Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Rhetorical Dispute

I'm no Pollyanna, but the unpleasantness at Metacomments has really knocked me for a loop, to the extent that I've had no desire to post anything here lately.

It's not worth going over the details, any more than it'd be worthwhile to go swimming in the manure lagoon at a hog farm. What's shocking to me is the energy that people will spend justifying their bad qualities, versus cultivating their good ones. It's human nature, God knows, but blogs do seem to exacerbate it, and it bothers me.

I could also say that I'm amazed at the lengths to which people will go to defend personal failings that, if the truth were known, are probably the cause of most of their unhappiness. But as someone once said to me, "Why are you surprised at how badly people treat other people? Look at how they treat themselves."

Anyway, just for the record: If anyone wants to call me names, or attack my pet theories, or make pitiless fun of my beliefs, or announce that I have no fucking idea what I'm talking about...go right ahead. I'm a grown-up, and I can take it in stride (even if you use bad language). Hell, I may even agree with you.

But in cases where I don't agree, you'll find that I understand the difference between defending my point of view, and retaliating against you. Your IP address is of no interest to me. I don't care where you live, what you do for a living, or what your educational background is. All of that is your business, not mine. I figure that if I can't win an argument with my own words, and whatever tenuous grasp I have of facts and logic, I'm not going to be able to win it by posting information about where you work, or what sort of car you drive. I have no respect whatsoever for the intelligence or morality of bloggers who cross this line, whether they do so to attack my friends, or my opponents.

All of which is less important than this: I'm grateful for friends like Thers and NYMary. Anything else I might want to say is summed up very economically by M.M. Bakhtin:

The rhetorical dispute is a dispute in which it is important to gain victory over the opponent, not to approach the truth. This is the lowest form of rhetoric. In all higher forms one can reach solutions to questions that are capable of temporal, historical solutions, but not to ultimate questions (where rhetoric is impossible).
UPDATE: What Watertiger said.

26 comments:

Eli said...

Phila is weird.

Probably smells funny too.


Nyah! I totally pwn3d you, d00d! And I did it without swearing - that means I am Teh Civil.

Phila said...

Eli,

Fascinating observations. Thank you.

It may interest my readers to know that Eli lives here, and works here. He spends a lot of time with his "girlfriend", whom he met at the school they both attended.

If you see his car parked outside their favorite trysting place, feel free to knock on the door...visitors are always welcome! Be sure to speak loudly and clearly, though...it's hard to hear when you're wearing one of these.

Just sayin'.

Eli said...

That would have been much more effective if the first two links worked. You should know by know: When you mess with the l337, you get the hr0ns.

Phila said...

That would have been much more effective if the first two links worked. You should know by know: When you mess with the l337, you get the hr0ns.

Hey, they work for me. If you can't view them, tough shit. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that I know what those links are supposed to refer to.

Anonymous said...

I thought the con text was a script that grifters use.

Silleigh said...

From here (Firefox, sometimes it hides stuff 'cuz I have it over-tweaked):

"Eli" goes to "Brian's Drive In Theatre" logo, with pics of Hercules, various Tarzans, and more.

"lives here" goes to "page not found"

"wearing one of these" goes to a page with only text -- in German, English near the bottom.

Rest of the links look lovely from here. Heh...

Mango said...

Eli's the Creeper? Huh...always pictured him more as Johnny Eck.

(Link works when I cut and paste into another browser window, not when I click on it.)

Phila said...

All of you are either wrong, or lying. The links work perfectly, or at least well enough.

Nonetheless, I'll repost the comment, just to prove that I had it right the first time.

It may interest my readers to know that Eli lives here, and works here. He spends a lot of time with his "girlfriend", whom he met at the school they both attended.

If you see his car parked outside their favorite trysting place, feel free to knock on the door...visitors are always welcome! Be sure to speak loudly and clearly, though...it's hard to hear when you're wearing one of these.

Silleigh said...

100% now.

...and NOW we sit back and wait for The Revenge Of Eli.

charley said...

Anything else I might want to say is summed up very economically by M.M. Bakhtin:

The rhetorical dispute is a dispute in which it is important to gain victory over the opponent, not to approach the truth.

that Bakhtin dude is irish?

Phila said...

that Bakhtin dude is irish?

Sure, your man is Irish as a hod of bricks.

Believe me or believe me not, now.

Eli said...

...and NOW we sit back and wait for The Revenge Of Eli.

That was actually pretty comprehensive, but he left out my church.

Looser!

Thers said...

