Blogbook -- Logocentric Languaging Next to Kisceral-centric Languaging

Entry 37

From one angle, the focus on logocentric arguments in the CCSS for high school students and the OS for college students seems reasonable. Note the value-heavy adjective, “reasonable,” in my statement. Why is “reason” and “logical-ness” so highly valued in determining a standard for most writing in schools and colleges? We could say, as Davis does for the CCSS (see post 36), that this is what colleges and universities ask of students. And that wouldn’t be completely wrong. But that dodges the institutionally-created “need” for this kind of orientation in our students’ languaging. It also dodges where all disciplines and educational institutions get their ideas for what “logical” and “reason” mean. Colleges have wanted students to take SATs and ACTs, but those standardized tests have been shown to be culturally biased, white supremacist, and produce racial scoring gaps that help create racial inequity (note 251). So what colleges want from students has often been fallible, whitely, Eurocentric, and unjust. 

Let’s say all colleges do want it and that’s somehow enough to accept the practice. High school classrooms teach writing only as reason and logos because colleges want it. Isn’t that a bandwagon fallacy, or at best an unquestioned institutional demand that arguably has deep racist problems that should be questioned? Are all your high school students going to college? According to the U.S. graduation rates I offered in post 15, no. At least 43% will not go to college on average. They’ll do other things. It would seem that this argument for logocentric language standards dodges the ethical question of what is the most appropriate and best kind of languaging to teach students today for their immediate and long-term goals. It also devalues other kinds of languaging in English that do not match the standards in the CCSS or the OS. It also linguistically homogenizes students in ways that arguably do not help them, and likely harm many of them? 

How about a thought experiment. Let’s pretend that we don’t see the kind of academic, logocentric, text-based, language taught in colleges and universities as the best kind, as the top of some imagined literacy pyramid. That is, the academic-logocentric-text-based-literacy is just one of many literacies to use and explore and develop in the world. Let’s imagine that all English literacies and their logics are set on a flat landscape of equality. Now, what is most important to learn for the students in front of you right now in schools and colleges, most of whom will not circulate in academic settings, not need to language like you or your academic colleagues? If there is no top English literacy, no best literacy that covers all literacies and logics, all rhetorical situations, but there is a white English literacy that has been used to colonize many, and this is its credentials as the best literacy, then what is our ethical job in writing and language classrooms with a locally diverse group of students, all of whom have come to practice languaging in some way for their very different futures, for our collective futures? What is our job really? 

In his book-length treatment of the cultural foundations of rhetoric and reason, Christopher Tindale, the Director of the Centre for Research in Reasoning, Argumentation, and Rhetoric at the University of Windsor, argues that there has been historically a “theft of reason” (note 252). Essentially, Tindale explains from various historical and rhetorical accounts the ways that Western European empire encountered, suppressed, and assimilated the “logics” of those peoples it came into contact with. In this way, as I see it, controlling rhetoric, controlling not just the means of persuasion but the framing of and definition of “logic,” has been an important part of empire and white supremacy -- it’s white language supremacy. 

graphic of Ki from
Ultimately, framing our logic and logos, our ways of argumentation today as orally-based culture that moved to a text-based one, as some influential histories such as Walter Ong’s or Eric Havelock’s articulate, misses the point that Tindale wishes to reveal (note 253). The logics are different, operating differently. They can be understood outside of an evolutionary progression from orality to textuality. Tindale highlights Michael Gilbert’s account of understanding argumentation from at least three modes: the emotional, the visceral (i.e. the physical nature), and the kisceral. He summarizes Gilbert’s understanding of the kisceral as “the most abstract” of the three. It is “drawn from the Japanese ki (for energy or life-force), it relies on ‘the intuitive, the imaginative, the religious, the spiritual, and the mystical’” (note 254). 

