«A Dissertation by SARAH ELIZABETH HART Submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies of Texas A&M University in partial fulfillment of the requirements ...»
Levinas's ethics of responsibility affirm dialogic connections between rhetoric, poetry, and philosophy. Jon Kertzer uses Levinas to illuminate existential implications of artistic rhetoric in his article "The Course of a Particular: On the Ethics of Literary Singularity." Adopting a Levinasian perspective similar to Derek Attridge's in The Singularity of Literature, Kertzer emphasizes "how aesthetic particularity," especially visible in poetry, "can be troubled into opening an avenue to ethical insight" (232). For Kertzer, ethical inspiration arises "when singularity encounters its own excess" (229).
Kertzer emphasizes that poetry offers insights into ethical relations, and thus he points to an intimate connection between constitutive and artistic rhetorics.
Artistic rhetoric, including poetic tropes and structures, evokes particular emotional responses from readers. As constitutive rhetoricians demonstrate, artistic rhetoric may also serve as the very means of self-constitution and of addressing the self's existential situation. We negotiate psychological and ethical considerations of self in the same language and terms in which writers craft poetry. Thus a rhetorical perspective promises to reveal common ground between rhetoric, poetry, and ethics. To address elegiac rhetorics of loss in the short lyric, this dissertation assumes, first, that poetry is actually rhetorical—a view that has been contested in Western thought since the ancient Greek tradition.
Poetry vs. Rhetoric The claim that poetry is in fact rhetorical arises amidst controversies about the nature of poetry and its relationship to rhetoric and philosophy. Tensions between poetry and rhetoric arose in the work of ancient Western philosophers. Aristotle contrasts poetry and rhetoric based on their respective emphases on imitation and persuasion. In his "Poetics," Aristotle explains, "man is the most mimetic of all" animals and that mimesis, or imitation, "is an instinct of human beings, from childhood" (37). Poetic mimesis or imitation is essential to our humanity, and it is also the defining trait of poetry; Aristotle concludes that "all the poetic arts... produce mimesis..." ("Poetics" 29). Aristotle defines rhetoric, however, as "an ability, in each [particular] case, to see the available means of persuasion" (On Rhetoric 37). Persuasion is about the effects or the influence of "speech" on an audience's emotions and "judgment" (Aristotle, On Rhetoric 39). Imitation, however, lacks such an emphasis on judgment and decision, as it produces representations that please and instruct an audience (Aristotle, "Poetics" 37Aristotle describes both poetry and rhetoric as art, which blurs this distinction. Plato dismisses poetry completely from his ideal state in the Republic because he considers it deceitful. In the Gorgias dialogue, he suggests that both poetry and rhetoric are kinds of flattery, aiming only for pleasure with no concern for what is good or evil. Gorgias's early discussion of rhetoric in his "Encomium of Helen" turns on a skeptical sense of rhetoric. Gorgias demonstrates the power of language and persuasion by asserting that Helen would be innocent if she had been persuaded to go to Troy. Because Plato shares Gorgias's understanding of persuasion, he divorces rhetoric from philosophical dialogue nobly aimed at truth, according to Swearingen in Rhetoric and Irony: Western Literacy and Western Lies. Thus both rhetoric and poetry were relegated to the margins of philosophy.
Lloyd F. Bitzer maintains the distinction between rhetoric and poetry in his article "The Rhetorical Situation." Bitzer identifies rhetoric with persuasion, explaining that "rhetoric is a mode of altering reality" and therefore rhetoric situates its audiences as "mediator[s] of change" (4). Rhetoric is "pragmatic" and resides only in the realm of reality (Bitzer 3, 11). Bitzer explains that "a work is rhetorical because it is a response to a situation of a certain kind"—a real situation that differs from the fictional situation of poetry (3). Poetry or literary "fantasy" involves "a mind at play" and does not "requir[e] an audience in order to produce its end" (Bitzer 11, 8). The "poetic audience" simply "consists... of persons capable of participating in aesthetic experiences induced by the poetry" (Bitzer 8). For Bitzer, rhetoric and poetry reside in mutually exclusive realms of reality and fiction, and therefore address mutually exclusive audiences.
