From Peters to performance (Goffman)

Check out this short article about the necessity of “lying” … It is related to Peter’s point that we cannot avoid imperfect communication and in fact it is a very good thing we can’t communicate perfectly.

The author writes:

Here is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: My name is Lisa, and I am a liar, though a good marketing consultant could probably finesse the word into something a bit more palatable: “Reality Stylist” might be good, or “Pinocchiotologist” could work. My mother insists that, at the end of the day, what I am is a storyteller — and she might have a point.

So I sugarcoat and I gloss over, and I rationalize and, yes, I sometimes fictionalize my little story.

So far, we’ve spent some time setting up a “battle” of ideas over communication and rhetoric. From Plato forward we’ve had many discourses (cultural “conversations” if you will) that emphasize the attitude that “rhetoric” is generally bad or dangerous because it can mislead or misrepresent. And from this position, we might be more likely to criticize this author for “fictionalizing” her stories.

But now we want to explore the other side of the “battle” over rhetoric–the side we probably aren’t as familiar with (even though it goes on around us every day). We will begin to fill in what a “rhetorical view” of communication means. And we will start creating more answers to the question “What else does communication do beyond transmit ideas?”

One question we could ask about this article is: “Is this really lying?” If we’re always seeing things and talking about things from a certain perspective and if there is no such thing as “truth or fact as they actually exist” (Lanham) then is “rhetoric” necessarily bad? … or like Peters says, is our imperfect communication–including rhetoric–a “handsome condition” and “blessing?” This week we’ll read about “performance” and consider the question “When aren’t we performing? When aren’t we wearing a mask?” And how do our performances also create identities and realities?

This article quotes Joan Didion who says, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” That message is similar to a point Lanham makes in “The Rhetorical Ideal of Life.” Lanham explains that with a “rhetorical view” we will realize that our “capacity to make up comforting illusions is as infinite as the university [we are] flung into. Naked into the world [we] may come, but not without resource.” ( 8 ) In other words, rhetoric, performance, “storytelling” are all necessary features and valuable resources for our lives shared with others. Like Isocrates and Peters believe, these aspects of communication allow us to connect with one another and create new beliefs, worlds, and culture.

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The “Problem” of Communication

In our reading this week, Peters claims that we have a narrow and limited way of thinking about communication. We dream of perfect, ideal communication (as if we’re striving for telepathy); we get frustrated when we miscommunicate; we blame communication as the “problem;” and then we often stop communicating altogether (“solipsism”) or we just keep getting frustrated. But Peters argues that the “problem” of communication is not that communication fails and not that we miscommunicate; the problem is the way we think about communication.

Here are a few examples that demonstrate the way Peters says we usually think and talk about communication (and remember, he wants to challenge these limited views of communication).

From “General Information about Communication Problems”

“Almost all conflicts involve communication problems, as both a cause and an effect. Misunderstandings, resulting from poor communication, can easily cause a conflict or make it worse. Further, once a conflict has started, communication problems often develop because people in conflict do not communicate with each other as frequently, as openly, and as accurately as they do when relationships are not strained.”

This excerpt once again represents a “Transmission Model” or “standard view of communication” that believes we just need to learn to communicate more effectively–to use the tool of communication better. And it suggests that more communication, more honesty (truth), and more clarity will somehow fix communication.

From “Solutions to Your Top Two Communication Problems” by Dr. Brenda Shoshanna

Without effective communication, no relationship stands a chance. … When we are fighting, we want more than ever to be understood and words go flying back and forth like arrows.

[C]ommunication consists not only of talking, but also listening and hearing what is being said. … it is crucial to realize that each person can only truly “hear” what is being said if they are willing to put aside their own point of view and really be available to know the heart and mind of the other.

These excerpts give an example of how we act as if we truly could create some direct link between our minds. We desire to be understood perfectly (telepathy).

From High School Musical 2, “You are the Music in Me”

I admit: I’m a HSM fan. … but to the point. Many love songs about “connecting” and finding true love also shape and reveal the way we think about communication.

GABRIELLA:
It’s like I knew you before we met (Before we met)
Can’t explain it (Ohh ohh)
There’s no name for it (No name for it)

TROY AND GABRIELLA:
I’m saying words I never said

TROY:
And it was easy (So easy)
Because you see the real me (I see)
As I am

TROY AND GABRIELLA:
You understand
And that’s more than I’ve ever known

GABRIELLA:
To hear your voice (Hear your voice)
Above the noise (Ohh ohh)

GABREILLA AND TROY:
And no, I’m not alone

Their voices cut through the “noise” and they connect in a way where they understand each other perfectly … Gabriella sees the “real Troy,” as if communication was able to merge their souls.