Imagine kisceral appeals in an argument, appeals that come from the inner parts of the orator’s soul and stretch to its audience in unseen yet felt ways. No, maybe this kisceral-centric argument appeals to the magic that is among us, mystically binding us together, sewing the fabric of our souls as one and many. Its “argument,” say for reparations to Black and Native indigenous peoples in the U.S., is one that cannot be fully touched or even understood by a white(ly) audience, yet it compels that white(ly) audience through magic. Instead, that audience, those readers, have a kind of faith, shared feelings of togetherness with the orator, and accept the argument, find it so compelling they give up significant parts of what they understood up to that very moment as theirs, as a part of their heritage, their property. And the their-ness of many things just magically vanishes, and the world opens up, gets bigger, safer, more seeable and smellable and touchable. It isn’t white property. It never really was.

The magic among us changes the nature of things. And this is part of the magic that everyone breathes in and out. And now, in a flash, everyone who participates in the argument feels in their bones and the pits of their stomachs something else, a shared destiny with Black and indigenous people, a destiny steadily heading over a cliff, imminently sliding into disaster. Death. No breath. A genocidal pang in everyone's belly. And beauty and love and humanity and bigness and more, so much more in the world than what that audience ever thought was possible is now present, also imminent. Black and indigenous imagination, all these things transform because of everyone. They have to. And it’s all felt and known in everyone’s souls as if being wrung like a wet rag: tight, knotted, and damp. And the argument forms the feelings and seeings of everyone’s lives together, and there is more wringing. Black and indigenous souls, white souls, all souls, all rooting, intertwining, into the ground everywhere, and reaching up to the stars, this is what is experienced beyond sight, inexpressible but it’s argument. It wrings everyone, and rings in the air between each person. And this argument is only really made by waving a hand, weeping and laughing, taking a particular number of steps back and forth in rhythmic fashion as the audience watches and sings the words last spoken, calling and responding, clapping and swaying. It’s all these things and more and the wringing of souls and bodies together. You’d just have to be there to really get it, to feel the wringing and hear the ringing. Everyone is speaking and listening and arguing but it ain’t arguing like they’re against each other. It’s more like they’re protecting each other, feeding adversaries, comforting them, holding hands as they speak, as they know together. But they are not really adversaries either, not opponents. They are fellow engagelings. They are languagelings who engage together, languaging in their various ways toward a sustainable and equitable future. It’s crazy isn’t it? That is not an argument. Is it? Why not? 

What kinds of languaging will serve our world tomorrow, help each other, sustain our environment in better ways today? What kinds of languaging will liberate our students, not some but all of them? Perhaps we might take a lesson from biology and the natural sciences. Homogenous, monocultures are vulnerable to disease and blight. One virus and the entire orchard or crop dies. But diverse cultures withstand such struggles through their biological diversity (note 255). Do the same principles apply to social diversity, to diversity of perspectives and ideas, to the language cultures of our classrooms? Might diversity of languaging in classrooms also make us a more durable, stronger society, a society with more critical tools, one perhaps better equipped to be fairer and socially just? 

Again, don’t misunderstand me. Preparing for what one might expect in college is a good thing, but only if you are going to college, only if what that college expects is good for everyone equally, and only if what that college produced in its graduates makes equity in the world. College isn’t a prerequisite for a good life, or even a life well lived, but it could be. On the other hand, logos is vital to understanding and engaging in argumentation and persuasion, even outside of college. But are we thinking in either-or dichotomies? Are we missing some ways to argue? Asking for one kind of logos, a logos from one group of people, reproduces white language supremacy without naming it as such, continuing the long histories of the English language empire.


This blog is offered for free in order to engage language and literacy teachers of all levels in antiracist work and dialogue. The hope is that it will help raise enough money to do more substantial and ongoing antiracist work by funding the Asao and Kelly Inoue Antiracist Teaching Endowment, housed at Oregon State University. Read more about the endowment on my endowment page. Please consider donating to the endowment. Thank you for your help and engagement.