Wayne C. Booth argues against dichotomies between reality and fiction, and between rhetoric and fiction in his book The Rhetoric of Fiction. Booth's emphasis on the author-reader relationship recognizes that even fictional works are written by and for real people in real situations. Booth claims that "the rhetorical dimension in literature is inescapable" because "the very concept of writing a story" or any fictional work "seems to have implicit within it the notion of finding techniques of expression that will make the work accessible in the highest possible degree" (105). Fiction implies that its subject is capable of being communicated to a real audience. For Booth, rhetoric includes any "effort to help the reader grasp the work" (xiii). By focusing on the real context/situation of literature, Booth recognizes that fiction depends upon reality and rhetoric.
Rhetoric shapes the meaning of reality, explains Richard E. Vatz as he critiques Bitzer in "The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation." Vatz suggests that all "situations are rhetorical," and they "obtain their character from the rhetoric which surrounds them or creates them" (159). For Vatz, rhetoric creates the meaning of situations, whereas for Bitzer, rhetoric is dictated by "an intrinsic nature in events" themselves (Vatz 155). Vatz recognizes that, because "language is always value-laden," situations' meanings depend on "the rhetor's arbitrary choice of characterization" (Vatz 157). Kenneth Burke explains
a similar view in his theory of "terministic screens." In his essay "Language as Action:
Terministic Screens," Burke defines terministic screens as a set of terms and their attendant values, attitudes, and motives that determine what is and is not a possible experience of reality. Terministic screens determine what counts as a situation, and thus they help us create the meanings of our experiences. While we can compare and contrast various terministic screens (like religion, politics, Christianity, heteronormativity, etc.) to glimpse different aspects of a given situation, no single terministic screen can reveal all aspects of any situation. Every screen selects and deflects certain aspects of reality, thereby attributing a certain meaning and not another to a situation. As Vatz points out, rhetoric involves recognizing the choices that these processes imply, the choices that create a situation's meaning. Rhetoric thus does not seem to be merely a function of one type of situation, as Bitzer would have it, but rather a way of responding to any situation that recognizes how stylistic choices constitute experiences.
Poetry seems to be one such choice—a rhetorical choice—of describing a situation or experience. In poems like Gerard Manley Hopkins's "Spring and Fall" and Richard Wilbur's "Boy at the Window," the poets seem to crystallize moments of grief in attempts to understand and to illuminate some of the ambiguities of this emotional experience. Poetry draws attention to its language as one choice of many possible choices of how to describe an experience of an emotion or idea. For example, when Richard Wilbur describes the complex context surrounding the boy's weeping for the snowman, Wilbur seems to resist expectations of grief as a cold, dark, even isolating emotion. Through the snowman's gaze, we see the weeping boy "surrounded by/Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear" (Wilbur lines 15-16). Gwendolyn Brooks similarly seems to complicate assumptions that "hell" is a place in her poem "my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell." In Brooks's poem, the speaker seems to emphasize hell-like experiences of being "very hungry" and "incomplete," experiences that endure during "the devil days of... hurt" (Brooks lines 5, 8). Such descriptions suggest that emotional and psychological pain can also be a kind of hell. Keats also resists readers' expectations of elegiac mourning in "This Living Hand." Keats's speaker mourns for his own eventual death rather than for the loss of a loved one, threatening to haunt the reader until she is compelled to sacrifice her own life so that her "conscience" might be "calmed" (7). Keats's curse flies in the face of the conventional elegiac aim to protect the other, conveying a threat that opposes readers' expectations of elegiac care.
By resisting readers' assumptions about grief and hell, Wilbur, Brooks, and Keats emphasize that their poetic descriptions constitute rhetorical choices about how to describe emotional experiences and situations.
