Two Takes on Rhetoric

How the Mighty Hath Fallen: Rhetoric: A Very Short Introduction by Richard Toyes & Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama

Rhetoric, the art and practice of persuasion through language, was once the cornerstone Words Like Loaded Pistols coverof Western political, legal, and educational systems. The Greeks invented it, the Romans refined it, the Middle Ages put it at the pinnacle of the educational system, and the Moderns updated into the world of print and democracy. But today, few people use the term “rhetoric” without adding the prefix “mere”. President Obama, starting back when he was only candidate Obama, received frequent derision (by opponents) for his outstanding oratory. “Just words”“, all talk, no action”, and so on. What is rhetoric that it once was the crowning jewel of an educated person, but now is more often the subject of derision?

Rhetoric Very Short Intro coverEach book provides numerous examples of rhetoric in action, and each provides a great deal of ammunition to those like me who believe rhetoric a useful art and discipline of the highest order. As someone whose profession involves “pleading” on behalf of others and “arguing” cases, I only wish that I’d had a deeper and more practiced introduction and study of rhetoric much earlier in my education. So to me, both books are preaching to the choir. However, even now, after having made up some ground of early deficiencies in my learning, I gained a good deal from these two works. Toyes, for instance, really focuses on rhetoric in the broader context of the contemporary world, touching on how, for instance, Kenneth Burke’s work changes the focus of rhetoric from “persuasion” to “identification”. He also brings in the work of J.L. Austin, whose How to Do Things WithWords brings a new classification scheme into use that enhances our understanding of rhetoric and language. Leith, on the other hand, focuses more on the nuts and bolts of rhetoric, things like invention, figures of speech, the occasions of rhetoric, and the means of persuasion set forth in Aristotle’s foundational work (ethos, logos, andpathos). Both of these books address the nature, substance, and history of rhetoric. The Toyes book examines rhetoric from a more academic perspective (it’s part of the Oxford University Press “Very Short Introduction” series), and Lieth’s book approaches the topic in a more relaxed style. In fact, both books cover much the same territory, especially in their narrative about the history of rhetoric. Toyes spends more time on contemporary thinkers and permutations of rhetorical practice while Leith devotes more time to breaking down the sub-topics of the discipline and discussing prominent examples. Leith’s examples include Satan (channeled by John Milton), Lincoln, Churchill (does anyone writing about rhetoric not discuss Churchill?), Hitler (not all popular speakers are good guys), Martin Luther King, Jr. (like Churchill, a must), Obama, and the anonymous (to the public) speechwriters of politicians in the modern era.

I enjoyed both books and learned a good deal from each. For beginners, I’d definitely recommend the Leith book with its numerous examples and consideration of the fundamental tenants of rhetoric. For those more acquainted with the topic, Toyes book puts rhetoric into a larger context, especially in the contemporary world.

Philosophy of History for Lawyers & All via Collingwood

Below is a review of the Principles of History that I wrote for my personal blog. So why include it here? Because Collingwood’s work in the philosophy of history (and historiography) offers insights and reflections on how we make decisions about the past–that is, about almost everything! For instance, a trial is an inquiry into past events. Following is a brief dicussion about what I think Collingwood writes that applies  to persuasion, argument, and judgment.

For Collingwood, historians don’t just blithely accept the testimony (most often written) of witnesses, but they must inquire of it. They must test it. Sound familiar, lawyers? Indeed, Collingwood provides an extended analogy of a detective mystery that might have served as a plot for his contemporary, Agatha Christie. Various witnesses make various statements that they claim are true, but some (or all, to some extent) are lying, mistaken, hiding something, and so on. One must build a case whether one is a historian (going to the time before memory can serve directly to provide information), a lawyer, or a detective. Collingwood argues that the historian should use a question-and-answer template for accessing the evidence. Of course, you don’t have live witnesses (at least not in front of you under oath), but the historian or lawyer does have multiple sources of evidence  to compare and contrast.

Collingwood also emphasizes the role of imagination in formulating a historical narrative. We can’t retrieve all of the facts, sometimes because we simply don’t have the evidence, or sometimes the evidence may prove too voluminous. But we can fill in details–for instance, we can be confident that the underside of a table exists although we cannot see it. (Okay, we could get off our cans and look, but you get the point). So with narratives in litigation: we must fill in blanks, and we test the proposed narratives through the adversarial structure of a trial. A judge or a jury determines, in effect, who has the best story according the criteria of which side provides the most compelling account of what happened in the past as considered in the context of the existing law (including, quite importantly, the standard of proof.

The sampler above gives you some taste of how I believe the Collingwood’s perspectives apply to litigation and persuasion. It’s more than a matter of my long-standing infatuation with history. Collingwood’s well-written and very accessible arguments provide us reasons to think about how we prove (or disprove) a perspective on the past, which is the stuff of litigation and a lot of ordinary life.

My review:

Taking Readings: SNG Thoughts

A reader’s journal sharing the insights of various authors and my take on a variety of topics, most often philosophy, religion & spirituality, politics, history, economics, and works of literature. Come to think of it, diet and health, too!

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Principles of History & Other Writings in the Philosophy of History by R.G. Collingwood

Principles of History cover

Sometimes awe and modesty compel us to brevity where otherwise we’d feel need to blather on at length. This will be a short post, not because the subject doesn’t merit a lengthier treatment. To the contrary, it merits so much more. So I hope that this post is just in the way of a trailer or preview of what I hope in time to consider at more length.

