The rhetorical impulse may be conceived as the desire to express one’s thoughts in a way that affects the thoughts of others. Such an impulse is universal among humans, and historical evidence exists for its cultivation in ancient civilizations of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas (Lipson & Binkley 2004). Early instances of theoretical inquiry concerning rhetorical communication have been documented in China (c. eighth century bce), Egypt (c. eleventh century bce), India (c. fourth century bce), and Greece (including Magna Graecia, c. fifth century bce). Arguably, each of these regional developments gave rise to a different tradition and trajectory of indigenous rhetorical studies. However, as a historical matter, the European tradition was most closely related to the emergent discipline of communication; accordingly, it receives emphasis here.
Ancient Rhetorical Studies (Fifth Century BCE to Fourth Century CE)
Within the European tradition of rhetorical studies, self-conscious attempts to theorize persuasive speaking were initially concerned with speech organization and elaboration of subject matter (early theorists included Tisias, Protagoras, Gorgias, Antiphon, and Theodorus; see Cicero, Brutus 46–48). Theoretical studies of rhetoric soon became abstract, with a focus on functions of speakers and types of speeches (see, e.g., Isocrates, Against the Sophists 16–17, Panegyricus 1–12; Aristotle, Rhetoric 1358a–b, 1403b). By the second century bce, both of these theoretical categories became more or less crystallized; the functions of speakers were conceived as invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery; likewise, the kinds of speaking were conceived as deliberative, judicial, and demonstrative (or occasional) (see Cicero, De oratore 1.137–145). Of course, the functions of speakers and kinds of rhetoric initially theorized were suited to the political arrangements in Greece and later Republican Rome. In later antiquity, changing political and cultural circumstances encouraged the literary development of rhetoric (e.g., Hermogenes, On types of style, second century ce), elaboration of demonstrative rhetoric (e.g., Pseudo-Menander, On epideictic speeches, fourth century ce), and the recognition of additional types of rhetorical discourse, including history writing (Rufus, Rhetorical art, second century ce), letter writing (Demetrius, On style, first century bce–first century ce), and preaching (Pseudo-Philo, On Samson, first century bce; see Folgert 1997).
The development of rhetorical theory was accompanied by the rise of pedagogical, critical, and historical studies. Pedagogical inquiry was concerned with effective means of inculcating rhetorical expertise in practitioners. Early materials for rhetorical instruction included rudimentary treatises (e.g., Theodorus’ rhetoric book, fifth–fourth centuries bce; see Plato, Phaedrus 266d–267a), model speeches (e.g., Antiphon’s Tetralogies, fifth century bce), and specimens of eloquence (e.g., Gorgias’ On Helen, fourth century bce). Educational theory became a deliberate part of rhetorical education in the school of Isocrates, who stressed preceptive instruction, practice, and moral as well as literary imitation of political discourse. In Hellenistic times, rhetoric was adopted as the centerpiece of an ancient literary educational program. Within this program, students typically learned reading and writing from a litterator, grammatical analysis and elementary composition from a grammaticus, and advanced composition, rhetorical theory, and declamatory practice from a rhetor. During the Roman imperial era, the rhetorical program of education was codified in Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria (c. 95 ce). We also find specialized educational treatises on elements of the program, e.g., Seneca’s Controversiae (first century ce; declamation), Apthonius’ Progymnasmata (second century ce; composition exercises), and Fortunatianus’ Artis rhetoricae (fourth–fifth century ce; catechism of rhetorical theory).
Rhetorical criticism was at first the child of rhetorical theory, when analysis of actual (and imaginary) rhetorical performance was employed as a vehicle for theoretical discussion (e.g., Isocrates, Helen 1–15; Plato, Phaedrus 263e–264e). Eventually, however, rhetorical criticism was pursued as an independent form of literary production (e.g., Caecilius of Caleacte, On the style of the ten Attic orators, first century bce; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On the ancient orators, first century bce). Cicero may be credited with historicizing rhetorical criticism in Brutus (43 bce), which provided chronology and critique of Roman speakers up to his own day. Comparable scholarship provided chronology and assessment of speakers and speech-making during the Roman empire (e.g., Tacitus, Dialogus de oratoribus, second century ce; Philostratus, Lives of the sophists, third century ce).
