Friday, October 29, 2010

Aristotle as Dumbledore?

I have a huge stack of books around here, begging for my attention, but I couldn't pass by this title on the library shelf the other day: "Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts."
I have been reading a lot about Aristotle in English 5361, Theories of Invention in Writing, and simultaneously reading the Harry Potter series, so I naturally was curious about what David Baggett and Shawn E. Klein had to say in combining the two. I've just been skimming at this point, but I did spend some time looking over the indexed parts related to Aristotle, which seem primarily related to his moral philosophy. Aristotle judged people on actions, the authors argue, not words (hear that sophists?!), especially when good deeds are done because they are good and right, not because they bring some sort of reward. Another interesting point the authors made was that all of the important decisions we encounter in life take place in an emotional context. Aristotle would say, the authors contend, that a reasonable person gives emotions the "appropriate" weight, and to be virtuous, via the Doctrine of the Means, a response should not be too excessive or deficient in terms of emotions. Relating that to rhetoric, I think of the balance Aristotle creates in his artistic proofs of Ethos, Logos and Pathos. In Aristotle's view, the perfect rhetorical argument provides an ideal balance of those proofs, addressing authority of the viewpoint, a logical expression of the information and emotional touchstones. I hadn't really thought about this before, because emotional rhetorical appeals seem to be the default for many, if not most, people, but what happens to rhetoric without emotions? Is such expression even possible? Building or degrading authority or character -- the ethos -- seems to inherently provoke an emotional response from the audience, such as "that's not fair" or, "yeah, that person is a bum," even if that's not a core part of what's delivered. An argument without logic would provoke an emotional response of, "someone is trying to trick me." I can imagine many arguments without logic. In fact, those seem to come up quite often. And I can imagine many arguments that strip away the ethos, purposively, to get to the "root" of the issue, as in, it doesn't matter who is saying this, it just matters that it is being said. But emotions, and pathos, seem practically unavoidable. Another interesting point made by this book is that evil can be intelligent, such as Lord Voldemort, but it can't be wise. Dumbledore is quoted as saying that Voldemort's knowledge of magic is "perhaps more extensive than any wizard alive," but Aristotle argues that a person must be knowledgeable and do noble deeds for the sake of being good to truly be wise (and virtuous). Many of the, ahem, highly flawed characters in the books I have read so far -- Gilderoy Lockhart comes to mind -- wield rhetoric in self-serving, sophistic ways. So is Dumbledore, then, really a veiled representation of Aristotle? Hmmm ...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Platonic dialogue in the works

In an effort to create a contemporary (or relatively contemporary) Platonic dialogue, I have been working on piecing together journals and letters related to a Hawaiian pastor's calling to Fort Vancouver in the mid-1800s. This pastor, William Kaulehelehe, ended up being in the center of an international conflict at the fort, as a loyal British subject ousted from his home on the banks of the Columbia River, as the U.S. Army tried to bring order to the frontier in the Pacific Northwest. That's a much longer story, but my hope with this part of the dialogue is to present the rhetoric of the period as it influenced his decision but also as it reflected attitudes of the period, and rhetorical strategies.
I'm using the Twitter format as an inspiration and basically taking the actual historic text and adapting it only slightly to the faux-Twitter format.
First comes the script, a draft of which follows, with the analysis to come:

@RevBeaver: @HudsonsBayCo An ordinary, respectable countryman @FortVancouver, with his wife, might promote good behaviour of Sandwich Islanders

@ChiefFactor John (John McLoughlin): Need a trusty educated Hawaiian of good character to read the scriptures and assemble his people for public worship.

@GerritJudd (adviser to the Hawaiian king): @ChiefFactorJohn Wm. R. Kaulehelehe, @WRKaulehelehe!

McLoughlin: Need him to teach, too. And interpret.

Judd: Not as well-qualified as the first person selected but @WRKaulehelehe has good character, is faithful, industrious, and a skillful teacher. High recommendation.

McLoughlin: 10 pounds per annum

Judd: @WRKaulehelehe in regular standing as a member of the church. Wife accompanies him, no doubt will prove herself useful.

McLoughlin: 40 pounds per annum

Judd: @WRKaulehelehe @MaryKaai Go to the Columbia District? 3-4 weeks voyage away. Parish awaits.

