Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Adam Smith: propriety of sentiment

I told my grad class that I would continue to post my class notes (ie, the notes I bring with me to class) but have been rather lax in doing so. It feel strange to me because they "sound" different from blogging in general and because I never think of my notes as being other than for my reference: they represent starting points, not fleshed out. They are topoi for talk: mine and the rest of the class members'. But I really need to get over myself and do what I said I would, in the hope that they might provide a potentially useful grid for mapping some of the conversation. So, here's this week's notes on Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments (and other things).

Notes for Monday Sept 19
Adam Smith

common sense
current traditional
Scottish Enlightenment

A beginning: why?
• Why read Smith? Because of the rhetoric/capitalism/emotion link. Capitalism needs a certain kind of emotion. That emotion gets instilled through rhetoric, but not through formal rhetoric (not through public address, primarily). Think of emotion management, as in the Kent State article.
• Why read Smith? Because he was part of the Scottish Enlightenment , which historically was important for the writing of essays in the newly required fy writing. (Agnew helps us with that connection, and also looking back to the connection with Greek and Roman era thought, though any connection is also a misreading of sorts)
• Why read Smith? Because his ideas on sentiment and commerce were important in Revolution-era America, and so they help us to get a new context on that part of our history (conduct books as rhetoric? Hemphill will help us think through that question and its implications)
• What can we do with Smith? More than: oh, now I see something I didn’t see before? (Though that can be useful start.) Does Smith offer familiar ways of thinking about emotion? If so, what does that tell us? Why is Smith’s approach to rhetoric different from Aristotle’s, and what can that tell us about rhetoric? What happens when we view rhetoric as Aristotle did vs. as Smith did? How do both views fall short when thinking about today?

A continuing: what’s rhetoric, and what’s Smith got to do with it? And why emotion?
In order to think about how Adam Smith fits into or doesn’t fit into a discussion of rhetoric, we need to consider some more where we are in our thinking about rhetoric:
• definitions handout from last time
• Brummett: rhetoric as a function with various manifestations (a kind of agentless art?)
• rhetoric: ancient, modern, postmodern (orality, literacy, electracy; city-state, nation-state, globe; agora, “public” sphere; mass media)
• why do I keep talking about Foucault? Who is he and how does he fit into rhetoric? (Understood that history changes things: not about a smooth evolution, but looking at how things were different: a way of seeing how our own circumstances lean us in a certain direction)
• “common sense” as starting place of rhetoric? (Aristotle says something similar: how is it also not the same?)

[rhetoric doesn't light up one part of my brain but many linked parts: thus, a handouot: "rhizomes of rhetoric" (rather than the more popular tree/forest, which can still be a useful reference)]

Conversing: questions from blog
My questions:
One thing I'll be interested in talking about tomorrow in class is the discontinuity between Aristotle's approach to emotional appeals and Smith's approach to moral sympathy. (Why might discontinuity help in thinking about emotion/affect?)
• For one thing, what happens when the focus is on appeals vs. sympathy?
• My first thought: one focuses more on an agent doing something to reach an audience, while the other focuses more on how an observer is moved to feel (not necessarily act). What do these differences suggest?
• How might they be explained (in part) by changes in the space/time, in the social contexts of these two writers?
• And what happens when we notice these differences? How do they enable us to view emotion in new ways? What (else) can we do with them?

Here's some more Foucault to inspire (or repel?):

History becomes "effective" to the degree that it introduces discontinuity into our very being--as it divides our emotions, dramatizes our instincts, multiplies our body and sets it against itself. "Effective" history deprives the self of the reassuring stability of life and nature, and it will not permit itself to be transported by a voiceless obstinacy toward a millenial ending. It will uproot its traditional foundations and relentlessly disrupt its pretended continuity. This is because knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting.
("Nietzsche, Genealogy, History" 154)

So: how can we make these historical works "effective"? How can we ask not just what do they say, but what do they do? What did they do? And how can we use them to "introduce discontinuity into our very being"--and why would I want to ask you to do such a thing?



Mike @ Vitia said...

I really like the thought about social context and the difference between Aristotle's focus on rhetorical agency and Smith's focus on observer sympathy. This is something I've been trying to spin out in looking at weblog rhetorics and the commodification of identity in the information economy: the construction of identity, after Freud and the Romantics, was always constructed as an inward-turning move -- but today, I think we're much more wearing our hearts on our rhetorical sleeves, so to speak, much as the Romans did (it was OK for Tiberius to have two children strangled and their corpses flung down the Scala Gemoniae to rot, but he became monstrous when he removed himself from public view in his villas on Capri), so we're bringing a different focus to analyses of how rhetorics work.

By the way: I saw this Ask MeFi thread and immediately thought of you & constructions of The Managerial. Grumblebee's response is particularly noteworthy.

Donna said...

Thanks for both, Mike. I'm rather interested in getting back to think through the Roman connection, too. Is that something you've written about? (In fact, Mike, can I get ahold of things you've written in addition to on your blog? I've been thinking of your argument about the overlooked shift from classical economy to managed economy quite a bit and believe that I will need at some point to cite you.)

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