Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Troping Arizona

I'm experimenting witha new presentation tool called Prezi.  Click here, and then hit the forward arrow whenever you want to change "slides."

This is the very first time I've messed with this, so it's pretty rough.  Now that I know a bit better about how to use it, I think I can make this style of presentation work a bit better. But it beats PowerPoint.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Epitaphios Logos

Yesterday, I guessed that there would be an enormous number of responses from rhetorical scholars to President Obama’s speech on Wednesday in the months and years to come. Because I am what I am, I’m going to take an initial pass at placing the speech (and Palin’s) into the context of rhetorical scholarship, at least in one specific way.

One of the first things to notice about Obama’s speech is that it falls into a genre: the funeral or memorial oration. A lot of great speeches, from Pericles’ Funeral Oration that Thucydides offers us in his History of the Peloponnesian War to the Gettysburg Address to President Reagan’s speech following the Challenger disaster.

As the reference to Pericles suggests, the funeral oration as a genre of oratory goes back to ancient Greece, Athens in particular. In Greek, the term for these kinds of speeches was epitaphios logos.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Obama's Speech: An Initial Look

I'm postponing for a day or two my promised (threatened?) thoughts on how to talk about how and why the Arizona shooting stands in a particular symbolic relationship to larger events.  In the wake of President Obama's speech last night, I've been thinking quite a bit about why it was as effective as it was (already being touted as one for the history books). 

My guess is that there will be plenty of panels at the National Communication Association convention next year (as well as many other presentations and journal articles) devoted to looking not only at Obama's speech from any number of perspectives, but in comparison with the statement from Sarah Palin issued hourse before.

I'll take an initial stab at that tomorrow, but I wanted to pass along a bit of quick-and-dirty rhetorical analysis that appeared in todays Guardian.  They did a word count on the number of times specific words showed up in each speech and the percentage of the total text that this represented.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Meaning of Saturday

We’re meaning-making animals. That’s what we do. We’re good at it. We’ve been practicing since the first human capable of reflective thought looked up at the sun and wondered why it was there. Must be a reason, right?

The massacre in Arizona, like any tragedy, goads us to look for a meaning behind it all. If one doesn’t present itself tout-de-suite, we start constructing them ourselves. We can’t help it. It’s what we do.

Our attempts to make meaning from the world can be sublime or grotesque. They can take the form of the Sistine Chapel or the ravings of Glenn Beck. Even the incoherent blatherings of the shooter himself show a damaged human mind struggling to impose some sort of meaning on life’s flux.

The hemming and hawing going on in the media today show the good, the bad, and the ugly of our penchant for meaning-making. We hear people on both sides try to fit the gelatinous goo that are the shooter’s published ruminations into a mold (hopefully one that matches that of an ideology we do not cotton to ourselves). “He read the Communist Manifesto! He’s a liberal!” “He read Ayn Rand! He’s a tea-bagger!”

Talk about a fool’s errand. It ain’t happening. There’s no “there” there.