Archive for guilt

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.

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.

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