The following is a study of Richey Edwards
' talent for rhetoric
in regards to Cicero
's original criteria
for an ideal rhetorician.
As often as musicians incorporate rhetoric into their music and lyrics, rarely has a band included a person in their lineup whose purpose is solely that of the rhetorical variety. Nevertheless, this was the case with the Manic Street Preachers
, whose lyricist Richey Edwards played guitar
at live shows but remained in the band purely for his stylistic, poetic, and rhetorical talents. Cicero
makes a distinction between the two principal elements of good oratory
, eloquence being the purely artistic form of language, the purely aesthetic
, and rhetoric being (in its most stripped-down form) the purely thought-oriented goal of bringing an audience to conviction. In studying how Edwards fits and refines Cicero’s conception of the ideal orator, it is important to look at two different texts. First of all, Edwards' lyrics have the tendency to be complex, thus requiring explanations, which are almost entirely and blatantly rhetorical since they are less aesthetic versions of the lyrics themselves. In describing his art, Richey Edwards makes his own thought process and knowledge as a rhetorician apparent. Secondly, the lyrics themselves are written in many different forms of language which can be studied in relation to their rhetorical value as well as their relative eloquence and ability to pass for poetry
. Edwards proves that there are certain elements of the Ciceronian ideal that collapse upon one another if all are met. As close as he came to Cicero’s dreamlike vision, Edwards was unable to handle the depression
-worship, and isolation
that ultimately result from attaining this position.
The most important point to bring up regarding Edwards’ descriptions of his own writing is not a lack of insistent, even desperate, persuasion – a force that predominates throughout his art, and even his life – but his refusal to adapt his arguments to the language of his audience
, a move which Cicero deems natural
and necessary to the practice of oratory. Cicero proclaims, ‘For all the kinds of language we ourselves orators Crassus, Antonius, and Scaevola
use in public speaking are changeable matter, and adapted to the general understanding of the crowd.’ Cicero also writes of persuasive eloquence that ‘good speakers bring… a style that is harmonious, graceful
, and marked by a certain artistry and polish
.' These two claims can be combined to mean that Cicero’s orator must be artistic and intriguing enough to keep the audience’s attention, but not so oblique
as to lose all connection with it. For it remains that people cannot sustain interest in an argumentative point unless it has some kind of relevance to their own lives; otherwise it is seen as an airy impossibility, rooted in nothing. Antonius explains this in a reflection of Crassus’ argument, bringing the point to a more realistic resolution, in the tradition of his realistic debate: ‘I held anyone to be an accomplished speaker who could deliver his thought with the necessary point and clearness before an everyday audience, and in accord with what I might call the mental outlook of the average human being.’
The inherent problem with this requirement for oratory is that an ‘ideal’ orator, skilled in everything, is not an ‘average human being’, and thus, like Edwards, does not think like one. Cicero writes that ‘To begin with, a knowledge of very many matters must be grasped, without which oratory is but an empty and ridiculous swirl of verbiage.’ Edwards, dedicated to learning as much as possible, as Cicero believes necessary, becomes absorbed within his knowledge, not truly in touch with people – removed from the world, obsessed with learning. In his description for the song Archives of Pain
, Edwards writes, ‘Bentham
’s Panopticon – visibility is a trap. Foucault
– savagery is necessary. Is revenge
justified? Nothing in common with Manson
cult and its current fashionability. There is no glory in innocent death.’ While perfectly eloquent by certain relative standards – even rhythm and reference fall perfectly into their own poetic line – the ‘average human being’, or what Cicero calls the ‘crowd’, would be wondering what on earth brought Edwards to the conclusion that there is ‘no glory in innocent death’. It is a highly educated individual who can even recognize the references to Bentham and Foucault, and an obscenely literary one who comprehends their relevance to innocent death. Edwards, while determined to educate, understand, and get important thoughts out of his brain, obviously relates his ideas to one another on a different plane than most people – both in reference and in style. Short, choppy sentences and incomplete thoughts prove that what Edwards considers to be ‘explanatory’ of his lyrical poetry remains in the realm of his above-average mental capability. One can occasionally grasp a strand of whom he is persuading and what he intends to convey, as in the explication for the lyric She is Suffering
: ‘In other Bible
s and Holy Books no truth is possible until you empty yourself of desire
. All commitment otherwise is fake/lies/economic convenience. Salvation
is purity.’ Even with this more basic conclusion, it would take someone familiar with doctrines of Buddhism
and other religions in which ‘salvation is purity’ to personally connect with or even fully grasp the rhetoric he is communicating. There is no one who understands everything. Therefore, if an ideal orator must fully understand every matter on which he speaks, then in some cases, he will be in effect speaking to himself: the only possible audience.