R.G. Collingwood is a late arrival on my radar. In fact, he was probably a part of my undergraduate syllabus in my Philosophy of History course, but he didn’t stick. Now, I’m learning about him, as he keeps popping up, as it were. Last year in India, I bought a copy of The Idea of History, his masterwork, which The Times Literary Supplement selected as one of the most influential books published since the Second World War. But I haven’t read that book yet. So why this book, less famous and published much later?

First, it’s on Kindle, which means that it is accessible to me know (unlike my copies–yes, copies–of The Idea of History now in storage). But perhaps an even better reason—or excuse—for reading this first book comes from the history of the writings themselves.

R.G. Collingwood image

By the late 1930s, Collingwood, then in his early forties, knew that his health was failing. He went on a writing and publication flurry. He’d lectured at Oxford on various occasions in the 1930s about his philosophy of history and historiography. In 1939, during a long cruise intended to bolster his health, he began writing The Principles of History, a companion of sorts to his book The Principles of Art. However, because of his failing health, the advent of WWII, and two other writing projects he wanted to complete, he set the project aside. Death took him in early 1943, with his work about history unpublished in book form. After his death, literary executor, T.M. Knox, brought together several of Collingwood’s writings, including lecture notes, and published them through Oxford University Press as The Idea of History. And as I mentioned, it proved quite a success (at least according the standards of its peer group.) Knox left out some papers, but the source was considered exhausted. Except it wasn’t.

In 1995, archivists at Oxford University Press discovered the (uncompleted) manuscript of The Principles of History that Collingwood has written during his 1939 cruise to Indonesia. They also discovered some papers on other topics as well. The new materials didn’t reveal any startling new positions or arguments made by Collingwood, but they helped to complete his positions and to reveal his overall plan. He’d intended to publish two volumes on the subject of history. The Idea of History covered much of this area, but not all of it, nor in the manner that Collingwood had intended. The Principles of History helps to fill the gaps. Given the depth and significance of Collingwood’s thought, this book provides us with even deeper insights into his unique and compelling ways of thinking about history.

I hope to explore the topic of history and knowledge in depth in a project that I’ve dubbed “history as a way of knowing” (or perhaps history as the way of knowing), which will trace the ideas of Collingwood, Owen Barfield, and John Lukacs and show how their thoughts can inform our thinking. In the meantime, if you’ve any interest in how we think about history and how we judge its fruits, you must read this book

 

 

Martin Luther King: Rhetoric & Oratory in “I Have a Dream”

Dr. Martin Luther King, August, 1963
Dr. Martin Luther King, August, 1963

It’s time to get some posts back up here. In a better-late-than-never celebration of Martin Luther King  Day and in acknowledgment of having recently seen the fine and moving film “Selma”,* I want to point you to a post about Dr. King.

Brain Pickings picked up this piece by presentation expert Nancy Duarte that closely examines King’s greatest oration, the “I Have a Dream Speech” (which still moves me after so many viewings). Writing about Duarte’s analysis of the speech, Ms. Papova observes:

 

Duarte notes the Dr. King spoke in short bursts more reminiscent of poetry than of long-winded lecture-speak and highlights his most powerful rhetorical devices — repetition, metaphors, visual words, references to political documents, citations from sacred texts and spiritual songs — in a fascinating visualization of the speech . . . .

While it’s quite unlikely that we’ll ever speak to a crowd of 250,000 in front of the statue of Lincoln on a day that changed America,  we may need to speak and write in a situation that requires eloquence. We can benefit from the rhetorical devices that Dr. King deployed and from Ms. Duarte’s  exemplary use of a visual tool to enhance her appreciation of the speech. For trial lawyers, especially, we do have occasions–such as a closing argument in a jury trial–where we have to attempt to move (or, one hopes, consolidate the opinions of) an audience of jurors.

King achieved much of his success by tapping into the fundamental principles and beliefs of most Americans, at least those not so blinded by racism and fear as to cherish and live the values of about liberty, equality, and justice. From those premises, Dr. King built his speech to move his audiences to action. (I use the plural “audiences” because even we today became a new audience with each listening. ) And as the film “Selma” demonstrates, people did march and risk (and sacrifice) their lives to the visions he so brilliantly expounded. If, as the ancients suggested, the true test of oratory is to move people to march , then Dr. King belongs in the pantheon of the greatest orators.

* Although I was dismayed at the misrepresentation of Lyndon Johnson’s role in this story.

Storytelling for Lawyers by Philip N. Meyer

Storytelling for Lawyers cover

A while back I quoted from popular fiction writer (and lawyer) David Baldacci that in the business of representing clients in court, the best story wins. Believing this to be so—it’s not the entire ball game, but it’s a big part of it—how do we tell the story most effectively? Here’s where Philip N. Meyer helps. Meyer, a law professor at the University of Vermont and Iowa Writers Workshop alum, has authored a book on this topic, and it’s worth reading if you are a lawyer who has to persuade judges and juries.

Meyer juxtaposes films (High Noon, for instance), fine nonfiction, and writings about narrative (academic and popular) to bring together his argument about the importance of storytelling (the less highfalutin word for narrative). While he draws on a number of different examples, the best sources are closing arguments made in two fascinating trials. The first is Gerry Spence’s closing in the Silkwood case and the other is a murder and racketeering trial that involved a Mafia foot soldier. In both instances, Meyer analyzes the structure and flow of the arguments as narratives that brings together an account in favor of the client. Spence’s closing weaves a story back in time (the events in question) and forward in time: the future is dependent on the jury’s decision. Spence’s argument merits this attention, as it reveals genuine rhetorical and narrative skill. (Don’t ever let Spence’s cowboy outfit and rough demeanor fool you: he’s a very sophisticated practitioner who blends deep learning with genuine street-wise knowledge.) The other example Meyer focuses upon is a closing by Connecticut attorney Jeremiah Donovan, who defended a low echelon mobster in a racketeering case. In that instance, Donovan’s client didn’t testify, so Donovan was able to testify for the client in closing (in a manner of speaking). Through deft use of narrative and simple visuals, Donavan portrayed his client’s actions—especially his otherwise damning taped conversations—in a light that allowed for a different understanding the literal meaning of the words argued by the prosecutor. As opposed to the story conveyed by the prosecution, Donovan delivered a back-story that countered the worst contention against his client (that he intended to murder his grandson’s father!).

