Mere Rhetoric





October 2014
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Courtly political rhetoric


Today we continue our month-long celebration of deliberative rhetoric by looking back half a millennium to the European Renaissance.




Back in the European Renaissance, politics looked different. There were no brightly colored billboards along the side of the freeway on-ramp, no official newspaper endorsements of candidates, no candidate debates. There were, in fact, no candidates. That is not to say that there was no politics. Instead of working to get the vote of the average Joe, those who aspired to political power had to work another angle—they had to work the court.




Royal courts were the nexis of political life in the Renaissance. There were smaller courts for smaller authorities, but the courts of say, the king of France or the Queen of England might include thousands of people. Courtiers, these court members, could have their fortunes made because of the favorable impressions they made at court.  There were offices of the court, including such fantastic positions as Gentleman of the Bedchamber, Doorward,  and Groom of the Stool, which did, in fact, mean “stool” in two senses of the word. These were important positions that could secure your family’s influence for generations. Everyone was competing for these positions, so it became brutally important to make the right impression.  You didn’t want to lose your chance to be Groom of the Stool. On the other hand, say or do the wrong thing and you could be exiled from court or from the country or worse. Many of the monarchs who were insecure had reasons to distrust the insubordinate at court and could punish absolutely anyone who undermined their authority at court. You don’t want to make a major social gaffe when you could literally lose your head for it.




In the context of the high stakes of court living, handbooks of behavior began to appear so that social climbers could politic their way to the top without doing anything stupid. These handbooks could be subtitled “How to Win Friends and Ingratiate People.” Giovanni Della Casa’s courtusie book, for example, gives the gentle reader the advice that it’s an “unmannerly part, for a man to lay his nose upon the cup where another must drink, or upon the meate another must eate, to the end to smell unto it” because, in a horrifying gaffe, “it may chance there might fall some droppe from his nose, that would make a man loath to it.” (qtd Richards 479). Ew. That would be so embarrassing.




But the master of masters of the hunt, the main man of gentle men was Baldassare Castiglione. Besides having an embarrassing first name, Castiglione was a courtier at the court of the Duke of Urbino, in Italy, where he was a poet, religious leader, soldier and all-around man around court. He wrote the most famous handbook of the Renaissance “The Courtier.” The Courtier is a dialogue, like the other text that it most resembles, Cicero’s De Oratore. It addresses the question of what makes the ideal Renaissance gentleman and the dialogues in it take place over several days, with multiple figures putting in their two cents, changing their minds and coining new terms to describe how to best do polite politics at court.




One of the most important of these terms was Sprezzatura.  Sprezztura refers to making something difficult seem easy. As Castiglione’s character puts it, “I have found quite a universal rule which in this matter seems to me valid above all other, and in all human affairs whether in word or deed: and that is to avoid affectation in every way possible as though it were some rough and dangerous reef; and (to pronounce a new word perhaps) to practice in all things a certain sprezzatura [nonchalance], so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.”




This idea, to make whatever is done or said to appear as if it took no effort and no thought is one that has been valued in rhetoric for years. Cicero, in De Oratore, points out the values of  “orations [that] were composed very simply” as if they sprang up from “nature and truth [rather] than from study and art.” (1.26).




For Castiglione and his fellow courtiers, sprezzatura, or nonchalance, was able to conceal


the art, the work that went into appearing witty, or poetic. One translation describes it as “an art without art, a negligent diligence, an inattentive attention” (Saccone 57). It’s the rhetorical equivalent of “oh this old thing?” Daniel Javitch, a 20th century scholar, defines Sprezzatura as “at once artifice made to seem natural and a seemingly effortless resolution of difficult.  (56). If your excellent speech looks like it took a lot of time and effort, then you look like someone who takes a lot of time and effort, but if your excellent speech looks like you took no time at all, then you look like a genius.




One figure in the Courtier, Canossa, describes how this nonchalance can improve the practice of rhetoric: “I remember having read of some excellent orators … who endeavored to make everyone believe that they were ignorant of letters and, dissembling their knowledge, gave the impression that their speeches were made very simply, as if they had been prompted by nature and truth rather than study or artifice” (53).




