Bazerman-Hartman, Parrish-Ellison


“Unfixes our knowledge of its subject (a poem), to suggest an experience that goes beyond any claim we can make. Rather than taming its subject by creating a representation that will count as knowledge, the essay seeks to reinvigorate the poem by aiding the reader to experience the imaginative life embodied in it. Insofar as the poem can be reduced to easily understood, verifiable claims- “normalized,” in Hartman’s term-the poem is of little interest.” (39)

 This style, or, form of argument can be recognized in Timothy Parris’s essay on Ellison, but altered enough that maybe the rhetorical strategy is different.  Parris posits that nearly all criticism concerning Invisible Man ignores Kenneth Burke’s undisputable influence on Ellison.  Though Parrish does not go as far as Hartman to say that “the poem is of little interest,” he does suggest that Ellison’s book has never been read “correctly,” and that only his Burkean influenced interpretation reaches Ellison’s true intention, “It is no coincidence that the failure to recognize the political dimensions of Invisible Man goes hand and hand with American Literary critics’ relative ignorance of Kenneth Burke (119).”  This stance echoes Bazerman’s distinction between knowledge and experience.  Where a scientific essay attempts to represent truth (as knowledge), the literary essay attempts to influence experience (in reading).  Parrish wants new readers of Invisible Man to recognize Ellison’s attempts at representing democracy, and that this attempt is the central theme of is novel.  Parrish also wants this theme to be seen as political, which is important only to illustrate Bazerman’s “imaginative life.” 

“The outside of the situation, captured in the description, is distinguished from the inside of the moment, which counts as understanding.  The poem, as verbal artifice, conveys something beyond the words.” (40)

Bazerman points to Hartman’s rhetorical device of reaching for intention beyond text.  Where Hartman wants to find the emotional provocation in the Wordsworth poem, Parrish wants to find the political action exhibited in Ellison’s work.  Both critics write with the motivation that what they are illustrating is a truth about the text they analyze; this truth has different motivations for each critic, but the rhetorical device is the same: the critic as intermediary (between text and author, or text and message). 

“The essay is structured to make the poet’s state of mind accessible in all its fullness to the reader, to widen gradually the reader’s consciousness of the central issue of the poem.” (40)

“True, without Burke, Ellison’s novel would not have taken the shape it did, but I think we can go farther that that.  Not only did Burke give Ellison the terms with which he ordered his novel, he gave Ellison a means for expressing a coherent visions of American history itself.” (120) 
Here Parrish indicates how “access to the poet’s mind” demonstrates the “central issue of the” novel.  Without understanding Ellison’s devotion to Burke, readers will not see the political import of Ellison’s novel, and this political import goes farther than formal influence. 

“The second section takes up the theme of localization to examine biographical information that raises problems about what the poet could be meaning. At this point the critic brings in other samples of Wordsworth’s writing to show the poet’s way of thinking about these issues.”  (42)

“This point of view is implicit throughout Invisible Man, but it is in the essay “The Little Man at Chehaw Station” that Ellison gives his fullest definition of the democratic artist, his relationship with his audience and the importance of having a sophisticated understanding of aesthetic form.” (122) 

After this introduction to Ellison’s essay, Parrish goes on to describe an early moment in Ellison’s life where a teacher gave him the metaphoric idea of “the little man behind the stove,” otherwise seen as a person whose appearance belies the sophistication of their intelligence.  Parrish presents this metaphor as a controlling one in Ellison’s quest for democratic art, and that its influence is paramount in Invisible Man. 

“But all the argument is based on plausibility with no hard, provable answers. And even notions of plausibility can be changed if the essay succeeds in expanding the reader’s poetic imagination.” (42)

Parrish wants his audience to see how Kenneth Burke’s writings provide the true interpretative guide for Ellison’s work; however, such a claim is not quantitatively demonstrated.  The multitude of examples in the text and out of Burkean ideas can only be seen as “plausible,” there is no method of determining “factually.”  Yet, just as Bazerman suggests, Parrish’s argument is strong enough (because of the multitude of examples) to appear factual, and this reflects the second of Bazerman’s sentences above.

“The accumulated knowledge of the critical literature is implicitly dismissed in several ways, and the whole of Wordsworth criticism is treated as so inconsequential as not to require explicit discussion….Hartman criticizes a normalized reading-i.e., conventional criticism-as inadequate to the poem…In the text of the essay no explicit mention of Wordsworth criticism is made, and in the notes the only reference to any critics are to Longinus and Kenneth Burke, both of whom discussed concepts analogous to Hartman’s.”  (42)

Parrish follows suit with Hartman.  He discusses briefly criticism that has denied Ellison’s novel political import - labeling it “aesthetically ambiguous.” However, multiple perspectives centered on the political efficacy of Ellison’s novel are collected together in Parrish’s essay and collectively labeled inadequate; the collective inadequacy centers on ignorance of Burke’s influence on Ellison.  Parrish then talks of Scruggs, the one critic who does use a Burkean template of analysis, but Parrish points out over a few paragraphs that Scruggs does not take Burke’s influence far enough when he only gives him credit for form inspiration.  Though Parrish does mention criticism, unlike Hartman, Bazeman’s quote demonstrates the rhetorical style Parrish’s discussion took (also I found the Kenneth Burke coincidence humorously coincidental).
There are many other rhetorical parallels between Parrish’s work on Ellison and Hartman’s work on Wordsworth – as elucidated by Bazerman’s essay.  Though technical vocabulary differs (Hartman writes about poetry so Bazerman has a section on his poetic vocabulary) the essays of Parrish and Hartman seem to use similar rhetorical strategies.  Both set up the authorial tone of a “brilliant observer” who will finally unravel the “truth” found in a piece of literature; both men then illustrate how no one has edified this “truth” before (their debunking/refutation of other critics does not follow scientific rhetoric, or use a scientific understanding of “factual”)’ then both men go on to “prove” – using nothing more than suggestive information found outside the text – their interpretation of Ellison or Wordsworth respectively is true.  There is also a feeling, especially in Parrish’s piece, that past criticism might be interesting but it is not seriously valid, it does not know enough (past critics found interesting things in Ellison, but their ignorance of Burke makes their observations silly).  This seems to be a rhetorical strategy found in literary analysis because there is nothing quantitative or measurable about “literature,” it can only be measured against a reader’s knowledge base.  Bazerman puts it nicely, “Each reader has intimate familiarity with a different range of literature, and each reader gives each text a different reading, One’s personal anthology personally interpreted comprises the individual’s share of the corporate knowledge and is the basis of that individual’s sensibility” (44).