Wednesday, July 29, 2009

With Faith in the Works of Words

Erik Doxtader, With Faith in the Works of Words: The Beginnings of Reconciliation in South Africa, 1985–1995 (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2009).

From the publisher's description:

With Faith in the Works of Words is the first book to look behind the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and examine reconciliation's larger and fundamental role in the transition from apartheid to nonracial democracy. In doing so, it finds that there have been many beginnings of reconciliation in South Africa. Based on documents that have received little public attention, including controversial texts from the religious community and fascinating transcripts from South Africa's constitutional negotiations, the book reveals how reconciliation was used to energize the struggle against apartheid and the ways in which it underwrote the negotiated revolution, including the development of a constitution whose very promise was pegged to the willingness of South Africans to pursue the work of "reconciliation and reconstruction." Faith in the Works of Words challenges many common assumptions about the discourse and dynamics of reconciliation in South Africa. An important history of reconciliation’s rhetorical power, this book shows how reconciliation shaped the process of South African nation-building long before the TRC took to the stage and captured the world's imagination.

"This is simply the best available record and analysis of the debate leading to the adoption of the South African TRC and its implementation. No one interested in the South African transition from apartheid to the beginning of democracy can afford not to read it." – Charles Villa-Vicencio

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rose Macaulay, Picnic: July 1917

Rose Macaulay


July 1917

We lay and ate sweet hurt-berries
In the bracken of Hurt Wood.
Like a quire of singers singing low
The dark pines stood.

Behind us climbed the Surrey hills,
Wild, wild in greenery;
At our feet the downs of Sussex broke
To an unseen sea.

And life was bound in a still ring,
Drowsy, and quiet, and sweet . . .
When heavily up the south-east wind
The great guns beat.

We did not wince, we did not weep,
We did not curse or pray;
We drowsily heard, and someone said,
'They sound clear today'.

We did not shake with pity and pain,
Or sicken and blanch white.
We said, 'If the wind's from over there
There'll be rain tonight'.


Once pity we knew, and rage we knew,
And pain we knew, too well,
As we stared and peered dizzily
Through the gates of hell.

But now hell's gates are an old tale
Remote the anguish seems;
The guns are muffled and far away,
Dreams within dreams.

And far and far are Flanders mud,
And the pain of Picardy;
And the blood that runs there runs beyond
The wide waste sea.

We are shut about by guarding walls:
(We have built them lest we run
Mad from dreaming of naked fear
And of the black things done.)

We are ringed all round by guarding walls:
So high, they shut the view.
Not all the guns that shatter the world
Can quite break through.


Oh, guns of France, oh, guns of France,
Be still, you crash in vain . . .
Heavily up the south wind throb
Dull dreams of pain, . . .

Be still, be still, south wind, lest your
Blowing should bring the rain . . .
We'll lie very quiet on Hurt Hill,
And sleep once again.

Oh, we'll lie quite still, nor listen nor look ,
While the earth's bounds reel and shake,
Lest, battered too long, our walls and we
Should break . . . should break . . .

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ted Sorensen on Writing for John F. Kennedy

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Judson Welliver

Trevor Parry-Giles of the University of Maryland published a picture of Judson Welliver, who was Warren Harding's speechwriter and whose name is used for the society of former White House speechwriters, founded by William Safire.

Trevor published the picture, found by one of his students, on his blog, Rhetoric Matters, back in May-- and Judson Welliver's niece came across it in a Google search. She left a comment and apparently a correspondence has begun. It's big news for scholars of presidential speechwriting that Trevor may soon be able to tell us all more about the famous and elusive Judson Welliver.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

4th of July, State College

In recent weeks, it has been reported with sadness that because of the financial crisis, corporate sponsorship of the local fireworks show, reportedly the biggest such private 4th of July fireworks show in the United States, will be smaller this year.

Shown here are two photographs from the Farm Security Administration collection at the Library of Congress. The photographs are both by Edwin Rosskam, and were taken in State College, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1941. Rain during the day had threatened the annual 4th of July fireman's carnival downtown.

The first photograph shows an evening bingo game in progress on a main street. The second shows a group of small boys with cap pistols in a doorway earlier on the same day.

Happy 4th of July.

Sarah Palin: Devotion and Resignation

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's resignation speech is really very peculiar. The New York Times reprints the full text of the speech here. It is worth a read.

