Rhetoric and Gaming 2.2: Dali, Surrealism, and the Rhetorical Triangle

Today’s plan:

  • It’s Twitter Time
  • Write in your game journal
  • Discuss: Dali
  • Homework


I’ve written an introduction to twitter to get us started.

Two Comments from the Game Journals

Regarding catharsis, someone wrote:

As far as this topic goes, the subject discussed in class over Aristotle’s opinions on catharsis struck me. The idea that we as people view what gives us negative emotions in order to purge ourselves of such emotions is an interesting concept, and as I think about it, I can think of examples from my own personal experiences in which I have used art of some form to relinquish myself of negative emotions. Listening to certain songs while angry, or writing something depressing while feeling sad provides an excellent outlet for these negative emotions.

However, I can also think of examples where catharsis did not work out in this manner. Such as being sad and watching movies such as “Up” and “Saving Mr. Banks” made me feel considerably worse and unable to watch those movies ever again, despite how much I ironically enjoyed them.

When it comes to catharsis, I’ve been torn. Sometimes, I think we can watch something sad and, rather than purging emotions, the work of art validates them. Sometimes, we just need to know that others have felt (and survived?) what we are experiencing. A part of me wonders what the Greek term was for purging in that passage, since Greek terms are quite slippery and often have a wide range of interpretations.

Making a case for mimesis

>According to Aristotle, mimesis is the process by which we learn to be. If we are products of our material conditions, then this means we are always engaged in a process of looking and learning. As a father, I am thinking particularly about my daughter, and the way that she mimics my wife and I’s behavior, and–even more so–the behavior she sees exemplified on television.

Aristotle’s theory of mimesis, we might say, highlights this tendency to be(come) as we see. And, he would argue–and I would vehemently agree–this isn’t a process reserved to children. Adults too learn behavior from role models throughout their lives. We are never finished products/personalities/selves, but are always in process, becoming otherwise.

Dali and Surrealism

First, a picture that many of you have seen:

Rockwell Girl at Mirror

Perhaps fewer will have seen Gene Pelham’s photo upon which Rockwell based the photo Here’s another worth considering:

And one of Dali’s:

And another Dali


Let’s compare:

What do we “need” to “appreciate” the second work, by Jackson Pollock as art?

And what of Marcel Duchamp’s sculpture, “The Fountain”?

I would suggest that the difference between Dali’s surrealism and Pollock’s postmodernism is that the latter is aimed at a smaller audience: the artistic community. Whereas, especially if we read Dali’s work, the former has a wider audience in mind. But do they both have the same purpose?


Game Journals (finish that game!)

Read Baraka’s “Revolutionary Theater”

Expository Writing 2.1: The Proposal

Today’s plans:

  • Some Twitter stuff
  • The Proposal
  • Show me some research


I want to make sure everyone has their accounts set up. I’ll ask you all to favorite a particular post, and then to follow everyone who has favorited that post. That way, we will all be following each other and will be able to see what everyone else posts.

The Proposal Project

Some nuts and bolts:

  • The proposal should be 500-750 words
  • The proposal should be draft in Google Docs and shared with me (insignificantwrangler at gmail dot com)
  • The title field of the proposal should include your last name. Example: Santos: Fantasy Football
  • The proposal should have three major sections: Project Description, Project Research, and Production Schedule
  • The Proposal is due Saturday, Sept. 5th at 11:59am. That’s noon people. I have to read all of these things by Tuesday’s class.

I want the proposal to have three basic sections. Each section should have its own heading. The first section should be a Project Description. In a few paragraphs, this section should give me an idea of what you want to write about this semester: the general topic, the people who are interested, your background in the topic, your expectations, etc. The second section should be Project Research. This section should give me concrete specifics about the community. Who are the important people writing on this subject? And/or, where are the important places people write about this subject? Make it clear what places you will be reading for ideas.LET ME MAKE THIS PERFECTLY CLEAR: NO MATTER WHAT THE SUBJECT, WRITING REQUIRES READING. WRITING IS RESPONSIVE. I DO NOT WANT TO READ ANYTHING THAT ISN’T A RESPONSE TO A SPECIFIC PIECE OF WRITING NO MATTER WHAT YOUR SUBJECT. This is also the section that should make clear where you plan to write.

Some ideas:

