Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Write Like...

Apparently, the prose on this blog reads like David Foster Wallace (and I submitted a couple of different chunks). Interestingly enough, a sample from a journal article I wrote reads like James Joyce, which may not be the best result.

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Positions We Are Given

Reading Everitt's Cicero, more things continue to strike me both about Cicero and rhetoric. Many have argued, myself included, that the ethos of the rhetor emerges from rather than proceeds rhetorical interaction. Ethos is as much a given as it is a got. This is clearly the case for Cicero whole struggle for and against various emergent ethoi his entire life. He worked hard to establish himself as a successful advocate. Once in positions of political power he worked to secure his reputation (by writing self-promotional works), which were often criticized by his opponents. He also struggled against his status as a "New Man": he lacked "then appropriate blue-blooded pedigree" (14). That is, his ethos continually reemerge within the shifting political climate of republican-becoming-imperial Rome.

Just as important, however, were the forces that shaped Cicero's political views and positions. Cicero moved from an optimate to populare on several occasions. He was sometimes with Pompey and sometimes with Caesar. He often represented both friends and enemies in the courts. History is harsh on those who are found, at different points in time, to occupy competing positions. And, often, rightly so. However, I would argue that our rush to judge harshly marks the instability of political views and position--including our own. In other words, we judge others for switching positions so that we might maintain the view that we pick at all.

The notion that we freely choose our views is easy to complicate in the case of Cicero because of how personal politics were in Rome. Tullia, Cicero's beloved daughter, chose for her third husband "a reckless and womanizing playboy" (200). Cicero did not approve. They were further, political implications. Cicero was, at the time, the governor of Cicilia (a position he was assigned in the wake of new laws about the duties of former Counselors). The previous governor, one Appius Claudius, had decided to stick around. This created several problems with respect to Cicero's ability to govern and protect the province. Cicero had "chosen" the diplomatic path: don't piss Appius off so that he might, at least, not work deliberately to make things difficult. This choice made sense given the fragility of the situation in Cicilia and in Rome. And the arrangement was working.

That is, until Tullia married the playboy Publius Cornelius Lentulus Dolabella, who was just then bringing Appius to trial "on a treason charge" (200). Cicero, by virtue of his daughter's marriage, found himself positioned against Appius. "Here I am in my province paying Appius all kinds of compliment, when out of the blue I find his prosecutor becoming my son-in-law" (200). This situation, thankfully, took care of itself when Cicero's term (his position) as governor ended. Cicero was also coming to terms with Publius as a son-in-law: "We all find him charming [...] He is clever and agreeable as you please. Other characteristics, of which you are aware, we must put up with" (200).

We are agents making choices to be sure; we are not, however, the only agents. Circumstance, the actions of others, often choose for us. This is not to say that we cannot struggle, but it is to argue that rhetoric (and its critics) must acknowledge that the moment, more often than not, seizes us. And, in such moments, we must muddle through, which seems to be the strategy that most aptly describes the life and times of Cicero.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Material Marcus Tullius

As part of my summer research campaign, I am reading Anthony Everitt's biography of Cicero, Cicero. Reading it, I am amazed but not surprised by Cicero's material rhetoric, by which I mean his persuasive efforts through spatial and temporal action (as opposed to oratorical efforts). I am not surprised because as a successful orator, politician, and advocate, I assume Cicero did more than give a good speech. I am surprised by the extent to which Cicero marshaled space and time in his persuasive efforts. I attribute this to the fact that much of we (in rhetoric) know of Cicero we know through his speeches or writings, which exist, to a certain extent, outside time and space. I might also attribute it to a certain privileging or understanding of rhetoric as purely or only discursive.

A few notes before I proceed. I do not mean to discount speeches or other discursive efforts. I mean only to mark the rhetoric that occurs other ways. Indeed, much of Cicero's effectiveness in the case I will shortly describe comes from his speeches and how he arranged them. I would also acknowledge here that "material rhetoric" is, as with most things, a concept currently under construction. In brief, it concerns the rhetorical force of materiality (spaces, bodies, etc) and the rhetorical constitution of things such as spaces and bodies. Finally, it is probably also true that the material and the discursive are not polar opposites or even mutually exclusive. Speaking and writing are surely also bodily (and technologically mediated) acts.

The trial of Caius Verres, former governor of Sicily, and about whom there is a Mountain Goats song, showcases Cicero's material rhetoric. Cicero, who apparently rarely acted as prosecutor, was constrained by several (material) factors. First, at this point in Roman history juries were composed entirely of senators, making bribery and peer pressure of a sort more common. Second, Verres and his allies went to great lengths to delay the trial both to allow them time to stack the jury and to draw out the trial (over Roman holidays and other conventions of the time) in order to weaken the impact of the evidence.

To combat these material rhetorical moves, Cicero enacted his own robust rhetoric, both discursive and material. Primarily, Cicero worked to speed-up the trail to force a decision before a long break. As a result of his own detective work, Cicero had an "air tight" case, but the longer the trial took the less likely it became that a conviction would be secured.
It was crucial that Cicero finish his presentation before the court went into recess with the opening of Pompey's games on August 16. In the event, he managed to set out his material expeditiously as well as comprehensively. On August 13 he rested his case. (79)
Cicero's move to speed up the trial was accomplished by augmenting the traditional order of the trail. Securing permission to do so, Cicero began with his evidence against Verres rather than his opening remarks.
Cicero's coup was devastating for the defense and had immediate consequences. (79)
By virtue of what we could call a rhetorical move that addressed the material conditions of the trial, Cicero reversed what had been a foregone conclusion: Verres acquittal. Because Cicero forced the issue, the senate had no choice but to convict Verres.
Today the eyes of the world are upon you. This man's case will establish whether a jury composed exclusively of Senators can possibly convict some who is very very guilty--and very rich [...] No such excuses can extenuate the number and scale of his offenses. (79)
Surely a great speech that played an important role in convicting Verres; however, it was Cicero's material rhetoric which forced such a scrutinous gaze upon the Roman Senate.

Cicero's success had, then, its own material consequences. His actions, including composing and distributing speeches "he might have delivered had he had the chance" (80),
made a powerful case for reform of the courts and the jury system [...] Later in the autumn the Senatorial monopoly of juries was rescinded and their share of the memebership reduced to one third. (80)
Cicero well understood that oratory takes place in space and time, and that if these are stacked against you your words have little chance of achieving any effect. Cicero, as Everitt demonstrates, understood that the rule of law and the various institutions that uphold it are vital to the law working at all.

As a figure for and of rhetoric, Cicero and his victory in the trial of Verres marks rhetoric's materiality.