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Culture, Rhetoric and the Vicissitudes of Life

Edited by Michael Carrithers

196 pages, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-84545-429-6 $120.00/£75.00 Hb Published (June 2009)

ISBN  978-0-85745-800-1 $27.95/£17.50 Pb Published (July 2012)

eISBN 978-1-84545-924-6 eBook

Hb Pb
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“…a fine collection of essays illuminating situation uses of narratives, images and tropes that are not contemplated as ‘explanations’ but as cultural resources mobilized to impart meaning and order when facing concrete circumstances…a great variety of excellent analyses going beyond the disciplinary boundaries of anthropology…this book is a welcome contribution and the project I belongs to offers one of the most important shifts in European anthropology in the coming decade.”  ·  Social Anthropology/Anthropologie sociale

Inspired by the Rhetoric Culture Project, this volume focuses on the use of imagery, narrative, and cultural schemes to deal with predicaments that arise during the course of life. The contributors explore how people muster their resources to understand and deal with emergencies such as illness, displacement, or genocide. In dealing with such circumstances, people can develop new rhetorical forms and, in the process, establish new cultural resources for succeeding generations. Several of the contributions show how rhetorical cultural forms can themselves create emergencies. The contributors bring expertise from a variety of disciplines, including anthropology and communications studies, underlining the volume’s wider relevance as a reflection on the human condition.

Michael Carrithers is Professor of Anthropology at Durham University. He is author of a biography of the Buddha and of Why Humans Have Cultures (Oxford University Press, 1992). He has also written about Buddhist forest monks and of Jainism in India. At present he is researching rhetoric and public culture in East Germany.

Series: Volume 2, Studies in Rhetoric and Culture

LC: GN357 .C849 2009

BL: YC.2010.a.103

BISAC: SOC002010 SOCIAL SCIENCE/Anthropology/Cultural; SOC019000 SOCIAL SCIENCE/Methodology

BIC: JHM Anthropology; JFC Cultural studies

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Table of Contents (Free download)

Preface (Free download)

Introduction (Free download)

Internal Rhetorics

Constituting Selves in Diaries and Beyond

Internal rhetoric is my term for the way that we persuade ourselves – talking ourselves into (or out of) things, arguing with ourselves, berating ourselves. It is taken for granted in common parlance, but little studied in academia. Such self-talk is rhetorical insofar as it affects our actions, attitudes or beliefs, consciously or unconsciously. I thus coin the term 'internal rhetoric' as a deliberate 'terministic screen'1: to call attention to the persuasive or rhetorical nature of much of our thought.

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Story Seeds and the Inchoate

In this chapter I want to make two points. The first concerns an episode in contemporary German history when a new item of rhetoric appeared, and with it a new and, in a global perspective, unusual understanding of nationalist history. The term is Vergangenheitsbewältigung, 'overcoming the past', which came to be used routinely as a way of considering the Nazi period, with its aggressive war and genocide. My second point concerns the nature of this rhetoric, but also of rhetoric as such. My argument here is that narrative is no less pervasive and important a feature of persuasive culture. It is not that narrative competes with metaphor, but rather that the two can work together to forge a compelling construal of people and events.

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The Diffuse in Testimonies

Testimony is when survivors of traumas tell their story. This text considers several literary models for approaching how survivors of historical traumas may give their testimonies. Reading W.G. Sebald and rethinking his notion of the diff use illuminates what historical traumas ask of the individual survivor giving testimony and of all those who seek to respond to survivors' traumas with a narrative. Applying Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of the dialogic narrative could assist survivors and those working with them in producing testimonies that engage the diff use through better embodying the polyphonic, dialogic, unfinalizable nature of historical traumas.

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Medical Rhetoric in the U.S. and Africa

The Oncologist as Charon

The heart of the paper is a contrast in rhetorical styles between a Ju/'hoan San psychic healer in Namibia and a big-city cancer doctor in Texas. Classical allusions to Charon and the Styx reinforce the ritual, performative and persuasion- centred nature of the analysis. The twist near the end, discovered late in the game by those keeping the chronicle, was that the cancer doctor was also a student of philosophy who viewed euthanasia positively.

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'As if Goya was on hand as a marksman'

Foot and Mouth Disease as a Rhetorical and Cultural Phenomenon

This chapter was inspired by three research traditions: cognitive linguistics and the study of metaphor, which has become a popular area of linguistic research since the 1980s (Lakoff and Johnson 1980); cultural, social and symbolic anthropology, where the study of the social and ritual uses of metaphor has become popular since the 1970s (Turner 1974; Sapir and Crocker 1977); and the study of social representations in social psychology (Harré 1984; Moscovici 1984; Wagner 1994). I will examine how both the policy of slaughter, used to eradicate FMD, and the media reaction to the outbreak and to the policy, were framed by a repertoire of metaphors and images which draws on both universal and historically and culturally specific reservoirs of narratives and symbols.

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The Palaestral Aspect of Rhetoric

All rhetoric is palaestral. The metaphor of the wrestling-school is a vehicle for the rhetorical struggle to pin down another person and make him or her accept a definition of the situation. This essay examines the tactics used to do that and the sociocultural context that makes it possible.

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Ordeals of Language

There is a kind of rhetorical functioning in the disorderly zones of human life, which sustains and transforms the persons involved. Linguistic operations at the edges of disorder appear as we engage our human deceptive and imaginative abilities, our abilities to produce alternatives, to resist what we learn is expected of us. In these zones, discomfort with the limits of our own cultures motivates tropological experiments, 'the sleight of hand at the limit of a text', as Voloshinov wrote. Here especially, the rhetorics of emotion work to transform socioemotional reality, having a critical and often unwitting impact on social life.

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Inventions of Hyperbolic Culture

Clearly, modernity occurs beyond any territorial organization even if specific territories or nation-states are more or less identifiable with it. Modernity, then, is a more elusive concept, which means, I suppose, that a nation-state type of analysis has more immediate relevance. That is, the nation-state, as a material entity and as a doxa or topos, is more recognizable and, therefore, has the power to concentrate public fears and desires. However, if, as many claim, the nation-state is undergoing serious strain, I am wondering if the fault line runs deeper – into the psycho-social-material phenomenon that includes it. It is this perspective that guides the difference of this essay.

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Rhetoric in the Moral Order

A Critique of Tropological Approaches to Culture

We argue that moral order should still be a productive interest in anthropology even as concern for 'moral economy' and 'distributive justice' is being replaced by the idioms of the commoditized market economy, the stimuli of individual choice therein, and bottom-line profitabilities. We address the work of three clusters of human scientists tropologically informed and alert to issues of moral order who are concerned with what we can call the play of tropes in culture and whose work is thus relevant to the ambiguities of the moral sentiments and hence to the complex dynamic of the Moral Order in the face of the vicissitudes of life. It argues that paying attention, as the student of rhetoric pays attention, to the Moral Imagination's role in Moral Order is central to the ethnographic task and to our understanding of social dynamics over time.

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Index (Free download)

Contributors (Free download)