History of rhetorical theory was invented by Aristotle when he gathered early rhetoric books in his Collection of arts (mid-fourth century bce), a move designed to prepare for his own theoretical discussion in the Rhetoric. Aristotle’s practice set a precedent, at least in ancient times, for the consultation of historical sources during the composition of new theoretical works (see, e.g., Cicero’s De inventione 2.4–8). In Institutio oratoria, Quintilian’s most central rhetorical doctrines are constantly shaped in relation and response to the whole history of thinking on the subject (especially in book 3). A historical concern for rhetoric is also discernible in scholarly commentaries on “classic” authors and rhetoric books (e.g., Victorinus, Explanationum in rhetoricam M. Tullii Ciceronis, fourth century ce; Troilus, Prolegomena in Hermogenis artem rhetoricam, fourth–fifth centuries ce).
Medieval Rhetorical Studies (Fifth Century to Fourteenth Century)
The Middle Ages were marked by both tradition and innovation in the theory and practice of rhetorical arts (Murphy 1974). The ancient tradition of rhetoric was represented initially within new encyclopedic treatments of rhetoric as part of the liberal arts (e.g., Martianus Capella, On the marriage of Philology and Mercury, ante 439; Cassiodorus Senator, Principles of divine and secular learning, c. 555). Later on, traditional rhetoric found a place in rhetorical compendia (e.g., Alcuin, Discussion of rhetoric and the virtues, c. 794) as well as in commentaries and translations of “classical” authors and works now viewed as “authorities” (e.g., Boethius, Commentary on Cicero’s “Topica,” c. 520; William of Moerbeke, Rhetoric of Aristotle, c. 1270). The stature of the ancient tradition in medieval thought on rhetoric created a discipline inherently historical in nature, especially since traditional materials, including some ancient treatises, were foundational to rhetorical education in the schools and universities (both secular and ecclesiastical).
Rhetorical criticism also, where we find it in the Middle Ages, frequently takes on a historical outlook. Partly this is because much of such criticism is designed to explain, assess, or defend the composition of ancient authors in the Bible (e.g., Aurelius Augustine, On Christian doctrine, 426; Cassiodorus Senator, Exposition of Psalms, c. 550). Another consideration is that ancient materials were a significant part of the corpus of authoritative works from which medieval scholars learned rhetorical precepts and to which they appealed when they wished to “approve” good examples of composition. So, for instance, when Anselm de Besate wished to display the rhetorical sophistication of his own Rhetorimachia (c. 1048), he explicated the text mainly with marginal references to Cicero’s De inventione (c. 88 bce) and Rhetorica ad Herennium (80s bce). Likewise, in Etymologiae (ante 636), when Isidore of Seville turns to exposition of rhetoric, he has repeated recourse to quotations from ancient authors to illustrate theoretical principles, including passages from three of Cicero’s speeches (in Catilinam 1, pro Milone, Philippicae 2).
Innovation in medieval rhetoric came chiefly in development of discourse types that achieved new significance in the Middle Ages, specifically preaching, letter writing, and poetry writing. Preaching was initially presented as a theoretical subject in Aurelius Augustine’s On Christian doctrine (426). Thereafter, it was elaborated by Gregory Magnus (Pastoral care, 591), Rabanus Maurus (On the education of clerics, 819), and Guibert de Nogent (A book on how a sermon should be given, c. 1084). By the thirteenth century, preaching theory reached a new level of advancement in works by Alexander of Ashby (On the mode of preaching, ante 1205) and Thomas of Salisbury (Principles of the art of preaching, c. 1235); the result was the thematic sermon, a rhetorical discourse of religious worship built around the elements of theme, division, and development (of divisions). This form of sermon dominated preaching theory until the Renaissance. Medieval letterwriting theory had its beginnings in Alberic’s Dictaminum radii (c. 1087), which proposed these contents of a letter: salutation, exordium, narration, argumentation, and conclusion. Subsequent theories were more adapted to the compositional circumstances of letter writing, and by the early twelfth century there was general agreement on the following parts: salutation, securing of good will, narration, petition, and conclusion (e.g., Anonymous of Bologna, Principles of letter-writing, c. 1135). Rhetoric became the foundation for poetry writing when the Versificator’s art (c. 1175) of Matthew of Vendôme established description – based on rhetorical topics – as the objective of poetry. Later on, the role of rhetoric in verse composition was elaborated in other works. For example, Geoffrey of Vinsauf’s New poetry (c. 1210) applied functional activities of speakers to poetry writing.
Renaissance Rhetorical Studies (Fifteenth Century to Mid-Seventeenth Century)
Early Renaissance thought was dominated by the humanist objective to recreate the culture of classical antiquity, not least through the studia humanitatis, a program of education designed to inculcate eloquence through instruction in grammar, rhetoric, poetic, history, and moral philosophy. Consistent with the humanist objective, Renaissance rhetoricians turned to ancient materials – many newly found – for inspiration in their development of rhetorical works. Some rhetorical works took a general theoretical outlook (e.g., George Trebizond’s Rhetoricorum libri V, 1470); others were devoted to special aspects of the discipline (e.g., Richard Sherry’s A treatise of schemes and tropes, 1555). Still other works provided precepts for particular types or modes of rhetorical discourse, including preaching (Andreas Hyperius, De formandis concionibus sacris, 1553), letter writing (Angel Day, The English secretorie, 1586), and legal practice (William Fulbeck, A direction or preparatiue to the study of the lawe, 1600). Most of these rhetoric books were conceived as advanced instructional texts. Additional materials for rhetorical instruction were provided by authors whose intention was to recreate the Hellenistic program of rhetorical education. Accordingly, they constructed new books of progymnasmatic exercises to guide composition studies (e.g., Giovanni Cattaneo, Progynnasmata, id est Praeexercitationes rhetorum, 1507, a Latin version of Aphthonius’ Progymnasmata), as well as books that offered sample “declamations” on Renaissance themes (e.g., Charles Estienne, Paradoxes, ce sont propos contre la commune opinion: debatus en forme de declamations forenses, 1553, a defense of paradoxical theses).
Given the admiration of ancient culture that motivated many Renaissance humanists, the rhetorics they produced were inevitably connected with historical concerns. At least in part, the same was true of rhetorical criticism in this period. One of the favorite targets for criticism by humanist rhetoricians was Cicero’s speeches. Bartholomaeus Latomus, for example, published commentaries on 27 orations of Cicero, and he was only one of more than 60 authors who contributed to criticism of the Ciceronian oratorical corpus (Green & Murphy 2006). Greek orators received less attention, though they were sometimes translated into Latin and vernacular languages with explanatory commentary (e.g., Thomas Wilson, Three orations of Demosthenes, 1570, English translation). Perhaps more important is the Greek scholarship in which Renaissance humanists extended rhetorical criticism to the problem of interpreting Biblical texts (e.g., Philipp Melanchthon, Dispositio orationis in epistola Pauli ad Romanos, 1529). Of course, not all rhetorical criticism in the Renaissance addressed ancient works. Desiderius Erasmus offered a detailed critique of the style of contemporary Ciceronians in his Dialogus cui titulus Ciceronianus sive de optimo genere dicendi (1528). And rhetoric books from this period frequently critique actual or imaginary discourse of a contemporary nature in order to illustrate theoretical precepts (see, e.g., Thomas Wilson, The arte of rhetorique, 1553, fol. 88r; Angel Day, The English secretorie, 1599, 5–8). One final outcome of humanist innovation in rhetoric was the collection and publication of ancient works of rhetorical theory, practice, and criticism in both Greek and Latin. These efforts made possible the first attempts at systematic history of ancient rhetoric.
