- Bitterness of soul arises from words, seeming too sharp for speech, that ferment in the mute dark. Would speech be the uncorking that releases thoughts to the open air and sweetens their effect? What if they are indeed poison—a cure for the speaker to pour yet new bitterness for the hearer to drink? Is there no one who can drink this cup to the dregs and still live?
- In “getting things off the chest,” one lays burdens on others. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ teaches that one must not seek healing at the expense of another, for one already has healing at the expense of this man who endured all burdens beyond death. Has he been crucified in vain? Has he overcome death without effect? One must confess without oppressing—that is, confess to this Wonderful Counselor who can bear and has already borne all burdens.
- Bitterness of soul arises in the absence of confession. The Father unwounded hears and in the wounding of his Son heals.
The uses of first-personal discourse are many and powerful. But the intentional abstention from it has a remarkable effect. A speaker may choose to become less a person and more a relation between the content and the audience. The audience can be weaned from the distraction of the speaker’s charm, his existence, in order to look more single-mindedly at the content. Now, the audience will often be tempted to ask for credentials and to infer the speaker’s biographical details, but along with the speaker’s consistent refusal to involve himself will come the audience’s fuller understanding of the content and its worth.
Such a speaker who disappears, who ceases to exist as a person and thereby prevents a cult of personality, who becomes a relation between worthy content and the audience—is he not the greatest of human teachers? This teacher says, in his final iteration of the first-person, “I must decrease, so that this worthy content may increase.”
Yet if the speaker himself were the content—worthy content—and if the speaker should still avoid first-personal discourse to become a relation between this self-content and the audience, then this speaker would be more than a teacher. He being full would empty himself, would pour himself out to the audience, as if to offer his own flesh for food and blood for drink. And if he should afterwards choose to use the first-person, it would have a genuine authority. The audience, maybe now more properly called “disciples,” would then have an opportunity to apprehend the content, the speaker, in a direct and absolute relation that goes far beyond merely reporting what one has seen and what one has heard.
Many pundits say we are are becoming less textually aware. Maybe so. Odd to think that this generation spends more time with written text than any previous yet is less proficient with interpretation. Quantity over quality. It is also worth noting that this generation spends very little time engaged in oral conversation beyond what is required for conveniences. I suspect that there is some consequence for memory.
Out rush a bristle of horned suspicions, horror, horror, horror—but what is the use of painfully elaborating these consecutive sentences when what one needs is nothing consecutive but a bark, a groan?
—Virginia Woolf , The Waves (Bernard speaking)
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
—Paul, Romans 8.26
The thought of a practitioner who must deal with “experts” who impose their “expertise” for a profit:
If only my struggle were against ivory tower intellectuals! But it is not. You have mastered neither ideas nor things!
If only I could accuse you of giving impracticable advice or of starting from false premises! But I cannot. Your theory and art are incomprehensible drivel, too unclear to admit of either falsehood or truth.
If only you were saying something against which I could weigh my experience! But you are not. Your speeches are full of saying nothing, and what you say in one moment you unsay in the next.
If only you had a thought that could not be purchased (I would find you the most valuable men and women in the world)! But you do not. You have only what you sell, untenderable and useless riches that I am forced to buy.
[Y]ou cannot strangle a man when you are desirous of hearing what he has to say next.
As soon as my eyes scanned this line, I put the book down. My thoughts shifted to my conversations with many classroom teachers about the difficulty of classroom management and, more precisely, the hostility that results from the concept of management whenever other humans are involved.
Education gurus, in an attempt to escape this hostility, have hijacked the word engagement to offer an alternate approach that has some of the same effects: the teacher must present the lesson in such a way that students are or feel “engaged” in it and so wish to step through its procedures. Classroom management, according to this model, is in the domain of rhetoric. It becomes less about habituation through rewards and punishments and more about an appeal to the audience’s opinions and previous understanding. The classroom teacher must arrange the lesson the way a rhetorician arranges a speech, complete with figures, tropes, colors, and other wiles of language. Although we might have hoped that the direct consequence of teaching would be learning, it seems, according to this model, learning is a later consequence. Instead, the direct consequence has become “engagement.” Now, the one criterion for judging the level of engagement would be the audience’s reaction, so pathos has priority over logos—according to this model, both ideally and actually. The hope is that the lesson’s logos follows pathos.
At this point in the explication, I have no decided judgment about the concept of engagement. On the one hand, I am wary of the priority of pathos, although its usefulness is obvious. On the other, it does seem wrong, or contrary to experience, to assume that learning is a direct consequence of the bare presentation of logos, if such a thing were possible.
Rhetoric concerns persuasion, which is often not much like learning. But maybe pathetic persuasion is a propaedeutic to learning, and the rhetorical an open door for the dialectical. . . .
* I found this in Rome and Rhetoric, the section titled “Antony: The Fox Knows Many Things.” Willis deploys this maxim in the middle of a comparative analysis of Shakespeare’s Antony in Julius Caesar and his Menenius in Coriolanus.