Junior high kids get this. Remember the archetype of the slacker genius? We all knew one, or aspired to be one. The kid who sits in the back of class, playing tetris on her phone, until the most difficult math problem stumps the whole class and she’s the only one who solves it, or the guy who cuts class every day, but then turns in a final paper that wows the teacher into giving him an A. There’s something mystical about the idea that some people can skip all the work and still succeed.




This idea was all the more important in rhetoric, because if you labored over your work, not only did it look like you were not just naturally brilliant, but it might look like you weren’t sincere. We still kind of dislike the idea of the speechwriter in politics, who is crafting just the right words to make the voters feel outrage or sympathy on behalf of the politician. But if the politician appears to be speaking words that flow out naturally from the power of the moment filtered through a great and sensitive mind, we feel inspired rather than manipulated.




There is, perhaps, something dishonest in the idea of sprezzatura, but the figure of Canossa insists that it’s something that can’t be taught. Much like in De Oratore, there is a question in the courtier about how much any of this can be taught and how much is just something that you’re born with, a natural grace that accompanies everything you do.




The Book of the Courtier itself seemed to be charmed with natural grace. It was translated widely, most notably for English speakers, by Thomas Hoby, where it came to define manners and ideals in the age of Elizabeth and Shakespeare.




In fact, you can find traces of Castiglione in several of Shakespeare’s plays, especially those that take place in court, like Pericles who was, himself, a remarkable example of a courtier who sings, jousts, writes love poetry, and negotiates treacherous courts. Pericles’ daughter, Marina, is even more so the naturally talented courtier: she almost can’t help it how artistic, beautiful and smart she is, and though it gets her into trouble, it gets her out again. The talent that saves Marina, actually, is her rhetorical prowess. When she is sold to a brothel, She financially ruins the pimps when time and time again, she persuades the men who would take advantage of her to choose virtue over vice. This includes, as it would for a true courtier, when she must gently persuade those in positions of power. “Let not authority, which teaches you to govern others, be the means to make you misgovern much yourself,” she says to a lusty governor named Lysimachus, “If you were born to honor, show it now; If put upon you, make the judgment good that thought you worthy of it.”




Whether skill of the courtier comes from training or from inborn ability, it is crucial for courtiers like Pericles and Marina. This is the politics of the royal court, which seeks to cajole and charm those in power, so that they will say as Lysimachus did to Marina, “Thou art a piece of virtue, the best wrought up that ever nature made and I doubt not thy training hath been noble […] Hold, here’s more gold. If thou dost hear from me, it shall be for thy good.”




If you hear from me, in the future, I hope that it’s for your good as well. I’d love to hear from you. Contact us through our email mererhetoricpodcast, or check out on Twitter at mererhetoricked to make comments or suggestions for future podcasts. As a matter of fact, today’s podcast was the suggestion of an old classmateVincent Robert-Nicoud, who is not only a heck of a great Renaissance scholar, but he also always opened the door for me, which is an awful gentlemanly thing to do. He can have any office at my court that he wants—Grand Squire, Master of the Hunt. Only not the Gentleman of the Stool.


Direct download: court_politics_and_sprezzatura.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 9:12 PM




Welcome to Mere Rhetoric a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren.




Last week we continued our conversation of deliberative rhetoric by talking about Saving Persuasion, a contemporary book about how rhetoric doesn’t have to be rhetortricky. Today we’re going to talk about one of the figures in political rhetoric who was really, really good at what he did and that made everyone around him very nervous. I’m talking about one of the most engaging political figures of ancient Athens: Demosthenes.




That name may sound vaguely familiar to those of you who are regular listeners because we mentioned Demosthenes  as one of the great orators who got his start in logography. Logographers, as some of you might recall, were the pre-lawyer lawyers. They could be hired to write speeches for people going to court. They had to be savvy about what the jury would respond to and they had to write in a way that would represent their client. What they didn’t have to do, though, was deliver the speech.




