Archive for August, 2007

The first paragraph of my first draft of my first research-grant proposal

Although we might normally associate emotion with the personal realm, our public lives are actually dependent upon emotive functions of discourse. A public that is comprised of shared spaces and texts also shares ready-made rhetorical meanings that are constantly used for communication. These ready-made rhetorical meanings link together certain discourses and emotions, creating an archive of rhetorical figures that members of the public draw upon. For example, discourses about urban issues are often linked with images of crime, race, youth, and danger. In turn, this complex of discourses is further linked to emotions such as fear, anger, and depression. So familiar is this particular public rhetoric, in fact, that one element (urban crime or racial youth) might be invoked in order to suggest the others (fear or anger). Politicians seem to understand this public archive when they speak about “our children” as a way of invoking feelings of protection or anxiety among their audiences. Likewise, discourse about urban sprawl and land development is often linked to feelings of anger, disgust, and suspicion. For many people, the term “land development” contains an inherently negative ring. Through public archives of pathos, meaningful rhetorics are shared among participants.

Meaningful structure

Pathe (like guilt) provide a structure within which to organize discourse, giving it meaningfulness and shape.

Modern rhetorical theory often imagines pathos as a kind of personal prod; it is a tool that goads another body into action by playing on their emotions. I dub this version “personal pathos” for its focus on the triangulated relationship seen above.

However, pathe have a more public life beyond the triangle. As we can see in the example of carbon guilt, pathos can circulate apart from any particular agent and without a fixed destination, such as a targeted audience. The pathe of carbon guilt is spurred on by the individual discourses of political and commercial interests, of course, but the larger accretion of such discourses forms a public rhetoric that moves apart from those smaller discourses.

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