Richard McKeon's Chapter in the History of Rhetoric; or, Why Does McKeon Write So Funny?

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Ancient Philosophy | Arts and Humanities | Classics | Philosophy | Rhetoric | Rhetoric and Composition


“Why does Richard McKeon write the way he does? The last thing any of McKeon's readers will ever forget is the frustration of grappling with a style that has all the marks of being deliberate, of being consistently chosen and carefully crafted, except for the fact that it is hard to see why anyone would choose to write that way.[…]McKeon forces those readers loyal enough not to give up immediately to face the same subtle and pressing problem he himself encounters, and illustrates, in his writing and his teaching: how to speak, to use a language, to construct propositions and arguments, while at the same time to be aware that what one is saying is not the only thing that can be said, not the Last Word, aware that whether or not one's language is a product of choice, it is, in Aristotle's terms, something that can be other than it is.[…]Three stylistic devices cry out for explanation: a predeliction for presenting an exhaustive matrix of possibilities by inserting a piece of architecture that brings to a paradigmatic halt any syntactic movement of the argument, the use of the optative mood in trying to deal with the most reflexive form of our philosophic problem – how simultaneously to organize and take part in a discussion – by offering programmatic solutions to practical problems, and, third, appeals to the topics of etymology and usage, ordinary and erudite, that appear to reduce "real" problems to linguistic ones.”