We also mentioned that Demosthenes was all about delivery when we talked about the canons of rhetoric [canon boom] Really? Well, when we talked about the canons of rhetoric, one of the last ones was delivery, and Demosthenes reportedly thought delivery was the most important. He had an unnatural time at it, though, because he was allegedly born with a serious speech impediment. Plutarch says that Demosthenes had “a perplexed and indistinct utterance and a shortness of breath, which, by breaking and disjointing his sentences much obscured the sense and meaning of what he spoke.” More likely, Demosthenes said his “r”s like “l”s. I have a lot of sympathy for this, as someone who went to speech therapy herself until she was in junior high. I also had problems with my r’s and l’s and on top of it, I had a retainer. My mom, a writing teacher, thought this was fantastic, because Demosthenes learned to over come his speech impediment by way of—not a retainer—but pebbles in his mouth. As he learned to talk around the pebbles in his mouth, he became hyper aware of his diction and became a great orator. All of this is cold comfort to a twelve-year-old with orthodonty, but it worked out well for Demosthenes.




Really well. Demosthenes, who had been taking a sort of back-seat position as a logographer began to get more of a toehold in politics, by way of taking on “public” cases. You see, if you hated someone’s politics, you could sue them. Remember how some Republicans were going to sue Obama for abuse of power? It was like that. All. The. Time. So Demosthenes gets more into politics and begins writing public speeches like Against Androtion and Against Leptines and then Against Timocrates and Against Aristocrates Are you noticing a theme in these titles? Demosthenes was really taking to town all of the politicians who were allegedly corrupt and politics in ancient Athens were always personal. “Pretty much you try to paint the other guy as a villain beyond all villainy. Athens did smear campaigns better than anyone who ever put their opponent in grainy, slow-mo footage.  Here’s a taste of Demosthenes’ accusations: “For on many occasions, men of Athens, the justice of the case has not been brought home to you, but a verdict has been wrested from you by the clamor, the violence and the shamelessness of the pleaders. Let not that be your case today, for that would be unworthy of you.” “In this court Leptines is contending with us, but within the conscience of each member of the jury humanity is arrayed against envy, justice against malice, and all that is good against all that is most base.” “do not think, gentlemen of the jury, that even Timocrates can lay the blame of the present prosecution upon anyone else: he has brought it on himself. Moved by desire to deprive the State of a large sum of money, he has most illegally introduced a law which is both inexpedient and iniquitous.”




These are awesome. But as anyone running a good campaign knows, it’s not enough just to slam the opponent; you also need to make a few campaign promises yourself. In 354 BC, Demosthenes outlined his policy of moderation and a scheme for financing in his first political oration, On the Navy, which is not to be confused with the Village People’s immortal classic, In the Navy. [sound bite, maybe]. With this speech, first of many, Demosthenes launched his political career in earnest. But what really drove Demosthenes’ career was a great opponent and that he had in Philip II of Macedon. As you might infer from the name, Philip II wasn’t an Athenian, but a Macedonian who was taking over other city states that were alarmingly proximate to Athens. Demosthenes saw Philip as a huge threat and warned the Athenians in his rousing First Phillipic. Unfortunately, Philip still conquered Athens.




This led to Demosthenes being able to give the second and third Phillipic, criticizing the attacker of his city and declaring  it "better to die a thousand times than pay court to Philip." The Third Phillipic was his magnum opus in a lot of ways.




“But if some slave or superstitious bastard had wasted and squandered what he had no right to, heavens! how much more monstrous and exasperating all would have called it! Yet they have no such qualms about Philip and his present conduct, though he is not only no Greek, nor related to the Greeks, but not even a barbarian from any place that can be named with honor, but a pestilent knave from Macedonia, whence it was never yet possible to buy a decent slave.” Ooh, that’s good.




Philip did conquer Athens. But then he died. Demosthenes loved that. After Philip’s assassination, Demosthenes put a “garland on his head and white raiment on his body, and there he stood making thank-offerings, violating all decency” according to one account.  In fact, after Philip was assassinated, Demosthenes’ classy rhetoric led an uprising of Athenians to finally break the Macedon army. It wasn’t successful and Philip’s son Alexander was in charge and—big surprise—Demosthenes hated him too. It was mutal. Alexander demanded the exile ofDemosthenes.




But the Athenians still loved him and he loved the people. “A project approved by the people is going forward,” he wrote in a public speech commemorating the defeat of his political enemy. Because of the way that Demosthenes had opposed kings and led the people into riot, he became vilified by all good monarchists for centuries. Here was this sneaky demagogue who could manipulate the people into rebellion.




