The Intellectual Vocation

Joshua P. Hochschild in First Things:

Once upon a time, education was rhetorical training. Learning to think well, and thereby to negotiate all of life with responsible intelligence, was fundamentally about interacting with—drawing from and contributing to—a fund of powerful writing. But then, to make a long story short, things got complicated, “rhetoric” was demoted to one department among many, and that department was eventually rebranded as “Communication Studies.” In what could serve as a tragic epilogue to the history of Western education, young Mattie, son of the title character in Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter, goes off to study communication and becomes unable to talk to his own parents. “Communication of what?” asks Hannah’s husband, Nathan. “God knows what,” answers Hannah. “And that was about the extent of our conversation on that subject.”

It’s no surprise what Mattie missed in college. Anything like traditional rhetorical education is by now rare and usually accidental, and while some of us still try to keep alive a classical conception of “liberal education,” we sense a need for new rhetorical resources to capture what that is. Three new books about thinking testify that the old learning is ever-renewing, and available to anyone who knows what to look for.

Scott Newstok’s How to Think Like Shakespeare directly addresses rhetoric as “the craft of future discourse,” and attends to the particular practices that cultivate this craft.

More here.