Skip to main content

Rhetoric + Poetry

"Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; 
out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry."
W. B. Yeats

I am rent in two as my Yale days wane and wane.  Plant life busts into bloom in varying degrees as the days pass.  School traditions march forward as the weather warms.  The other day we had our first real spring storm.  I was sitting in the Saybrook common room, reading Dante and listening to another brilliant student play piano, and all of the sudden a deafening crack of thunder silenced the room, rolling in the skies for an eternity.  Long flashes of lightning filled the sky purple, and students rushed into the common room soaked through - it seemed everyone had been caught unprepared.  We have had some lovely warm days, but this was the first sign that the icy drizzles of our long winter would not return until next year.  

I've ordered my cap and gown.  I've cleared my course requirements with the registrar.  I did not fill out a FAFSA for next year.  I've ordered wedding invitations, picked out bridesmaid dresses, started the paperwork to legally change my name, purchased honeymoon tickets that return to a new address.  The change that has been inching toward me gently and slowly is now here in a crack and a flash.  

The other night I got to share some drinks with a group of dearest friends, and I offered a toast to the disagreements we've had during our time together here.  The quarreling life of the academic.  Committing oneself to advanced study means being in the constant state of putting an idea out there and inviting everyone you know to try to shoot it down.  Often, your friends will succeed.  In learning how to do this, you learn how to care a little bit less about being right, and, ideally, how to listen well when people want to take your argument apart.  They will always be a little bit right and a little bit wrong, and then it's up to you to correct the mistake or learn how to say it better.  It hurts a lot in the beginning, but at the end you realize that one of the greatest gifts of grad school is the opportunity to hear critiques from a whole host of people who are actually interested.  

There are not a lot of places where genuine rhetoric ever happens.  There are plenty of places of disagreement and arguing, but my time at Yale has been marked by the way quarrels have been productive.  They don't tear things apart, they carefully peel away the unnecessary bits in an effort to make things stronger, bigger, broader.  I'll say here that the fights have happened in love.  I have many friends here who argue out of their love of the Good - they care about truth, they care about ethical and responsible truth-seeking, they care about conscientious scholarship.  I have a few friends here whose arguments arise out of not only love of the Good but love of the arguer as well.  The gravity of their words originates in a brand of charity that is aimed equally at ideas and the people who have them.  

This is where Yeats' classifications of rhetoric and poetry have, for me, been conflated.  The quarrels I have with myself have been nurtured here by the people who have cared as much about me - my self - as they have about the correctness of my thought.  And they have honored our talks by committing their own selves to the conversations.  It is perhaps the highest praise I can give this place, to crown my time here with rhetoric and poetry, and the gracious conflation of my quarrels with others and my quarrels with self.  


Popular posts from this blog

The Cocktail Party

I had drinks with a friend after a long seminar tonight, and for the first time in a while, I didn't stagger to my car exhausted and then sit in traffic for 90 minutes (that's right, it takes me 90 minutes to go 11 miles #LosAngeles) and then collapse for an hour and then go back to work for another 3 hours before crawling into bed (I am taking too many classes this quarter).  Instead, I had two glasses of wine and a little dinner, and I got to talk to a great person who is willing to share a lot of knowledge with me as well as some genuine pleasantness.  It reminded me of the olden days when my social life and my academic life were centered around the same place and task, and it lightened the load quite a bit.

That moment of levity at the end of the day.  Ah.  We need it.  No reading.  No striving.  No obligations.  The wine or cocktail is key.  You're always pausing when you have a drink.  You're being a little bad.  You're working against your evening productiv…

I Don't Know

I've noticed a phenomenon in many areas of my verbal life wherein the phrase "I don't know" opens, closes, or rests in the middle of a phrase.  The more I listen for it, the more I am struck by its ubiquity, yet these phrases have nothing to do with the parameters of the speaker's knowledge.

In a seminar:  "I don't know, but I think he's saying..."

Among friends discussing the news: "Um, I don't know, but I feel like this could have been avoided..."

Two girls shopping:  "Is this cute?  Right?  I don't know."

Some guys on a walk: "I mean, I don't know, but was that the best choice..."

High school students in class: "I don't know, but don't you kind of feel like..."

Are we really so tentative?  Is our own knowledge so slippery that we cannot be certain of our opinions?  Do we doubt our own knowledge, we who may spend about 15-20 years of our lives in full-time, formal education or many ho…

Life Craft

Finals weeks are misery for me.  Sometimes I catch a wave of inspiration and weep into my keyboard, but those moments are rare.  I am not having one yet this time around.  I took too many classes this quarter and thus couldn't start my papers until it was too late to wait around for Muses.  And when I say I took too many classes that is not a request for applause at my ambition.  It was a mistake.  A mistake that reflects how desperate I am to be finished with my coursework so I can move on to Dante and do some real thinking that is not geared toward a 3AM slapdash 25 page paper.  And hopefully then this program will become enjoyable for me and not a daily reminder of the huge mistake I made deciding to go here.

As I have been trying to piece together a Boccaccio paper over the past three days, I've spent way more time on the internet than I normally do.  Especially Vogue, a publication I used to read regularly and haven't honestly read in several years.  I watched a bunch…