Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Chapter 5- Writing as Healing and the Rhetorical Tradition

This article explores the relationship between writing as healing as it has transformed through pre-classical, modern, and postmodern views on rhetoric. Pre-classical theory believed that language could heal. The author refers specifically to Antiphon, a healer-Sophist whom believed in studying the tension between discourse and the body in order to heal. This is the idea that the body or natural self may be at conflict with its discourse/position in society, causing illness. He used sacred songs and chants that he believed could heal the patient of this tension.

However, upon the uprising of literacy leading to the modern era, many oral practices lost their value. And as far as rhetoric was concerned, the greatest thinkers of the time were not too keen. Plato is known for his backlash against writing as a new technology that did not aim at the truth or greater good but rather manipulation of absolute Truth. He claims, "medicine rests on knowledge and rhetoric does not." However, the author of the article argues that expressionist rhetoric is not aiming to discover the absolute true self, rather that it embraces their being no such thing and rather the self as a fluid process.

This brings us to postmodern expressivist rhetoric/logotherpy, which our author claims contains, "orality-within-literacy upon which the old verbal medicine was based." Plato was wrong: this kind of writing doesn't encourage a kind of naive search for one's true self, but rather the ongoing process on discovering new selves and identities based on one's experience within discourse. The issue then becomes one of pedagogy. How do we teach this kind of writing if "generalized truths" about composing it do not exist? Jerome Bruner argues for the teaching environment being about to provide students with what he calls a "library of scripts." The teacher's most important job, in this way, may be to provide students with environment and material to promote composition. Johnson writes, "Bruner's cognitive approach clearly roots itself in the discourse of the community, for he constructs the self in terms of intertextual play and intersubjectivity."

This was a very interesting read for me, as I found myself agreeing with things being said on both sides of the argument. While I do think Plato was off in saying that rhetoric is not rooted in knowledge, I see the possible misinterpretation of logotherapy as a kind of search for the true self. However, I think what we really search for in writing as healing is self-knowledge. The postmodern view can be described as the process of "'coming to vision of one's self as flexible, as a changeful process always involved with the larger processes of evolving social contexts." This is a statement I cannot argue with.

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