Embodied metaphor

 

“…valley of segregation…”

“…path of racial justice…”

“…solid rock of brotherhood…”

Metaphor is unquestionably a powerful tool in speeches. These are just three from Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and the visualisation below shows the frequency of metaphor throughout his historic address (with pink bars representing metaphors and visual words).

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Persuasion is positioning

cicero.jpgRarely 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.

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Speaking of Dance

unpina.jpgThe 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.

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UKIP, Hofesh Shechter and fascists

lfe-133_mussolini-on-balcony_19331.jpgI’d like to draw a tentative line between a couple of events from the past weekend. The first is an interview with Tory cabinet minister Ken Clarke in which he described Ukip members as ‘clowns’ and some of its supporters as racist. The second is Hofesh Shechter Company’s performance of two works at Sadlers WellsUprising “a highly-charged work that leaves audiences buzzing” and The Art of Not Looking Back (“Physical, complex and unrelenting”).

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The body of the speech

20130406-204110.jpgMil Vukovic recalls some speeches from her life.

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.

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When do politicians dance part 5: Anti-elitism

ellen3.jpgIn the last two posts I have been using a 2009 research paper on why British and Dutch politicians chose to go on Have I got News for You and its Dutch adaptation, Dit was het Nieuws to help understand why politicians dance publicly when their job doesn’t obviously require it.

The motives of the politicians who participated in the comedy programmes drew from three repertoires: strategic, indulgent and anti-elitist. This final post will look at anti-elitism:

In this repertoire, parliamentary politics and the media responsible for covering it are presented as institutions crowded by elites possessing their own language, style and in-groups which are more or less alienated from their constituencies and the public at large. The politicians drawing from this repertoire see it as their responsibility to perform differently and show that politicians are also ordinary human beings, with their ups and downs, their flaws and imperfections.

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