  • I’ve mentioned medium.com a few times in class. Medium is a publishing platform and writerly community. You can use the search field and the tags to find topics and conversations. Also, you can comment on articles Perhaps your proposal could include writing a longer essays on medium.com. You need to write 750 words a week, but in your Production Schedule you might indicate that you will take two weeks to publish a 1500 word essay on medium. If you are completely struggling for a topic, then you might want to specialize and simply follow a particular tag on medium–writing comments and response essays.
  • Another place for writing and community would be Reddit.com. Reddit has pre-established communities, though there isn’t set rules for writing in those communities (many are built around short posts, not longer pieces of writing). There are other spaces on the net too. Again, if you are struggling for a topic, then maybe you want to join metafilter, an old internet community in which smart people share interesting stuff. Or maybe you want to join slash.dot, a technology centric forum site to discuss a range of topics. And, of course, there’s also specific media sites, like espn.com forums or SBnation. Are you an avid reader? Then maybe Goodreads.com?
  • Podcasts. Because sometimes you want to listen to something and then write a response. Also, many popular podcasts have user forums. Check the iTunes store.
  • Instagram. When I was planning this site, I came across a really interesting Instagram account: carolinecalloway. Calloway has been writing an autobiography via photos and stories on Instagram. This is a bit of a different kind of project, since you wouldn’t be joining a community as much as trying to make one. But I could see a project in which every week you posted an image to instagram with 300+ words of writing. If all the images shared a common theme, then I think you would have a cool project. And I could see this working for SO many different kind of projects. Imagine if you made this all about comic books. Or imagine if you made this about Black Lives Matter. Or imagine if you made this about… One image. 400 words. A couple tags. Every week.
  • Twitter. Finally as you narrow down your proposal, you should identify 3-5 things on twitter that you can follow. This is both to find material to read (ideas) and to help broadcast your work and build an audience.

The final component of the proposal is your Production Schedule. This can be developed as a list or a table–but it should give me a week by week plan for what you might write. You should at least cover weeks 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Give me a sense of what you imagine you will be doing. Do you want to do 3 weeks of short writing and then one long piece on medium? Do you have an idea for a longer post/question you might make on reddit? Perhaps you want to spend a week telling a story about why you care about your topic? Perhaps you want to spend 3 week writing a 2000 word guide for people who are new to the activity, which you can then post to a bunch of different spaces in hopes of gaining feedback? Do you want to read a book on your subject and post a review to amazon.com? Are you going to try and write a post that asks other people what you might read?

Remember, as you imagine what you might do, that I expect you to be reading every week. It is very difficult to get above a C in this class if you don’t read, even if you are a talented and fluid writer.

A Final Thought

Let me reiterate my original idea for how this class works:

  • You find a community and write with people. WITH PEOPLE. Weeks 3-12.
  • We read two books about fan communities–how they form, operate, etc.
  • You write a final paper (weeks 12-16), probably 7 to 10 pages in length, that compares your experiences in a community to those theorized in the books.

But, let me be CLEAR, you have complete freedom to not do this. You have to write online for ten weeks. You have to read two books on fandom. But your final paper doesn’t have to compare your online writing experience to the books. You can do any kind of project you want, and at the end of the year we can figure out what your final paper should be.

My primary concern is that you do something that interests you.

Rhetoric and Gaming 2.1 Tolstoy, Art, and Identification

Today’s plan:

  • Play This: Bad Paper
  • Art and Identification
  • Back to discussing games


This semester I’ll be asking you to use twitter. This is for professional development and civic development. Today we will create accounts, and I’ll ask you to send out a couple of tweets. Using the course hashtag.

Tolstoy, Isocrates, Ethos, and Identification

For our last class, I asked you to read excerpts from Tolstoy’s 1896 essay “What is art?” The excerpted version is broken into aphorisms, or a series of short concise statements. I want to focus a bit of attention on the opening aphorism:

In order correctly to define art, it is necessary, first of all, to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure and to consider it as one of the conditions of human life. Viewing it in this way we cannot fail to observe that art is one of the means of intercourse between man and man.

In our discussion of Aristotle, I suggested that art, and even a theory of art, is a response to problems. These can be universal problems–problems that every human, every where, at every time, faces. Or they can be particular problems–problems that arise at a particular time for particular reasons (often they are a mix of both–it isn’t necessarily an either or). For instance, the game we played at the beginning of class is clearly a response to what many have terms America’s culture of debt. But, thinking universally, we could say that it is a commentary on poverty and helplessness. And, if we are thinking Romantically (in Tolstoy’s words, if we are interested in the transfer of feelings), then the game attempts to recreate that feeling of hopelessness by locking you into a series of “can’t win” choices.

Back to Tolstoy: what does it mean if we argue that “a condition of human life is intercourse between [hu]man and [hu]man?”

Identification, Nationalism, and Art

I want to twist Tolstoy a bit away from his Romantic interest in the recreation of emotion to focus on his interest in uniting human beings. I am thinking particularly of his conclusion that:

Note that this Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man’s emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity. (emphasis added)

And Tolstoy clarifies what might happen if art did not effect this union:

And if men lacked this other capacity of being infected by art, people might be almost more savage still, and, above all, more separated from, and more hostile to, one another

Thus, art contributes to our unification, our identification with each other, our sense of community and nationality. Art is the glue that commits us to write and maintain Rousseau’s social contract.

