November 18, 2012

I Don't Think it's Possible

You can argue that she offers a pretty good stance on rhetorical theory but to me she is just an author/activist. I don't want to seem mean nor am I putting the great Helen Keller down in any way I just cant make the connection between her and the definition of a rhetorical theorist. What she may offer is insight on particular issues within the rhetorical community, which I believe is what this article is making clear (defining the clear relation to her work and Burke's). But I would not call her a theorist nor do I think she would.

In the article there is a quote remarked to Keller from a "friend", "I have heard men say," How can a deaf blind from infancy know about life, about people, about affairs? It is impossible for her to have a first hand knowledge of what is going on in the world"". And Keller replied along the lines of an analogy that justified her position to understand the world. Something major happens in the world like 9/11, I wasn't there nor were you but you understand what happened that day. And by all means that is a great answer, possible the most "sophisticated" answer that one could make from her position. But from what I have learned through this major with a stressful emphasis on rhetoric is that we define our world and perceive it with the use of our senses. And this is where i find myself sounding mean but I just don't think she is in the position to rhetorical theorize about the world. Instead I think we should just look at her work and see what rhetorical theory she could offer.


Josh Johnson said...

Zack, I really understand and agree with you. I definitely feel like Helen keller does not bring a connection in my head with any rhetorical theorist or just being one herself. I do though think that her being blind and deaf hinders from the outside world completely. yes i feel like it hinder her a lot, But she is still human and will feel the same emotions as others even though she cannot hear or see. When she communicates i feel like it holds a separate meaning and extent then when we communicate at first.

Jen said...

I disagree a little bit here. I understand what you're saying in regards to the difficulty of seeing her as a rhetorical theorist, but I think it is belittling to say that because she cannot see or hear certain things, she would be discredited as a rhetorical theorist. You're right, rhetoric is about perspective and definitions of terms as well as our surroundings, but she offers up a perspective that we cannot understand. Saying she is incapable of being a rhetorical theorist because of her incapability of some of our senses is a putting a ceiling on all things that people in general can do. The lack of sight and hearing should not be connected with a lack of thoughts, and while I don't mean to say that you're calling her dumb or thoughtless, I do believe you're limiting all people in saying what they can or cannot do due to a disability. Especially from a woman who has made remarkable strides to not have her disability be her definition as a person.

Catalina said...

I agree that Helen Keller was not a rhetorical theorist, but for very different reasons. She had every ability to be a rhetorical theorist but she didn't choose to be. Burke clearly set out to theorize about rhetoric. That is why Burke has been canonized and Keller has not -- or at least a major reason in my opinion.

That being said, I do believe she holds value in our rhetorical curriculum. We often read articles and study theorists who were not rhetorical theorists. If they were studying literature, or art, or the politics of an election, they may have written something useful to the study of rhetoric, but that doesn't make them a rhetorical theorist.

By labeling someone, you are doing so much -- perhaps using a terministic screen? It says so much about how you think about them. Or how you think about how you think about them -- I'm unsure, the meaning goes through many layers before we talk about it. But regardless, how was use language is powerful. As evidenced with Keller's own experiences with it, language can shape, even create, your reality. We should respect this power and use it carefully -- by hesitating to label someone a rhetorical theorist without due cause.

tgraban said...

Zack and Everyone, this is a really interesting conversation and as I was reading all of your justifications for why we can (or should) consider her a theorist, or why we cannot (or should not), I realized there are two components to George's argument that are worth unpacking:

1) There is Burke's own notion of "cultural piety" (George 341) which George decides to apply to Keller's phenomenal coping mechanisms. So, the first piece of George's assumption is that Keller's disability allowed her to transcend what Burke would call "cultural piety." It presumably allowed her to overcome social blindness and come into a new way of seeing (George 342). Obviously, there's much more to the claim than just this, given that Keller's calling other people "blind" had more to do with her socialist leanings. It was a metaphorical blindness.

2) The second piece of George's assumption is that Keller was able to come up with or create or improvise her own way of learning signs (of learning "language"). She eventually had and used more than one system of signs, and these were derived partly from experience but partly from how she had to create new linguistic and sensory experiences, given that neither she nor her teachers had access to much information about how blind/deaf/mutes could learn language. (This is reflect in Jen's and Josh's posts above, though each of them makes unique points.)

So, I guess if we are to follow Burke's notion that "everyone's reality is largely linguistic" (George 345), according to what we know about how Keller learned language and eventually learned to use it, I suppose there is no logical reason for saying that she did not consubstantiate or identify linguistically. At least, that's the theme that seems to echo in a number of posts on the blog right now, written by you and your peers.

That still leaves open two question:

1) the question of whether Keller can/should be considered a "rhetorical theorist." In other words, how do we get from Keller's language to an epistemology? Does George think Keller presents her own epistemology? Does Keller's system of signs generate knowledge about how signs work? Did Keller actively theorize or build theory, i.e., would she have wanted to be called a rhetorical theorist in the first place (and this is reflect in Catalina's post above, as well as some other posts on the blog).

2) the question of whether Keller's system of signs is equivalent to one that is formed on the basis of sound and sight. As some of you were watching the quick clip of "Rome Reborn," you commented that there as an ambient context (a feeling, based on seeing) that you are pretty sure Keller could not have experienced.

How necessary is an "ambient context" to learning identification, I wonder?

-Dr. Graban

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