Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Almost thou persuadest me; or, Curse you Wayne Booth!

When I was a little kid and my parents decided to spoil us with our choice of candy, I'd hover over the candy section at the grocery store and mull over the options. "Sure Twix are good, but what about that Snickers. You like Snickers. Or, there's the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Or the nut rolls. Or, oooo, the Peanut Butter M&Ms." Etcetera. Etcetera.


I feel like that kid again right now because I'm so blasted fickle when it comes to my own research, to that darn specialization and even darnder dissertation. One day I'm thinking one thing. The next I'm thinking another. And just when I think I've pinned myself down on some intellectual treat, my mind grabs hold of something else and my appetite leads me to another section of the aisle. (At least at this point, I've settled on an aisle and I'm not running through the store screaming, trying to decide. And yet, I'd hope after eight years of higher education, picking a specialization would be easier. Alas.)

Lately my appetite has been piqued by the seductions of rhetorical studies, by the prospects of a vocation (and a life with which I want to do the greatest good I can in the world, to be a good influence on those around me) centered on this from Wayne Booth, whose work I've become enamored of in the past year or so: says he in The Rhetoric of RHETORIC: The Quest for Effective Communication,
[T]he quality of our lives, especially the ethical and communal quality, depends to an astonishing degree on the quality of our rhetoric. And since the pursuit of genuine rhetorical quality is still sadly neglected except by us professional rhetoricians, it is time for a reinforcement of the flowering of rhetorical studies that has occurred in the last six or eight decades, not just in the United States but in many European countries. Unless we pay more attention to improving our communication at all levels of life, unless we study more carefully the rhetorical strategies we all depend on, consciously, unconsciously, or subconsciously, we will continue to succumb to unnecessary violence, to loss of potential friends, and to the decay of community. (xii)
And while I know I can devote myself to the personal quest for effective communication without necessarily devoting myself to the field of rhetorical studies, Booth's suggestion appeals to me on a number of levels, one of which is in my gut, which tingles whenever I think about the study of how language (or any other sign system used to communicate, including visual rhetorics such as web design, art, film, etc.) works as a transaction between bodies, even when those bodies are separated by a great distance (as you and I) and when I consider the breadth of rhetoric's reach---about how it (among other things, as the study and pursuit of effective communication) extends over all the things I've got at least some interest in: the body, narrative, poetry, critical theory, cultural/literary criticism, academic discourse, Mormon culture (arts and letters), religion, the family, teaching, online communication.

Yesterday on Twitter I wondered "How to fit a growing interest in rhetorical studies into an existing interest in lit theory and criticism," to which I got some helpful feedback from both William (on Twitter) and from Elise (on Facebook). But maybe my answer (as Gibbs from NCIS---one of our favorite shows---might suggest) is in my gut. Darlene's post reminded me the other day that, when it comes down to it, I need to be happy/pleased with what work I choose to do, with the vocational course I pursue.

And at this point, I'm almost persuaded by Booth to become a professional rhetorician.

At least that's how I'm leaning today. We'll see what tomorrow brings, huh?