This theory of the social contract, and the idea of art as what unifies a group of individual savages into a civil “we” traces back Ancient Greece–specifically, to the rhetorician Isocrates (not to be confused with Plato’s teach Socrates–Isocrates was actually their rival). In his long mockery of Plato’s Apology, Isocrates argues for the cultivation of paideia, or for an education dedicated to producing the Ideal Greek citizen. For Isocrates, to be Greek wasn’t a matter of race, religion, or birth. Rather, it was a matter of “culture”–of accepting a particular set of values, of having the proper upbringing, of attaining a measure of class. Isocrates’s place in history is often debated–is he a progressive offering a democratic education? Or an elitist, conservative, reactionary prioritizing privilege and exclusion? This is not an easy question to answer–but his writing asks us to think about the political dimensions of art and education.

Regardless of how we answer that question, we can draw from Isocrates’s the idea that art cultivates ethos, one of the three primary rhetorical appeals. Let me explain: according to ancient Greek sophists and Aristotle, for a person to be persuasive, her speech needs to balance three dimensions (or appeals): logos, ethos, and pathos. Different occasions call for different appeals–one should probably not be too logical in a eulogy.

Quick test (all stats made up):

  • Don’t you realize people who smoke are 340% more likely to contract lung cancer?
  • Don’t you remember that Dr. Robinson emphatically argued that smoking is hazardous to your health?
  • Don’t you realize 9 out of 10 doctors condemn smoking?
  • Don’t you realize that if you keep smoking you’ll never meet your grandchildren?
  • Don’t you realize that LeBron James couldn’t play basketball if he smoked?
  • Don’t you realize what you could do with that 6 dollars a day if you weren’t smoking?

While we often use ethos to mean “credibility,” this is a pretty impoverished sense of the word. Yes, ethos is often an indication of whether we are willing to accept someone’s ideas, and thus whether we consider them credible. But it is also more complicated, since we will often only accept their ideas after they have proven that they are “one of us,” after their speech has exhibited the culture markers that indicate they are a member of “our” community (and not one of “them”).

Ah, the “them.” The dark underside of paideia, ethos, and identification. As a number of theorists have argued (including Kenneth Burke, Edward Said [pronounced SI-EED], Jacques Derrida, and Judith Butler), the “we” inevitably defines itself in contra-distinction to a “they.” The “they” often takes on villainous tones. “They” are the barbarians that threaten Isocrates’s Athens, barbarians who would storm the gates. Or, as Burke argued, wherever we find union, a bringing together, we will also find division. Or, as Derrida argued, every act of definition will necessarily exclude and marginalize (here I would highlight, in Derridean fashion, how terminate and determine share the same root, “term,” from the Latin “terminus,” which means “end,” “bound,” or “limit”). In the most blunt terms, Burke and Derrida would ask us how we determine who to terminate (and to encourage us to adopt more inclusive ways of identification that resist limits, or at least seek to expand them).

I have strayed quite far today from our purpose: what is art? Let me return to the question, to Tolstoy’s interest in unity, and to Burke et al’s caution toward the inevitable violence of division.

Great art, I propose, is art that shakes our identifications and points to the ways in which those identifications exclude. Simple art does the opposite and reinforces a narrow or established idea of what it means to be an American. Prime example: Frederick Douglas’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave or Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Both of these works expose us to the kinds of discrimination buried in our term citizen or American. They also work via pathos and empathy, asking us to stand in an/other’s shoes. A more contemporary example might be the now almost forgotten action film The Peacemaker, a film that has almost completely disappeared after 9/11. Or, I would argue, disappeared because of 9/11. Why? Because the film problematizes our traditional identifications of terms like “American,” “Patriot,” and, most importantly, “terrorist.” It is a film that works hard to make you identify with the terrorists, not to condone their violence, but rather to sympathize with their motives (and, as a great piece of art, it even problematizes this sympathy by demonstrating that “terrorists” aren’t some homogenous group, but themselves a group of heterogenous people each with their own motives and investments). After 9/11 I would argue that the audience for such a film is very small.

So, here’s what to think about and write in your game journal today: what identities exist in your game? Races? Genders? Nationalities? How are they portrayed? Are they complicated and heterogenous, or simple and homogenous? What kind of “us” does the game create? And what kind of “them” does it pit “us” against? Are “we” the GOOD GUYZ and “them” the BAD GUYZ? Or is it more complicated? How do you describe that complicated?

Super short re-cap: does this game try to make you feel uncomfortable? About what?

Talking About Games

We’ve got to nail down what games people are playing for the first project.


  • Read the two short Dali pieces I distributed in class, “The Moral Position of Surrealism” and “Reality and Surreality”
  • Play the heck out of your game! Write about it in your journal!

At this point, I want you to invest as much time in playing your game as you can. For every hour you play, put time into the gaming journal, addressing the questions we have touched upon thus far. You should copy and paste these questions into the gaming journal and answer any that are relevant:

  • What is this game identifying as the “problem” of being human?
  • Who does this game think I am?
  • Where/when is the setting of this game? Is the setting important?
  • What emotions does this game engender?
  • What questions does this game want to ask?
  • What beautiful images does this game present?
  • What music does this game use?