In addition to deconstructing these two exemplary closing arguments, Meyer also examines appellate briefs alongside nonfiction narratives and Hollywood screenplays to display the array of tools and choices that the lawyer has in her toolbox to construct the client’s case. The examples are well chosen and well considered.

For me, the ultimate test of any book that makes recommendations about the practice of law is whether I can use the information it conveys now. This book proved an immediate help for me in working on an appellate brief. In drafting a statement of facts, I became much more keenly aware of the choices available to me. In addition, I became enthused about the craftsmanship that I needed to exercise to draft the most effective statement of facts, knowing that judges are inundated with long, boring recitations of facts in long, boring briefs. I don’t know that I’ll make to the promised land of the perfect brief, but now I have stronger sense of what it will read like.

 

A Review of Time Warrior: How to defeat procrastination, people-pleasing, self-doubt, over-commitment, broken promises and chaos by Steve Chandler

This review from my Taking Readings blog certainly applies to lawyers. In fact, it applies to just about everyone. I know that when I began practice–over 30 years ago!–time management became a more acute concern as the demands of multiple cases began to pile up quickly. I often felt overwhelmed. Chandler’s book, along with the Pressfield books I reference in the blog, address these issues from a most useful perspective. Not perfectly, but with the use of calendars  and processes, it should work to keep the wolves at bay. So, without further ado:

A Review of Time Warrior: How to defeat procrastination, people-pleasing, self-doubt, over-commitment, broken promises and chaos by Steve Chandler

  • by Stephen N. Greenleaf
  • Oct. 14, 2014
  • 7 min read
  • original

This book serves as a fine companion work to Steve Pressfield’s The War of Art and Do the Work!. While Chandler focuses on the familiar theme of “time management”, both he and Pressfield focus on getting things done (and not necessarily as David Allen would have you do it). This book is pithy and easy to read. It could be shorter, and it’s no literary giant. But the message is worthwhile. In fact, in tight, short sentences, Chandler packs somewallop. His style, in addition to his quotes, tends toward the aphoristic. Accordingly, what follows are my quotes of him, his sources, my aphoristic thoughts generated by his insights, and my meta-comments [in brackets]. (I capitalize some words on my own accord as key terms taken from or inspired by Chandler.)

 

  • Non-linear time management involves three options: Now, Not Now (but a date certain), & Never. [I think he should include a fourth: Now Later. For instance, one can use almost any Now to take out the garbage or do the dishes, but some Nows are better than others for productivity. Some tasks are Labor (Arendt), which is by nature  repetitive and doesn’t need special attention. Chandler implies that all Time is equally valuable, but this isn’t so. Some, like me for instance, prefer to perform more demanding, creative tasks in the morning, with less demanding tasks—dishes, reading & answering emails, garbage, etc.—left to the afternoon.]

 

  • Empty the Mind about the Future because the Future = Fear.
  • Develop a bias for Action
  • Develop a laser-like Focus like Bruce Lee or Rocky Marciano (via Joyce Carol Oats).
    Joyce Carol Joyce Carol OatsOats

    [Yes, you read that correctly. It seems she has a thing about boxing.]