Renaissance scholars did not all share the same passions for ancient authors, and Peter Ramus achieved notoriety by opposing the views of Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian. During the sixteenth century there was considerable disagreement about the functions and relations of arts of discourse – grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. Ramus’s resolution of the dispute was to allocate functions uniquely to each art so that dialectic subsumed invention and judgment (including disposition of discourse); rhetoric subsumed style (including figures of speech) and delivery; and grammar subsumed etymology and syntax (Dialectique, 1555; cf. Omer Talon, Institutiones oratoriae, 1548). This reorganization of arts constricted the scope of rhetoric to concerns about presentation of ideas. A similar view of rhetoric was later represented in Francis Bacon’s The two bookes: Of the proficience and advancement of learning (1605), where, subordinated to the interests of science, rhetoric was limited to the expressive function of “illustration” in the last of Bacon’s four intellectual arts: invention, judgment, memory, and tradition. Later in the seventeenth century there were further attempts to discipline rhetorical style in the service of science; Thomas Sprat reports, for example, that the Royal Society exacted from members a style that exhibited “Mathematical plainness” (The history of the Royal Society of London for the improvement of natural knowledge, 1667).
Modern Rhetorical Studies (Mid-Seventeenth Century to Nineteenth Century)
Faculty psychology was perhaps first applied to the uses of rhetorical theory at the beginning of the seventeenth century, when Francis Bacon (Advancement of learning, 1605) explained the function of rhetoric with reference to four mental capacities – reason, imagination, emotions, and will. By the mid-seventeenth century, a Cartesian-influenced faculty psychology – involving reason and emotion – appeared as the central conceptualizing doctrine of Blaise Pascal’s Art de persuader (1650s). Pascal’s idea, that auditors possessed multiple mental faculties, each of which was subject to rhetorical appeal, was quickly seized by rhetorical theorists as the basis for new approaches to the discipline (Howell 1971). Early belletrists offered rhetorical theory (and criticism) emphasizing aesthetic reception of discourse (e.g., René Rapin, Discours sur la comparaison de l’eloquence de Démosthène et de Cicéron, 1670; Bernard Lamy, De l’art de parler, 1672). Likewise, preaching theorists placed new stress on appeals to emotions as well as reason in the composition of sermons (e.g., Joseph Glanville, An essay concerning preaching, 1678). In François Fénelon we find mental faculties as the organizing principle of rhetorical theory, for Fénelon conceived eloquence as nothing other than proving to reason, portraying to imagination, and striking emotions (Dialogues sur l’éloquence en général celle de la chaire en particulier, 1718).
Faculty psychology also influenced an already existing tradition of rhetorics concerned entirely or chiefly with delivery or “elocution.” The earliest elocutionary rhetorics had arisen late in the Renaissance era and had been informed either by ancient delivery theories or linguistic accounts of speech production (e.g., Louis de Cressoles, Vacationes autumnales; sive, De perfecta oratoris actione et pronuncitione, libri III, 1620; Robert Robinson, The art of pronuntiation digested into two parts, 1617). In the eighteenth century, however, Thomas Sheridan reframed elocutionary rhetoric with reference to faculty psychology, for he characterized elocution as an unexplored language of imagination and passions, and he argued that this language shed as much light on human nature as the language of understanding (A course of lectures on elocution, 1762, x–xi). Later elocutionary manuals exhibited extensive instructions for expressing individual emotions, and this would appear to reflect an intensification of interest in the passionate faculty (e.g., Richard Walker, Elements of elocution, 1781).
Certainly, in this era, the work most obviously influenced by faculty psychology is George Campbell’s The philosophy of rhetoric (1776); here the definition and types of eloquence are both tied to mental faculties: eloquence is the “art or talent by which discourse is adapted to its end” and the ends of every discourse are “to enlighten the understanding, to please the imagination, to move the passions, or to influence the will” (1). Campbell’s rhetoric extended the scope of eloquence to all purposive discourse in every field, including, for example, literature, history, and philosophy as well as oratory. This extension was generally followed by Hugh Blair (Lectures on rhetoric and belles lettres, 1783) and Richard Whately (Elements of rhetoric, 1828, though Whately limited eloquence to prose composition). Both Blair and Whately constructed rhetorics that were otherwise informed by faculty psychology. Nonetheless, Blair’s chief interest was the inculcation of aesthetic taste for use in composition and assessment discourse, while Whately’s was the exposition of principles for persuading by means of argumentative composition.