Socrates, Callicles, and a Reason for Long Speeches

So I have asked each of you to work from a single sentence. Now it is my turn to do the same. My sentence comes from the introductory moments of the Gorgias dialogue, when Socrates is laying down the rules. Gorgias agrees to these rules (much to McComiskey’s disbelief, as we will see in a few weeks), but notes:

There are some answers, Socrates, that must be given by way of long speeches. (449b)

I want to explicate what I feel is the significance of this line and, along the way, defend my argument that the Gorgias dialogue is the most rhetorical–even procedural–of any of Plato’s texts. I’m afraid that to do so will require a long speech. Or, at least, several shorter parts of other speeches spliced together to make a (w)hole the logocentric, transcendental Idealism Plato opposes to cupcakes.

I begin pointing to Derrida and his reading of the Phaedrus in Dissemination. Derrida highlights how Plato’s King Thamus chides Theuth’s gift to humanity: writing. Rather than extending their memory, the king warns that

… it will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own. You have not discovered a potion for remembering, but for reminding; you provide your students with the appearance of wisdom, not with its reality. Your invention will enable them to hear many things without being properly taught, and they will know nothing. And they will be difficult to get along with, since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so. (275a-b)

Derrida’s deconstructive reading of the passage focuses on dismantling the binary between speech and writing that underwrites (har) Thamus’ critique. Both speech and writing, Derrida suggests, are equally reliant upon the “external,” every signifier–whether spoken or written–reaches up toward a signified, the precise meaning of which expands beyond our grasp. Derrida’s reading hinges upon the dual meaning of the term pharmakon, which means both “cure” and “disease.” You cannot have meaning without the possibility of having other-than-meaning, for the very play (in terms of exchange, gift) that makes the former possible relies on the possibility of the latter play (in terms of mis(s)/take). Derrida drives home this point via the idea of speech, writing, meaning, and memory:

Memory therefore always already needs signs in order to recall the nonpresent, with which it is necessarily in relation. The movement of dialectics bears witness to this. Memory is thus contaminated by its first substitute: hypomnesis. But what Plato dreams of is a memory with no sign. That is, with no supplement. A mnene with no hypomnesis, no pharmakon. (133-134).

Before moving on from Derrida and his critique, I want to highlight an earlier passage from “Plato’s Pharmacy,” one in which Derrida addresses the threat writing poses to logos, dialectic, and the patriarchal Certainty is represents. He spends quite a bit of words playing with the idea of writing as an orphan, without father. What is the nature of this father, divinity, transcendental Truth (speaker)? Derrida speculates:

Now, about this father, this capital, this good, this origin of value and of appearing beings, it is not possible to speak simply or directly. First of all because it is no more possible to look them in the face than to stare at the sun. On the subject of this bedazzlement before the face of the sun, a rereading of the famous passage of the Republic VII is strongly recommended here.

I don’t have space for such a re-reading. Let me suggest that the transcendental nature of the Truth Plato describes here is troubled at the idea of a language we cannot control. This idea–of language as beyond our control, as Truth beyond our reach–is a central tenet of a kind of rhetoric that *I* (and not them) want to loosely and sloppily and supplementally label “sophist.”

So, to Kenneth Burke. To understand Socrates’ need for a long speech in response to Callicles’ resistance we must next turn to Kenneth Burke. Especially if we want to understand in what way the Gorgias is both rhetorical/procedural. First, let me conjure up Burke’s paradox of substance. Burke’s target isn’t Socrates, or Thamus, but rather Jon Locke. But while the target might be different, the charge is generally the same. Burke notes that etymologically “sub/stance” confers not what something is, but rather the context, what is external, that makes something possible (and Latour lovers can probably see how this puts us on a path to the “thing” and his networked ontology–but I get ahead of myself). However, in the philosophic tradition substance means something else–it speaks to the essence of a thing, to what is transcendentally intrinsic to it. He concludes:

Here obviously is a strategic moment, an alchemic moment, wherein momentous miracles of transformation can take place. For here the intrinsic and the extrinsic can change places. To tell what a thing is, you place it in terms of something else. This idea of locating, or placing, is implicit in our very word for definition itself: to define, or determine a thing, is to mark is boundaries, hence to use terms that posses, implicitly at least, contextual reference. We here take the pun seriously because we believe it to reveal an inevitable paradox of definition, an antimony that must endow the concept of substance with unresolvable ambiguity, and that will be discovered lurking beneath any vocabulary designed to treat of motivation by the deliberate outlawing of the wordsubtsance. (Grammar of Motives, 23-24)

Derrida insists that the play of the signifier is essential to life. To life! From a Derridean perspective a differant sense echoes in determine: terminate. To terminate the play of the signifier in an effort to contain or certify meaning is to terminate life. But we aren’t talking Derrida here, we are talking Burke–and Burke isn’t reading sub/stance critically here but rather constructively. Play becomes a resource for destabilizing terms in order to see otherwise (and here I would love to turn to his essay Terministic Screens both for its recognition of trained incapacity, or why our language/ways of seeing prevent us from seeing otherwise, and for the connection between how one approaches meaning and how one approaches humans, but unfortunately this speech is growing long enough without such a detour).

