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' Empty Reviewed work: Augustine and the "Chair of Lies": Rhetoric in 'The Confessions'

Post by Necia van Vuuren on Thu Aug 23, 2018 11:24 am

Reviewed article: Augustine and the "Chair of Lies": Rhetoric in The Confessions

Reference: Tell, Dave. "Augustine and the "Chair of Lies": Rhetoric in The Confessions." Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric. 28.4 (2010): 384-407. Web.

Word Count: 431 words

In his article ‘Augustine and the “Chair of Lies”: Rhetoric in The Confessions’ (2010), Dave Tell presents his readers with a compelling argument. He claims that Saint Augustine’s retirement as a professor of rhetoric presents a problem to scholars who attempt to justify a place for Augustine within rhetorical theory. Tell, in contrast, argues that Augustine’s retirement is in fact not something that should be viewed as problematic, but that it is a portrayal of Augustine’s deep commitment to the art of rhetoric.
Initially, Tell argues that Augustine does not reject rhetoric with his retirement as a professor of rhetoric, but that Augustine rejects professing, since professing is associated with the Manicheans (the main antagonists throughout The Confessions). Tell suggests that Augustine’s resignation from professing rhetoric is a result of various things: (a) Augustine’s rejection of the Manichean split between form and content, and wisdom and eloquence, (b) Augustine’s rejection of the practice of speaking very much but saying very little, and (c) Augustine’s rejection of a distended self.

Tell proposes that The Confessions cannot be conveniently ignored and left out where rhetorical theory is concerned. Tacitly, the author implies that the entirety of The Confessions should be seen as a work of rhetoric and a testament to Augustine’s love for, and commitment to, rhetoric. If the goal of Augustinian rhetoric is to marry form and content, reject the practice of loquaciousness, and embrace a dispersed self (a self that is diminished through dispersion, thus linking it to the world, then “spreading it out into the world” (Tell 398)), then The Confessions is a prime example. Tell reasons that Augustine, and his rejection of the act of professing, does so because professing is separate from God and does not allow the professor to cling to God. In the clinging to God, ‘professing’ is exchanged for ‘confessing’. 

Tell’s article is comprehensive and explanatory but occasionally comes across as repetitive. Tell makes various valuable key points and arguments and does so eloquently. Ultimately, Tell suggests that reading Augustine’s resignation as a professor of rhetoric as an act of rhetoric itself, allows for The Confessions to be read as one of Augustine’s most significant contributions to the field of rhetorical theory. Tell’s argument is convincing and well researched. It would, however, have been more encompassing of his topic, had the author made a clear argument for how the entirety of The Confessions can be seen as a work of rhetoric, in that it has an ultimate goal – an attempt to convince the reader that a conversion to Christianity is the right decision to make.

Necia van Vuuren

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