What is rhetoric? You’ve probably heard or thought of rhetoric as the art of persuasion. Fans of Aristotle will probably think of it as the art of finding the available means of persuasion. If you follow in the vein of Quintilian, you will probably think of it as the art of persuasion toward truth (and goodness and beauty). For those of you who have heard Andrew Kern speak on the topic, you’ve probably picked up something along the lines of rhetoric being the art of decision-making in community. One of these is decidedly not like the others.
We need models. We need teachers to show us how to live. And some of the best teachers are those which have never breathed, have never taken on flesh, have never had the urgency of a real death. Some of our best teachers are fictional characters. This is what Leland Ryken means when he says great literature “shows human experience instead of telling about it. It is incarnational. It enacts rather than states. Instead of giving us abstract propositions about virtue or vice, for example, literature presents stories of good or evil characters in action” (p.
If someone were to compile a list of the greatest unexamined modern platitudes, right up close to the top of such a list one could expect to find, “Christmas has become so commercial and materialistic.” Long a favorite claim of frowning head-shakers and adults who insist the crust is the healthiest part of the bread, claims of the increasingly crass commercialism of Christmas recall some inaccessible golden age when the holiday was pure and undefiled. Evidence for the commercialism of Christmas is omnipresent during December.
Like many Americans, I let the experts at Facebook curate much of the news I read (or share without reading). Lately, my newsfeed has been replete with conservative critiques of so-called “safe spaces” and liberal rebuttals in their defense. I confess my sympathies lie with the conservatives. It’s hard not to crack a grin at headlines such as The Daily Beast’s recent “Elite Campuses Offer Students Coloring Books, Puppies to Get Over Trump.”
"You mean she will some day be reunited to the god; and you will take off her veil then? When is this to happen?"
"We take off the veil and I change my robe in the spring."
"Do you think I care what you do? Has the thing itself happened yet or not? Is Istra now wandering over the earth or has she already become a goddess?"
Come December, students will begin asking to have “a class Christmas party.” They will want to have the class party during class time, perhaps in the last two days before Christmas break begins. To their credit, when students want a “a class Christmas party,” they are not usually demanding, discerning, or discriminating. They are not choosy. For my money, what makes a party a party is drinking and dancing, but these are things for an adult’s party. When young people want “a party,” all they really want is one another.
The Center For Lit crew recently welcomed YA author Gary Schmidt to an episode of our BiblioFiles podcast. Mr. Schmidt is the author of several excellent stories for young readers, including award-winners Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, The Wednesday Wars, and Okay for Now.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Mr. Schmidt offered some compelling thoughts on reading and literature, including a defense of the arts that kept me thinking for days after we recorded the conversation:
Many Christians lament the problem of nominalism within American churches. By nominalism, I mean lukewarm Christianity, middle-of-the-road Christianity, Christianity that has little effect on the way a man lives his life. To what extent does Christianity change the way you live? If you pulled a half a dozen shoppers out of line at Kroger, could you tell who or what they worshipped by merely cataloguing what they were purchasing and how they were dressed?
It is the day after Thanksgiving, and a few days till Advent. Over the next few weeks, all our learning and living will take place in the context of bustle and anticipation, joy and solemnity, fasting and feasting. This merits some reflection.
Most days we trip along doing more or less the same thing, trying to be more or less virtuous, hoping, by nightfall, to be more or less happy. The church calendar names these days “Ordinary Time,” and they are lovely; only dulled senses and a blunted soul find pattern uncreative and predictability boring.