I am humbled by you all. Also, that's some funny shit...

roger said...

my browser's bookmarked link to metacomments goes to a strange place. well, the original was strange, but in a good way. now it isn't thersites place.

is it just me, or does anyone else think that the blogger-who-shall-not-be-named must have mispelled "protean?" did i miss the dis/cussion about that? (a little deconstruction to show my ignorance of litcrit)

Phila said...

is it just me, or does anyone else think that the blogger-who-shall-not-be-named must have mispelled "protean?"

I think he misspelled "pro tem."

Either that, or he's after making some class of pun. Shure, that's it. You'd want to get up in the small hours to catch that lad nappin', begob.

¡El Gato Negro! said...

"My breath smells like protein."

[/Goldsteinwisdom]

so.

WHT said...

Phila,
I started reading pastie's class notes and became totally disoriented. The intrigue lies more in the mind of paystee than anything he writes, which looks more like self-referential tautological knots than anything else:

"But the meaning he gave to them was not the meaning of the events themselves, because the events themselves have no "meaning" beyond the meanings we ascribe to them (generally causal)."

And he has disciples/thugs who back him up? Or is he actually just a performance artist with a hired posse?

Phila said...

WHT,

"Self-referential" is really the heart of the matter. As I see it, Goldstein's taken romantic ideas about the autonomy of the artist to the point of solipsism, and is trying to seal the deal with the authority - if not the methodology or evidenciary standards - of science. The rhetoric he spouts is kind of like the ink an octopus squirts...but over at Majikthise, he admitted that his main concern is to prevent people from claiming that he meant anything other than what he says he meant.

He conflates what he calls "radical intentionalism" with the commonsense notion that one ought to look at what an author says about his or her work, which I guess is how he wins applause from his goon squad. But I'm quite sure that if Goldstein had been making Thers's argument, and vice versa, they would've been just as fanatical in defending him. If not more so.

A simplified example of why Goldstein's theory's wrong - or inadequate, to put it more politely - would be blues lyrics circa 1926. If a singer says "I need a little sugar in my bowl," that expresses pretty much the same thing as "I want to fuck"; both phrases refer to the same state of mind.

But if you want to understand why the former phrase is used, you have to understand the censorship laws of that era, which on the one hand didn't allow performers of any race to say "I want to fuck" on record, but on the other hand, gave a greater latitude in terms of suggestiveness to "race records."

That opens up a whole can of worms. You could come up with various explanations...unfamiliarity with the blues subculture; the assumption that no white people were going to be listening; inability to understand the singer (coupled with the assumption that "those people" couldn't be saying anything worth hearing); and so on.

The point is, if you restrict your interpretation to the meaning intended by "I need a little sugar in my bowl," you're dooming it to triviality at best. What's interesting is how the singer is culturally and legally constrained, and why she finds it advantageous to express certain things indirectly in order to get what she wants from a career in blues singing circa 1927. To understand all this, it helps to know a fair amount about race relations in the twenties, and the economy of small labels like Paramount, and the legal system of that era, and the self-protective tradition of double meanings and coded language among American blacks, and lots of other things.

That's an example based on what I understood to be the main thrust of Thers's argument at the point where Goldstein completely flipped out. There are even more fundamental problems with JG's "theory," God knows. But as I've said elsewhere, his inadequate literary theory is the least of his worries.

As for performance art, someone else was wondering if JG is really Andy Kaufman. It'd explain a lot.

WHT said...

Thanks Phila,

What I appreciate from you and Lindsay is in providing some concrete examples. IMO, I would file the technical issue under "Problems with ambiguity". The psychological issue under "Excessive narcisism".

We should all be glad that Goldstein doesn't write engineering or software requirements documents. He gets way too defensive, even though the intent of a requirements document is to disambiguate every little detail -- the ultimate example of intensionalism.
His thin-skin would betray him.
"Me: Hey Mr. Goldstein, sir, what do you mean by 3.2.1 in the SRD?
Goldstein: Shut your pie-hole, I meant what I said I meant"

Aspasia M. said...

Phila,

I really like the example of the blues singer.

This whole buisness has also thrown me for a loop.

Rmj said...

One problem with experience is that, if it's your own, it isn't someone else's.

Yeah, it's early in the morning, and the coffee is still unbrewed.

I mean personal experience tends to be hermetically sealed, as it were. And only your closest friends want to hear about it, or begin to understand what it was like, because they know the people involved, and blah blah blah.

But I've seen this kind of think happen in churches; and it isn't the religious context that makes it happen. It's the human context. This whole mess is the inevitable result of human community.

