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Apoplanesis in “Indian Killer”

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Similar to political debates, police interrogations and testimonies commonly support examples of apoplanesis. If cornered by an unanswerable inquiry, one may seek to employ apoplanesis in attempts to conserve confidential information. Naturally, the prying party will be alert to the answering party’s response. Such alertness ensures that any unsatisfying response will not go unrecognized, as the following example shall illustrate. Therefore, any chance for a subtle use of apoplanesis becomes unlikely. Though such circumstances have the potential to exhibit apoplanesis’ awkwardness, the answerer can still maintain a sense of grace in his or her subject dodging by keeping a professional, unwavering attitude.

Cover Photo by Frank Oudeman

Evident in Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer, apoplanesis appears in the form of an interrogation. In this particular novel, a supernatural murder mystery, several scenes involve testimonies. One instance, while questioning the mother of a missing child, the policeman asks, “Mrs. Jones, do you know of anybody who might want to hurt Mark? Or take him?”; Mrs. Jones immediately responds with “No. Don’t you know?” (169). The policeman’s final remark on the situation holds the greatest example of apoplanesis: “Well, there are certain other crimes that may be connected to your son’s disappearance” (169). By not directly answering her question, he digresses the conversation but still holds the subject matter in place, thus providing apoplanesis. Nevertheless, the questioner, as mentioned previously, will not accept unsatisfactory responses. In this case, the questioner takes the form of a distraught mother inquiring over missing child; she, as expected, will not cease the discussion until receiving clarity. Though Alexie ends the chapter with Mrs. Jones’ response, “Listen, I want to know: what kind of monster do you think would take somebody’s child?,” the reader naturally assumes the interaction between these two characters continues (169). Though this example reveals apoplanesis’ ability to maintain confidential information’s concealment, it does nothing to enhance the device’s subtlety; if anything, this example exacerbates apoplanesis’ blatancy.  

Alexie, Sherman. Indian Killer. New York NY: Warner, 1996. Print.

Apoplanesis in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”

December 9, 2011 1 comment

The purpose of apoplanesis varies among users. Because of the device’s malleability, apoplanesis can, for some, act as a feature to redeem the user’s credibility; using it in such a manner, however, can lead to or reveal deception. Since apoplanesis digresses away from a difficult point, it provides, to those either familiar or skilled with it, a trickery device. As the following example shall illustrate, apoplanesis can simultaneously play into and away from its users’ favor. Subtlety, however, is not necessarily guaranteed when viewing the deceptive qualities of apoplanesis. Depending on the user’s rhetorical fluency and the situation’s circumstances, apoplanesis could go unnoticed; the following example, though it may have been intended, does not provide effective subtlety.

In Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the scene involving Grima Wormtongue and Eomer (as well as Eowyn to some degree) about Saruman’s betrayal of Rohan employs an effective use of apoplanesis. After completely refuting Eomer’s claim of Saruman unleashing orcs and uruk hai against Rohan’s defenseless state, Wormtongue (having literally poisoned the mind of King Théoden) argues Saruman’s allied status with Rohan. Once presented with indisputable evidence on the matter, however, Wormtongue focuses his rebuttal toward Theoden’s weary physical and mental state; as Wormtongue digresses, “Why do you lay these thoughts on an already troubled mind? Can you not see? Your uncle is wearied with your malcontent, your warmongering.”  Eomer’s claim evidences Wormtongue’s deceit, but it is Wormtongue’s quick wit and efficient use of apoplanesis that digresses away from the topic and eventually turns the accusation against Eomer. As effective as his use of apoplanesis is in this example, Wormtongue is not fully subtle. His facial expressions before his rebuttal make his character seem rather dumbfounded. By physically seeing his reaction, the audience is fully aware of his digression’s purpose. Nevertheless, this example shows digression used to turn an inconvenient conversation to one’s advantage, and reveals apoplanesis’ deceptive attributes.

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Dir. Peter Jackson. By Peter Jackson. Perf. Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, and Elijah Wood. Newline, 2002. DVD.

Categories: apoplanesis, deception, film

Apoplanesis in Palin’s Foreign Policy

December 9, 2011 2 comments

If used improperly or in an unfamiliar manner, apoplanesis will prove awkward. In a politician’s case, such awkwardness may result in a diminishing of his or her credibility. As the following example illustrates, the politician creates an embarrassingly clumsy interview with her ineffective and unsubtle use of apoplanesis. If intending to respond to an inquiry through digression, the speaker should form cohesive statements that flow with impressive fluidity. By not doing so, the speaker provides no answer that is even remotely satisfactory, and—as the following will demonstrate—damages his or her reputation to critical levels.

