Rhetoric and Irony: Western Literacy and Western Lies

Rhetoric and Irony: Western Literacy and Western Lies

Rhetoric and Irony: Western Literacy and Western Lies

Rhetoric and Irony: Western Literacy and Western Lies

Synopsis

This pathbreaking study integrates the histories of rhetoric, literacy, and literary aesthetics up to the time of Augustine, focusing on Western concepts of rhetoric as dissembling and of language as deceptive that Swearingen argues have received curiously prominent emphasis in Western aesthetics and language theory. Swearingen reverses the traditional focus on rhetoric as an oral agonistic genre and examines it instead as a paradigm for literate discourse. She proposes that rhetoric and literacy have in the West disseminated the interrelated notions that through learning rhetoric individuals can learn to manipulate language and others; that language is an unreliable, manipulable, and contingent vehicle of thought, meaning, and communication; and that literature is a body of pretty lies and beguiling fictions. In a bold concluding chapter Swearingen aligns her thesis concerning early Western literacy and rhetoric with contemporary critical and rhetorical theory; with feminist studies in language, psychology, and culture; and with studies of literacy in multi- and cross-cultural settings.

Excerpt

It has once again become a commonplace that history is storytelling. the earliest rhetoricians knew this; the epitaphia capitalize on the invention of revisionist history, a powerful art of persuasion. the interwoven history of rhetoric and literacy constructed here, however, attempts not so much to persuade as to invite reappraisal of the complex relationships between rhetorical practice and theory in antiquity and the dissemination of literacy. As a prolegomenon for reinterpreting the histories of rhetoric and literacy, the synthesis developed here can facilitate what Priscian understood as eidolopoieia, permitting the dead stones, as well as the shades of the dead, to speak to the issues embedded in Western concepts of irony, rhetoric, and literacy, and illuminating the continuing centrality of those concepts to the ethics of language use and teaching today. This work joins a group of recent studies in the history and theory of rhetoric and in literacy and orality that reprises history in order to reform and broaden our understanding of literacy, literature, and language use in contemporary culture both within and outside academia. Reappraisals of the Sophists' thought and of their dual role as itinerant teachers and speechwriters for political leaders have supplemented older studies of the Presocratic philosophers, Greek poets and dramatists, and Greek rhetoric. Traditional treatments of the ancient war between philosophy and rhetoric, such asBrian Vicker 's In Defense of Rhetoric, represent understandings of the relationship between rhetoric and philosophy that are being challenged by defenses of Gorgias, Protagoras, and Isocrates. Studies . . .

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