Presence, Analogy, and 'Earth in the Balance.' (Book by US Vice Pres. Albert Gore Jr.)

By Murphy, John M. | Argumentation and Advocacy, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

Presence, Analogy, and 'Earth in the Balance.' (Book by US Vice Pres. Albert Gore Jr.)


Murphy, John M., Argumentation and Advocacy


Vice-President Albert Gore, Jr.'s bestselling book on the environment, Earth In the Balance, has generated a storm of controversy. Admirers, such as Lance Morrow of Time magazine and Martin Peretz of the New Republic, argue that Gore "speaks with a certain rare passionate authenticity, a ring of the unfakable that is rare enough in the (usually ghostwritten) outpourings of politicians" (Morrow, 1992). Such opinions won Gore the 13th annual Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. Detractors, on the other hand, call Gore an "out-and-out radical" and maintain that "the heart of his world view is an apocalyptic vision of an Earth teetering on the brink of destruction" (Bailey, 1992). They dispute Gore's evidence (Lucian, 1992) and come close to accusing him of deception (Easterbrook, 1992).

The heart of the book, and the sections that make supporters and detractors Gore most uncomfortable, consists of three analogies. The first is Gore's comparison of nuclear war to the environmental difficulties facing the world. The second, and most disconcerting, is Gore's likening of civilization's relationship to the earth with that of a dysfunctional family. The third is a familiar one; he compares the effort needed to the Marshall plan. These three analogies focus the argument of the book. The first provides an interpretive framework for the magnitude of the problem; the second suggests a language to describe the spiritual issues behind problem and solution; the third structures the proposals necessary to save the Earth. Gore's use of the analogies gives the book its rhetorical power or, in Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's terms, gives "presence" to his arguments.

The ill-defined concept of "presence" has tantalized argumentation scholars since the English translation of The New Rhetoric in 1969. As Karon (1989) argues, presence, loosely "translated" as the attention paid to or the importance accorded to an argument, is a critical element in the rhetorical theory of Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca; if the goal of argument is "to induce or to increase the mind's adherence to the theses presented for its assent" (1969, p. 4), then the attention granted to those theses is of utmost salience. Presence, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca state, is of "paramount importance to the technique of argumentation".

Yet "presence" is ambiguous. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca identify it as both a psychological and a rational mode of argumentation. Its relationship to the rest of their rhetorical theory is uncertain. There is no analysis of its role in the uses of analogy, metaphor, example, quasi-logical argumentation, or any of the other strategies Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca forward. The secondary literature is equally scant. Only Karon (1989) and Kauffman and Parson (1990), and Leroux (1992) comment upon presence at length. Karon's intriguing analysis is concerned with what presence reveals about Perelman's epistemology. Kauffman and Parson comment insightfully on the relationship between metaphor and presence, but they are interested in the use of dead metaphors. Rather than detailing the "presence" of presence, they study the strategic absence of presence.

Leroux (1992) opens the most useful path to an analysis of presence. His discussion of presence, situated within the development of a critical vocabulary for the understanding of style, emphasizes the function of presence. He argues that "style is the initial encounter through which auditors apprehend meaning" and that presence, treated as a stylistic device rather than a philosophical concept, can be useful for understanding "the language variations and tactics [that] can enlarge or vivify a subject". Leroux notes the important role that analogy can play in creating presence and suggests that presence is one way through which critics can collapse the troublesome form/content distinction.

In this essay, I extend the work of these authors, particularly Leroux, by exploring the relationship between analogy and presence through a critique of Earth in the Balance. …

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