Sunday, September 24, 2006

"First Blast of the Trumpet ...."

Of John Knox, Liz Lochhead made him an important character in our current course text, Mary Queen Of Scots got her Head Chopped Off. Dr. P. Hume Brown (1849-1918), a founding Scottish Studies scholar, claimed of the Scots that Knox, by his writings, "....revealed the heart and mind of the nation to itself." Hence for these, and other reasons scholarly, we do well to study the one -- in effect, the only -- work of his which retains currency: The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.

We will spend five minutes Tuesday's class finishing off our direct analysis of Knox: primarily to be clear about the political substance of the polemic, and to look at one or two uniquely Scottish elements within it.

To summarise the lecture last week, I argue that The First Blast is a rhetorical, and grammatic, triumph, but a dialectic failure and & effectual disaster. Knox wrote within the scholastic tradition of his priestly training; losing nothing of it in his turn to protestantism. The one shining facet of Scholastic writing (pace Paul Feyerabend) is its openness: the training demanded its practitioners state the most authoritative objections laid publicly against the argument it, and declare, moreover, any that should happen to occur to the writer himself. Knox does this straightaway in his third paragraph -- and indeed elsewhere, and, I believe in a way that defeats him. This at least we must accounted to him for righteousness.

The Scholastic tradition of writing was essentially the trivium: the first three of the seven Liberal Arts (the quadrivium were arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy -- a delightful ascent, conceptually, it must be said.) The ascent in the trivium was from the structure of words and meaning (grammar), the arrangement of words (rhetoric), and the arrangement of the ideas (dialectic.)

In The First Blast, an example of Knox's grammatical command is his neologism "monstiferous" to effectively express his sense of the extremity of monstrosity his ostensible subject (the regimet of women) represents. His rhetorical command is everywhere evident. No more so, of course, than in my primary contention that The First Blast .... is not actually directed against its titular subject: rather, the regiment of women is a blind from behind which he can conduct his offensive against his real enemy: Roman Catholicism.

Of rhetoric, Swift declared that "proper words in proper places is the essence of true style" -- in my words, chosing and placing words for maxiumum possible effect. Knox's ability to hide his real, seditious, purpose behind the rhetoric of mysogyny is rehetorically impressive. Likewise his plain language, and his opening blast of immediate and sustained attacking corneal force which answers in form precisely the declared image in the title.

Every student knows the three rhetorical appeals: logos, ethos, pathos. It is not always clear, however, that these appeals are not matched to any substance: the substance is in the dialectic, not the rhetoric. Ethos, for instance, does not entail the moral dimension, as a category of metaphysics. Rather, it is a method of appeal to the ethical image of the hearer and draws on the ethical reputation of the writer. So, we can now better understand Knox's superlative rhetorical command, taking logos illustratively. Logos, then, is not a logical arrangement of the argument (that is addressed under the mode of dialectic) but rather a use of words which gives an effective appearance of logic. In the paragraph beginning with note [46], Knox writes:
The apostle takes power from all women to speak in the assembly. Ergo, he permits no woman to rule above man.
The use of the word ergo in a properly-arranged sentence gives the appearance of a logical statement, but in fact the sentence is illogical: a perfect non-sequitur, or perhaps more properly, a "fallacy of composition" error.

As for dialectic, as mentioned, and discussed partially in lecture, The First Blast ... is a disaster. Selective quotation from his scriptural source is persistent flaw, but a venial: and, it must be said, nearly a universal. Culpable, though, is his elided treatment of Ephesians chapter five, and his risible mis-reading of the Creation story in the second chapter of Genesis. And he cites St. Augustine in his support -- the same Augustine that argued in the gentlest cadence in perhaps the most important non-Biblical work in the entire Western Humanities, Civitas Dei of the theological (if not the practical) equality of the sexes. But enough of the ubiquitous particulate errors: the argument entire simply vanishes as if a mist when one denies (and in the affirmaion it was -- & is -- Calvinism contra mundum) the Calvinist Suprlasarianism which Knox does here nothing more than reiterate. Even if one were to allow Knox's exegesis ex hypothesi, it is still only true of fallen humanity: ".... in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." For Calvin, humanity was depraved before the Fall: so much the worse for Calvinism.

And to come now to the Scholastic credit of Knox, to his argument's own destruction, in the passage before note [59], Know writes:
If any thinks that all these former sentences be spoken only of the subjection of the married woman to her husband ....
Ex ore tuo! The pauline passages which make up his substantial New Testament argument (setting aside his treatment of the passages about women in relation to cultural orality in Roman public assemblies, the casuitical form of which declares its foundational insubstantiality) speak to the conditions for marriage in its Christian conception -- i.e. dissolutive only in Death -- and thus have no direct applicability to the relation of women & men extra-maritally.

These are just a small few of the available means of debunking the dialectic in its surface attention to female regnancy. His central motto in that seems to be the one given just in advance of note [108]: "....that particular examples establish no common law." This, of course, and the accumulation of Biblical exceptions rebuking his assertion of universal male rule, leads him of necessity to casuistry; and thereby, as stated, effectively asserts his failure to have "a sure foundation."

The design of the piece as an anti-Roman Catholic polemic -- a sortie in a religious and political campaign -- will be addressed directly in Tuesday's lecture.

No comments: