Reviewed Work: Augustine and the “Chair of Lies”: Rhetoric in The Confessions

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Reviewed Work: Augustine and the “Chair of Lies”: Rhetoric in The Confessions

Post by Ashley-Tayla on Mon Aug 20, 2018 7:30 pm

[Review
Reviewed Work: Augustine and the “Chair of Lies”: Rhetoric in ‘The Confessions’
Review by: Ashley-Tayla Wasserfall
Source: Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric, Vol. 28 No. 4, Autumn 2010; (pp. 384-407)
Published by: University of California Press Journals

Knowing that you were watching me I thought it was best to retire quietly from the
market where I sold the services of my tongue rather than make an abrupt and sensa-
tional departure. I intended that young pupils who gave no thought to your law or
your peace, but only to the lies and the insane warfare of the courts, should no longer
buy from my lips any weapon to arm their madness. (Conf., 9.2.1-6)

Dave Tell in his  article, ‘Augustine and the “Chair of Lies”: Rhetoric in The Confessions’, uses a key event in Book IX of Sant Augustine’s ‘Confessions’ as the basis for his argument against scholarly opinion that, because of his conversion to Christianity and subsequent rejection of the practice of rhetoric, Saint Augustine has no place in the ‘histories of rhetorical theory’(385). Augustine resigns as a professor of rhetoric in Book IX and refuses to be ‘a seller of the services of his tongue’ in the profession of rhetoric and this differentiates the opinions of scholars as to whether Augustine’s work is, post-conversion, important in rhetorical theory. Yet, Tell argues that through his critique of Manichaean rhetorical practices such as ‘professio’ which is characterized primarily by loquacity (386), Augustine is provides a fundamental affirmation of rhetoric.
There are several elements of Tell’s argument and the first being Augustine’s resignation from the post of professor of rhetoric in Book IX. The second overarching element of his article is that he aims to argue against the scholarly dismissal of ‘The Confessions’ and although Tell does make several references to the ‘De doctrina Christiana’ and ‘City of God’, it is primarily ‘The Confessions’ that Tell uses to prove Augustine’s affirmation of rhetoric and its place in Christian teaching.
Tell makes an implicit distinction from the beginning of his article that he does go into detail in the third segment of his argument, he is ‘resigning from the professoriate of rhetoric’ (387) meaning that he is stepping down from the act of professing the words and teachings of the antagonists of his autobiographical guide, the Manichaeans. He then puts forth that Augustine did this on ‘behalf of rhetoric itself’ (405) as ‘an indictment of the Manichaean rhetorical practice of professing’ (386), as mentioned before. In the later part of his argument, Tell makes the distinction between confession and profession as the expression of the two forms of the Augustinian self.
Dave Tell is proposing that Saint Augustine is not rejecting rhetoric in favor of Christianity but is merely resigning from the practice of Manichaean profession that stems from the distended self, who is vain, prideful and has no connection to God. Tell proposes that he does this in favor of the Augustinian self who loves God and the world as God’s creation (399) and speaks through the language of confession and in doing so he affirms the art/technique of rhetoric in the holy uses of his converted Church. The lengths that Tell goes through in this article presents a convincing argument that does place ‘The Confessions’ and Augustine himself as key components in the histories of rhetorical theories.
The structure of the article is relatively flowing and easy to follow. Tell’s introduction is concise and to the point, he appears to favor an introduction that informs the reader of his stance in relation to other scholarly opinion and the points of his argument to back-up his stance. He believes that Augustine’s resignation, as previously mentioned, gives affirmation to the art of rhetoric over that of profession and instills him within rhetorical theory history. The argument then takes a neat and structured form of three mini arguments, namely, Reading the Resignation, A Rhetorical Reading of the Resignation and finally The Augustinian Self and its Expressions before the conclusion of the article.
In Reading the Resignation, Tell proposed that there are two ways of interpreting Augustine’s choice and actions being either in terms of Christian theology or rhetorical history. Now there is a distinction between Augustinian theology and Augustinian rhetoric. Augustine wanted, according to Michael Leff and James Murphy, to appropriate the ‘ars rhetorica for the holy purposes of the Church’ (388). This does make a lot of sense in terms of affirming rhetoric and Tell’s argument because Augustine does make use of at least two of the three forms of rhetoric namely, logos and ethos, to appeal to the emotions of his readers as well as the logic of his readers. Even in the passages where Augustine announces his resignation and his greatest reason for it he logically explains that because he has now accepted and loved God and converted, the practice of selling empty words that eventuate silence is no longer a logical pursuit. Tell also makes use of Calvin Troup’s argument that the resignation was in reaction to the Second Sophistic rhetorical practices. What is troubling in that passage is that it was the third time the Second Sophistic is mentioned and still Tell has made no attempts to at least briefly explain it. Although the notion that wisdom and eloquence need to be united against sophistic practices, this thought was not new in the fourth century and Tell argues that is one reads it in this way it ‘precludes us from recognizing the resignation as a fundamental affirmation of rhetoric (391).

To avoid this preclusion in his argument, Tell proposes, as mentioned before, the resignation as a rejection of Manichaean practices and the loquaces mutos result in men. Saint Augustine, before his conversion, subscribed to the Manichaean doctrine of Christianity. Tell, in his argument against the Manichaean, the antagonists of ‘The Confessions’ as well as Augustine’s post-conversion values, has in the rhetorical tradition of logos, conveyed the silence the content of their ravings Augustine proclaimed they ended in. Tell does make a sound case here and he goes further to support his point with Augustine’s concept of the self and its expres​sion(396).
The distinction between the distended self and the self who ‘clings to God’ (401) is used exceptionally well here as it allows for the assertions that the two selves communicate differently, through profession for the former and though the language of confession for the latter.
Tell concludes that the rhetoric in ‘The Confessions’ is not so much decipherable by its relationship to wisdom and eloquence but to the self and this concludes that Augustine, in using rhetoric in a retrospective text written in the language of confession and of him who clings to God, cements Augustine’s place in the histories of rhetorical theory.
Dave Tell’s article on the rhetoric in ‘The Confessions’ is well rounded and convincing. It makes use of a good length, easy to follow and flowing argument and support from the whole of ‘The Confessions’ and not just Book IX. In referring to the text in its entirety and individual instances in the text allows for the reader to see and be convinced of the argument that Tell makes. His reference to and drawing on other scholars and their views, such as James Murphy, he allows the reader and opportunity to form their own opinion and be aware of similar or opposing literature. Tell’s using the ‘De doctrina Christiana’ as well as the ‘City of God’, he substantiates his defense of ‘The Confessions’ as an Augustinian text that supports his place as a Christian rhetorician because they are texts that hold more clout especially because they are non-autobiographical contributions to the body of rhetorical theory and thus can be referred to in a more general way.

Ashley-Tayla

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