Hobbes famously told us the rule of nature was red in tooth and claw, and life there nasty, brutish, and short. We've all taken that to mean that, so long as we stay "civilized," or closer to civilized people, we are "safe" from unseemly and vicious acts. Unless we just wander into the wrong place at the wrong time. Sadly, it's not that simple.

I'm always amazed how small groups will rally viciously and vociferously to protect their group identity. Best I can figure here is that Thers poked an anthill with a stick, and look at what came pouring out. What amazes me, still, is the energy people will put into this "mission." That I can't explain, except in terms of group identity dynamics, which goes to personal identity (few of us think of ourselves as an individual alone; our identity comes from a group, which is both our blessing and our curse). I have, in other words, seen this happen before; too many times.

But I don't seem to have anything to recommend. Except maybe we have to recognize that "there be tygers." And viciousness is not confined to physical violence and "criminals", or to war zones.

It really is a fairly nasty world out there.

Phila said...

WHT:

I would file the technical issue under "Problems with ambiguity". The psychological issue under "Excessive narcisism".

Well, narcissism or perhaps insecurity. But yeah, I think that's exactly right.

RMJ:

Best I can figure here is that Thers poked an anthill with a stick, and look at what came pouring out. What amazes me, still, is the energy people will put into this "mission."

One of the only things I've ever managed to learn from experience is that when you argue with someone who lacks a properly functioning conscience, you're at a serious disadvantage.

The energy is not that surprising to me. When all you have is appearances, you're going to fight tooth and nail to keep them up.

It's true what you say about human community, but it's also true that the Internet exacerbates these problems a thousandfold. Real communities are normative in a way that virtual ones really aren't, I think.

few of us think of ourselves as an individual alone; our identity comes from a group, which is both our blessing and our curse).

Yeah. And this is the crux of my real argument with JG. We're not just socially defined, but socially created, and our language - especially in a literary form like a novel or a poem - is not "ours." It's a cacaphony of different voices (or in your case, a euphony). And that's before you confront the impossibility of "giving an account of oneself," in Judith Butler's sense.

But the real lesson here, I guess, is that teasing irrationally angry people is possibly dangerous and definitely unfulfilling.

Rmj said...

Phila--

What perplexes me (and always has) about the issue of identity (and accepting what you say about the internet community in particular as true and correct), is how someone can be so deeply invested in a pseudonym, in what is, in effect, anonymity.

It's the reason no one in a comment can really upset me. I don't know who they are, they won't tell me. Why should I care what they think?

But such, as Lewis Carroll observed, is human perversity.

Phila said...

It's the reason no one in a comment can really upset me. I don't know who they are, they won't tell me. Why should I care what they think?

Well, you're normal and well adjusted. For these other folks, a lot of it boils down to (imaginary) power, I suspect. Which ties in with Thers's point about Bourdieu; people often say things to get, or hold onto, "capital," and that has to be factored into intent.

But beyond that, it does seem to be very hard for people to keep online interactions in perspective. It seems like communication, but a lot of important things are missing.

Aspasia M. said...

It does seem like communication.

I've really appreciated the last few comments. I've been pretty baffled by the last few weeks.


Yeah. And this is the crux of my real argument with JG. We're not just socially defined, but socially created, and our language - especially in a literary form like a novel or a poem - is not "ours." It's a cacaphony of different voices (or in your case, a euphony). And that's before you confront the impossibility of "giving an account of oneself," in Judith Butler's sense.

"Socially created" -- Yes! I particularly appreciated reading these particular sentences. (I hope one day to be as articulate as Phila.)

But the real lesson here, I guess, is that teasing irrationally angry people is possibly dangerous and definitely unfulfilling.

Yes.

Bourdieu's description of "symbolic violence" seems particularly applicable to the threat that JG has been using against not only Thers, but anyone he associates with Thers.
---------------
At one point Nate wrote to JG asking "What's with you Man?" And asked why he was putting all this time into arguing against a obviously unserious post. It reminded me of Jeff's response to "Heart of Dorkness."

Phila said...

Bourdieu's description of "symbolic violence" seems particularly applicable to the threat that JG has been using against not only Thers, but anyone he associates with Thers.

The guy obviously has some issues. And I almost feel like he's being kind of self-destructive by escalating stuff to this extent. It's hard to see how any of this is going to work out well for him in the long run. But then, a focus on short-term "victories" is one of the hallmarks of the modern Right, IMO.

Most of us have people in our lives who can give us some perspective, calm us down, and keep us from going overboard. I hope JG has someone like that in his life. 'Cause as it stands now, it just seems like a miserable situation for everyone, JG included.