Reading, Writing, Responsibility Readers' awareness of such rhetorical choices plays an important role in J. Hillis Miller's theory of ethical reading. In his essay "The Ethics of Reading," Miller explains that ethical reading involves "respon[ding] to what the words on the page say rather than to what we wish they said or came to the book expecting them to say" (190). Our expectations of texts, like terministic screens, shape texts' meanings. For example, Brooks's poem would mean something different if we assumed that hell could only be a specific place. Miller urges us "to recognize the unexpected" that a text presents, the way a text resists and revises our expectations—even though such reading is "unfortunately not all that common" (189-190). Like Miller, Drucilla Cornell fears that without resisting cultural assumptions, reading and writing can promote oppressive cultural norms. In her essay "Feminine Writing, Metaphor, and Myth," Cornell recognizes that the oppression of minorities and of women is validated by enduring cultural myths. To end such oppression, we must revise, re-write, and re-imagine these cultural myths, according to Cornell. In other words, we must change the terministic screens that de-value or exclude some people's experiences from the category of human experience. Poetry may promote such ethical revisions both by emphasizing the rhetorical choices that produce terministic screens and by imagining new terministic screens that may attribute more inclusive, more humane values to situations and experiences. Rhetoric may likewise promote such ethical revisions by functioning as a terministic screen through which we can contrast and evaluate various other terministic screens. Such revisions of terministic screens also depend on written and oral dialogue among poets and readers, speakers and audiences.
My use of dialogue and loss as heuristic lenses depends on dual definitions of these terms. Dialogue primarily means reciprocal, responsive interactions between people—what Wayne Brockriede describes as bilateral, "fully human interaction" (10).
Such dialogue is deeply personal since each interlocutor must "risk his very self in his attempt to establish a bilateral relationship" with the audience (Brockriede 5). Dialogue is thus deeply ethical. "Responsibility," Emmanuel Levinas explains, "is what is meant by dialogue," and such dialogue entails "a commitment in which the other remains in his otherness" ("Martin Buber" 67). Dialogue is the crux of Levinas's ontological ethics, which form the cornerstone of Judith Butler's ethics of responsibility in "Giving an Account of Oneself." Dialogue or rhetorical reciprocity, as Butler explains, makes possible ethical recognitions of selves and others. Our humanity, the very possibility of "a human face," depends on such reciprocity (Butler 23). I conclude that ethical rhetoric must be dialogic.
My dialogic heuristic coincides with C. Jan Swearingen's constitutive rhetorical view in Rhetoric and Irony: Western Literacy and Western Lies. Swearingen describes Plato's emphasis on dialogue as the appropriate medium for philosophical discovery.
Monologue is a dangerous mode of expression for Plato, who feels that "deceptiveness is an inherent and sometimes deliberate function of monologue" (Swearingen, Rhetoric 74). Dialogue, on the other hand, avoids such deceptiveness because in the situation of "viva voce" dialogue, the speaker is available and accountable to the audience (Swearingen, Rhetoric 74). Only through such mutually correcting reciprocity can philosophical interlocutors approach valid knowledge. Ethical rhetoric constitutes the kind of dialogic reciprocity that makes such philosophical pursuits possible.
For Levinas, such responsible dialogue is ontological. Because subjectivity is ontologically responsive to and responsible for the other in Levinas's theory, such responsiveness constitutes responsible, ontological dialogue. I would suggest that such responsible dialogue is the aim of ethical rhetoric, and such an aim resonates on an ontological level. Applying Levinas's theory to rhetoric in this way also leads us to view Levinas as, in part, a rhetorical theorist. Such a view would, for example, prompt us to
revise R. Clifton Spargo's characterization of Levinas's rhetoric. In Vigilant Memory:
Emmanuel Levinas, the Holocaust, and the Unjust Death (hereafter cited as Vigilant Memory), Spargo recognizes that "mourning... functions throughout Levinas's canon as an internal rhetoric of his discourse as well as a sign of rhetorical imperatives denoting and inflecting his descriptions of ethics" (32).2 Here Spargo helpfully demonstrates that Levinas's ethical discourse, like all discourse, has its own rhetoric. I suggest, however, that because Levinas's rhetoric emphasizes dialogue and responsibility, Levinas's rhetoric conveys a meta-argument that such dialogic ethics is itself inherently rhetorical.
In Levinas's rhetorical style, Spargo sees the mournful dimensions that affirm loss as a central component of dialogue and rhetoric. The mournful dimensions of Levinas's ethics thus also resonate with elegiac poetry, which itself responds to and protects the singularities of selves and others, as Jon Kertzer and Derek Attridge explain. Levinas