Isocrates and the History of Emotions

Perhaps a bit difficult to really relate these two texts this week as they seem to be relatively opposed in terms of the “conservative” Isocrates matched up with a re-reading that establishes a heavy line of emotion in the work of Aristotle. So I think a discussion of each in turn, with perhaps a smattering of juxtaposition, would be more in order. For Isocrates, I was struck by two things: 1.) his use of philosophia in a much more political/civic sense than Plato, and the complexity of argument/prose that comes from his focus on the written word rather than oration. As far as our possible project discussion goes, I think that Isocrates might play an interesting foil against which to juxtapose Aristotle’s Rhetoric for a rereading. For as much as the Rhetoric is studied and as much as we claim to follow and Aristotelian model (and of course, we *do* in many ways), a lot of what we teach in a composition course strikes me as pretty Isocratean. This sort of pragmatic approach to create change specifically in a civic/political environment, and in the emphasis on the written word intended for circulation rather than the preparation for speaking seems to be more in line with a class like 1020. So maybe the secret history is really a history of subversive Isocratean though than Aristotelian. So maybe the argument is that we’re missing some of the depth and detail of what Aristotle’s Rhetoric has to offer by reducing rhetoric specifically applying the available means of persuasion to a written argument (Thinking specifically in terms of something like Gross’ project to reincorporate what’s in Book II as far as emotions, etc., are concerned). In other words, what is left out (perhaps) of our use of the Rhetoric becomes something more Isocratean than Aristotelian.

Which gets us to Gross, who I will treat in terms of methodology (which is why we read him, I think?). Aside from not finding his argument very compelling, I do think that his approach to rereading the history of emotion can be a fruitful one to perhaps incorporate as a methodology. His focus on very specific texts in very specific time periods allowed to cover a lot of ground without too many, seemingly, major gaps, but the use of literature to read against in the fourth chapter (and a relatively obscure piece of literature I am guessing) seemed to weaken his argument a bit in terms of having to dig a little too deep, perhaps, to find the secret history he’s looking for. I think that if looking at an undiscussed or hidden thread of thought in the history of some discipline, it would be better to stick to more texts that are of a more common use in that discipline–admittedly, I am not necessarily as well read as I could and/or should be, but I have not come across a lot of reference to Hobbes, Hume, and Fielding in most rhetorical theory. It seems to me that if a rewriting of a history is the goal, then more “high profile” texts should perhaps be incorporated as well as some of the more obscure. However, I do think the focus on specific texts in specific time periods is an interesting approach to a historiographical project.


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