Rhetorical education in this period was chiefly focused on adults, particularly their cultivation of aesthetically pleasing oral and written composition in vernacular languages. At the same time, because of the rise of belletrism, rhetorical education also incorporated development of literary taste and training in rhetorical criticism of more or less contemporary discourse, both literary and oratorical. These tendencies decreased the dependence of rhetoric on historical materials and fostered the development of rhetorical criticism as a form of scholarship (see, e.g., Franz Horn, Die Poesie und Beredsamkeit der Deutschen, 1822–1824; Joseph Reinach, L’éloquence française depuis la révolution jusqu’à nos jours, 1894). Still, historical study of rhetoric continued, and new forms of systematic critical and analytical inquiry produced broadly based rhetorical studies of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance rhetoric (see, e.g., Louis-Antoine-François de Marchangy, La Gaule poétique, ou L’histoire de France considérée dans ses rapports avec la poésie, l’éloquence et les beaux-arts, 1813–1817; Richard Volkman, Die Rhetorik der Griechen und Römer in systematischer Ubersicht, 1872; Eliodoro Lombardi, Studi critici, 1889).
Contemporary Rhetorical Studies (Twentieth Century to the Present)
Institutional Changes and the Role of War Propaganda
At the dawn of the twentieth century, rhetoric survived chiefly in literary studies and in practical language instruction concerning oral and written composition. For economic, social, and political reasons, composition had been conceived as essential to higher education in the United States a little before 1900 (Berlin 1987). In consequence, institutional support for rhetorical instruction was stable during the twentieth century, and in the presence of such support, American rhetorical studies flourished and expanded in ways that were not paralleled elsewhere (especially in Europe; see Kinneavy 1990, 187). During the first decades of the century, rhetorical instruction in America was typically transacted in hybridized oral and written communication courses offered by departments of English.
However, after 1914 (foundation of the National Association of Academic Teachers of Public Speaking), oral rhetoric gradually shifted to departments of public speaking or speech. Teachers of public speaking quickly sought to establish disciplinary status, and by the mid-1920s, the dominant form of scholarship was rhetorical criticism of American public address. Such scholarship earned the emerging speech field some measure of prestige (Brigance 1943); it also encouraged speech scholars to conceive of rhetorical studies as grounded in public speaking but derived from historical-critical scholarship. Around this time, the trajectory of scholarship concerning written rhetoric was somewhat different as English composition teachers focused their attention mostly on rhetorical instruction in textbooks designed to accommodate current paradigms in writing theory (Kinneavy 1990, 188; on later developments, see Connors et al. 1984).
Despite institutional support for rhetoric in colleges and universities, World War I propaganda and warnings from intellectuals about the dangers of mass society made the mass media and the idea of rhetoric sources of public concern. As a reflection of this concern, I. A. Richards conceived rhetoric as “a study of misunderstanding and its remedies” (1936) and Kenneth Burke termed Hitler a “medicine-man” who was concocting rhetorical potions to do to America what he had done to Germany (1939). Likewise, Richard Weaver believed that “rhetoric, noble or base, is a great power in the world; . . . there is a fierce struggle over who shall control the means of rhetorical propagation” (1953, 24).
New Focus on Meaning
The focus of this new rhetorical outlook was upon meaning. To Richards, language was not simply signs that human beings used to index and construe ideas that dwelt in individual and collective minds, but, from The meaning of meaning (Ogden & Richards 1923) onward, words played multiple functions in discourse, including indicating, characterizing, realizing, valuing, influencing, controlling, and purposing. Meaning-making became understood as a textual struggle, requiring both rhetors and audiences to be sensitive to linguistic constructions and psychological processing to overcome multiple obstacles to clear communication (Russo 1982). Misunderstanding could be avoided or sidestepped through analytic processes that students of general semantics turned into laws of language use.
Kenneth Burke also explored meaning-making encounters between rhetors and audiences, with a vocabulary that reflected interest in the dancing of attitudes; charting-prayingdreaming as dimensions of language use; identification as a symbolic process of constructing consubstantiality between people; five vantages (act, agent, scene, agency, articulated purpose) on the meaningful forces of discourse; and terministic screens (or linguistic orientations) that control perception. Like Richards, Burke conceived of human beings as symbol-using and symbol-misusing animals whose search for perfection through symbolic (linguistic) means periodically threatened their downfall (Gusfield 1989).
