One of the Roberts who regularly comments at this blog was not pleased with my recollections of my abortive attempts at street evangelism two decades ago. While I intend to respond to some of Robert’s comments more fully later, I have been preoccupied by one of his points of criticism. The reason is that his comment reminded me of paralipsis, a rhetorical device in which you mention something by declaring that you will not mention it. Consider the following example:
(A politician giving a campaign speech): “I refuse to mention my opponent’s infidelity. It has no place in a campaign speech!”
Here the politician claims to be taking the moral high ground by not addressing infidelity. And yet, even as he disavows references to infidelity he invokes just such an appeal. He is, in essence, attempting to have his cake and eat it too.
Robert didn’t invoke paralipsis, but he made a charge which, viewed from a rhetorical angle, is surely a kissing cousin:
Randal we all know that it is not only what you say but how you say it. But your two posts seemed to almost ridicule those who had more urgency in evangelism than you did.
Like I said, this isn’t paralipsis, but it is effective (for Robert) and frustrating (for me) just the same.
The charge that a reader is likely to glean from Robert’s observation is that in some sense I was ridiculing others. And yet Robert didn’t actually say that. Instead he said the posts seemed to almost ridicule.
What does that mean? What does it mean to almost ridicule?
I am not sure, but I know this: almost ridiculing isn’t the same as ridiculing. Thus, even if Robert was right and what seemed to him to be the case was in fact the case, all it means is that I didn’t ridicule. Robert never suggested that I ridiculed anybody.
So why does it feel like I did? And why is the same social opprobrium looming in the background? Because the ugly word is out there as if a charge had been made. Just like the paralipsis politician who gets the political mileage from the affair while claiming the high ground so Robert can associate me with ridicule without having laid a charge. And that’s frustrating.
Let me be clear: I don’t think Robert was intentionally playing with language in a disingenuous and cynical attempt to marginalize my memoir. But he almost was.