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ColoradoGuy
10-23-2008, 05:56 PM
Denis Donoghue, noted critic, has written a new book called On Eloquence. You can find an interesting (and brief) review of it in the Times Literary Supplement of 9/26 (sorry, no link). He proposes some interesting notions about what eloquence means for the written (not spoken) word. In a nutshell, he takes issue with how most have regarded eloquence--a subpart of rhetoric, a way of making one's prose make its point better, or pithier, or more beautifully.

Donoghue says no. Eloquence, which he likens to a musical grace note, "has no aim." It's just a thing of beauty standing outside the flow of discourse. In fact, he claims, "The main attribute of eloquence is gratuitousness."

He also claims the quality of being eloquent is context-free. That is, a reader can look at a passage of writing, even a single word sometimes, and know it is eloquent even if the reader is not shown the surrounding text. Further removing context, he believes the concept of eloquence functions ahistorically, across time.

I admire much that Donoghue has written in the past, but I just can't see eloquence, whatever it is, as a free-standing thing of beauty, apart from the text it is embedded in. I also don't think it is gratuitous. Finally, I think the metaphor of the musical grace note is itself flawed. After all, what would a baroque concerto be without all those lovely grace notes.

Popo Agie Flow
10-23-2008, 08:09 PM
Isn't the assessment of whether a piece is eloquent based, at least by a margin of 51%, on the reader's perception?

After all, not everyone appreciates a baroque concerto.

Higgins
10-23-2008, 08:45 PM
Isn't the assessment of whether a piece is eloquent based, at least by a margin of 51%, on the reader's perception?

After all, not everyone appreciates a baroque concerto.

It's odd too that you would say "eloquence is outside the flow and gratuitous" and then name your book "On Eloquence" and not "Outside the Flow and Gratuitous"...putting the name of the supposedly marginal effect on a book suggests a different evaluation of its object. It suggests the
author wants some revision of the value of "eloquence" that detaches whatever one wants to see as "eloquent" from the actual context of its utterance....a suspicious move. And a quick check on D. Donoghue suggests he has some sort of agenda aimed at sequestering writers such as T. S. Eliot from criticism based on their cultural agendas. Which is pretty confusing since writers such as Eliot or Waugh thought their cultural agendas were extremely central to their work.

stephenf
10-23-2008, 09:14 PM
My understanding of the word eloquence is, fluent or convincing writing.It would seem Mr Donoghue is not there yet?.

Dgullen
10-23-2008, 09:27 PM
a reader can look at a passage of writing, even a single word sometimes

Whatever.

Medievalist
10-23-2008, 10:14 PM
I admire much that Donoghue has written in the past, but I just can't see eloquence, whatever it is, as a free-standing thing of beauty, apart from the text it is embedded in. I also don't think it is gratuitous. Finally, I think the metaphor of the musical grace note is itself flawed. After all, what would a baroque concerto be without all those lovely grace notes.

Donoghue needs to read about rhetoric post Aristotle; I suggest Sidney's Defense of Poesy would be a good crib.

And yes, absolutely, what you said--for me, as well, eloquence is very much tied to meaning--and hence context.

AMCrenshaw
10-24-2008, 11:18 PM
Originally Posted by ColoradoGuy View Post
I admire much that Donoghue has written in the past, but I just can't see eloquence, whatever it is, as a free-standing thing of beauty, apart from the text it is embedded in. I also don't think it is gratuitous. Finally, I think the metaphor of the musical grace note is itself flawed. After all, what would a baroque concerto be without all those lovely grace notes.

While I fundamentally agree with you, I'd ask if there is a sensory component to language that is outside of the flow of context. Or, if "hearing" - but not hearing, of course, but hearing in the mind's ear - aesthetically pleasing, or even muscular, sounds might make a single word eloquent.

I doubt I could be convinced of that, simply because eloquence does not mean aesthetically pleasing. Pressed further, it might be hard to even separate "euphony" itself from historical context.

AMC

ColoradoGuy
10-25-2008, 12:59 AM
I see your point. It could apply, for example, to isolated passages (or even a few words) with "eloquent" onomatopoeia. But think that would be the exception--context usually matters quite a bit.

Cranky
10-25-2008, 01:06 AM
Perhaps it's because I'm not well-schooled in the mechanics of language and prose in general, but for me, eloquence is like pornography: I know it when I see it, and that's about it.

Will be interested to see how you guys dissect it, though...

Medievalist
10-25-2008, 02:13 AM
I see your point. It could apply, for example, to isolated passages (or even a few words) with "eleoquent" onomatopoeia. But think that would be the exception--context usually matters quite a bit.

Large sections of Finnegan's Wake sound lovely--but don't mean a thing.

robeiae
10-25-2008, 05:23 AM
Large sections of Finnegan's Wake sound lovely--but don't mean a thing.
Like most Doors songs...