Apoplanesis commonly manifests in politics, notably in political debates, speeches, etc. Without preparation and decent knowledge of his or her subject, using apoplanesis creates awkward situations. For instance, Sarah Palin’s interview with Katie Couric on September 24, 2008, on foreign policy reveals numerous failed attempts at apoplanesis. Rather than focusing on the entire interview, consider specifically the following portion:

Couric: You’ve cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?
Sarah Palin: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and, on our other side, the land-boundary that we have with Canada. It’s funny that a comment like that was kinda made to … I don’t know, you know … reporters.
Couric: Mocked?
Palin: Yeah, mocked, I guess that’s the word, yeah.
Couric: Well, explain to me why that enhances your foreign-policy credentials.
Palin: Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of. And there…

Each question Couric asks Palin merits an awkward digression; Palin never fully or satisfactorily answers the questions. In addition to, or rather attributing to, her ineffective use of apoplanesis in this interview, Sarah Palin demonstrates a general lack of thought articulation. Palin’s sketchy use this rhetorical device reveals her unpreparedness and general lack of knowledge on the subject, thus making her responses examples of apoplanesis’ potential clumsiness.

Sarah, Palin. “Exclusive: Palin On Foreign Policy.” Interview by Katie Couric. CBS Evening News. CBS. 24 Sept. 2008. Television. Also available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nokTjEdaUGg.

Categories: apoplanesis, credibility, news

Apoplanesis in “The Deathly Hallows: Part 1”

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Demonstrated in The Deathly Hallows: Part 1, apoplanesis makes its way into the Harry Potter series. For convenience and illustration, a clip of the scene is embedded below; though the film clip is approximately three minutes long, the portion I have chosen to examine is only fifteen seconds, between the second frames of 0:58 and 1:13. Amongst his followers, Lord Voldemort addresses Pius Thicknesse, his chosen Minister for Magic. Apoplanesis comes into this scene with the mentioning of Harry Potter’s coming of age and loss of magical protection. Being a talented politician and knowing of Voldemort’s quick-tempered attitude toward the subject at hand, Thicknesse is undoubtedly aware that he must choose his response carefully. The script is as demonstrated:

Voldemort: “What say you, Pius?”

Thicknesse: “One hears many things, my Lord; whether the truth is among them is unclear.”

Voldemort: [Laughing] “Spoken like a true politician!”

Minister Thicknesse’s brief digression from the matter at hand reveals a use of apoplanesis. Because of its advantages, apoplanesis proves commonplace when dealing with politics; Minister Thicknesse’s vagueness here supports this theory. Thicknesse’s answer does not provide a direct answer to the Dark Lord’s question, but his digression keeps his credibility (and life) intact. Depending on its use, however, apoplanesis can function beneficially or harmfully. With Thicknesse’s response, apoplanesis’ effectiveness and advantageousness are demonstrated. Despite his successful use of the device, Thicknesse does not digress subtly. Though obviously unoffended by the response, Lord Voldemort recognizes Thicknesse’s unease toward the subject and general diversion from it. Even so, Thicknesse’s use of apoplanesis here does not demonstrate the device’s clumsiness. In fact, Thicknesse’s digression for the sake of self-preservation shows apoplanesis’ conversational fluidity. Had he used the device improperly or awkwardly, Thicknesse might have merited a different response from You-Know-Who; Voldemort’s rather nonchalant dismissal of the politician’s use of apoplanesis may have been replaced with a more violent, unforgiving reaction. Nevertheless, if used properly, apoplanesis can save a politician’s reputation, and—in this case—much more.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Dir. David Yates. Adapt. J. K. Rowling. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., 2011. DVD. Scene also available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yj2aSy1Zen4&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PLEDF3B9969112ACF1.

Categories: apoplanesis, credibility, film

Apoplanesis Overview

December 8, 2011 2 comments

As Lanham defines, apoplanesis flaunts its rhetorical prowess by “evading the issue by digressing”; it essentially provides an “irrelevant answer to distract attention from a difficult point” (19). Simply stated, apoplanesis is the avoidance of a topic or subject; rather than being an outright dismissal, apoplanesis digresses away from a difficult point. Digression, however, can prove to be a tricky device if used incorrectly. When used in an ineffective way, the digression of a subject leads way to apoplanesis’ potential clumsiness. Examples of such awkwardness are rampant throughout political speeches, debates, arguments, etc. When cornered with difficult or inconvenient subject matter, one must handle his or her responses with an efficient and satisfactory use of apoplanesis. If unprepared or inexperienced with apoplanesis, one may damage any reputation or credibility by metaphorically stumbling over it.

Rather than providing an example of real-world politics to illustrate his definition, Lanham calls upon an example in Shakespeare’s The Second Part of Henry the Fourth. Examples such as his provided one are undoubtedly commonplace in Shakespeare’s historical tetralogies, as well as in his comedies and tragedies. Shakespeare’s wit and conversational mastery brim with apoplanesis. Even though numerous scholarly works could be composed over rhetorical applications in the works of Shakespeare, such examples do not directly relate to contemporary readers. Apoplanesis within modern society functions through a variety of means: pop culture, literature, politics, etc. Used either blatantly or subtly, apoplanesis functions frequently, though not ordinarily recognized, throughout societal interactions.

Lanham, Richard A. “Apoplanesis.” A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. 2nd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1991. Print.

Categories: apoplanesis, overview