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Monday, May 23, 2011

Remonstrance (2)—English Definitions

Click here for the introduction to Round and Square's series on remonstrance.
[a] Graphic criticism  [RF]
              Remonstrance 1                Remonstrance 2                 Remonstrance 3
              Remonstrance 4                Remonstrance 5                 Remonstrance 6
              Remonstrance 7                Remonstrance 8                 Remonstrance 9

The quotation above is from Henry David Thoreau. It does not address "remonstrance" directly, but sets a very nice (or problematic) tone for our discussion. 

Remonstrance is not a word that is used by most people in everyday speech. It is hardly rare, but—as a person who spends a good deal of time engaging the concept—I am used to seeing puzzled faces when I utter the word. Most people have a vague concept of what it might mean, but aren't sure how to proceed. This is not surprising. Remonstrance requires context, and many of these posts will be devoted to setting that context and (eventually) exploring its nuances. 

If your reaction is a little bit fuzzy when you hear the word "remonstrance," these posts are for you. If you have the time, I would recommend that you go back to the beginning and read through the introduction to this series (to be posted by mid-June) and the King Lear post that begins the series in earnest. Definitions help, and we will gain a great deal from them. Context helps even more, so a careful look at Kent's remonstrance in King Lear I, i will put you in just the right frame of mind for the next two "definitional" posts.

Let's begin with a few very Western uses of the term from what can be called an "every day" dictionary. If, as I hope you have done, you have read the King Lear post, ask yourself how well these definitions "fit." Clearly, you will see the sense of Lear "shut(ting) his ears to any remonstrance." You will probably also notice that the verbal form seems to be fairly close to a synonym for "admonish" or "protest." Indeed, these definitions seem to imply that remonstrance is just a more forceful kind of critique. Take a careful look.

Oxford Dictionary of American English, Third Edition
remonstrance(re·mon·strance)       Pronunciation: /riˈmänstrəns, /  noun        
—a forcefully reproachful protest: angry remonstrances in the Senate; he shut his ears to any remonstrance 
—(the Remonstrance) a document drawn up in 1610 by the Arminians of the Dutch Reformed Church, presenting the differences between their doctrines and those of the strict Calvinists. 
Origin: late 16th century (in the sense 'evidence'): from Old French, or from medieval Latin remonstrantia, from remonstrare 'demonstrate, show'  (see remonstrate)
remonstrate(re·mon·strate)       Pronunciation: /riˈmänˌstrāt, ˈremən-, /   verb [no object] 
—make a forcefully reproachful protest: he turned angrily to remonstrate with Tommy [with direct speech] :“ You don't mean that, ” she remonstrated

remonstration    Pronunciation:/riˌmänˈstrāSHən, ˌremən-/ noun 
remonstrative Pronunciation:/-strətiv/ adjective 
remonstrator Pronunciation:/-ˌstrātər/ noun
Origin: late 16th century (in the sense 'make plain'): from medieval Latin remonstrat- 'demonstrated', from the verb remonstrare, from re- (expressing intensive force) + monstrare 'to show'

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You will also notice the word "remonstrance" used as part of a proper noun, and there are several English language phrases that refer to this-or-that Remonstrance in early-modern history. Don't worry about those for now. We'll cover each of them in this series' posts in the next few months. For now, pay particular attention to the utter lack of a hierarchical element in these definitions. Little attention is paid to "junior" or "senior" or, indeed, almost any dimension of power dynamics in a meaningful sense. Now think back to Lear, who endured several minutes of Kent's rebuke before thundering his royal words and sending Kent into exile. Where is that in these definitions?

We'll explore many more aspects of Western definitions of the term, but that will be enough for today. Just think about protest and power, for now—both within and beyond the family.

Then read the dictionary definitions (above) again.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, May 24th)
East Asian Definitions of Remonstrance
We will examine a different approach to matters of rebuke and critique tomorrow, by working our way through various definitions in one of East Asia's greatest dictionaries. You say you don't read Chinese or Japanese? No worries—I suspected that might be the case. You will see that the explanations can bridge the gulf of language and culture...on Round and Square.

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