Rhetoric and IA: I see no differences

Okay -- that's why I called it Rhetoric - IA. I actually have a university degree in Rhetoric -- it's right there on the diploma -- from Berkeley, no less. I really like the idea of becoming expert in rhetoric in the city that deplores its use. But it's okay, I'm a Berkeley native, so I guess whatever I do anywhere is a reflection on my home town.

I had a point to make, however -- I wanted to illustrate the complete overlap between the two disciplines, and it's a celebration of sorts because it looks like there's finally a real job that goes right to the heart of what I love. AND OH YES I love rhetoric -- it's engineering with words. I was an exhausted engineering student when I stumbled into my first rhetoric class: Rhetoric 30, taught by Dan Melia -- and I was a deer caught in the headlights after that.

It was an article of faith that half of the class (which was the introduction to the basic principles of rhetoric) did not stick around to the end, but I really didn't notice. I moved my seat from the back to the front row and came early and stayed late. It was amazing to me that people, other people, really thought this way, and I'd been hiding my bizarre compulsion to analyze communications all these years...and now I could get A's with it. After the first passion, I noticed that my former engineering classmates thought my new discipline was ridiculously difficult -- and yes, it's not for anyone who isn't just fine generating reams of prose. (et tu blogosphere?)

And people were passionate about it, too. Dan hated the deconstructionists -- and he thought I should too, but I was actually blown away by the ideas -- and I'm still deferring my judgment on this philosophy...maybe it's the way communication is indeed mediated by the web...maybe the writer disappears into the text...maybe the reader is the one doing the writing. That's what's going on in user experience one-on-ones, after all. But Dan was all about the page and the podium, not the web. And the medium is the message after all.

The deconstructed web is the coldest place of all (in media terms) -- particularly the web environment of an anonymous corporate site.

So the curriculum lead the little student sheep along the path of the classics -- We actually studied Aristotle in the same way a mechanic would study a Merck's Manual. Here's the piston, here's the camshaft, here's the pathetic trope, here's the catharsis, now you do it. Then we looked at Plato -- not all of him, just a few dialogues, but what dialogues they were: Gorgias!!! My darling Gorgias, gorgeous Gorgias.

Okay, now this is reealy important in today's evil world: Plato held that no one could be allowed to take up the hideously powerful tools of rhetoric unless they had first been grounded in and ground down by the puffing, strutting strictures of Ethics. Like handing a gun to a -- what? an evil person, I suppose. Here's a digression: long long before Jesus and his Good News, Plato was the earliest person I've read who clearly believed in the transforming power of having something explained to you. So, he didn't say that only good people should get to use rhetoric -- his desire was far more mechanical -- only people who had been lectured to about Ethics should get to use rhetoric. I hear and obey, master.

But, you know, Berkeley is always conservative and obedient, so, in tune with the Platonic stricture, we sheep were also dipped in the bath of Ethics before we were turned loose with our weapons. Now, this was in the early 80's, when Greed was Good -- in fact, it was at Berkeley, just across campus, in that same window of time, that Mr. Boesky was busy telling a B-School class that very thing. The rise of the faceless giant corporation -- what are one's moral obligations with respect to non-human entities? That wasn't covered.

Next time: Bambi, the pathetic.

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