation ex nihilo”(56) and Bacon’s empirical discovery of the (T)truth(s) in nature is, traditionally speaking, just one that reflects the task of scientific disciplines and our discipline. However, Liu is more concerned about their similarity rather than difference, I guess this is because he is someone who does not want them to divorce, one smart and “great” man whom Miller would like to shake hands with. Indeed, Liu’s view that they share the modernist ideal of seeking and trying to get the unknown(56).

In regard to theoretical formation, Liu agrees I. A. Richard’s idea that positioning is of vital importance and that such positioning action is of vital importance in modernism and the beginning stage of postmodernism(56). I cannot agree more with the idea that major social and cultural changes shift our discourse(56), for context has changed. Why we see terminology changes all the time, whereas people are still talking about the same issue? Maybe because we haven’t figure out the mysteries of nature and how to deal with human behaviors holistically? That totality is hard to achieve, but we still want to give it a try?

Even the postmodern deconstructionist Derrida seeks for a totality of “discovery” and “creation”, an “invention” that is both in the imaginative humanity perspective and in the objective and pragmatic technology perspective(59). The parallel and interwoven invention in both science and rhetoric constructs human history and without each of them we cannot move forward. Nevertheless, in each camp there is this intricate invention happening all the time, I guess. And, inside rhetoric, our own field, we have to think and weigh Foucault’s “power” dynamics, to consider different “discourse communities” because we live in the same world and we are a totality.

Liu brings the theorization issue and unfolds its difficulty because late generations will always have to learn their ancestors’ ideas and notions before they could possibly think of their own definitions(60). Nevertheless, the discursive production Liu has made requires us to combine discovery with creation into the “inventiveness” that both “recover or resummon thatwhich we already know” and “discover that which we know not”(60). I think this is just what the postmodern discourse is—interpretation and reinterpretation texts in and out of our own contexts, tolerance to anything that surround us, for everything has its own interpretations. This open-endedness gives us tremendous opportunities to theorize reality with our humanistic mind.

Postmodern Interdeterminacy and Rhetorical History Redefined for the Sophists

Jarratt’s piece is particularly interesting to me. I have always interested in the sophists both in ancient China and in ancient Greece and Rome. She tries to find the legitimacy of the first sophists in contrast to Plato by interpreting both sides’ texts and ideas. In my humble opinion, she redefines rhetorical history with the mainstream Western logic and philosophy, that of Plato’s and finds a way to draw attention on the sophists. However, she is not refusing Plato completely, she is saying that the part of history that Plato and his followers made is probably only part of the rhetorical history and we should not cling on what is whole and forget the rest of the segmented history that the first sophists composed.

Then, what are the major difference between Plato and the first sophists? How should we weigh and balance them, what should we learn from the first sophists’ rhetoric? Jarratt unfolds the histories of the sophists and interprets the rhetoric history in their rhetoric(1). First, she laments how the first sophists were casted in the shadow of Plato and Aristotle because the two group did not fit well. Sophists were considered as “self-important, materialistic, even violent” in contrast to “self-effacing, virtuous Socrates”(1-2). Aristotle’s rhetoric even openly accuses the sophists as manipulators of human emotions and condemn them for rely too much on “emotional appeals” rather than the study of different arguments(2). It seems that Plato/Aristotle’s rhetoric of seeking for eternal and capital Truth is in sharp contrast with sophists’ practical/earthly “interest in social exigencies”(2).  All the condemnation on the err of rhetoric and the deceptive nature of rhetoric is related with the sophists. This great tradition of Plato/Aristotle’s rhetoric is all owing to Plato’s ideal that rhetoric is philosophy and that rhetoric should search for an ultimate truth rather than stick to “relativistic” nihilism that “would lead to social decay,” “anarchy,” and so on(2). Jarratt is kind of using Neel’s idea to ridicule the everlasting “self-righteous virtue” in the West(3).

Jarratt thinks that even in the departments of English, the founders of our discipline rhetoric and composition is pragmatic and sophistic as opposed to literary studies(4). I really love how she relates Hegel’s effort in emphasizing sophists’ contribution to the history of philosophy and I totally agree with her contrast between Plato and the sophists as that between German idealism and English intellectual establishment(5). Therefore, to give the sophists the legitimacy they should have enjoyed will require an investigation on how researchers evaluated them.

Jarratt uses a lot of time and energy analyzing Derrida’s views on the sophists and Plato. Derrida contrasts them as one focusing on writing, “monument” and rhetoric while the other focusing on speech, memory, and philosophy(7). Moreover, Derrida sees Plato as “truth-seeking and communication, authorial presence and the orphaned text, philosophical speech and deceitful writing.”(8) This is all true according to what I read in Plato’s Rhetoric. Recent appliances of the sophists include legitimators, deconstructive revisionists, and the anthropological perspective(10).

Then, Jarratt starts to claim the features of sophistic rhetoric and what benefits we can get from the sophistic rhetoric(10-29). Compared to Plato/Aristotle’s “eternal” and “universal” rhetoric, the sophists’ rhetoric is one that is “temporal” and “contingent”(11). Referring Hayden White, Jarratt’s summary of the newly defined rhetorical history as “rhetorical histories” perfectly fits the postmodern air of  inter determinacy and open-endedness brought by anti-authority, anti-mainstream, and so on(12).

Antithesis and parataxis literally represents the dialectical and inter determinate elements because the former emphasizes binary opposites but the latter focuses on multiple possibilities, i.e., the open-endedness and inter determinacy of postmodernism. Therefore, I think Plato and Aristotle’s syllogism is limited compared to sophists’ broad explanations. However, provided that sophists and Plato both have antithesis in their rhetoric.The first time that I read Gorgias’s Encomium of Helen was when I took Dr. Pullman’s historical foundation course. The antithesis Gorgias uses is just fatalistic and so similar to what the Chinese sophists use in their works. I was thinking that unfortunately we did not have a logic system that Plato and Aristotle, but we did have this and have always been using this antithesis logic in our culture. I was so happy that I found something similar here, for in Chinese literature and rhetorical practices, antithesis is a must for all literary people and it forms our way of thinking in a profound way. To say that syllogism does not exist in ancient Chinese logic and philosophy is probably too extreme, but the train of thoughts in Chinese texts were more close to the antithesis and parataxis pattern. Therefore, the interdeterminacy of sophists’ rhetoric can also be found in Chinese rhetoric. Maybe this is why Heidgger once wanted to translate Laozi’s works into German. They are both struggling in how to get rid of humanism that is solely based metaphysics. I think can do a comparative study on Chinese and Western antithesis and parataxis for fun.

Everything is about subversion now, really. Just what a huge influence the postmodern turn brings to us?! Do people in the academia still write without mentioning postmodern concepts or postmodern ideology? Yameng Liu’s piece embraces postmodern deconstruction, too. I will write another post on Liu tomorrow after our discussion.

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