  • Act as a Warrior, not as a Worrier.
  • Keep your Soul alive by not seeking to Please Others. Do what you choose
  • Make Time, don’t expect to Find Time.
  • Thinking makes it so. We act (or refrain) based on our beliefs.
  • Sustain Focus. Avoid Distraction. Use the rifle, not the shotgun.
  • “We use our crayons (our imagination) to scare ourselves instead of to create.” Chandler, Steve (2011-02-14). Time Warrior: How to defeat procrastination, people-pleasing, self-doubt, over-commitment, broken promises and chaos (p. 15). Maurice Bassett. Kindle Edition.
  • Use Process Goals, not big, long-term goals. [Compare Scott Adams of Dilbert fame: use Practices not Goals to create Future.]
  • “Be brief. Be swift. Be effective.” (19).
  • Create Now.
  • “Don’t think in terms of patterns. None of this: “I always” or “I never” because those globalizing thoughts will never serve you. They will scare you and make you a pessimist.” (22).
  • Start small.
  • Slow down.
  • Don’t over value Information. “[I]t is active creation that will produce wealth and well-being. Not information.” (27).
  • Create Value by serving others.
  • Incubation vs. Procrastination. Incubate but Act.
  • “No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.—Alan Watts (30).
    Alan WattsAlan Watts
  • The time warrior steals from the future. Then she pours her stolen gold—all of it—into the present moment.” (30).
  • Don’t Know, Choose. Choosing is the key to Acting.
  • “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost more than 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot, and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life… and that’s why I succeed—Michael Jordan (37).
    MJMichael Jordan
  • “It really isn’t fear of failure that stops us from trying exciting things. It’s fear of the appearance of failure. It’s the fear of looking like a failure.” (37).
  • Theory is good for the intellect, but action is good for the soul. It’s also good for your mental health, your physical health, and your pocketbook.—Robert Ringer (39).
  • Act, then Feel. Not vice versa.
  • Serve, don’t seek to Please.
  • Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.—Rumi (49). [I have to issue a small dissent here. My reading, especially in the morning (preferably after meditation) isn’t a passive act. It’s creative. I don’t just read, I Learn. For me, reading is a very creative activity. Besides, I don’t play a musical instrument & C would kill me if I started singing in the morning.]
  • Change Others through an Inspiring example.
  • Be in the Moment. Don’t cling to an Identity. I’m a . . . [fill in the blank]. You can be that—or more—or less.
  • The question isn’t, Who is going to let me; it’s Who is going to stop me?—Ayn Rand (57). [I haven’t “been Ayn Randed”, but I can’t argue too much with this one thing. See, I’m not going to cling to my identity as knowing her to be full of . . . “well, never mind”.]
  • Create, don’t React.
  • Issue is Problem Management, not Time Management. Deal with a Project or Challenge, not Time.
  • We love to solve problems—if they’re not ours.
  • Problems of Time are often problems of Emotion (Feelings).
  • Complete. Finish strong. Keep a “killer instinct”.
  • Unfinished Projects become Worries that become Energy Vampires!
  • Completion Creates Energy. Procrastination drains Energy.
  • Don’t Feel like doing It? Do It!
  • In the face of suffering, ask “How can I help?”, not “How to do I feel?”.
  • Not “How do I survive this [catastrophe]?”, but “How do I use this?”.
  • Warriors make friends of deadlines, which seem (and sound) so ominous.
  • “The human brain is a magical bio-computer. It sends us energy when we send it something clearly inspiring. But it drags us way down when we feed it something that is negative or depressing. The key to all of this is that we send it.” (88)
  • “The breakdown of language foretells the breakdown of results. Always. . . .[If I don’t keep a commitment] I have misused the word commitment, and language no longer means anything. So now anything I say is just noise that conveys no power at all. My language can no longer make anything happen. It can still be descriptive (it can tell you how I feel, it can describe the past) but it can no longer be generative (it can’t make things happen). . . . [A] commitment is something you keep, no matter what.” (90).
  • What gets measured gets done.
  • Emerson has written many wonderful essays on [acting] and one of the things he said is “Do the thing and you shall have the power.”(110)
  • “Creative people need some kind of structure. . . . Paradoxically, the best creativity comes from working with the most structure you can possibly impose on yourself.” (114).
  • “What do I feel like doing right now? That is the worst question I could ever ask myself during my workday. On a weekend that’s a fine question. “What do I feel like doing? I’ll watch a little baseball, I’ll play the guitar.” That’s fine, but in my workday, the feeling question is the worst question I can ask myself. The best questions are: “What do I want to produce?” and “What structure would guarantee that?”. (115).
  • Create your own Urgent.
  • Skip Willpower and simply Choose to Begin.
  • Begin—to begin is half the work, let half still remain; again begin this, and thou wilt have finished.—Marcus Aurelius (121).
  • “Why do I want my lack of action to be about a “thing” inside me I don’t have? The answer is this: I would rather find and identify some defect in myself than take that first step. Isn’t that the easier, softer way to live? Identifying flaws and defects all day?” (122). [Pressfield names “the thing”: Resistance. But whether you name it to overcome it or you simple ignore it to overcome it, the only weapon that can work is Action. Do, do, do.]
  • “Whatever it is you are not doing, notice that you are choosing not to do it. There’s no defect in you! There’s the opposite of a defect. There is, instead, a power. A power to choose. Choose to, choose not to, same power. Always power.” (122-123). [My only quibble is that some people fail to recognize that they are making a choice (always making a choice) and therefore don’t exercise the conscientiousness or self-reflexivity necessary to realize what’s going on. I think that this requires a great deal of self-awareness. If not, why would Chandler have to teach this? Why would piles of books have ever been written about the Will and Willpower? (I know because I’ve read a lot of them.) Why would we worry about weakness of will? What if the choice is do or not do, such as whether to eat a Twinkie when you’re hungry? What if “not doing” is the best choice, then the default “Do” will fail us. We see weakness of will (akrasia) all of the time in ourselves and others. We discount the future hyperbolically. We make a choice—and we know damn well that we’ll later regret it. St. Paul and St. Augustine and others after them weren’t addressing a non-existent problem. So, grading as the Chinese might, I’d say Chandler is about 60% right on this issue.]
  • Love what you’re doing, whatever it is. [Can be challenging.]
  • “The perception you have of anything is always what drives your feelings and your actions and your thoughts.” (133).
  • Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.–Vincent van Gogh (141).
    Van GoghVan Gogh
  • Fear is the absence of Love, as dark is the absence of light.
  • “Live Now, Procrastinate Later”: great title (Robert Holden).
  • “I experience a stressed-out feeling whenever I think about the deadline for a creative project. But my stress comes from having that project be in the future. Non-linear time management doesn’t allow that line that stretches into the future. Because the linear thought process always produces stress. Unreasonable stress.” (175).
  • “You can create the future—through process-goal-setting and achievement—without living in the future. Just like studying a map before you go somewhere. Or looking at a menu before the meal. You don’t walk on the map. You don’t eat the menu. Once you’ve created your goal and project you set the future aside.” (182).
  • “All creativity emerges from inquiry.” (188).
  • “Thought always comes before a feeling and causes the feeling.” (196). [A key component of Stoic thought per Richard Sorabji.]
  • Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.—Walter Elliott The Spiritual Life (202).
  • Stop lying to yourself.
    AristotleAristotle
  • Aristotle: “Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it. People come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts we come to be just. By doing self-controlled acts, we come to be self-controlled, and by doing brave acts we become brave.” (206-207).