What is eloquence?

Being able to pick up the hot girl at the bar at closing time, even though you're three sheets to the wind?

kuwisdelu
10-25-2008, 05:39 AM
Large sections of Finnegan's Wake sound lovely--but don't mean a thing.

They absolutely mean something. There's a reason it took the guy 17 years to write it. Many of the "nonsense" words are portmanteaus of an amalgamation of languages, often wrought with double-entendre. That book is full of stuff meaning things no one will ever understand.


And I think this guy is full of bollocks.

And yes, "eloquence" is very much reliant on reader perception and preference, but not all. A lot of it is reliant on human perception and preference. Just like--while there are many styles and preferences of music--there are pretty established ideas about what chords and tones work together and what don't (and of course there are some cultures for whom this doesn't work, but this is traditional music theory). There are some things like rhythm, sound, and cadence that are pretty universal.

citymouse
10-25-2008, 05:00 PM
"The prime purpose of eloquence is to keep other people from talking." ~ Louis Vermeil
C

Priene
10-26-2008, 04:20 PM
They absolutely mean something. There's a reason it took the guy 17 years to write it. Many of the "nonsense" words are portmanteaus of an amalgamation of languages, often wrought with double-entendre. That book is full of stuff meaning things no one will ever understand.

I'm with you on this one. I'd guess every sentence in Finnegans Wake has a meaning in the sense that Joyce knew exactly what he was doing. Mostly, though, there's a near-complete failure to communicate that meaning to the reader. There's lyrical beauty in abundance, but taking the dictionary meaning of fluently persuasive and articulate; effective in expressing meaning by speech, its incomprehensibility means it can't be eloquent.

Medievalist
10-26-2008, 08:23 PM
I'm with you on this one. I'd guess every sentence in Finnegans Wake has a meaning in the sense that Joyce knew exactly what he was doing. Mostly, though, there's a near-complete failure to communicate that meaning to the reader. There's lyrical beauty in abundance, but taking the dictionary meaning of fluently persuasive and articulate; effective in expressing meaning by speech, its incomprehensibility means it can't be eloquent.

Joyce wrote, in a letter, that there are entire chapters that don't mean but that they perform--that they should be heard like music.

It's worth remembering his daughter's difficulties with communication, and the fact that he was himself taking Scopolamine.

AMCrenshaw
10-27-2008, 12:31 AM
They absolutely mean something.

I disagree. On two grounds: First that this mostly sounds like wish-fulfillment. Someone who has spent 17 years on a piece must have been precise concerning meaning rather than precise concerning musicality (or rather than alcoholic, in any case).

And second that it doesn't absolutely mean something, only to certain people and maybe Joyce-- maybe.

AMC

Priene
10-27-2008, 02:21 PM
Joyce wrote, in a letter, that there are entire chapters that don't mean but that they perform--that they should be heard like music.

That certainly chimes in with my discovery how much easier the book is to read when spoken out loud. If you don't mind your children giving you weird looks as you talk to yourself in mock-Irish accent.


It's worth remembering his daughter's difficulties with communication, and the fact that he was himself taking Scopolamine.

I didn't know that, but I'm not surprised. But the fact of drug taking doesn't mean that the entire book is meaningless. And there are many points in the book when things click into place and you do understand what he was getting at.

Seventeen years on it, though. What a waste. The same effect could have been achieved in a novella.

Medievalist
10-27-2008, 09:36 PM
But the fact of drug taking doesn't mean that the entire book is meaningless. And there are many points in the book when things click into place and you do understand what he was getting at.

Absolutely--and there are parts that I very much think are eloquent and contain a great deal of meaning--like the passage on Dublin as a word and a place and a state--or the bit about the Liffey.

But the drug Joyce was taking--in doses that were quite large--has pronounced side effects, visual and psychological. He complains about it in his letters.

Ruv Draba
10-28-2008, 08:52 AM
I admire much that Donoghue has written in the past, but I just can't see eloquence, whatever it is, as a free-standing thing of beauty, apart from the text it is embedded in. I also don't think it is gratuitous. Finally, I think the metaphor of the musical grace note is itself flawed. After all, what would a baroque concerto be without all those lovely grace notes. I'm with you, CG. Creative writing is the art of ideas. Eloquence is the art of making ideas sound beautiful. Lacking an idea, you're not creative-writing; you're writing scat -- which is really a branch of music. And while eloquence can make many an horrific idea sound like beauty, it doesn't create beauty:

Quenelles d'enfant in mushroom ragout: milk-fed Irish toddler forcemeat in a trio of Tuscan flour dumplings, nestled on new season wilted English spinach and swimming in its own stock with field-picked enoki and portabello mushrooms.