Kaulehelehe: Aloha! @KawaiahaoChurch Aloha! @FortVancouver

And I'm working on a delivery prototype that will end up looking something like this:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bringing order through language, a la Pico

Just two paragraphs about a Renaissance rhetorician named Pico in James Herrick's "The History and Theory of Rhetoric," p. 162, made me wonder if I hadn't stumbled across some of the forgotten roots of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Kenneth Burke.
The paragraphs describe Pico as an Italian humanist, with the "conviction that humans employ language to order the world and to work cooperatively within it." Language, in Pico's mind, gives humans the freedom to create their destiny and choose their paths in life, as a unique trait of the species. Our power to choose, and to create civilization, he reasoned, is a direct consequence of our "linguistic capacity" and our abilities to "probe the 'miracles concealed in the recesses of the world, in the depths of nature, and in the storehouses and mysteries of God.'"
There might not be a direct connection, but I sense traces of Wittgenstein's language games (the contextual symbolic manipulation traditions we use to bring order to the world) and Burke's symbolic action (the connecting and disconnecting of symbols as a form of sense making) in those overview statements. I would need to read more by Pico and directly compare and contrast those thoughts to the other two. But that could be an interesting exercise in philosophical genealogy.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Print / The Renaissance, Internet / The Digital Age

I asked a question in class recently about rhetoric in the Renaissance era of European history, in terms of how much the printing press had fueled the massive changes of that time period. It had made me wonder how similar the Internet era of American history is, and in what ways the digital age is akin to the shifting of human culture that happened around the Renaissance. I thought I had read something connected to that somewhere, and I finally found again today the piece that must have been lodged in my brain.

Clay Shirky, a NYU professor, is on my personal list of Top 10 thinkers right now in relation to new media, and I highly recommend his books "Here Comes Everybody" and "Cognitive Surplus." But the following paragraph actually was in a pro-con piece he wrote for the Wall Street Journal, opposite Nicholas Carr, which I recently used as a discussion prompt in one of my Creative Media and Digital Culture courses:

"Print fueled the Protestant Reformation, which did indeed destroy the Church's pan-European hold on intellectual life. What the 16th-century foes of print didn't imagine—couldn't imagine—was what followed: We built new norms around newly abundant and contemporary literature. Novels, newspapers, scientific journals, the separation of fiction and non-fiction, all of these innovations were created during the collapse of the scribal system, and all had the effect of increasing, rather than decreasing, the intellectual range and output of society."

Just that one paragraph raises so many more thoughts and questions for me, such as: Are there parallels between the Church's pan-European hold on intellectual life and the mainstream media's hold on intellectual life in the United States before the Internet? Are the Luddites of this age any different, or are these people who complain about technology just another perpetual human archetype? Because of the historic changes during the Renaissance, can we now, with confidence, predict that new communication forms will increase the intellectual range and output of our society in the long run, despite the many not-so-smart displays that also will come with that growth (people admittedly do a lot of stupid things with new technology today)?

I might be hypersensitive to the technology bashing, but I think that the Internet truly is changing us, and our capabilities, and transforming us -- yes, evolving us -- into a different sort of animal, just as the printing press and printed word did for people half a millennium ago. Do you see parallels as well? Or am I just not thinking deeply enough about this?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

New York Times story on museum apps

Lots of interesting information here about other folks trying to apply mobile technology to "museums."

From Picassos to Sarcophagi, Guided by Phone Apps

Friday, October 1, 2010

Onward to TwHistory!

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I have been working on a sort of TwHistory project, or historical interpretation through Twitter, for the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site as part of the content for the Fort Vancouver Mobile module based on William Kaulehelehe.
One of the TwHistory founders, Tom Caswell, has corresponded with me about this idea and given me some advice. A great resource in getting started with this sort of thing can be found on the TwHistory site here, as a FAQ.
One of the first steps in this process is to create your story's Twitter characters. So I have been chipping away at those characters needed to recreate the conversation, through letters, that brought Kaulehelehe to the fort.

Here is my list so far:
@KanakaWilliam, where the main story will take place
@RevBeaver, a smarmy reverend involved in the story
@ChiefFactorJohn, John McLoughlin, the chief factor of the fort
@GerritJudd, the missionary in Hawaii who recommended Kaulehelehe to the fort Kaulehelehe – @WRKaulehelehe, the protagonist
@GHAtkinson, another smarmy reverend involved in the story
@MaryKaai, wife of William Kaulehelehe
@KawaiahaoChurch, the church where William came from
@RevSamuelDamon, yet one more reverend
@HudsonsBayCo, the organization that ran the fort

Once I finish the script, I will plug the lines into Twitter, and voila, the conversation will come to life again, at least in theory. I'll let you know how it goes.

Rhetorical analysis of the SPJ Code of Ethics

5361 (Rice) Assignment No. 1 from Brett Oppegaard on Vimeo.