 

Let’s stop here. Lots of excellent ideas and perspectives. A fine and lasting tonic.

Writing Potpourri #1

1. Writing guru Constance Hale shares a blog about slow writers and slow writing. I’m a slow writer (if you count multiple revisions), and the slow writing angle is interesting, although it’s probably not something busy lawyers and others would like to consider. But consider the benefits and intentions before casting the ideas aside.

2. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has just published a new book about writing,The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (2014). I haven’t read it yet, but we get a bit of a preview in this shorter piece on “Why Academics Stink at Writing“, which I fear rivals a lot of legal writing for the title of most boring and numbing. Read this critique of academic writing and apply it to your briefs, and you’ll become more persuasive. If nothing else, a judge will be more likely to read what you’ve written. 

3. This piece from Farnum Street is a portion of the transcript of a conversation between David Foster Wallace and legal writing guru Bryan Garner. The entire conversation becomes a book entitled Quack This Way: David Foster Wallace and Bryan A. Garner Talk Language & Writing.

Brain Pickings, Arthur Quiller-Couch, & Writing

First, if you don’t subscribe to Brain Pickings, you really should. Along with Farnum Street, it’s one of the best sources of informed thinking, art, and inspiration on the web. (In fact, its much better about the arts than Farnum Street.) Among other regular topics, writing is a frequent concern. In particular, this post recounts and quotes the work of early 20th century writing guru Arthur Quiller-Couch, author of the book On the Art of Writing. Read Brain Pickings blogger Maria Popova’s full account of this book, but allow me to quote just a bit from it now. This goes to the issue of persuasion and its role in life. Read these words carefully. Quiller-Couch writes:

Persuasiveness … embraces the whole — not only the qualities of propriety, perspicuity, accuracy … but many another, such as harmony, order, sublimity, beauty of diction; all in short that — writing being an art, not a science, and therefore so personal a thing — may be summed up under the word Charm. Who, at any rate, does not seek after Persuasion? It is the aim of all the arts and, I suppose, of all exposition of the sciences; nay, of all useful exchange of converse in our daily life. It is what Velasquez attempts in a picture, Euclid in a proposition, the Prime Minister at the Treasury box, the journalist in a leading article, our Vicar in his sermon. Persuasion, as Matthew Arnold once said, is the only true intellectual process. The mere cult of it occupied many of the best intellects of the ancients, such as Longinus and Quintilian, whose writings have been preserved to us just because they were prized. Nor can I imagine an earthly gift more covetable by you … than that of persuading your fellows to listen to your views and attend to what you have at heart.

If you’re a lawyer, or just an everyday advocate, you should head these words–no, you should drink  them into your very being. Whether in written or spoken form, what we do is a matter of persuasion, of seeking to guide change, and the more we come to master and expand the art of language, the better off we shall become in shaping the world around us. Take heed and govern yourselves accordingly.

People Skills Potpourri #1

1. “Is Listening Different for Civil vs. Criminal Lawyers?“.  This title from Listening Like a Lawyer blog is intriguing, and the post makes a point. However, I don’t think that there will prove to be a substantive difference. Clues as to what’s going on with the witness, such as nervousness or avoidance, could appeal in either area. Agree?

2. Listen Like A Lawyer (again–are you not already subscribed?). This time on “Embracing Interruptions“.  I commented on the site, but suffice to say that you can’t totally escape them, so make the most of them. Check out her underlying cite as well.

3. Legal Skills Prof blog provides a nice executive summary of this longer post from Theda C. Snyder at AttorneyatWork.com about “Why a TED Talk Is Like a Chicago Hot Dog“.  The title pulls you in, right? The executive-excutive summary: get to the point! (BTW, keeping people engaged is a people skill, whether as an individual or as a group.)

4. The always insightful Presentation Zen blog offers this pass-on from a TED talk by Julian Treasure (embedded) about seven things not to do when trying to get someone to listen to you (i.e., your attempting to teach, influence, or persuade). Whether with a single person or to a group, the advise is sound. Reynolds add an eighth “thou shalt not”, and then four good habit are added. BTW, love the Eleanor Roosevelt quote.

5. In this post, Katy Torgovnick May passes on a summary of an Eric Liu TED Talk. Liu is a favorite political writer of mine, but whatever your political persuasion, I think the summary and TED Talk worthwhile. Those of us who are lawyers are often called upon professionally and by friends and neighbors to lead civil causes, so it behooves us to think these things through. It should be a refresher to most readers, but refreshers can be useful.

The Persuasive Life & Rule in the Renaissance

After a hiatus because of travel and having moved from Trivandrum, India to Suzhou, China, it’s time to do some more blogging here. And the first order of business will be to borrow a post from one of my favorite bloggers–me! (I say that tongue-in-cheek, please.). When I do borrow from my general reading and commenting blog, I attempt to justify my self-reference, so here goes.

First, let me say that reading anything by Garry Wills provides an outstanding measure of liberal arts education. I’ve been reading Wills since 1976 (yes, I can remember the year) when I read both Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man and Bare Ruined Choirs: Doubt, Prophecy and Radical Religion. Since that time I’ve been a devoted reader and I’ve missed little of what he’s published. So when he published his most recent work on Elizabethan politics and theater, I bought it and  read it as a matter of course. However, after completing it and writing a review of it for my general blog, I realized that it belongs here, too.