If political types were antsy about Demosthenes, rhetoricians adored him, especially those with a republican bent. Cicero idealized Demosthenes’ orataional and political career, and Longinus and Juvenal praised him highly. Renaissance rhetoricians who were comfortable with his anti-monarach stance loved him too—John Jewel and Thomas Wilson. John Jay, Hamilton and Madison, the American founding fathers and authors of Federalist papers, also admired Demosthenes’ style. So if you like people and rhetoric, chances are, you’ll like Demosthenes.




In some ways, Demosthenes was an orator of the people all along. His style is relative plainspoken, abrupt and built on the assumption of sincerity. As Harry Thurston Peck puts it, Demosthenes "affects no learning; he aims at no elegance; he seeks no glaring ornaments; he rarely touches the heart with a soft or melting appeal, and when he does, it is only with an effect in which a third-rate speaker would have surpassed him. He had no wit, no humour, no vivacity, in our acceptance of these terms. The secret of his power is simple, for it lies essentially in the fact that his political principles were interwoven with his very spirit.” But even though Demosthenes gave the appearance of speaking out of the conviction of his soul 100% of the time, allegedly, he refused to speak off the cuff. He put a lot of work into making his words seem artless.






And that’s what our topic for next week is going to be—Sprezzatura, the art of making what you say seem artless. It’s a prime skill for politicians in our day as well as back in the Renaissance where the term was coined. We’ll talk about why the idea of pretending that you haven’t worked on your speech is so important again in this age of sincerity. If you have things that you’re sincerely interested in, why not write to us at You can send us ideas for podcasts, feedback or stories of your own orthodonticure. And until new week, happy political season!






Direct download: demosthenes.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 3:45 PM


 Today we continue our month-long festival of all things deliberative rhetoric with a  discussion of Saving Persuasion by Bryan Garston.

One thing exciting about his book is that it isn’t written by a rhetorician. Nope, not really. It’s written by a political scientist, which makes rhetoricians excited for two reasons. First, we always get excited when someone outside of our field thinks of us, much less praises us. Second, this guy is in political science! Political science, the people who are always saying things like “empty rhetoric” and “let’s cut through the rhetoric”! And here’s Bryan Garsten saying that persuasion has value, that it is worth saving. We could, as a discipline, collectively kiss him.

But that would take a while.

Also, it would be weird.

Garsten argues that the political theorists of the Enlightenment got it all wrong; instead of appealing to some sort of universal common standard for political deliberation, we need to be more comfortable with how people actually think. Their feelings, attitudes and even biases.

Because, in our age "efforts to avoid rhetorical controversy tend to produce new and potentially more dogmatic forms of rhetoric" we need to realize that "public reason was ingested by philosophers to quell religious controversy by subjecting debate to authoritative standard"-in Hobbes' case, representation, in Rousseau's "prophetic nationalism" and in Kant's "public reason." In each other these there’s an attempt to keep debate from happening—to push people out of the debate Garsten suggests that all three of these standards result in what he calls "liberal alienation"--the way that "from implied unanimity [...] dissenters feel alienated"--if you feel like you can't participate in "general deliberation," your concerns are unaddressed. The result is a polarization where those not invited to the deliberative party strike out against those who exclude them.

And yes, Garsten invokes Hitler and how German concerns were polarized instead of addressed. You can see how it happens. Post world war I, the Germans were excluded from the table of negotiating the peace. German concerns were left out of the deliberations, or were underplayed and Germany hurt bad after the war. By not being considered part of deliberations, many Germans become polarized and aggressive about groups they feel wronged them. And the exclusion begins again. Hitler says, “We all are hurt from WWI” and the people all murmur “yes, yes” and Hitler says, “German should be great again” and the people all murmur “yes, yes” and then Hitler says, “So we should eliminate Jews and other undesirables” and some people suddenly are out of the discussion again.

Instead, Garsten recommends that we make more space for alternative arguments, including those that are based in partiality, passion and privacy. He defends these elements against the common Habermasian critiques against them and says that what should count as deliberative argument is simply "when we make decisions deliberately [...] when we purposefully consider [...] the factors relevant to the our decision." We need to, instead of excluding our adversaries because of their "bad reasoning," see each other and respect each other for how the actual existing individual thinks and feels.

The example Garsten gives is Pres. Johnson, who was able to meet the small-town, white Texans where they were and position something like civil rights for black people in a way that would be palatable to them as well.