A second Burke passage. This one more straight-forward. The parlor metaphor.

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

This is here because Latour is going to use the word interminable.

Before we leave Burke, we can get closer to Vitanza and the threat of Callicles and Theuth’s gift by turning to the conclusion to Burke’s Permanence and Change. Here Burke is thinking about language and play. He is thinking about staring at the sun, at the transcendental divide between human and God, which if we listen read Derrida we hear see sub.stantively as the divide between signifier and signified, word and thought. Burke:

In these troubling antics [what, for concision, I might identify as substantively negotiating with others via “education, propaganda, or suasion”], we may even find it wise on occasion to adopt incongruous perspectives for the dwarfing of our impatience. We in cities rightly grow shrewd at appraising man-made institutions–but beyond these tiny concentration points or rhetoric and traffic, there lies the eternally unsolvable Enigma [THIS], the preposterous fact that both existence and nothingness are equally unthinkable. Our speculations may run the whole qualitative gamut, from play, trough reverence, even to an occasional shiver of cold metaphysical dread–for always the Eternal Enigma is there, right on the edges of our metropolitan bickerings, stretching outward to the interstellar infinity and inward to the depths of the mind. And in this staggering disproportion between man and no-man, there is no place for purley human boasts of grandeur, or for forgetting that men build their cultures by huddling together, nervously loquacious, at the edge of the abyss.

But what on Earth does any of this have to do with Callicles and long speeches. Let’s ask Latour.

No wait, let’s ask Nietzsche first.

Oh if there were more time! If this were truly interminable! But it isn’t. And so we can’t look at too much from Twilight of the Idols. But I cannot resist one passage from “What I Owe the Ancients”:

Please do not throw Plato at me. I am a complete skeptic about Plato, and I have never been able to join in the customary scholarly admiration for Plato the artist. The subtlest judges of taste among the ancients themselves are here on my side. Plato, it seems to me, throws all stylistic forms together and is thus a first-rate decadent in style: his responsibility is thus comparable to that of the Cynics, who invented the satura Menippea. To be attracted to the Platonic dialogue, this horribly self-satisfied and childish kind of dialectic, one must never have read good French writers — Fontenelle, for example. Plato is boring. In the end, my mistrust of Plato goes deep: he represents such an aberration from all the basic Greek instincts, is so moralistic, so pseudo-Christian (he already takes the concept of “the good” as the highest concept) that I would prefer the harsh phrase “higher swindle” or, if it sounds better, “idealism” for the whole phenomenon of Plato. We have paid dearly for the fact that this Athenian got his schooling from the Egyptians (or from the Jews in Egypt?). In that great calamity called Christianity, Plato represents that ambiguity and fascination, called an “ideal,” which made it possible for the nobler spirits of antiquity to misunderstand themselves and to set foot on the bridge leading to the Cross. And how much Plato there still is in the concept “church,” in the construction, system, and practice of the church!

But what misunderstanding? Latour will tell us. Latour will tell us of Socrates and Callicles what Nietzsche already told us of the difference between the historical/philosophical laborer and the true philosopher (see Beyond Good and Evil, section 211), namely that there is no will to truth beyond the will to power.

But first, one more preliminary nod to Victor Vitanza, who reading Derrida, Burke, and Nietzsche identifies in Isocrates (perhaps unfairly, perhaps–we will see in week six) King Thamus’ fear, the desire for Certainty, the violence of determination via identification: or, in other words, how far people are willing to go in order to construct an ethos that protects a [very specific articulation of] logos. For Vitanza, the way we approach the question of historiography–whether to uncover and reveal a lost past or to invent a future-perfect is already caught up in question(s) of speech and writing, essence and context, truth and power, short answers and long speeches.

My position is, especially in the next chapter, that we are not at home in our world/whirl of language. Any and every attempt to assume that we are has or will have created for human beings dangerous situations. (Negation, Subjectivity, and the History of Rhetoric 157).

Latour’s reading of the Gorgias dialogue begins by dismantling the difference between Socrates and Callicles and focuses on what they have in common: a disdain for the public, the people, democracy. Via Nietzsche we can see how both are fundamentally interested in power, even if they draw that power from a different “anchor.”

There is, to be sure, a big difference between the two anchors, but this should count in favor of the real anthropological Callicles [who will end up looking a lot like McComiskey’s take on Gorgias or Jarratt’s idea of a sophist], not Socrates. the good guy’s anchor is fastened in the ethereal afterworld of shadows and phantoms, whereas Callicles’ anchor is at least gripping the slid and resisting matter of the Body Politic. Which one of the two anchors is better secured? Incredible as it seems, Plato manages to make us believe that it is Socrates! (Pandora’s Hope 226).

Latour laments the shadow puppet version of Callicles Plato invents and imagines how else an actual sophist might have responded to Plato. That response is going to sound a bit like Burke, but–at the same time–a bit unlike Burke. Latour imagines how Callicles might respond to Socrates’ long speech at the end of the dialogue:

[…] because politics is not about the naked dead living in a world of phantoms and judged by half-existing sons of Zeus, but about clothed and living bodies assembled in the agora with their status and their friends, in the bright sun of Attica, and trying to decide, on the spot, in real time, what to do next.” But the straw Callicles, by now, through a happy coincidence, has been shut down by Plato. So much for the dialectical method and the appeal to “the community of free speech.” When the time of retribution has come, Socrates speaks alone in the much despised epideictic way. (Pandora’s Hope 227)

Latour continues on to suggest that what Socrates, and by extension all academics, needs to face is the demand to make a decision on the spot, in the wild, swimming in sub.stance and play and danger and facing the bright Sun of the unknown future that haunts the present and all the decisions we make. Kairos is Latour’s answer, both in Pandora’s Hope (see 242) and throughout the entirety of Politics of Nature. So, unlike Burke, the conversation *shouldn’t* be interminable.

But, to return to my opening, we ask why at the end of the dialogue, in the battle against Callicles/Nietzsche/democracy/power/uncertainty/etc does Socrates speak in that despised epideictic way? By now I hope this question rings rhetorical, or procedural. Can’t you, by now, answer it for yourself? Reading the Gorgias dialogue, Plato’s Socrates isn’t *proving* in the dialectical way, the superiority of dialectic. Because he can’t. Because he asks us to look at the Sun. What happens when we look at that Sun? Latour would suggest we all go blind–that any attention to the transcendental pulls us away from the problems and politics of this material world (and, hey look, I wrote a thing about this!). But I would argue that Latour asks the impossible when he asks human beings to simply ignore the question of the transcendental, of the beyond, of from where we come and go. And I think Plato’s on my side. And so, the Gorgias dialogue gives us two senses of what it means to stare at the Sun (not the son, but the Father says Derrida). Do we see the Light that leads us to higher truth, to the Good? Or do we see the abyss, turtles all the way down? The structure of the Gorgias dialogue is procedural because its lack of a dialectic conclusion, its devolving into a long speech, forces the audience to pick a side. To follow Socrates and his disinterested pursuit of timeless truths and happiness in the form of aestheticism? Or Callicles and his “hedonistic” enjoyment of a civic life spent wrestling the beast?

Whatever your choice, just be sure to render it in the form of a short answer.

Historical Rhetorics 2. Gorgias and Phaedrus.

Week Two:

  • Issues with the grid; secondary source presentations (
  • Ballif and Enos on historiography
  • Gorgias and the Phaedrus
  • Break
  • Prepping the homework on Aristotle
  • Socrates, Callicles, and a Reason for Long Speeches

What can we do about the grid?

We have a bit of an issue with the secondary source presentations, as a few weeks have a big pile up:

  • Week Four (Aristotle): Hillen, Palmer
  • Week Six (Isocrates): Cannon, Blank,
  • Week Seven (Older Sophists): Phillips, Bolick
  • Week Eight (Vitanza and Jarratt): Ray, Loyer
  • Week Nine (McComiskey and Latour): Cannon, Phillips
  • Week Eleven (Cicero): Cass, Blank
  • Week Twelve (Quintilian): Walkup, Gourgoitis
  • Week Thirteen (Augustine): Zarlengo, Blank
  • Week Fourteen (Ong/Ramus): Palmer, Zarlengo
  • Week Fifteen (Grassi, Humanism): Cosgrove

Onto the Gorgias and the Phaedrus. I have stuff on these in the wikibook:

Finally, I have a thing to read. I am calling this thing Socrates, Callices, and a Reason for Long Speeches. This was written in a straight shot, so to speak, before class. So excuse the typos. And the logos.

Expository Writing 1.2 / Twitter, Fandom Topics

On today’s agenda:

  • Talking about potential topics
  • Setting up Twitter accounts

Potential Fandom Topics

A few things up front: let me be clear–I don’t have an exact idea for what a good project in this course looks like. This course is an experiment. Like any experiment, it is based on solid theory and previous experience. I believe that if I give you the freedom to develop your own writing course, then you will come up with something that is both meaningful and productive. My role in all of this is to provide you feedback that helps intensify that meaning and productivity.

As I said in the first class, you could approach this class as an academic course. You could choose an academic discipline and integrate yourself into that community. You would put together a reading list (say an article a week), find some professional spaces in which people in that discipline congregate, follow a bunch of scholars on twitter and pay attention to what they discuss, etc.

You also have the freedom to do something more social or cultural. I would think the choice here is by and large determined by your future trajectory and where you see yourself in 3 to 5 years.

We will spend some time in class today looking at your write-ups on Canvas.

Talking Twitter

Last summer I wrote an introductory guide to Twitter for my students. Let’s look at it.

Here’s a more extensive look at Twitter, including some “how to” information.

Let’s send out a tweet!


For homework, I want you to start drafting your project proposal. The final proposal is a 600-1000 word document that is due before the start of next Thursday’s class. I will talk a bit more about the format of the proposal on Tuesday. Here’s what you should do over the weekend to prepare.

First, you should identify 2-5 places on the Internet that readily publish material on your topic and allow comments.