Political rule requires constant persuasion. When a small group of elites serves as the “seletorate” (as political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita labels those who choose political leaders), they require tangible rewards, like favors and bribes. But no ruler-politician has unlimited resources. Buying people off is expensive. And even in a aristocratic society led by a monarchy,  the monarch must maintain support among the populace. (Just ask Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI if you doubt me.) In order to keep support of the general populace, and to reinforce the beliefs and attitudes of elites, one needs legitimacy. (Max Weber for details.) In other words, a ruler needs to convince those ruled that he–or especially a “she” in the 1500s–has a claim to rule that ought to be recognized and supported. It is against this backdrop–which Wills addresses early in the book with special reference to three schools of scholarship and theory that he draws upon–that Wills gives his account of the times. Thus, this book is about the persuasion that Elizabeth and her supporters constantly deployed in order to give credence and legitimacy to her long rule.

Does this apply to us? Political pomp and circumstance still abound, albeit in different forms and via electronic media. And in the courtroom? I believe that the courtroom remains a singular arena for the display of a drama. Every lawyer conducting a jury trial plays many roles: producer, director, lead actor, script-writer (you have to ask the right questions and you’re encumbered by some measure of truth), and so on. It’s all very dramatic. Thus, someone like David Ball can make a living speaking to trial lawyers. So, yes, every time you conduct a trial, or even a mediation or negotiation, you’re participating in–and helping to shape–a drama. Hence, this book about the far past gives us some perspective on the topic of persuasion (and it also eludes the relative weakness of the legal system of the time viz. protection of individual rights). Read and enjoy.

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All the World’s a Stage: A Review of Making Make-Believe Real: Politics as Theater in Shakespeare’s Time by Garry Wills

  • by Stephen N. Greenleaf
  • Aug. 20, 2014
  • 11 min read
  • original

Anyone acquainted with contemporary politics recognizes the immense amount of pageantry, pomp, and theater displayed in political life, from stage-managed political conventions, to inaugurals full of solemn oaths and speeches, to the blare of trumpets announcing the arrival of the president, followed by “Hail to the Chief”. Lesser and innumerable examples abound, even in a day and age when theater is a lesser art (at least measured by the numbers of patrons and artists). But in the time of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth, the play was the thing to capture anyone’s attention, including the English populace that Elizabeth ruled (and that ruled her).

I expected this book (2014) to focus on the works of Shakespeare since Wills has twice before published books on Shakespeare topics: Witches and Jesuits: Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1995) and Verdi’s Shakespeare: Men of the Theater (2011). However, while Wills does spend some time on Shakespeare—including an especially enlightening discussions of Taming of the Shrew and Henry V—this book addresses the wider cultural milieu. Wills explores how the need to hold and wield political power in Elizabethan England uses theater, poetry, and public spectacle to influence popular perceptions. Indeed, entire lives seem dedicated to gaining and maintaining the audience, whether it’s the courtiers seeking the approval of Elizabeth, such as Essex, or Elizabeth herself courting her subjects. Wills writes:

A self-dramatizing trait is so common in plays of the time [referencing various rulers portrayed in Shakespeare’s plays] that we must suspect it is more than mere personal foible, in the character or the playwright —more even than the convention of theatrical characters being theatrical. The best indicator of this is that the most grandiose self-presenters are men and women who seek or hold power. And power, after all, must always find a way to project its claims onto the people it would control.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 94-97). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Wills notes that “performance theory” now addresses not only the particulars of production, but also the why and wherefore of the efforts. He states:

Performance has become an ever widening and ever -deepening concept. It can indicate all the ways a society enacts meaning. It can apply to speech acts as primarily enacting rather than signifying— the “performative speech” of J. L. Austin. It can mean the achievement of identity by adopting a role— the “performativity” of Judith Butler. There is such a sprawl of performance theory that it is necessary to narrow the focus to see what is distinctive about Elizabethans’ way of dramatizing their culture’s meaning. I will try out three approaches, to see if they help concentrate on Elizabethan self-dramatizations. The three are the theater -state of Clifford Geertz, the emblem systems of the Warburg School, and the process rites of Victor Turner.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 115-122). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Based on these theoretical foundations, Wills considers Elizabeth’s predicament: “Elizabeth was an anomaly— as a female ruler, unnatural; illegitimate by birth; disowned by her royal father; not sure of marriage or issue; not allied by family with other rulers; caught precariously between entrenched religious factions at home and abroad”. Kindle Locations 259-260. Not an easy situation. And one that required her to jealously guard her prerogatives and to cultivate popular support in every way. Wills notes:

The expenditure of so much effort, thought, and money on these great theatrical enterprises [plays, masques, and festivals] must have seemed justified in the reign of a queen known for parsimony. These were not frivolous games or ornaments. They were the expression of a transition period trying to articulate its own meaning to itself. The communal effort had to mobilize all the resources that are suggested by Geertzian sacred rites, Warburgian iconology, and Turnerian liminality. It was a society’s way of fighting for its life. There are many meanings discoverable in Christopher Haigh’s oracular statement about Elizabeth: “Her power was an illusion— and an illusion was her power.”

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 231-236). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

From these premises, Wills dives into the Elizabethan world that seems quite alien to us, although it continues to intrigue us. From me as a school boy reading about Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake as swash-buckling adventurers to movie-goers intrigued by films depicting Elizabeth, who has been portrayed by actresses from Sarah Bernhardt to a Cate Blanchet, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, and Vanessa Redgrave (of late!), the public has an appetite for this foreign time. But for all its foreignness—like the plays of Shakespeare that we still devour—it all has a feel of familiarity as well.

