Monday, September 2, 2013

Words Work

'Words don't need to be dressed up.  Words do the work themselves.'  I thought this as I heard a speech recently where affect was used heavily in order to 'help' the words along.  But words usually don't need help -- it just depends what the words are. 

When all else fails, it's sometimes thought, insert pathos.  But following Aristotle, as I was taught him, pathos emerges as a result of logos rather than added on as another strategy.  (Same goes for ethos.)  Why sometimes do we think words need help?

Well, sometimes they do need help, but if we're in the word business then the first attention really should go to letting words and combinations of words do their work.  Perhaps from the weakness of some particular word combinations we're then tempted to play a 'pathos' card or cash in on 'ethos' as if these aren't already bound up in the 'logic' of our words.

And by logic here I don't mean syllogisms necessarily (nor even enthymemes) but whatever structure of words one strings together in such a way that works.  Part of 'what works' is how these words (in any given situation) relate to other words we know.  And part of what works is how these words relate to our experience -- what we feel and think.  

I think of Dickinson again.  She doesn't need my help in reading her -- e.g., as I read her aloud.  She's done (almost) all the work, and I mostly need to get out of the way so her work can do what it does.  Can we trust that the words will do their work?  -bbc 

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