Challenges of modern culture and the rhetoric. Voice in the discussion
University of Łódź
The image of the sophists created by Plato, who saw them as a propagators of feigned knowledge and venal corruptors of the youth, was for them, as we know now, very unjust and unfair. This very image for over two thousand years managed to dominate the models of interpretation, which helped to discredit the achievements of the sophists and systematically deformed the essence of their gigantic contribution to the history of European intelligence. One could say that the Europe was learning the fascination by ideas of good, truth and beauty by reading the Dialogues by Plato, but his formative process was based on the intellectual mistake in the very starting point.
The cultural mission of the sophists or the interpretation of the thoughts of Plato and Socrates and the point of view of the latter from the Platonian dialogues are different, most complex and still arguable issues, which are an important field of specialist study.
In the below, abbreviated notes I would like to engage myself in a different aspect of this heritage. I intend to research on the thesis that the Platonian view on the sophists, as historically false it may seem, it may provide useful to the diagnosis of the contemporary state of the rhetorical practice. We can deal here with the illustration of the self-fulfilling prediction (after the ages this time): the Platonian sophists were probably nothing more that the creation of polemic imagination of Plano, but they became completely real in our times.
Not only for the needs of this paper, but also for substantive reasons one should remind that the related term, and sometimes a synonymous of sophistry is in Platonian dialogues our rhetoric. It would seem that the bitter words of Platonian Socrates addressing the sophistry/rhetoric fit amazingly well to the common kind of rhetorical practice we have today. I have in mind the elements of rhetoric included in commercial training of self-presentation and other communicative abilities. If the sophists (as emphasized Werner Jaeger, one of the authors who rehabilitated the sophists on the XX century) did not imagine the teaching of rhetoric (the art of speech) without the thorough knowledge of politics but the modern teaching of rhetorical abilities (pronunciation) has nothing in common with learning about the world. I can be connected with (fully paid, of course) training of other practical abilities (for example: negotiation, body language, maintaining relationships with other people i.e.).
The image of rhetoric and its place in the typology of knowledge, included in Platonian Gorgias seems to describe its contemporary fall very well. Isn’t it this way, that the contemporary, commercial rhetorical practice changed into “a routine, based only on the experience, letting one to get the appraise of the masses and give them pleasure?” (Jaeger, Paidea, 2001, s. 690). Isn’t the place of “training” considered rhetoric with other kinds of “art of praising”: sophistry, cosmetology and cuisine” (ibidem) And isn’t this service kind of contemporary rhetorical practice “for one’s soul the same that’s the cuisine for one’s body?” (ibidem, p. 691).
The contemporary teaching of rhetorical abilities deprives the rhetoricy its potential possibilities of speaking the brave this, speaking „against the wind” without the need of considering the consequences. In return it makes the rhetoric a tool of ma king an impression on the listeners and giving pleasure to oneself. But it isn’t the only problem. The modern model of teaching the rhetoricy is inscribed in the tendency of the „teachery” of the social life. It’s based on a concept that the source of success and the condition of avoiding the defeat on any field of our activity (in business, politic, citizen, family or intimacy and also health and physical and mental hygiene) is the acquiring of the specific abilities which can be gained by anyone while contacting and expert/trainer/instructor.
This “teachery” happens in case of paid training or more and more often medial broadcasts of the “handbook profile”. The practical knowledge transmitted in this model is often fragmented, non-cohesive and superficial. It often fakes its own hold in the knowledge allegedly deepened, reputedly consolidated in the conceptions and scientific research. It juggles with the slogans of self-development, autonomy, elasticity, creativity and innovation.
Referring to the late lectures of Michel Focault (Bezpieczeństwo,terytorium, populacja, 2010) one can say the real function of the “teachery” (and also the training on the rhetoric) is ensuring the predictability and optimization of the activity in different areas and dimensions of the contemporary, amazingly complex social life and, at the same time the protection of the population against the chaos and critical states. To put it in a different words, I mean the “governmentality” – the contemporary form of power – the indirect leading the people by equipping them with the feeling of subjected causative power and the motivation to lead their lives by themselves.
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer said once that the „cultural industry” is a „mass lie”. Maybe today we should consider saying the same thing about the “teachery business”. It wouldn’t be the worth thing if the influence of this “industry” would be limited to the field of “practical” uses. It’s the other way around, the “utility” mentality shines on many university fields of research and does not omit the one dealing with scientific rhetorical analysis and academic way of teaching this subject. The researchers and academic teachers are advertizing their own methods of rhetorical analysis as clear, manageable algorithms, which help to skillfully “unpack the text”. The main criterion of the evaluation of the rhetorical analyses is the slogan “the students should find it amusing” or “that can be used during the training”. It happens sometimes that in biographical notes included in academic texts or in the texts the authors mark their own training abilities. In this way the methodological and social self-awareness of contemporary rhetoric can chance into the mixture of uncritically scientific and life-like love of comfort. Despite the sham it’s not the science being popularized, it’s the popular mind colonizing science.
FAR 2011 No. 3 (26) July-September