Archive for chapter 1

Guilty appeals

It’s a textbook example of rhetorical pathos calling long-distance on my telephone. I have not called home for weeks, no doubt too caught up in work to spare a few minutes for my mother. When the phone rings, I pick up to hear her alarmed voice. She tells me that she has been worried sick about me, wondering if I was ill or in some kind of trouble. I snicker while listening to her melodramatic image of me lying unconscious on my bathroom floor after slipping in the shower. But this is no joke. My mother has been driven to the edge with worry, and she wanted me to know it. Please, she implores with a tearful voice, don’t ever go so long without calling home. You worried me sick. I feel waves of guilt seep into my skin, as I promise her that I will call faithfully from now on.

Or. . .

Or, to use another term, pathe might be best understood as process.

Pathos as the enactment of change

. . .
Then again, pathos may not neatly correspond to emotional discourse.  In fact, a closer look at Aristotle’s treatment of pathos reflects a more complex theory than we might realize. Pathe are not qualities, but they are more like agents that affect a temporary change. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty explains that Aristotle viewed pathos as that which produces change in a body that would not otherwise experience such a change. In metaphysical terms, pathos is not part of a body’s essential being. Rorty writes, “Pathe proper are not qualities (poiotetes): they are relatively impermanent alternations in a thing, whose causal explanation usually lies primarily outside its nature (526).

Thus, a broken leg is a pathos insofar as it gives rise to a limping walk that would not otherwise be natural to a body. Likewise, my dirty joke at the dinner table might be said to be a pathos when it causes my modest companion to blush. The pathos enacts a temporary change in this modest body that is in a normally non-blushing state. For this reason, Aristotle paints pathos as something that is undergone or suffered by beings. Rorty says that they are, for Aristotle, most often misfortunes—and we can see why. The passive or accidental undergoing of a changed experience has a ring of misfortune about it.

This view of pathos—as an agent that enacts a change upon another body—is complex insofar as it turns pathos into more of an active agent than a unique substance. In the case of my dirty joke, the pathos is not located solely in language or in my companion’s body. Rather, the pathos enacts a changed state in conjunction with her body. It is this combined enaction of a blushing body and dirty joke that is the pathos. Consequently, pathos does not exist “in” anything, but it enacts a changed state when linked with (other) bodies. Pathos is the (en)act(ment) of change.

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