Wayne C(layson) Booth Thomas W. Benson - Essay

Thomas W. Benson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Anyone who has written so useful a book as The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961) deserves an especially attentive audience from readers of this journal. But rhetoricians looking into Now Don't Try to Reason with Me … will moderate their admiration for Booth's courage in taking up the big questions with a familiar disappointment that the questions go, once more, unanswered. Things get under way briskly enough with the announcement that the author's concern is to renew the force of reason in an age given to gullibility and misdirected sincerity. But the pieces are occasional, the audiences often inexpert, and the author gyrates in a continual process of discovery, development, and restatement, so the solid definitions that would satisfy his optimistic embarkation keep slipping away….

As a beleaguered University of Chicago dean, Booth occasionally allowed his expositions of the place of reason to become exhortative and denunciatory, but throughout ten years' work there is a steady enrichment of his view, encompassing reason and pluralism as the bases for a rhetoric of art, argument, and action, diligently fending off dogmatism, futurism, scientism, and materialism on the one hand, and relativism, dilettantism, or sentimentality on the other. By turns, Booth addresses students and colleagues on the corruption of modern audiences, on censorship, the nature of the rhetorical act, reason in argument, Aristotle and literary criticism, wrong-headed reviews of The Rhetoric of Fiction, the function of the university, and the place of religion in intellectual life.

Booth's considerable powers as a critic and sermonizer are joined by a delightfully complex wit, demonstrated in a series of pieces on speed reading, dissertation myopia, sinking prose, Max Rafferty, and "the new science of ironology."

This is not, in the language of reviewers, an indispensable book. But it will be important as an index of Wayne Booth, 1960–1970, a civilized man confident of his God, generous in his reading, concerned with the state of a culture, informed about rhetoric, and engaged with audiences.

Thomas W. Benson, "New Books in Review: 'Now Don't Try to Reason with Me: Essays and Ironies for a Credulous Age'," in The Quarterly Journal of Speech (copyright 1972 by the Speech Communication Association), Vol. LVIII, No. 1, February, 1972, p. 108.