Saturday, July 13, 2013

Persuasion: deceiving by a beautiful show (Kant)

"After further considerations inspired by Robinson Crusoe, Frankenstein, Dracula and Les Liaisons dangereuses, Bender closes with a final chapter, "Rhetoricality: On the modernist return of rhetoric" (co-written with David E. Wellbery), tracing how the Enlightenment ended the dominance of classical rhetoric in public discourse, with Enlightenment values such as transparency, impartiality and empiricism shifting the emphasis away from persuasion to demonstration, and from speech to writing. Locke's fulminations against the sophistry of classical rhetoric in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) together with Kant's condemnation of persuasion as 'deceiving by a beautiful show' in his Critique of Judgment (1790), offer typical programmatic expressions of the move in European culture away from appeals to the emotions and towards the presentation of objective, scientific proof. The Romantic turn to the interior delivered the coup de grâce. For Bender and Wellbery, we are still living in the consequent age of a new 'rhetoricality'. 'Rhetoricality', for them, permeates our modern discourses in science, linguistics, psychoanalysis, mass communication, pragmatics and literary criticism -- and it just be that the recent burst of interest in the Enlightenment is tinged with nostalgia for a time when every appeared to make sense."

--Alberto Rivero, reviewing John Bender, Ends of Enlightenment, in The Times Literary Supplement (July 5, 2013), p. 12

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