I was looking for something else, of course, but stumbled upon an article by Mieke Bal about the common academic rhetorical strategy of trashing an argument or a whole school of thought (sorry, Jstor subscription required):
Trashing is a dismissal based on minimal argumentation, usually spice with heavy irony, allusive accusation, and moralistic discourse. I have engaged in it as well as royally suffered from it, and wiht this double-edged expereince I feel well placed to reflect onit. As I am about to bothh perpetrate and denounce it once again, I suddenly have lost my innocence, and I feel compelled to draw attention to the ways the activity operates.
I’m forcing myself back to what I’m supposed to be doing instead (i.e. finishing a draft of my book chapter about how WoW relates to other participatory media) but do want to store this here as I suspect I will want to read it properly later.
The excerpt on _trashing_ leads me to wonder if two types of argumentation are not being conflated in the term: “ad hominem” and “reductio absurdum”. The one questions the credibility of the source (i.e. the person conveying the information or line of thought); the other is concerned with the what (i.e. how well [or not] the argumentation is presented usually by testing the universality of its application).
Interesting the use of the first person pronoun in the discours crafted by Professor Bal invites the reader to identify with the position of having been both sender and receiver of trashing behaviour. Rare will be the case where one finds an “I” that boasts of a generous and fair interchange — the boasting itself would undermine the effect. The route to cultivating a less trash-oriented culture of rigourous intellectual intercourse would be perhpas to something akin to Montaigne’s Essays where the form of illustration is not in the first person confessional mode but in the mode of reporting X’s behaviour towards Y — nobel actions set alongside less than noble.
Very often “going for the jugular” as trashing is sometimes called involves exposing the great weakness of an argument. However there is a fine line between going for and slicing! The generous critic will contextualize the perceived weakness if not motivate its appearance. In short, the generous critic tells a story and projects a future. The critic sets the stage for recycling.