For each of these places, find one or two recent articles. Read them enough to provide one sentence summaries of them.

After this research, write a few sentences that identify the controversies of this community. What’s the disagreements? What keeps people writing?

Then try to think about something this community needs, something you could research (note: this might not be possible for every community).

Take a stroll down Google Scholar with your activity.

Finally, begin generating your own calendar. For weeks 3-10, imagine what you might read and write every week. Of course, I won’t hold you to this exact calendar–I want you to respond to what’s happening in your community and to have the freedom to follow any interesting lines of thought. But, you do need to prove to me that you can sustain the project for ten weeks.

Rhetoric and Gaming 1.2

Today’s agenda:

  • Set up and discuss the game journals using Google Docs
  • Discuss Aristotle
  • Generate list of games

Game Journals

As I mentioned in the first class, I will be asking you to keep a game journal for the next couple of weeks as we work on project one. Essentially, I will ask you to play a game for (at least) 45 minutes and spend 15 minutes writing about your game. Following our discussion of Aristotle below, I will be asking you to record not only what happens in the game, but to speculate as to the “action” of the game (what we might more commonly refer to as “theme”). I will also periodically ask you to write about our reading and class discussion in this journal.

Here’s what you all need to do: you need to create a Google Doc and share it with me, making sure that I have permission to at least “comment” on the document. You should copy and paste this sample game journal into that document.

Also, I want to show a sample document from last class.

The purpose for the journal is inventive–it is a place for you to be able to think in writing as you are playing.

Aristotle: Mimesis and Catharsis

I’ve asked you to read two pieces on Aristotle, a summary of the Poetics and the wikipedia page dealing with mimesis. Below I want to address these pieces in order to articulate a basic understanding of art.

Our discussion of Aristotle will center around two key terms: mimesis and catharsis.


The stock definition of the ancient Greek term memesis is “imitation,” though the more precise philosophical sense, attributed to Plato and Aristotle, is often “representation.”

Plato, Aristotle’s teacher, was suspicious of art because it was merely memesis- that is, representation of the material world (which itself is a mere representation of a transcendental Ideal/divine world). For Plato, being a representation (a copy, an imitation) was a pejorative. Anticipating Karl Marx by about 2000 years, Plato believed art was a kind of opiate that distracted people from engaging more important questions and problems.

But Aristotle rejects Plato’s condemnation, and actually argues that mimesis is superior to reality (or that art is superior to history). Because the artist has the power to represent things not as they are, but as they should be or as they could be. This is how I interpret Aristotle’s argument that art represents “men in action” either “better than in real life, or […] worse” (I.10.a). This exaggeration provides art with its pedagogic potential–the core to Aristotle’s defense of art. He writes:

Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, each of them lying deep in our nature. First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in thing imitated.

To understand what Aristotle means by contributing to our advancement and learning, one must recognize the difference between plot and theme, what Aristotle designates as the difference between “narrative” and “action.” This gets us at the heart of what art imitates–what is the “action” of a poetic drama (which in Ancient Greece is a catch-all term for all artistic production). Plot is what happens in the narrative. Theme indicates what the narrative “is about.” To be more explicit: what general problem/tendency of the human condition does this particular story address? What does it teach us of the struggle to be human? to be better? to live the good life? So by memesis, imitation, representation Aristotelian aesthetics points to how (or whether) a piece of art instructs on how to live. Art shows us examples of characters (ways of being in the world), and–as we will see below in the discussion of catharsis–it often provides us with models for how to respond (or, in the case of tragedy, how not to respond) to the challenges of human existence.

When Ebert challenges that games cannot be art, when he calls them immature, I believe he is pointing to their “theme,” although he has not provided a sufficiently robust definition of art to support the claim.

So, when writing about your game in the gaming journal, I want you to distill the theme for your game. What kind of character does its characters represent? What does it attempt to teach? Is it an immature game that teaches us nothing special? Or is there something more didactic there?


Above, Aristotle referenced the “pleasure” experience via art as one of the two primary causes for poetry. Pleasure here must be scare quoted, because often the impact of aesthetic works isn’t necessarily enjoyable. Aristotle is approaching one of those timeless introductory questions to the humanities: why do we enjoy things that make us cry?

His answer is catharsis, the process which, by watching/experiencing a narrative of struggle with which we identify, we are able to purge ourselves of those emotions. He writes:

Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action, that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions. (VI. 1-2)

Of course, there is something memetic or pedagogical going on here as well–we are learning the proper way to handle those difficult situations in life. But we are also releasing frustrations. This, Aristotle argues, is essential to human life. Gain and struggle are unavoidable. Art not only teaches us how to deal with such difficulties, but also helps us cope with the frustrations we accumulate on a daily basis.

As you are playing, be on the look out for cathartic moments. As Miranda addressed in her game journal, pay attention to the way a game is designed to make you feel.

Artistic Games

Our third goal today is to create a list of artistic games. There’s a few tools (besides our own heads) that we can use to help this process.