Richards, Burke, and Weaver were among the vanguard in the first half of the twentieth century, as rhetorical studies moved through opinion-formative, psychological, and linguistic-ideological understandings of rhetoric’s individual and collective forces in society. Individuated meaning-making processes made common understandings almost impossible, even as the very breadth-of-meaning associated with such god-terms as “democracy” or “American way of life” proved ambiguities that permitted individuals to feel identification with the collective. Both the nobility and ignobility of rhetoric lay in a complex of symbolic functions performed by ideologues and counter-ideologues within public arenas.
By around mid-century Donald Bryant (1953), among others, had formulated rhetoric in ways that amalgamated late modernist understandings of public ideation and meaningmaking. The scope of rhetoric he saw as providing the “rationale of informative and suasory discourse,” giving it oversight over all instrumental and persuasive language use. Rhetoric’s search for “informed opinion” separated it from the exploitation of advertising and propaganda, the indirection of poetry, the facticity of science. Its central function of “adjusting ideas to people and people to ideas” operated by leveraging emotions at play in specific situations and rationally assembling ideas in bundles compatible with auditors’ capabilities and circumstances. Thus, rhetoric ideally dealt with public matters requiring quality information and shaped its appeals in ways that produced informed opinion among reasoning people dwelling in a contingent world.
Focus on Literature and Language
Developing simultaneously was another new rhetoric and mode of criticism drawing inspiration from Richards’ technical-critical studies of literary language use. Wayne Booth (1961) construed literature as a conversation between an author/implied author and an audience/implied audience, bringing rhetorical understandings of voice, narrativity, and reading to bear on both biographical criticism and New Criticism. The technologies of Richards’ semantic criticism were likewise extended following Noam Chomsky’s transformational-generative grammar, providing literary analysts with tools for demonstrating that rhetoric can be conceived of as choices authors make between nonsynonymous expressions (Steinmann 1967). These rhetorics fostered basic understandings of language-in-use, pedagogical approaches to teaching composition and criticism, and tools for pursuing historical-comparative studies of rhetorical style, broadly conceived.
The new rhetorics of the twentieth century offered scholars fresh approaches for investigating the operation and consequences of language and other forms of symbolic discourse. Given the malaise that had affected neo-classical rhetorical criticism of American public address by the 1960s (Black 1965), these approaches encouraged a reconsideration of rhetorical criticism, particularly its sources of evidence, standards of evaluation, and relation to the critic (Gronbeck 1975). The result was a resurgence of rhetorical criticism, now dislocated from rhetorical history. The subsequent success of this resurgence focused the attention of rhetorical scholars upon the construction and application of critical theories, eventually leading to a general decline in studies concerned with the history of rhetorical theory and practice.
During the latter part of the twentieth century, the United States underwent major changes in global orientation, internal institutional operations, and new modes of communication. Educational systems were revolutionized, repressed consumer cultures expanded, the Cold War returned fears of propaganda and brainwashing, and television became a centralized message delivery system even more feared than radio and yellow journalism. Further, popular reform and protest movements, anti-war and race riots, and a growing feminist consciousness began to put stress on traditional, civic, and civilized conceptions of the rhetorical arts. The scope of rhetoric enlarged and its functions multiplied (Gronbeck 2004).
Expanding the Scope of Rhetoric
Three dilations of rhetoric’s scope in the last third of the twentieth century are especially noteworthy; they represent new rhetorical concerns about identity, place, and multimediation.
Traditionally, western rhetoric has focused on the manifest, publicly accessible dimensions of discourse, and, given the currency of cognitively oriented psychologies, early twentiethcentury rhetoric conceived changes of beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors as the products of rhetorical events. What persons thought and did, not who they were, has dominated rhetorical studies. But now, identity, self, subjectivity, and consciousness are concepts deployed across the communication arts generally, and the rhetorical arts specifically, when speculating about the person-centered dimensions of discoursing.
