ethos, pathos, logosPosted: January 24, 2009
Some thoughts and links that emerged from our initial discussions of Birkerts. I thought we made a great start in dealing with his ideas and his text deliberately–beginning to hear him for those ideas but also beginning to notice how the writing works, where it is compelling and where it is less so. I used the terms in class: ethos, pathos, logos. These are Greek words for three things that are at issue and in play in making a presentation (originally oratory, now to included writing) rhetorically powerful: the credibility represented or established by the speaker (ethos); the sympathy or empathy generated by the writer/rhetorician (pathos); the logic and sense and order of the argument (logos). On Friday, we began to see that if we take Birkerts to be hypocritical at points, it may be a problem with his logos: he argues one side and neglects or generalizes for the other. It may also be a pathos problem: he insults us or diminishes us (“non-reading horde’), not a good way to generate sympathy. At the same time, in the example I pointed to where he reflects back on his parents’ rural upbringing and distinguishes such reflection from shallow nostalgia, I would argue that the passage is compelling in its pathos: I can empathize with his understanding of slow time and can begin to share his concern for the speed of the electronic world.
We also began to consider ways that his hypocrisy is an issue of how he very narrowly defines reading (only books, nothing else outside of a book) and also narrowly defines technology as digital/electronic. The logos problem here is part historical: books are technology, a technology (print, movable type, mass reproduction of print) that revolutionizes writing and how we read. And before that, writing was a technology that revolutionized thought and communiation. And now, the digital/electronic reproduction of ideas is also revolutionizing how we think, read, communicate. We want to get a better grasp of the historical context for this: not generalize what book or print or reading or writing or digital means or implies. Begin to get a more complicated understanding–since all of these things are in fact complicated: complications and combinations of historical, social, technical, human ideas and things. Another word/concept we will being to use and better grasp by the end of the course: medium; all of these different things share a key characteristic–they are mediations, are media. In other words, all are extensions or machines for ideas, for thinking, for communicating. And when we work on our own writing, and work on revising that writing, a better understanding of the medium and the ways we can mediate (and remediate) the thinking and communicating is what we are after. In ancient Greece, rhetoric means an orator’s (later, writer’s) ability to manipulate the dials and levers of the machine, including those marked: ethos, pathos, logos.
By the way, I did find that Birkerts posts a blog sometimes for Encyclopedia Britannica. You might find it interesting–the ideas are familiar to what we are reading. In the post I have linked, reference is made to a recent article that asks “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” I have a link for that article and some thoughts on it here–and would note that the author of that article begins to provide, even in brief, more of the historical context for books as technology (rather than simply books vs technology) that we are looking for.
A note on the Glog. I am using them, in part, in place of a quiz on the reading: so one things I am looking for (though not the only thing) is how well you are engaging the reading. In that sense, you might think of the glog as a self-made quiz, where you demonstrate your reading. But in addition to this, the glog is also an extension of the journal writing and discussion that will work its way into your writing projects: notes and ideas you have from the reading. Having rich quotations and your paraphrase of several chapters and your interpretation of key sections and a sense of the questions you have–all this could work its way into a future writing project. With that in mind, it pays off to be specific and thorough now; at the end of the term, should you decide to bring Birkerts back for your final project, you won’t be left with a blank slate.