Preface (draft) to book on Adult Literacy as education into care of the world

I wish to describe things from a rhetorical perspective, or rather, to describe the world rhetorically, even better, to describe a rhetorical world. To describe the world in a way that that brings out its rhetoricity.

I am not trying to explain the world by reducing it to rhetorical principles. Rather I describe it bringing out it rhetoricity and hope that you the reader will be able recognise yourself and your world in what I describe. So that you can reply: ‘Yes, You are right. I too live in the rhetorical world you describe – even though I have never heard it described or named in this way before’.

Describing, rather than explaining: I am not wishing to show or prove that there is a simple ground or principle underpinning and explaining the world(s) we live in. Instead, I simply wish to describe the world and events and people and what people say or write – or what you do or say or write –  in such a way that brings out its rhetorical dimension.

I will use the historical tradition of rhetoric in Western and Eastern Europe as an example, an instance, a paradigmatic case, an exemplum. By describing the features, dimensions, practices, values and variety of this past world of rhetoric, I hope that it becomes clear that these very same features are also true of the world outside this past world of rhetoric.

The world of the tradition of rhetoric is a microcosm that is emblematic of our world today and of the world at large – I hope. By describing this smaller world of rhetoric I am hoping that you will recognise similarities and points of connection with your world and thereby you will find yourself more attuned to the rhetoricity of our current world: you may find yourself noticing things you did not notice before; or reacting to them differently from before; some things or events that just passed by in the background as background noise might now jump out at you and attract your attention. In short, your world, the world you live in, your world, might subtly change its shape and feel so that different things call out to be named. In this way learning the language and forms of speaking and analysing developed by a training in rhetoric, you should find that different features, different things come to prominence asking to be named or analysed rhetorically. Welcome to a more rhetorical world

If  we used the idea of fractality, then the elements and shape of the historical world of rhetoric as a discipline may exhibit the very same elements and patterns of other regions of the larger world and also of the world, or worlds, as a whole (if there is such a thing).

Now, this is not purely a matter of generalising, of induction or extrapolation from a single case to other cases or a kind of cases. It is more than this. Rather, it is a matter of how you see and stand in the world, not just what you see or know about the world. It is a matter of how you relate to the world. So, my hope is to write a text through which you will gradually find yourself changing, seeing things including yourself and what you can see or imagine doing differently. In short, becoming a rhetor, becoming someone who views matters rhetorically. Who thinks, speaks, writes and acts rhetorically. Who does not assume that the world can be captured simply in neat concepts or theories that can then be used to design social institutions, train the habits and actions of children, adults and groups, or used to develop formulas or algorithms for technologies.

So, there is a pedagogic intent to this text, not simply an informative intent. I am not just trying to tell you the facts like Wikipedia, nor simply trying to explain a theory. Really what I am doing is trying to initiate or apprentice you into being a rhetorician, to noticing and responding to issues, things, texts, and events as a rhetorician. So, my hope is that from reading this book, you will not simply know (more) ‘about’ rhetoric, but that you will become (more of) a rhetorician, that your world will take on a more rhetorical flavour. My hope is that you will find the rhetoric-ness of the world around you more pronounced, as if it was calling to you,  “Look at me!” My hope is that you come to experience the world with different ears and eyes – with the ears and eyes of rhetoric and that you will be able to respond with the speech and discourse of rhetoric too.

As well as hoping that you come to perceive the world differently, I also hope that you find your self taking up a new stance in the world—a rhetorical stance. A rhetorical stance is one that contributes in speech or action to revealing what is going on, what is happening, what people are arguing about or unhappy about. A rhetorical stance is not a matter of big noting yourself, of becoming a loud mouth or trying to out argue or shout others down. It is not about winning. It is about helping to bring clarity to a situation of confusion where everyone is seeing and feeling different things. A rhetorical stance is when you ‘put something into words’ in a way that helps clarify the meaning of what is at issue.

Rhetoric is a way of dealing with misunderstanding, disagreement, conflicting views, conflicting interests or goals, different feelings, different hopes or ambitions, different memories, different fears or hurts. Rhetoric is useful in every part of life and every walk of life: in family life, in work life, in academic life, in political life; in all forms of communication – speaking, gesturing, writing, reading, social media, broadcast media, cinema, videos, public speaking, stand up, performance art, etc, etc. In short, life is rhetoric, rhetoric is life. Life is lived rhetorically, and rhetoric is lived.

So, you have been warned: My hope is not just that this book will give you new knowledge or new things to talk about, but that it will change you into a different person, into a rhetorical person; someone who lives in a different world, a rhetorical world.

You have been warned…


(Later, in Chapter ?? I will describe all this more fully using ideas from the realm of rhetoric, along with some more recent ideas that help describe the world of rhetoric: experience (Gadamer); bildung; mimesis; disposition/ethos/habitus; affordance; attunement; book as dialogic Spiel; Bourdieu on investment in the game.)

About Rob McCormack
I am a retired second chance educator living in Melbourne, Australia. Theory I am interested in includes: Rhetoric, both ancient and contemporary; Post-structural discourse theory, Laclau; Halliday's systemic functional linguistic theory; Hermeneutics (esp. Gadamer); philosophy, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Derrida; 'practice theory' in social theory such as Schatzki, Bourdieu; political theory, such as Arendt, Laclau, Tully ; pedagogic theory and philosophy such as Biesta, didaktik. Praxis I am interested in include: Adult education and adult literacy; second chance education; academic discourse and writing; langauge and learning; Indigenous education.

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