Wills is just the person to perform this reconnaissance. His depth of learning from things ancient Greek and Latin to contemporary America, including his ability (and patience) to cull the relevant texts, makes him an expert guide. And for all his worldly knowledge of the intrigues of our lives, he doesn’t play the cynic. Remarking on what seems to us to be the overweening flattering and fawning aimed at Elizabeth, he finds non-trivial ends:

One may think the endless tributes to Elizabeth nothing but an elephantiasis of flattery. But Spenser [author of The Faerie Queene] was using his poem to shape an ideal of the England he wanted to see as the final product of Reformation. England, tested against the template of Faerie Land, should become Faerie Land. Which means the queen should become the Faerie Queene. As A. Bartlett Giamatti put it, “He wishes to influence her as he deifies her, to shape the state as much as to construe the state’s ruler as a model for the individual.”

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 409-413). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Wills even defends the courtiers, with their literary guides Castiglione and Machiavelli, from charges of simple flattery:

Courtly praise was, admittedly, a pose. Even Castiglione’s courtliest of virtues, sprezzatura, is the ability to conceal effort under a pose of effortlessness. And restraint (Niccolò Machiavelli’s rispetto) is a way to get things by reining in one’s urgency (Machiavelli’s impeto) after them. Thus some New Historicists see “subversion” (their favorite word) under the professed love of Elizabeth’s courtiers. It is certainly true that there was endless jostling of her courtiers for favor, position, property, family advancement, or one’s religious preference, all under the “colour” of ardently professed love. But even in seeking these favors, men strengthened her power to grant them. One does not keep coming back for reward to an enfeebled source.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 413-419). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Wills continues:

Those who see nothing but selfish interest in all human action cannot explain why, for some causes, good and bad— nationalism, racism, religion, patriotism— people sacrifice themselves. Of course, selfish aims can be masked as all these “higher” goals. But dissimulation of selfishness, faction, or zealotry is a social lubricator, and in some cases an essential one. It must, admittedly be a plausible pretense. To work, make-believe must be believable , and an array of talents, political and poetic, labored the illusion into place for Elizabeth.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 423-427). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Following these introductory observations that set the perspective for Wills’s project, he delves into details, and in particular, into Shakespeare. He writes authoritatively and convincingly about gender, dealing with the problematic Taming of the Shrew in a way that makes sense of it and that is quite contrary to many popular conceptions. He takes umbrage at the treatment given the play in such productions as the film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (directed by Zeferelli). Wills notes:

There is nothing more boring than the brute-on-brute wrestling match of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor— as if they were still playing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—in Franco Zeffirelli’s production. Ann Thompson rightly prefers John Cleese’s insouciant approach, all the while blowing Kate verbal kisses in Peter Hall’s version.The anger Cleese puts on is all directed at others, whom he takes to be insulting his goddess, offering her inferior food or clothes. By doing so, of course , he satirizes her own beating of her sister and her servants— a sign of her changing character comes when she pleads that he stop beating the servant.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 861-866). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Wills quotes Germaine Greer at length on the character and relative merits of Bianca, Kate, and Petruchio:

Kate is a woman striving for her own existence in a world where she is a stale, a decoy to be bid for against her sister’s higher market value, so she opts out by becoming unmanageable, a scold. Bianca has found the women’s way of guile and feigned gentleness to pay better dividends; she woos for herself under false colors, manipulating her father and her suitors in a perilous game which could end in her ruin . Kate courts ruin in a different way, but she has the uncommon good fortune to find Petruchio, who is man enough to know what he wants and how to get it. He wants her spirit and her energy because he wants a wife worth keeping . He tames her as he might a hawk or a high-mettled horse, and she rewards him with strong sexual love and fierce loyalty. Lucentio finds himself saddled with a cold, disloyal woman, who has no objection to humiliating him in public. The submission of a woman like Kate is genuine and exciting because she has something to lay down, her virgin pride and individuality: Bianca is the soul of duplicity, married without earnestness or good will. Kate’s speech is the greatest defense of Christian monogamy ever written. It rests upon the role of a husband as protector and friend , and it is valid because Kate has a man who is capable of being both, for Petruchio is both gentle and strong (it is a vile distortion of the play to have him strike her ever). The message is probably twofold: only Kates make good wives, and then only to Petruchios; for the rest, their cake is dough.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 923-934). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition, quoting Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch (Bantam, 1972), 220– 21.

To my mind, Wills’s consideration of Henry V provides the most intriguing insight. Wills counters interpretations of this play running back to Harold Goddard (The Meaning of Shakespeare, in which I’ve found great merit), Harold Bloom, Stephen Greenblatt, and the New Historicists in general. In short, the later critics see Henry V as a war-monger. Wills sets out the problem:

Most of Shakespeare’s kings are terrible people. They often attain the crown by murder, then keep on murdering to retain it. When a king like Henry VI is not evil, he is a simpleton . To get sympathy , the arrogant King Lear has to go crazy. Once, Shakespeare did try to create a wise and good king, but critics will not allow him to do it. Audiences in the past used to believe the play’s Chorus when he called Henry V “this star of England,” but now we know better. We see Henry V for what he really is—a cruel and lying war criminal, believing none, deceiving all, cut off from decent human feeling. The king may have fooled his own play’s Chorus, but he can’t get away with it at the Modern Language Association, where convened scholars have spent years peeling away this king’s lies to reveal the cold deceiver under them.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 1683-1689). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Wills notes that those who deprecate Henry (Hal) tend to glorify Falstaff. But to my naïve mind, Falstaff has always, in the end, seemed a lout. Intriguing, but in the way that cynics and manipulators can be—for a while—as comic relief. I’d never really felt that Harold Bloom’s glorification of Falstaff made sense. Now I know I have an ally (and one that I trust). After performing his takedown of the glorification of Falstaff and denigration of Henry/Hal for rejecting his wayward days, others go after Henry as a warmonger, starting with Goddard and moving into the much more recent New Historicists. Wills reminds us that he (Wills) is a pacifist, rather disarming potential critics from labeling him a warmonger, but Wills appreciates that we’re talking about a different world. He writes:

