Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rhetoric, in global politics and in Paradise Lost

"Part of the problem is that as countries go their own way, they are each arguing that they are acting for the greater global good." (From the NYT, "Challenges Await U.S. at Group of 20 Meeting")
Isn't that what we always do? We need to claim we are doing the right thing to draw others to our cause; we need to claim to be doing the right thing even to fully believe in our own cause. Justification is the foundation for any rhetoric, isn't it? Today in my English class, we were looking at the first book of Milton's Paradise Lost, in which Satan is rallying the fallen angels to "awake, arise" from the burning lake, and he announces his purpose to never do any good, only evil. My professor pointed out that in using the pre-established language--English, in Milton's poem--Satan can't help undermining his own argument. The language reflects the position (the reality) that God is good and Satan is choosing evil instead. Satan would be more insidious if he camouflaged his goals. Deceptive idealism is more potent than honest evil, methinks.

There's another issue with Satan's rhetoric, too. Satan says he is choosing to be always "contrary." This undermines his authority: if your identity and decisions rest on doing the opposite of what the other side does, then you are effectively still passive. This is an idea I've thought about quite a bit on my own, so it was great to hear it articulated by a professor in connection with literature! (I believe I've made the point before on this blog, with regard to stereotypes. If I refuse to do something purely on the grounds that it fulfills a stereotype about women, then I am still being controlled by sexism.)

Aaaand I have to go back to working on my thesis and reading the newspaper and buying groceries so I will conclude this rambling commentary.

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