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Reading Chinese Fortune Cookie

Mere Rhetoric

Release Date: 11/02/2016

James Berlin “Contemporary Composition: the Major Pedagogical Theories.” show art James Berlin “Contemporary Composition: the Major Pedagogical Theories.”

Mere Rhetoric

Some time ago, I was asked by listener Sarah Rumsey to do a podcast on composition theory. That’s a doozy of a topic, so I read a lot, I poked around, even pulled together a couple drafts, but couldn’t find the balance of breadth and depth to do this subject justice. So I gave up.   Ah, clever listener, you know I didn’t really give up, because this is Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history and I am Mary Hedengren and instead of trying to capture the entire depth of rhetorical theory thought I...

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The Rise of Writing (Deborah Brandt) show art The Rise of Writing (Deborah Brandt)

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Welcome to Mere R the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, ideas and movements that shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary H and if you grew up in the eighties and nineties, like I did, then you might remember a series of posters in your school and public library. Celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker,A-Rod and, of course, Lavar Burton would be posed with a book, smiling, encouraging you to read. They were all readers, and so should you, because being a reader was a worthy identity.     Deborah Brandt, in her decades of interviews with people of all walks of life,...

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Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and I’d like you to think a little about the types of writing you’ve done in the past, oh, let us say, year. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably written breezy email, stern syllabi, obscure academic texts and pun-based posts on Reddit that didn’t get nearly the number of upvotes as they deserve. Now what if a random, oh, say 12% of what you wrote was preserved and no one who knew you was around to testify you wrote it...

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Welcome to MR the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history   It’s the start of another semester, which, for me, means a season of wonder. I wonder about who my students will be. I wonder whether my schedule will be crushingly busy. Mostly, though, I wonder how my students will react to the syllabi and assignments that I have lovingly crafted. Will they understand the instructions? Will they learn what I hope they will? Will they find it meaningful?   Many compositionists have wondered these same questions and have...

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Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, terms and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and I’ve been reading A Christmas Carol this holiday season because I’m playing Mrs. Crachit in a community theatre production. And wow. There is a story behind that. But becaue I was interested in The christmas carol, so I started reading The Man Who Invented Christmas, Les Standiford’s history of Dickens’s masterpeice. I was surprised to hear how A Christmas Carol had solidified Christmas as we know it, a home-and-family...

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[intro] Welcome to MR the podcast for beginngs and insiders aboutt he ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren. This last week I graded my students’ rhetorical analyses. For many of them, this was the first time they had been asked to write a rhetorical analysis and this assignment always makes me nervous. I give them sample papers. We practice writing a rhetorical analysis together. We discuss in depth examples and abuses of ethos, logos, and pathos, but many of them struggle tremendously. I know I could write a 3-page rhetorical analysis in 20...

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Mere Rhetoric

Andocides (An-DOS-id-dees) Do you remember in the 90s when there was this huge “thug life” thing going on? Shady types getting money doing shady things. Andocides, the 5th century BCE rhetor, would have fit fell into that world. Even though he may have been acquainted with Socrates, he was more interested in roving with his friends of rabble-rousers. He was born to wealth and lived as what one editor called “a hot-headed young man-about-town with more money than sense” (321).   His carefree life came to a hard stop after a significant act of vandalism. Andocides was accused of...

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Mere Rhetoric

Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. Uh, I guess including recent history, because today we’re going to talk about the February 2017 issue of College Composition and Communication as our “journal of the month” summary. This issue, as editor Jonathan Alexander points out, “takes up the notion of the ‘personal’ in a variety of ways” (436), departing from what we might think of as “composition as usual.” The articles in it include thinking about students who are full-time...

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Mere Rhetoric

Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and every semester, I feel like it’s New Year’s Day. “This semester,” I say, “everything’s going to be different.” I revise my classes, everything from switching two minor assignments to rehauling the entire curriculum. I try to create assignments that will catch my students’ attention, prepare them for their other classes, and, because I teach dozens of students, be interesting to grade.   But how do I know if the...

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Weeeeellllcommmme to Meeeeeereeee Rhetoooooric! It’s our annual Halloween episode, which means a little bit of the people, ideas and movements who have shaped rhetorical history, but mostly a ghost story. This year, we’re going with our first not-MR-James story. Don’t worry--there are still intials--but first--to business.   If you’re going to talk about ghost stories and influential thinkers, you won’t dig long until you come across Freud’s contribution, a little piece called “The Uncanny.” You might not peg Sigmund Freud as a connoisseur of boogeymen, but he was...

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More Episodes

Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas people and movements who have shaped rehtorical history. Before we get started, big announcement: Rerecordings are over! We’ve re-recorded over 80 episodes here in the studio thanks to the Humanities Media Project at the University of Texas. That’s an incredible feat and now that we’re done, there’s no more reruns, at least for a while. We’ve had new ones interspersed yeah, but now it’s all new from here on out. The other news is that having defended my dissertation and finished my time here at the University of Texas --boo!--I’m headed to the University of Houston Clear Lake --yippie! That means this might we one of the last episodes we record here at the booth at the University of Texas. Well, I hope it’s a good one!