The proposition that both producers and consumers of rhetorical discourse have their identities piqued, affirmed, challenged, or changed is now commonplace, because of our understanding of the processes by which identity matters are engaged in rhetorical encounters. Critical work on the gaze, for example, suggests that repeated viewing by men of women and their bodies in movies turns women into objects, destroys the women’s subjectivity, and changes the gazers’ orientation to other females, thus affecting the identities of gazers, individually and collectively. Subject positioning occurs in relationships constructed not only visually, but also verbally. So, when US president Lyndon Johnson opened his August 4, 1964 speech on the Gulf of Tonkin by saying “As President and Commander in Chief, it is my duty to the American people to report . . . ,” he was not only announcing military engagement but also positioning American listeners as citizens who were subject to the demands of patriotic duty – support of their leader and country – even as Johnson’s actions were depicted as those of a military man, a Commander in Chief. Here, positioning was reciprocal, as it usually is. In this connection, Smith (1999, 393) argues that human consciousness has always been at the base of rhetorical studies because “rhetoric operates at the core of the human psyche. It is part of our way of being.” Such questions have sustained rhetorical inquiry since the pre-Socratic philosophers, but have become featured especially in a time of postmodern inquiry.
No Sense of Place
Traditionally, genres of rhetoric were based on the gatherings of people to accomplish particular goals in places constructed around collective activities. Rhetorical arenas could be identified physically: forensic oratory in courts, deliberative oratory in assembly halls, ceremonial oratory in arenas, churches, or the rostra in ancient Rome. Rhetoric was spatialized, even when it moved out of doors; town squares and parks were constructed with the needs of public business in mind. But, the personal became political, as we contemplated institutional powers dominating individuals’ subjectivities (e.g., in 1970s’ feminist and racial thought), and the social became political, as classed/raced/gendered groups felt the force of the hegemonies under which they lived; matters of subjugation and powerlessness came to be addressed symbolically, not spatially. Accordingly, while the exercise of power by means of rhetoric is often tied to traditional scenes of political action, many relational activities, e.g., parent–child interactions, manager–worker interactions, or interracial confrontations, occur outside of formally constituted “places.” Insofar as power is conceived as “materialized in the [symbolic] production of rules, procedures, and norms that judge and regulate the behaviors of a population” (Greene 1999, 3), then influence, control, politics, and rhetoric itself are no longer contained within the walls of any architectural environment or tied to it. “Place” gives way to a symbolically charged metaphor, the public sphere, a virtual space where disembodied voices do battle without mutual presence.
The widening of rhetoric’s scope also has been encouraged through revolutions in theories of discursivity. Thanks to Roland Barthes’ Elements of semiology (1968), we have come to understand that human beings relate to each other through multiple symbol systems, and, indeed, as we watch films or television or click on streaming computerized video, we are processing verbal, visual, and acoustic codes simultaneously. Bryant worried that there would be no outer boundaries to rhetoric, if we followed students of Kenneth Burke in calling stoplights’ control over human bodies “rhetorical” or all manifestations of identification “rhetorical.” Yet the sort of expansion of scope that Bryant worried about has developed in the wake of Barthesian semiotics, Althusserian understandings of subject positioning, and the digital world’s conception of multitasking.
Undoubtedly classical and modern rhetorics took the visual as vital to the verbal, rehearsing Horace’s phrase in Ars poetica, “ut pictura poesis,” “as is painting, so is poetry”; the visual can be evoked verbally, just as the verbal can be manifested in visual representation. Likewise, the classical canon of delivery (pronunciatio and actio) recognized that the orator’s words were encased in the physics of sound as well as the performance of the body. Yet multimediation suggests more than acoustic-material encasements of rhetorical thought; it calls up the complexity of the task of cognitive processing wherein the mind moves back and forth across codes, searching through time for significant signs that can be assembled by the receiver to make “a message.” As well, of course, it suggests that rhetorical artistry demands attention to encoding multiple channels.
Multiplying the Functions of Rhetoric
Among the new functions of rhetoric posited by scholars, three seem relevant for discussion here, namely, therapy, critique and empowerment, and instrumentality.
