Articles like Celeste Michelle Condit’s “Chaim Perelman’s Prolegomenon to a New Rhetoric: How Should We Feel?” make me love academic scholarship even more than I normally do. In the article, Condit chastises Perleman for neglecting pathos almost entirely in “The New Rhetoric.” In response to Perelman’s overt link between those he labels “ignoramuses” and “nonspecialists easily around and led astray” (117), Condit lashes back saying that Perelman “repressed the democratic mass” (100). Throughout her article, Condit uses rather harsh language to assign Perelman to trying to make humans too rational and not at all emotional.
Boldly, Condit argues the following: “Until we build our theories around emotion, therefore, we have an impotent reason, which cannot control a Holocaust (as Perelman and Olbrecht-Tyteca observed) and which might even create new forms of the same through a privileging of narrow processes of ‘reason’ over how human bodies feel” (104). Perhaps I am reading this wrong – I had to go over it several times to make sure – but is Condit saying that too much reason could not only not prevent a Holocaust (the Holocaust?), but that it might even create new forms of Holocausts?? That seems like a big leap to me.
And while I largely agree with Condits reading of Perelman’s “The New Rhetoric,” I take a few more issues with her claim that emotion rests with the body. On page 106 of her article she urges the reader by saying, “We need to ask many questions about how the bodily predispositions we share with other animals (such as lust and hunger and status drives) are remade by communication processes into social emotions.” I’m not sure I can get behind the notion that our bodies create status, though now that I think about it, I suppose the way we look does have a HUGE impact on how we are treated. Perhaps my initial reaction has more to do with the Shakespearean liver than it does appearance. I’m going to think more on this one.
This then brings us around to Condit’s definition of rhetoric: “theories of symbolic interactions among human bodies” (107). I am going to have to do some more pondering of this definition too and I invite readers here to comment on it. But I would also like to note that this definition seems somewhat in opposition to what she accuses graduate students in rhetoric of doing when she says, “Although the label ‘rhetoric’ is often pasted over recent works, most graduate students merely want to do ideological critiques of mass media artifacts” (97). If that’s the case, then are graduate students, obsessed with ideology, an exception to this bodily obsession?
I have much more to say on this topic, but for the sake of time I will leave you with something that I couldn’t stop thinking about as I read this article: Spock. It’s all logic all the time for Vulcans … or is it?
Star Trek Original Series Season 1, Episode 24 – This Side of Paradise – In which Spock shows emotion and frolics with ladies.
http://www.startrek.com/watch_episode/WbAn6ZPDBzv6 – I can’t get the embed code, so here’s the link. Enjoy.