Medicated Rhetorics

The topic of backpacks came up in my office the other day. My officemate, Craig, complemented my book bag, and as I always do whenever someone says something nice, I dramatically wave my hand and explain why it isn’t really all that grand.

And then we got into discussing style versus functionality.

He has a regular backpack that is waterproof, has lots of pockets, and balances its weight equally over both shoulders. Mine is a brown leather (men’s!) bag that I sling over one shoulder and that has me walking like I’m in need of V8 most the time. Mine looks a bit more appealing; his is better for posture. Mine is a more compact and neat; his carries more weight and volume much more comfortably – and keeps dry in our unpredictable Columbus weather.

But, he said, the backpack of old will have to go. It’s embarrassing, he said, to walk into a meeting with it because people won’t take him seriously. I named a professor on campus who’s quite respected and carries one around. But, Craig said, it’s different in the medical field.

Craig is in the Nurse Practitioner program at OSU, where – apparently – the means by which you carry your scholarly materials matters. But it wasn’t long before we moved away from the expectations within the medical field to the expectations toward the field.

The medical field trains its students how to properly interact with patients. First, health practitioners must dress in bland attire. They appear more trustworthy that way, so they say. Don’t believe the movies that tell us we buy into the romantic notions of eccentric, brilliant doctors saving the day. In reality, we don’t want to be surprised by quirky health practitioners. Calm, cool, collected, and so tied to their work that they otherwise appear boring and characterless. Apparently these qualities make us comfortable in the doctor’s office.

He went on to say that sessions with patients need to focus solely on the patient. Attempts at creating common ground by acknowledging a patient’s experience with a personal anecdote actually shuts the patient down. This is very interesting. In rhetorical studies, creating a commonality between two people (identification) is supposed to facilitate communication. Does this mean we don’t want to identify with our health practitioner? Is this situation like finding out in 3rd grade that the teacher has an actual life outside the classroom? And makes the person human? And therefore susceptible to human tendencies, like trimming one’s fingernails, eating junk food, or committing errors? Hmm.

Last, Craig brought up the conversation ratio between patient and practitioner. Practitioners are told to give careful attention to the time they spend talking and not listening. Studies have shown that when asked to gauge how much time went to speaking or listening, practitioners had impressions that were quite far from the truth. They spend a lot more time talking than they expect. (A lot of us, actually, could probably learn something from this study.)

At this point in the conversation, I began taking notes on what Craig was saying (which kind of freaked him out, but that topic is for another day). Now he began giving me some of his personal insights on the personas of health practitioners. He said that in the one or two appointments with one patient is often not enough time for him to figure out which character to take on. Sometimes he has to be disciplinarian, coach, parent, friend, or any combination thereof. His duty comes down to patient education: What sort of persona will be most effective for making patients believe they need to take their medication until they have finished their prescriptions?

Fascinating. Utterly fascinating. From the rhetoric of handbags to medical literacy – all in one office. Imagine if we could fit more people in here. . . .

audio articles?

I was pleasantly surprised to find myself linked to an audio article while breezing The Chronicle of Higher Education this morning.

Audio offers such a different, intriguing interaction than what many of us are used to in web journals.  For instance, right now I’m listening to the article while typing this–learning about sustainability while writing about possibility.  Harlot could capitalize on this medium as a way to keep things fresh.

Of course, my next question is: How can we make it better?  How might we

the naked spoof

A freaked-out friend just told me about the latest Radar magazine cover:

Scroll all the way down to see the front cover of this issue, which
features a photoshopped nude tableau of presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani, Barack Obama, and Hilary Rodham Clinton; the full shot on the fold-out cover includes Mitt Romney (in old-style men’s underwear) seated on a stool.

Radar has revised this earlier Vanity Fair cover:

Click on the “launch” button under the photo to see the full shot. The scoop on
the Vanity Fair cover was that Rachel McAdams backed out of the
shoot when she learned it was nude, and so designer (and guest
art director of the issue) Tom Ford stepped in…

I’m thinking these texts would make for some fascinating
conversations about gender, race, sexuality, and power….as you’ll

Adam ate from the Tree of Rhetoric . . .

I was thinking today about the quote Vera provided below, while reading a different discussion that used a similar rhetoric of genealogy.  In an article on Nietzsche’s genealogy of the Sophists, similar issues about language, knowledge and their relation to rhetoric are brought up; paraphrasing Nietzsche, Scott Consigny writes,

“Protagoras would hold that every use of language is made within a ‘game,’ wherin the validity of any assertion is determined by arbitrary protocols of each game, as they are interpreted by the participants and observers of that game, and not by reference to an ‘independent’ or universal criterion that governs all games.”

Since the game (and its players) is always changing, we’re continually asking about knowledge: “Is this offspring legitimate?”  And our answer almost always depends, as Condit, I think, rightly points out, on the evolving, hereditary ways of understanding.

The Production of Knowledge — And the Harlot of the Arts

An excerpt from the introduction to “The Birth of Understanding: Chaste Science and the Harlot of the Arts”

Celeste Michelle Condit

Two metaphors dominate our discussions of knowledge. The “old” metaphor sees knowledge as something discovered. Through this looking glass, great individuals like Newton, Columbus, and Einstein have added to the treasury of knowledge, whether by apples dropped on their heads, misguided efforts to get to the Orient, or true genius. Today another metaphor is widely employed to describe the augmentation of the international human treasure—that of production. In spite of the Nobel prize’s obduracy in spotlighting individuals, most of us know that knowledge is produced by anonymous groups relying less on apples, genius, and missed directions and ever more upon inhumanly clever computers, research teams of aspiring academics, and public funding.

What, however, if we refuse to see knowledge as “discovered” or even as “produced”? What if knowledge is reproduced? “Born” of human interactions, ways of understanding grow or fail to grow to maturity (or paradigmatic status if you will). They either pass on their genetic structure to new generations or pass on. In such a metaphor we might find the capacity for exploring the intercourse between rhetoric and science.

After all, rhetoric (the harlot of the arts) and the social science of communication (the sanctimoniously chaste youth) have been pressed up against each other for something around forty years now. Each has experienced a different torment, locked in a tiny compartment of the university, scrapping for crumbs of academic prestige (fulfilling the destiny Henry Kissinger noted for academics, by fighting so viciously because there is so little at stake). Each denies any hanky-panky, protesting respectively, that “the youth won’t pay” and “she’s no lady.” There are signs, however of offspring; there are increasing numbers of lines of study that borrow from the scholarly traditions of both rhetoric and social scientific communication research. Are these offspring legitimate? Do they give us true “knowledge”? Examining the family traits may lead us toward a genealogical conclusion.

Communication Monographs, Vol 57, Dec. 1990.