The call for more engagement with the nonpublic – the psychoanalytic and the psychotherapeutic – dimensions of shared culture grew slowly but progressively in rhetorical studies. Erving Goffman’s (1959) conception of human interactions as negotiative and transactional suggested that rhetorical encounters could become instrumental in selfdevelopment and the fostering of healthful relationships. Studies of therapeutic rhetoric, where discourse was examined less for its political force than its work in healing individual and interpersonal injuries, in ameliorating one’s own life or one’s membership in a group or class, tended to feature discourses of healthful self-regard and social responsibility. These led Cloud (1998, xii–xiii) to regard “the therapeutic as a political strategy of contemporary capitalism, by which potential dissent [i.e., dissatisfaction with one’s place in society] is contained within a discourse of individual or family responsibility.” Yet, from Goffman to transactional analysis to the many me-ism therapies of the 1970s and onward, therapeutic rhetorics fill books, DVDs, and workshops with their focus on inward turns and strategies of self-examination and repair, and they therefore represent a new function for rhetorical practice.
Critique and Empowerment
Following the revolutionary temper of mid-century politics, it was but a short step for rhetoricians to pick up Marxissant or Foucauldian impulses to critique institutions and seek empowerment. Ideological concerns developed in the wake of Marxist thought in British cultural studies (Ideologiekritik) and Foulcauldian interests in knowledge/power, discourse formations, and circulation, and they were incorporated into rhetorical studies during the 1980s. The force of such work, among other things, was to rupture Bryant’s notion of public discourse as informed opinion derived from reasoning; rhetors became conceptualized as political partisans and freedom fighters storming the centers of power, with power understood as language control as much as physical control.
A grand debate in the late 1960s and early 1970s between Hans-Georg Gadamer and Jürgen Habermas explored in part the rhetorical resources for ideological formations of discourse, strongly suggesting connections between ideological and psychocultural formations and rhetorical practice. Readings among rhetoricians of Michel Foucault complemented and extended the issues (Wander 1983; McKerrow 1989). When rhetoric’s jobs came to include critique and empowerment, it took on revolutionary and reformative tasks.
Traditionally, the instruments of rhetoric were, largely, voice and writing, orality, and literacy. The voice and print were parts of logics of influence: informative and suasory discourses construct pictures and arguments that affect the beliefs, attitudes, values, etc., of auditor-readers. They depict the world and they assemble reasoning structures that interrelate aspects of it in ways that change people’s minds.
But, coming forward from Lévi-Strauss’s conception of bricolage, of making something, including ideas, out of found materials, came an expanded function of rhetoric: articulation. The idea was clearly captured in Grossberg’s (1992, 54) words that it is “the production of identity on top of differences, of unities out of fragments, of structures across practices. Articulation links this practice with that effect, this text to that meaning, this experience to those politics.” Here was a grand theory of meaning-making, exemplified by US President George W. Bush’s January 29, 2002 State of the Union address. He created an “axis of evil” by connecting Iraq, Iran, and North Korea with Al-Qaeda terrorists, secularist Saddam Hussein as prime exemplar of evil, and yet also radical Iraqi Muslims with theocratic aspirations. He discursively manufactured weapons of mass destruction out of empty cylinders by positioning them in a 10-year-old context that was reconstituted in the then-present. And all of this was strung along a direct, rigid timeline running from the New York City and Washington, DC, terrorist attackers of September 11, 2001 to a clash of civilizations that would sustain a war on terror for the indefinite future.
The articulatory function of rhetoric, therefore, broadly expands the instrumentality of its art, where linguistic reference is stretched beyond recognition by perceptual excess, where the rational appeal of unmasking power has too many targets to accomplish its work, and where the world is too complex, with its embedded interconnections between politics, economics, sociality, and peoples, to permit refutation or systematization. Surrender to poststructuralist desire and postmodern surfaces leaves us with the rhetors’ only hope for agency lying in self-interested, multimediated mappings of worlds wherein everything possesses symbolic capital for creating social reality. This world is only rhetorical; that is, we inhabit it only by finding articulations between and among the parts of our surroundings and thoughts that we fear or desire.
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