Tuesday, July 22, 2008

On Eloquence: "Beautiful Folly"?

I'm thoroughly enjoying Dennis Donoghue's book On Eloquence, which just arrived at my doorstep yesterday. How refreshing to have time to read thoughtfully. In his first few pages, setting out his premises, he describes eloquence as playfulness, like dancing, as opposed to the sometimes dreary business of rhetoric:

"Rhetoric has an aim: to move people to do one thing rather than another. Hitler's Mein Kampf is a work of rhetoric. So is The Communist Manifesto. So are Stanley Fish's Is there a Text in this Class and Jacques Derrida's De La Grammatologie...Eloquence, as distinct from rhetoric, has no aim: it is a play of words or other expressive means. It is a gift to be enjoyed in appreciation and practice."

And here's this quote from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which to my surprise made me break out in little squirts of tears:

"How lovely it is that there are words and sounds. Are not words and sounds rainbows and illusive bridges between things which are eternally apart? But all sounds make us forget this; how lovely it is that we forget...Are not words and sounds given to things so that man can renew himself through things? Speech is a beautiful folly: by means of it, man dances over all things. How sweet is all speech; [how sweet] all the illusion of sounds! With sounds our love dances on many-coloured rainbows!

Hmmm...I wonder if I can convince my first-year writers in "College Rhetoric" this fall -- that late-adolescent crowd so determined to be sophisticated and cynical -- to side with Zarathustra...

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