Edwards’ only method of associating with ‘average’ people, in the words of Antonius, is to convert this esoteric
stew of thought into song lyrics – slightly more palatable on the basis of language alone, and further encouraging of the fact that Richey Edwards is able to perfectly play into the Ciceronian requirements for an ideal rhetorician, albeit with many consequences. The poetry of music allows his words to fit the definition of eloquence – the second requirement, according to Cicero, of the great orator. On the subject of eloquence, Cicero writes, ‘We must speak, in the first place, pure and correct language
, secondly with simply lucidity, thirdly with elegance, lastly in a manner befitting the dignity of our topics and with a certain grace
.’ Although these terms are unquestionably relative, it is easy to observe to what degree they apply to Edwards’ lyrics for the Manic Street Preachers, and to examine the magnitude of his supposed connection with an audience outside of his own head.
Due to his use of words, Edwards has often been called a poet (most principally by close friend and bandmate Nicky Wire
), and in these terms, he very nearly fits Cicero’s ideal simply by case of similarity: ‘The truth is that the poet is a very near kinsman of the orator, rather more heavily fettered as regards rhythm, but with ampler freedom in his choice of words.’ What Edwards does is to selectively limit his choice of words with regard to his own rhetoric, thus making his poetry both eloquent and strictly rhetorical. In examining his two types of output – the purely rhetorical lyric explanation and the poetry of the lyric itself – the word choice is strikingly similar. Of his rhetorical goals in Of Walking Abortion
, Edwards writes, ‘East European truths – Horthy
) – revived and brought back home. Facts ignored. Carve your moral
certainty there… Your true reflection – junkie
s. Who’s responsible?’ What the actual lyric does is take this bit of rhetoric and word it into a more poetic format without tapping into much of that ‘freedom’ that Cicero describes for the poet: ‘Life is lead weights, pendulum
died / pure or lost, spectator
or crucified / recognized truth acedia’s blackest hole / junkies winos whores the nation’s moral suicide
.’ In lyrics, Edwards perfectly blends his rhetoric with his poetry, his vast knowledge with eloquence – which is, as Cicero claims, the basic definition of an orator.
Unlike many lyricists who create patterns of words strictly on the basis of sound and metaphor, Edwards adheres as much to the definition of a rhetorician as a poet. This relates to his reluctance to simplify ideas for the benefit of the general public: instead of writing a song that perhaps anyone could relate to, i.e. a song of heartbreak or generally misdirected anger, Edwards creates complex combinations of proper nouns, poetic references, and even pretentious literary allusions. In regards to the most important aspects of rhetoric, Roderick Hart writes, ‘Rhetoric names
. To understand the power of rhetoric we must remember that creatures and noncreatures alike are born without labels. People are, as best we know, nature’s only namers.’ And Edwards names with a vengeance. One need only glance at the chorus of Archives of Pain
to see just how steadfastly he holds to this rhetorical principle: ‘Kill Yeltsin
, who’s saying? Zhirinovsky
, Le Pen
, Yoshinori Ueda
, Blanche and Pickles
.’ No ‘yeah yeah baby’ found here – this is an example of when rhetoric overrides even a shred of poetic ambition. The names are what Edwards deems important in a song about the needless glorification of killing.
Edwards solves the problem of catering to an audience to a certain degree by writing varied lyrics, and in doing so, performing not a change of language in order to cater to the less educated, but a unique understanding of what Allon White calls ‘high’ language and ‘low’ language, created by society as entities completely separated in situation and appropriate use. White writes, ‘For a long period in the early history of dictionary-making the lexicographer
’s art was seen to consist in listing and defining what were termed ‘hard words’. ‘Hard words’ consist of language gauged as more formal
and complex than everyday speech. Among Edwards’ catalogue of ‘hard words’, in the lyric for PCP
alone, are pyrrhic
, and sadist
, all in a context considered poetically beautiful. Using words like the above in what Hart would call a ‘speech-act
’ is certainly not succumbing to the needs of an uneducated audience. However, Edwards also uses other words – of the ‘low’ variety – to give emphasis and color to the rest of his poetry. Allon White writes, ‘the language or “anti-language” of criminal subculture
s could never be clearly identified or defined from outside. Part of its function was precisely its resistance to any comprehension by the high language.’ Edwards does not attempt to define either his ‘high’ or ‘low’ language using terms made acceptable by either; instead, he uses both in their own right where appropriate and most effective. In doing this, he both alienates and encompasses everyone’s level of language within his rhetoric, becoming a spokesman for everything while compromising nothing. To close Of Walking Abortion
, a lyric of incredibly ambitions proportions, Edwards simply repeats the phrase ‘Who’s responsible – you fucking are.’ Juxtaposing words like fuck
and names like Tisu
as well as words like inoculate
in the same song, as well as using both to their utmost capacity, goes far to prove Edwards’ eloquence, intelligence, and general grasp of everyone’s language.
