Rarely is speech simply a medium of communication, the channel along which a message is transmitted from A to B. As ancient rhetoricians understood well, it is the formation of a relationship between a speaker, the audience, and the issue around which persuasion is sought. That relationship shapes the audience’s reception of the speaker and disposes it in particular ways towards the message conveyed. Rhetorical knowledge, then, consists less in advice concerning the truthfullness of the message (as aggrieved philosophers such as Plato complained) than instruction on how an overall performance discloses aspects of the issue, casting it in a certain light and positioning the audience towards the matter in a particular way. Consequently, rhetoric gained a reputation as a mischevious kind of instruction concerned with the play of light and shadow, inviting speech to obscure as much as it illumined.
The state of the current condition of humanity (and its implicit modes of communication) is best illustrated when considering a thought-experiment. Let us imagine a world in which every speech, political or otherwise, is followed by an ‘illumination’ – the speaker dancing her/his entire field of knowledge (sensitive, emotional, rational and otherwise) around the previously addressed subject. Not miming, but dancing. Really dancing. For a short period, silence is prevailing; the speaker steps out and dances his/her convictions.
I witnessed a lot of political speeches in my early life. I say witnessed rather than heard because I remember them taking place in front of me but I cannot recollect any of their content. Our school choir was best in town so we were asked to sing at all major city events to mark various revolutionary and war anniversaries and national holidays. We were accompanied either by a harmonica or entire military orchestra.
From asyndeton to hyperbole, how many of Cameron’s tics will you spot in his speech today? Simon Lancaster sets the tone
I start with asyndeton. Short sentences. Bundled together. In groups of three. Sounds breathless. Urgent. Hyperventilating. No conjunctions. Wonky grammar. Disconnected ideas. Look left. Look right. Look centre. They’re listening. They’re watching. They’re feeling. Then stop. Pause. Breathe.
The Lady’s Not For Walking Like an Egyptian is a performance by Rachel Mars and nat tarrab crossing “all of the words of Margaret Thatcher’s public speeches from the 80s with all of the words of every top ten hit by a female artist from the 1980s” The following article by theatre critic and journalist Matt Trueman was originally published on his website and is reproduced with kind permission.
Warning: Rachel Mars and nat tarrab are infectious. It takes only a few hours of watching the two women at work to fall utterly in love with them as artists. The combination of playful absurdity and questing rigour that motors their process means theirs is a rehearsal room that never stops; one that bubbles with excitement and a relentless, restless energy. There is a constant hum of creation – making, probing, puzzling, laughing – and it all happens at a frenetic pace that scarcely lets up for a minute. It would be exhausting to watch, if watching weren’t such a joy.
Eva Percy, part of the Speeching research group, writes about her recent visit to the House of Commons.
On the evening of the 25th February I had the privilege to enter into Parliament. Within the Parliament buildings there was a sense of authority and importance, a sense of power. The infrastructure oozed history, as it dawned on me that within these buildings history was made. Individuals walked with determination and vigour. As I walked through Westminster Hall, on my way to the House of Commons, I felt awe and amazement wash through me. As I went to collect my ticket for access into the Special Gallery, I felt excitement and curiosity.