 

Today we’re talking about LuMing Mao’s Reading Chinese Fortune Cookie. This book is not, as you might suspect, a treatise on how to decipher phrases like “Your smile is your best asset” or “Defeat your enemies by making them friends.” Instead, Mao is talking about what the fortune cookie represents. It might surprise you to know that fortune cookies are not the traditional end of meals in China. They aren’t even the dessert when you go to a Chinese restaurant in Europe. The fortune cookie is an American-Chinese invention, combining an ancient way to pass notes undetected with the American proclivity towards dessert at the end of a meal (18). In this sense, “Like the Chinese fortune cookies, the making of Chinese American rhetoric is born of two rhetorical traditions, and made both visible and viable at rhetorical borderlands as a process of becoming” (18). That’s the meaning of Mao’s Reading Chinese Fortune Cookie--we’re not talking about Chinese rhetoric, and no American rhetoric, but something distinctively Chinese American


All of this adds up to being more or less fluidly comfortable with these different elements. This might sound like a cheesy platitude about tolerance and strength of immigrants, but it’s more complex than that, argues Mao. “‘Togetherness-in-difference”--rather than harmony-in-difference--...becomes constitutive of the making of Chinese American rhetoric,” he writes (29). Instead of trying to be perfectly assimilated, this “togetherness-in-difference” highlights a distance between non-Western rhetoric and the other Americans around them.

First, we need to “recognize that there will be times when instances of incommensrablity become irreducible” (28) Second this is not a matter of celebrating diversity because, as Mao says, “there is nothing to celebrate”--the emergence of Chinese American rhetoric is a rhetoric of survival based on as the scholar Mao cites, Ang says ‘the fundamental uneasiness’ of interconnection. Third, Mao points out “at rhetorical borderlands where there is more than one... rhetorical tradition, if nothing else, the basic question of commununication never goes away in terms of who has the floor, who secures the uptake, and who gets listened to” (29).


Much of the book then focus on what these differences in rhetoric are and how we are to interpret them. For example, Mao talks about the (in)famous Chinese indirection. While the American academic writing values clarity, Chinese indirection communicates through “subtle, direct strategies, through innuendoes and allusions” (61). Many American writers, especialy those who teach first-year composition and English as a foreign language, or work in writing centers, find themselves slashing through sentences and paragraphs and repeated asking, “What are you trying to say here?” This deficiency model ignores the rich possiblities of indirection.

 

Okay, so get comfortable, because here’s a long quote from Mao: “Chinese indirection should not be seen, without discrimination, simply as an example of a non transparent style of communication or, worse still, of indecision and incoherence. Chinese indirection, be it realized or articulated by repeated appeals to tradition/authority or y recurrent parallel statements with or without a transparent profession of ideas, takes on new meanings or associations within its (newly-developed) context. To put the matter another way, the contextualized nature of the chinese language and the dominance of correlative thinking of the chinese language and the dominance of correlative thinking in Chinese culture both constitute a central context to understand the rhetoric of Chinese indirection more completely and provide a metadiscourseive language to talk about and reflect upon it more felicitously” (71). But remember the Chinese fortune cookie? Chinese American rhetoric doesn’t have a list of characteristics, but “border residents can behin to take advantage of this oportunity to develop and try out new ways of speaking, and to reconstitute rules of relationships and patters [sic] of communication” (75).

 

Another section talks about the mysterious and misunderstood concept of “face.” Americans will use phrases like “saving face” or “losing face” Mao points out, but they are talking about “the myth of the individual, of the individual’s need either to be free or to be liked” in contrast to the “public, communical orination, which underpins the original concept of Chinese face” (38). For one thing, there are two kinds of “face”: lian, which refers to moral dignity, integrity and shame and mianzi, which is more about what you do with your life, your position in society. Usually when Westerners think about losing face, they mean mianzi--prestige and position. Lian, though, the moral integrity, is consistered far more important and far worse to loose than mianzi (39). But Westerns think about pride, not the “ever-expanding circle of face-giving and -receiving in one’s own community and beyond” (43). This balance of self and community gets even more complicated as Chinese Americans negotiate and transform multiple communities. The urge to “yi”-- immigrate, move, transform-- re-emphasises that “togethenessr-in -difference”-- to “moliblize and put to practice a hybrid rhteoric that ...openly cultivates not a harmonious fusion,” but recognizes inherent tensions and potential” (50)?

 

This double-mindedness is not just a cultural sophistic exercise, but a robust theory that has implications in communities, in classrooms and in families. Mao closes his book with a sustatined case study of a statement prepared by Chinese Americans and others to protest the racist statements of a Cincinnati city councilman. Mao doesn’t just consider the document itself in this hybridity, but the process of putting together the document, of addressing the Westerner-American city council as well as the Chinese American community they are representing. Mao ends with three practical suggestions from his case study. First “we try to assert our agency and to establish our residency” to “speak out more openly about thee experiences” (141), and second “learn ow to place ourselves in the other’s position and ‘word the world through the other’s eyes”... “incorporating both self and other into a relaionship of interdependence and interconnectedness” (141-2). Finally, he calls for Chinese American scholars to “reconnect to our own rhetorical history”... as it “enables us to resist both the discourse of assimilation and the discourse of deficiency or difference” (142).

 

Reading this book reminded me of some of the other scholars who have felt pulled in two different traditions, like “Bootstraps” which was in an earlier episode. Well, I hope you don’t feel pulled in two different directions about this podcast. If you like us, please leave a message on iTunes or send us a message at mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.com, especially as I begin to figure out how Mere Rhetoric will continue at my new institutional home. And let me give one last thank you to the University of Texas for a great year of recording!