Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Saucy Defense of Rhetoric: The Escape Artist of Prose Style

Since when did so many writers become recalcitrant about paying attention to their prose? Publishing information is easy; a soul-less robot can do that. Even if there is a mountain of meaning, a soup├žon of style is nothing more than unsatisfying. Indeed, it is quite a shame (sham?) how 'rhetoric' has become a pejorative term. In Jane Austen's time, the conflict existed between pride and prejudice; now the conflict lies between pejorative and prejudice. Rhetoric, the modern pejorative, has unfairly been equated with prejudice. "Just as prejudice lacks reason or experience, rhetoric is also void of substance," I can hear the analytic variety loudly roaring.

What the analyst does not understand, however, is that rhetoric is no mere gymnast, but rather, an escape artist. The analytic crowd can complain as long as they please about the somersaults, tumbling, and aerials, but they are not seeing the full performance. The rhetorician has meaning as its gymnastics and prose style as its escape. The analyst has no gymnastics and no escape whatsoever, as they sit at their desk looking oh so serious, writing down their dull words with an even duller pencil. The rhetorician escapes the binding seriousness of the analyst, though the latter only sees imbecilic gesticulations.

I can think of no better example than music to defend my zeal for rhetoric. Suppose that the no-nonsense analyst has a very complex sequence of thoughts, though they lack a writing style that reads well. Second, I invite the reader to entertain the idea of Beethoven playing a complex piece on his piano where the notes simply do not go well together. It does not matter how hard the analyst thought, or how tricky a composition Beethoven might have played, because the first does not make for enjoyable reading and the second simply hurts the ears.

Why it has become so difficult to find something enjoyable to read has me bewildered. Those who do not take pleasure in reading are often blamed for their lack of literary vigor, but perhaps the blame ought to be shifted. If the writer does not give quality time to their prose, there is little reason for them to deserve time from any reader. Contrary to popular opinion, I would say that reading is only as boring as its writers are, and not vice-versa.


  1. I would totally agree with your conclusion in regards to poetry and would like to expand that to include music. I have very little music vigor when it comes to much of the music that is being promoted today. Does that mean that the fault lies with me. I think not. Music is only as good as those who perform it.

    1. After reading your comment, I think that my conclusion is more appropriate in relation to music actually, which you aptly mentioned! Hundreds of years ago, musicians like Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart created objectively good music and, as far as I am aware, were also successful in their time. But now, a lot of popular musicians are successful, though they don't even hold a candle to the classical musicians I mentioned. It's an interesting phenomenon, though worthy of suspicion.