The first off, we can look at the 2015 Independent Game Awards finalists. That should give us a list of interesting games to check out, especially for folks who want to try the road less taken.

We can also look at the 2014 Game Awards winners–this is a far more mainstream outlet (though it has an independent games category).

One last tool we should use: HowLongToBeat.com. Games require a pretty significant time investment–anything from 8 to 60 hours on average to complete a story. As we put together our spreadsheet in class today, I will ask you to look up the time-to-beat on the website so we can give the noobs a sense of what they are signing up for. Note that I don’t think all the indie games will show up here, but indie games tend to be much shorter than AAA games.

The 2015 games spreadsheet.


First, I want you to write for five minutes about Aristotle in your game journal. Write sentences that summarize mimesis and catharsis in your own words.

Second, I want you to read the excerpts from Tolstoy’s “What is Art?” You should then write in your gaming journal about Tolstoy, using a transition into a quote similar to the ones I use above to transition into Aristotle (so, a sentence that sets up the quote, the quote, then a sentence that summarizes the quote, and finally a sentence that speaks to the significance of the quote).

Third, I want you to make a play entry in your game journal. Play a game for 45 minutes and then write about it for 15 minutes.

Historical Rhetorics Week 1: Footnotes to Plato

The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.
Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, 1979

And so we will begin to trace the end of rhetoric with the beginning of Plato dramatizing the end of Socrates.


  • Define Rhetoric [Canvas] [Undergrad class]
  • First Day Attendance
  • Syllabus [Canvas discussion #2, secondary source presentations, share the wiki site]
  • The Grid
  • Twitter: #enc6336
  • Plato’s “Apology” and Plato’s Republic VII
  • Ong, Havelock, Plato, Writing, and Logos
  • For next session: “Gorgias” and “Phaedrus”–two conflicting (or, perhaps, complimentary) perspectives on rhetoric. From the Ballif collection, Ballif’s introduction and Richard Enos “Theory, Validity, and the Historiography of Classical Rhetoric” (8-13). Recommended reading: Latour’s Pandora’s Hope on Socrates, Callicles, and the one thing they both fear: democracy

From Cynicism to Kynicism to Kinecism: Moving Bodies and Engendering Change

Hi! Below is a rough draft of a panel proposal for RSA 2016. Donnie J. Sackey and I are looking for a few more people to join the panel–if there is enough interest, and we get 6+ people, then we can submit a special format proposal for more of a roundtable approach, like an Ignite style panel presentation . To channel some Latour, the central theme is exploring rhetorics more interested in (constructive) action than (critical) thought. If you are interested, then please send me a brief note with a description (100 words or so) on what you would like to present. You can reach me on Twitter, Facebook, or via email (marcsantos at usf dot edu).

This panel is skeptical of the idea that changing how someone thinks will change how someone acts. Our shared skepticism toward epistemic approaches to change is fueled by a number of theoretical perspectives, including Bruno Latour’s investment in constructivism and his skepticism toward the efficacy of critique, Ian Bogost’s articulation of procedural rhetoric, neosophistic approaches to pragmatism, and Peter Sloterdjik’s notion of “kynicism” as a direct response to the rising and debilitating cynicism plaguing late 20th and early 21st century society. We propose that rhetoricians interested in fostering change should look more at material (Fit Bit), viral (Ice Bucket Challenge), and procedural (Super Better) means for instigating action (parentheticals subject to change). We can take from Diogenes and the ancient cynics a skepticism toward Idealism without endorsing public masturbation, defecation, and general lewdness. Rather, we can see in their commitment to action the first suggestion of a method: one that begins with increased attention to performance, procedure, and doing.

Sloterdjik’s response to the problem of cynicism and apathy was to argue for a notion of “kynicism,” a method of overstatement and critical engagement that punctures ideological fantasy. We want to provide Sloterdjik’s term a more pragmatic (and, if you prefer, sophistic) inflection. We will describe this commitment to action via the term “kinecism,” both a play on Sloterdjik’s explication/reconsideration of classical Cynicism and a nod to the notion of kinetic energy. Unlike Sloterdjik, we will not endorse a direct matter of critical engagement that seeks to unmask the pervasive cynicism underwriting much of popular culture. Rather, we will take from the cynics their staunch opposition to Idealism; we are skeptical of the idea that a change in thought will necessarily lead to a change in action. And we will not let the Perfect be the enemy of change, experiment, the preliminary, etc.

This panel investigates rhetorical engagements and/or rhetorical pedagogies that do not focus on the epistemic as much as on the material, the constructive, the procedural. The presentations are kinetic to the extent that they are invested in motion, with a firm belief that a change in action precipitates a change in thought or orientation, thus inverting the traditional belief that a change in thought must precede a change in action.

Speaker One will provide a further explication of kinecism, exploring how Latour, Bogost, Jane McGonigal and others contribute to a pragmatic rearticulation of Sloterdjik’s concept of “kyncism.” The presentation will conclude by looking at the Ice Bucket challenge as an example of viral, kinetic rhetoric.

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