Thursday, September 16, 2004

What is it? Malcom X knew.

Back to what is rhetoric. Is rhetoric what comes with an awareness of language? I can use language without being consciously aware of language. Communication is possible without really thinking about it. But when I become aware of how I can shape my communication, in the choice of a word or words or phrases or inflections or references, so that it is recieved and processed in a certain way, that's moving into rhetorical communication.

Before Malcolm X became aware of language he tried to communicate outside of his street circle. He wrote dozens of letters to politicians, church leaders, gang leaders, without a reply. Then he became aware of his limited vocabulary and studied to increase it in hopes of being able to communicate better. He gained an awareness of language and with that awareness he began to purposely shape his words to sway his audience. It worked. In 1963 he was the second most sought after public speaker in the United States. Consider his style in the following quotes taken from his speeches:

"If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her. And if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country." Speech, Nov. 1963, New York City.

"It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep." "Message to the Grass Roots," speech, Nov. 1963, Detroit (published in Malcolm X Speaks, ch. 1, 1965).

All this said with an 8th grade education. Why did he quit school? Because his favorite teacher told him that his ambition to be an attorney was "no realistic goal for a nigger."

Changing topic here, (digressing to the dogs again?) in reference to a conversation in rhetorical theory class:
Maybe what separates us from the animals isn't so much a use of language but a conscious use of language. Maybe some animals can actually gain a slight and minimal awareness of communication which at times can reflect more awareness and thought than that of some humans (college educated even) that I know.


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