Much of modern criticism is justifiably antimilitaristic. Militarism is an evil in our time, and it should be opposed at any time. But this causes problems in studying a culture that was not only militaristic but monarchical and imperialist . This gives the sixteenth century a number of problems it could not be expected to solve (such as getting rid of monarchs or living with the dream of a United Nations). And it is anachronistic to compare too simply our militarism and that of Elizabethan England, which had no standing army.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 1917-1920). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Wills explicates the place of honor in this society:

Keeping mutual obligation alive was a matter of honoring honor. This involved dangerous self-importance and boasting in the contenders for honor, which are deplorable . But to empty out the concept of honor would have unstrung every nerve of Elizabethan society. Today’s intellectual class cultivates self-doubt as a virtue. It has difficulty understanding a culture in which that trait was not esteemed. Some cultures, we forget, cultivate self-confidence, and did it productively. Even now we suspect that successful men and women are usually self-confident. A man can be humble like Bach, or bitter like Swift, or pessimistic like Johnson, but retain enough self-regard to fuel creative energies. And whole civilizations— Periclean Athens, Renaissance Venice, and Elizabethan England— were hypertrophically confident. That does not mean they were incapable of self-criticism. It means they were not crippled by it. T. S. Eliot, whatever his other shortcomings, was a great reader of Tudor and Stuart drama, and he said that its basic social commitment was one of affirmation.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 1926-1939). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Wills concludes this section with a quote from Henry’s heart-felt musings on the eve of Agincourt (well presented by Kenneth Branagh in his film, in my opinion). Wills compares Henry’s imperfections with those of Lincoln:

Though all that I can do is nothing worth,

Since that my penitence comes after all,

Imploring pardon. [H5 4.1.303– 5]

But no earthly power is immaculately conceived. America’s birth was flawed by its induration of slavery. Lincoln’s rise was through many compromises with the slave power, including his promise in the First Inaugural not to tamper with its bases in the South. The instinct of most patriots is to deny the flawed beginnings, or to think that a gesture of penitence is sufficient to make the stain disappear. It is a mark of the realism of Shakespeare’s patriotism in this play that Henry does neither. He does not simply throw up his hands and resign the tainted power. But he does not pretend the stain is not there. He will, instead, do all he can to blunt its effects by doing better than his father had the chance to do. It is all that a Washington or a Lincoln could pledge. Shakespeare has not written a defense of brutal imperialism in Henry V. He has made his protagonist a searching king, a self-questioning one, acting in an imperfect world without any illusions about that fact. Yet nothing Hal/ Henry does can find acceptance among his dogged denigrators.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 2486-2495). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Only when we better understand this context can we appreciate the subtleties and nuances of Henry. The critics, in professing their dislike of war and authority must denigrate the whole enterprise of the play, which, as Wills shows in detail, makes no convincing sense. Reading and appreciating this part along (along with his consideration of Taming) makes that book worthwhile. But there’s more.

As Shakespeare wrote, around him great changes in religion occurred. Astrology was a prominent endeavor (reference to the stars can be found in most of Shakespeare’s plays), while some Jesuits and other Catholics were drawn and quartered for their faith. It was not an easy time. All of these changes presented challenges to Elizabeth. As she dealt with these changes in the world concerning religion, war, and profit, she had to deal with the dramatic and capable men who orbited around her. Wills spends time and attention on these men who played a significant role in the era. His consideration of the several of the great figures, Phillip Sidney, Lord Essex, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Prince Henry (son of King James) makes for entertaining reading, as we get mini-biographies of these dashing figures. (I would like to have learned more about Francis Bacon, who remains on the periphery of the stories.) Men like Sidney, Essex, and Raleigh were adept with pens as well as swords and ships.

I’ve discussed only some of what I found to be the highlights of the book. Truly, this was an amazing and intriguing period; a pivot point that allowed England to emerge as a great world power and that profoundly affected Western culture. Wills has provided us with a thorough guide about how the appearances of the day helped create and mold the realities of the day, and his effort proves not only entertaining, but also enlightening.

David Baldacci on Lawyers: The Best Story Wins

I came across this quote below while reading today. While there is just a bit of hyperbole in what Mr. Baldacci says, it’s not too great. How we tell our clients’ stories makes a lot of difference. Even when we try cases to judges, we have to remember those judges are human and respond to stories like the rest of us. Before they come up with reasons, rationales, and precedents, they develop a gut feeling about the case. They develop gut feelings about the parties and the lawyers. Those gut feelings are affected most deeply by the stories that are told. Sometimes, but not that often, black letter law will win your case, but if the black letter law is that clear, the case probably won’t come to trial. Thus, quite often the story and the characters will have the greatest effect on the decision by the court.

Some of the best fiction I ever came up with was as a lawyer.

You know who wins in court? The client whose lawyer tells better stories than the other lawyer does. When you’re making a legal case, you can’t change the facts. You can only rearrange them to make a story the better enhances your client’s position, emphasizing certain things, deemphasizing others. You make sure the facts that you want people to believe are the most compelling ones. The facts that hurt your case are the ones you either explain away or hideaway. That’s telling a story.

David Baldacci, quoted in Why We Write, edited by Meredith Maran (2013) (p.18-19)