As it was told to me on Thursday, only reading the Fish was required for this week’s blog post and, in typical student fashion, that is the only piece I’m going to talk about this week. I’m okay with this, because this weekend exploded to be WAY busier than I thought it was going to be. So I appreciate the reprieve. Especially when I take into account how thic c c (that’s thick with three c’s) the Fish article was. It amazes me that every semester starts with dense readings of Rhetoric that I feel is meant to drive away people from this wonderful major. When I was first considering the switch it was something that kept me away for a while. But this isn’t really about how I feel about the reading, but more about the reading itself. So let’s get into this.
Stanley Fish’s essay “Rhetoric” starts us off with an excerpt from Paradise Lost, a series of books I have never read (no matter what my Goodreads account from high school says). So, a quick jaunt over to Wikipedia caught me up on what was happening, but it still didn’t help much. But one thing I thought was interesting was how Fish uses Belial (a character I recognize, thankfully) constantly when he is speaking about Rhetoric and used excerpts of Belial’s speaking parts for analysing. Fish also states that he chooses this specific passage because “we can extrapolate from it almost all of the binary oppositions in relation to which rhetoric has received it’s (largely negative) definition…” (Fish, 124). Which introduces us to what interests me most about this piece (and introduces you, as the reader, to my apprehension of talking about things that occur early on in the piece because it gives to impression that I haven’t actually read the text) and that is the three basic oppositions that Fish explores. Maybe it’s because I like to look at molecular structures in my free time, but the way he talks about how every opposition is linked to another between two kinds of language is fascinating and, strange as it can appear to be, makes me think of the different way I use it in humorous ways.
When I think of it in a similar way to the diagram above it makes it easier to understand. Where Fish is going with this, at least in my opinion, is that we all hear words on a daily basis that mean something to us but may mean something else to another. Which leads us into exploring Fish’s next point where he discusses how every effort into constructing a language is to enable words to have several meanings but to always know what they mean in certain contexts, or in his words, “to establish a form of communication that escapes partiality and aids us in first determining and then affirming what is absolutely and objectively true, a form of communication that in its structure and operations is the very antithesis of rhetoric.” (Fish, 124). Our understanding of the oppositions is where a lot of humor can grow from as well. Take for example, puns. Exploiting a word’s meaning or using the opposite meaning of the word is a quick way to get a groan or a laugh. A pun may not be a perfect example of Rhetoric, as it isn’t an art of persuasion (unless you’re actively trying to persuade your friends to go away), but it is an example of the idea that Fish is putting forth. We have an established idea of what a person means, we have context to the sentence, but at the same time we appreciate their play on words.