Due to his level of knowledge, however, Edwards reinvents the role of the perfect rhetorician: during his career, he put people into a state of awe
rather than action
, of extreme wonder rather than perfect understanding. It is difficult to deny Edwards’ intelligence on a great deal of political, cultural, and literary matters, just as Cicero requires for his ideal: ‘… the complete and finished orator is he who on any matter whatever can speak with fullness and variety.’ While the nature of the phrase ‘any matter whatever’ can be debated extensively, a temporary, sensical definition will be given: it must be the canon
of someone who is universally considered to be ‘well-read
’. Edwards’ canon includes everything from popular film
s (‘Edward Scissorhands Avon Lady
’) to the cult of fashion
(‘Kate – Moss
, Kristin – McMenamy
, Emma – Balfour
, Karen – Sky Agony Aunt’) to the Bible
used by homophobe
s to justify their hatred’). His status of being incredibly knowledgeable and well-informed has never been called into question. The question is what effect his thoughts, put into many kinds of language in lyrics, would have on his audience.
The answer lies in Manics fans’ and non-fans’ perceptions of Richey Edwards. Of the critique of speech-acts, Hart writes, ‘Does the audience have first-hand knowledge of the speaker on which the speaker can draw rhetorically? Is the speaker “sainted” or “victimized” by stereotype
s listeners have of “speakers like this”?’ Antonius and Scaevola claim that the notion of an ideal orator is unrealistic, that such an eloquent and omniscient
individual is entirely unable to exist. In an almost mocking echo of what Cicero’s Crassus describes as the perfect orator, Antonius says, ‘But in the orator we must demand the subtlety of the logician
, the thoughts of the philosopher
, a diction almost poetic, a lawyer
’s memory, a tragedician
, and the bearing almost of the consummate actor
.’ Edwards’ unique position as both rhetorician
allowed him to fulfill nearly all of these terms. But what is the fate of such an individual? Surely the term genius
must be used more than once, and unfortunately, genius and insanity
are close relatives. The impossible logic of an all-knowing person is well illustrated in Richey Edwards, for the fact remains that he was severely depressed
, self injuring
, and anorexic
. Such a wealth of knowledge takes its toll on any person; the treatise that ‘ignorance is bliss
’ may be a cliché, but it manifests itself in truth more often than not.
Surely Edwards’ well-publicized problems, coupled with his nearly surreal
intelligence, would have a profound effect on the audience’s perceptions. Uncomprehending of some of his decrees, or at least utterly confused by them, many chose to belief that his superior knowledge was proof that he must be right. Being just oblique enough, and definitely poetic enough, to make his audience slightly perplexed but nevertheless impressed, Edwards made an impression on everyone – fans and non-fans alike. A great orator, therefore, in Edwards’ terms, makes an impression.
In ‘Of Oratory’, when Scaevola implies that Cicero’s ideal of oratory is essentially impossible in reality, what he really comments on is a perfection that humans would consider almost godlike
: ‘If such a man
there should be, or indeed ever has been, or really ever could be...’ It seems that if there ‘ever really could be’ an ideal orator, he or she would, like Edwards, infuse the populace with an overarching sense of awe rather than understanding, for divinities in society are characterized as being ‘omniscient’. As the public is wont to do, it would most likely deify
the orator, who would be given a state of ultimate glory
through ultimate knowledge. Richey Edwards gave rise to a group of people known as the ‘Cult of Richey
’ who, ignoring every other member of the Manic Street Preachers, essentially worshipped Edwards as an icon
, too brilliant and perceptive to truly be a part of this world.
Hans Blumenberg claims that the function
of rhetoric is to drive people to act, that ‘the circumstance of being compelled to act… determines the rhetorical situation and demands primarily a physical reaction.’ A perfect orator may be an ideal, but when someone comes as close to the ideal as does Richey Edwards, the result almost backfires: rhetoric is supposed to compel action, but the ideal would only compel idolatry and imitation, frustrating the orator and ultimately solving nothing – and in the case of Edwards, causing knowledge and frustration to cave in and drive the person to isolation and insanity. Richey Edwards vanished in 1995 and has not been seen in over eight years. Cicero decrees that an all-knowing and artistic rhetorician can be someone to aspire to, but is not a real human being, nor, Claim Antonius and Scaevola, should it be. Perhaps the disappearance of Richey Edwards ultimately proves that the perfect orator is a myth
, an ideal
, someone who can only be imagined for the purposes of comparison.
SOURCES: 'An Anthropological Approach to the Contemporary Significance of Rhetoric' by Hans Blumenberg, Cicero's 'Of Oratory', 'The Dismal Sacred Word' by Allon White, Modern Rhetorical Criticim by Roderick Hart, 'In His Own Write' featured in Melody Maker, and the Manic Street Preachers' album The Holy Bible.