My guess is that those who were most enthusiastic for Sarah Palin during the recent presidential campaign will find a way to be enthusiastic about the resignation speech and the prospects for a Palin presidential campaign in 2012.

But the peculiarities of the speech do little to put aside the doubts of many Americans -- including Independents and Republicans -- that Palin is a lightweight, non-serious politician and would be a disaster in the White House.

A strange time for governors.

Gail Collins in the Times quotes a typical passage from the speech: “And a problem in our country today is apathy,” she said on Friday as she announced that she would resign as governor of Alaska at the end of the month. “It would be apathetic to just hunker down and ‘go with the flow.’ Nah, only dead fish ‘go with the flow.’ No. Productive, fulfilled people determine where to put their efforts, choosing to wisely utilize precious time ... to BUILD UP.” Collins then comments: "Basically, the point was that Palin is quitting as governor because she’s not a quitter."Gail Collins, "Sarah's Straight Talk," New York Times, 4 July 2009.

Governor Palin's speech is peculiar in so many ways. It is fairly long, and it rambles, and in rambling it offers contradictory logics about matters that never had to be raised in the first place. It is hard for a rhetorical critic not to notice that no self-evident situational exigence, strongly visible to her public, was in circulation before the speech, and so part of her rhetorical task would be to offer a convincing depiction of the situation that called forth her resignation. This she really did not do, thus creating an immediate stampede on the part of commentators in the news about her possible motives -- the most likely of which, in their view, is that Palin is planning to run for president and has just further damaged her chances.

Or that there is some further scandal about to burst forth, following a long trail of ethics investigations into the behavior of Governor Palin and her cabinet and family.

Or that the motivation was temperamental and psychological -- that Palin is basically either (1) a committed family person and Christian who has higher priorities; or (2) that she is a flake and a lightweight. There is plenty of evidence for both of these competing views, the choice perhaps depending on one's degree of political sympathy for Palin.

This resignation might be illuminated, at least rhetorically, by recalling Albert O. Hirschman's Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970). Hirschman's fascinating little book considers the varieties of individual response to a failing organization -- one can simply leave (or leave under protest); one can stay and try to give voice to arguments and appeals that might bring about change (or leave while giving voice to such arguments and appeals). Hirschman shows how one can act loyally, creating surprising and productive relations between voice and exit. Thinking of Palin's exit in Hirschman's terms invites us to consider other recent actions by leading Republicans dealing with the widespread perception of the Republican Party as a failing operation--consider Arlen Specter, for example, and the chant of Rush Limbaugh and others that Republicans who don't follow the line should get out. Palin and Specter are exiting in very different directions, but perhaps Hirschman's perspective helps us to see their similarities.

See also:

Todd Purdum, "It Came from Wasilla," Vanity Fair, August 2009.

Maureen Dowd, "Now, Sarah's Folly," New York Times, 5 July 2009.

Video of the speech is here.

The photograph of Governor Palin is from her governor's web page.

Moving Bodies

Debra Hawhee's new book has just been published:

Debra Hawhee, Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2009).

From the publisher:

Kenneth Burke may be best known for his theories of dramatism and of language as symbolic action, but few know him as one of the twentieth century's foremost theorists of the relationship between language and bodies. Moving Bodies presents him as a major transdisciplinary theorist of the body. Debra Hawhee focuses on Burke's studies from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s while illustrating that his interest in reading the body as a central force of communication began early in his career and continued to inform his work over more than six decades.

Burke examined the human body as a participant in thought rather than as the mind's binary Cartesian opposite, grappling with notions of physical form as a corporeal intellect, the mental and biological interwoven within one life. By exploring his extensive writings on the subject alongside revealing considerations of his life and his scholarship, Hawhee maps his recurring invocation of a variety of perspectives in order to theorize bodies and communication, including music, mysticism, endocrinology, evolution, speech-gesture theory, and speech-act theory, as well as his personal experiences with pain and illness. Hawhee shows that Burke's goal was to advance understanding of the body's relationship to identity, to the creation of meaning, and to the circulation of language.

Her study brings to the fore one of Burke's most important and understudied contributions to language theory, and she establishes Burke as a pioneer in a field where investigations into affect, movement, and sense perception broaden understanding of physical ways of knowing.

Debra Hawhee is an associate professor of English at Penn State University. She is the author of Bodily Arts: Rhetoric and Athletics in Ancient Greece and coauthor of Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students.