Tuesday, January 17, 2006

epistemological musings

For my Rhetorical Criticism class this week I read, among other things, an article by Dr Bonnie Dow called “Response: Criticism and Authority in the Artistic Mode.” In it, Dow argues that we should conceive Rhetorical Criticism not with the language of Science (discovery, uncovering extant truth) as much as with the language of Art (creating, constructing or suggesting ideas). Her ideas appeal to me, especially as I come to analytic writing primarily from the perspective of a creative writer, not a scientist.

It also reminded me of a conversation I had over Christmas break with Kathryn, who studies both in the Sciences and Creative Writing at Hope College. We came to a realization together that the essential project of most academic writing (in most, perhaps all, disciplines) and in many of the arts is the same. The central message is this: here is something I have noticed about the world, and here is what I think it means. This is what I do when I write poems, this is what I do when I write rhetorical criticism, or blog posts, and even what scientists do, although the idiom of noticing, and verifying observations, and constructing meaning from that changes.

In some sense this comes out sounding rather relativistic – we all are constructing meaning from what we notice. On the other hand, I think it’s also empirical, it’s knowledge we construct based out of what we can experience and observe. Perhaps what I am arguing for, though, is that there is no inherent superiority in one form of expression, although perhaps different forms work better for particular kinds of observations.


Sonya said...

This also underscores the individualistic culture of North America. I'd be curious to see how collectivistic cultures, such as China or Korea, would compare.

bethany said...

Sonya - interesting question. I suppose the focus on knowledge from INDIVIDUAL experience or observation is inherently individualistic. I seem to remember hearing that collectivistic education is much more focused on understanding and reiterating tradition, where individualistic is more about developing new knowledge. So I suppose my assumptions only apply to the western academy and art world.

Brooks Lampe said...

You are taking a Rhetorical Criticism class? No way! Awesome! Sweet dogs/hotdogs. I am taking the History of Rhetoric (Part II--which means, jumping in medias res to Renaissance thinkers like Ramus and Bacon).

As far as your epistemological musings go, I think dialogue is needed for this. Is rhetorical critisism based off a world of "what we observe" (surface-level, Nominalist-sounding phrase) or a deep, metaphysical realism that is the core of the Rhetorical tradition?