Sunday, March 27, 2005

Notes on Rhetoric

One of my ongoing interests here is the way bloggers and commenters write. Via Crooked Timber, I find this site maintained by Mark Kaplan, Notes On Rhetoric, where Kaplan has just started to compile the common rhetorical tactics of the more argumentative kinds of comment threads. One of his entries does address the idea of the demotic discourse that I raised earlier, but he dismisses it as a tactic, and a disingenuous one at that:
Profanity and the demotic. Used sparingly (so as not to be mistaken for some incensed half-wit), your use of the profane/ demotic is a right laugh and a sure sign that you represent robust common sense and can sniff out and debunk pretentious academics and pseudo-intilectukals. Try mixing it with more refined prose for full effect, as in “after careful and sustained reflection, I have now arrived at the inexorable conclusion that X is a clueless twat who talks counter-revolutionary shite.”

Within an argument, this kind of discourse can be maddening; looked at from outside, as a social phenomenon, it can be more interesting. (A lot of the genuinely popular agitators in history whom I've rather admired must have been maddening to argue with.)

My favorite entry, predictably, concerns the "university":
University, your opponent is at. Bear with me. In the realm of doxa, the university is entirely seperated from the Real World (qv) and populated by Student Revolutionaries. This image of the university is unassailable, and safely entrenched beyond refutation, so don't worry. It is thus rather useful if you can insinuate a connection between your opponent and the University (the University of doxa, that is, not any particular institution). Moreover, there is, belonging to this University of Doxa, an equally mythic 'undergraduate' who reappears endlessly in statements such as: 'this is an elementary undergraduate error'; 'As every undergraduate would know..' , 'one can find this kind of thing in any standard undergraduate essay.' 'if this were an undergraduate essay.. etc' and so on and do forth. This poor mythic undergraduate has been kept at university for countless years by the requirements of rhetoricians and polemicists.

Vive les jeunes!

Speaking of whom, I actually clicked through to the comment thread at David Horowitz's Front Page Magazine, trying to see what posters there thought of Horowitz's querelous attack on Billmon. It read like a wierd mash-up of a Freeper thread, an online gaming message board, and an AIM conversation. Most of the kids are alright, though.


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