In all of this there is still the threat of demagoguery. As a potential solution, Garsten invokes Madison, whose theories about small, localized governments within a extended territory can be extended to deliberation: break issues down into smaller, localized, even interested issues, and make sure that there is plenty of space for things to be re-evaluated in the future, and that even if one issue is decided, it doesn't by extension mean that all of the other issues are. Small, piecemeal disputes are best. These institutional strictures structure the individual though and directions deliberation--there can' be any thought of "If I were king," because there aren't any kings to be had.

Ultimately, Garsten promotes a defense of persuasion where we look at each other, and speak to each other--not that we're BFFs or brothers, but that we "pay attention to fellow citizens and to their opinions," not as their opinions should be constructed, or we think they should be, but as they are. The best purpose of persuasion is that it forces us to think beyond ourselves, to encounter others as they are, instead of trying to make them in our own image.

If you’re a political scientist with thoughts about rhetoric or a rhetorician with thoughts about politics, feel free to contact us either via email at or our Twitter account @mererhetoric-k-e-d or put out a negative TV spot showing us in unflattering, slow-motion footage. Keep on persuading, my fellow rhetoricians!

Direct download: saving_persuasion.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 10:21 PM


Welcome to Mere Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements that have shaped rhetorical history. Contact us at or trought Twitter @mererhetoricked




And guys. Guys, today we address the last of the three traditional branches of rhetoric. This makes me sad. We had the Law and Order rush of judicial or forensic rhetoric and the pageantry of epideictic rhetoric and today we come to deliberative, or political rhetoric. And then we won’t have any more branches of rhetoric, because if there’s one thing Aristotle loved, it’s breaking things down into threes.




It is, of course, Aristotle who thought to divide rhetoric into the three genres of judicial, epideictic and deliberative and there’s nothing that says rhetoric always fits into these handy three categories, but it was convenient for Aristotle to do so. Think about it: Three branches of rhetoric. One of them, the judicial, focuses on the past—did the accused do something accuse-worthy? One of them—epideictic—focuses on the present—let’s celebrate how great this day is right now. And so one of them, deliberative rhetoric, will focus on the future. Judicial, epideictic, deliberative; past, present, future; law, community, policy.




It’s deliberative rhetoric that focuses on determining a future course to take. Traditionally, this was read strictly, as a matter of political debate by those who had authority to determine policy for a city state—should we go to war with Sparta? As Aristotle says, deliberative rhetoric "aims at establishing the expediency or the harmfulness of a proposed course of action; if he urges its acceptance, he does so on the ground that it will do good; if he urges its rejection, he does so on the ground that it will do harm."  Aristotle gave two pairs of criteria for practitioners of deliberative rhetoric to keep in mind as they chose their debates. First, the moral—is it good or is it unworthy? Good or unworthy includes ethical concerns, but not exclusively that. Remember that for Romans “virtue” meant “manly” and “gentleman” used to mean a rank and not a compliment, so in some ways, worthy has to do with a specific set of political and social ideals and not just some sort of kindness-first morality that seems more natural to contemporary readers. It may be “good” to go to war to avenge some perceived slight to the country’s aristocratic pride, if pride is considered a moral priority. Aristotle lists things that are “good” like good birth, bodily stature, wealth and reputation, which might seem a little shallow alongside ethical virtues like justice, courage and generosity.




The second pair of criteria are even more pragmatic: is it advantageous or disadvantageous? In this pairing, you can see these less squishy values becoming more important. The country needs money and war with Sparta will bring spoils and rewards. War with Sparta will increase our reputation as a fearsome city state. Things like that. So that’s Aristotle for you: deliberative rhetoric deals with the future, and you can argue about whether an act is good or whether it is advantageous.




But a lot has happened in the years and centuries and millennia since Aristotle. Mostly we keep going back to the divisions that Aristotle came up with, even though we have changed our ideas of democracy and deliberative rhetoric for that matter. Oh, but don’t worry—Aristotle isn’t the only person willing to divide things into three parts! G. Thomas Goodnight, a rhetoric professor at the University of Southern California, studies argumentation, especially deliberative rhetoric, and he decided that deliberative rhetoric can take place in what he calls three spheres—the public, the technical and the private. The public is the one that is most familiar to us.




We think of deliberative rhetoric as necessarily political, but that is not necessarily that case. If deliberative rhetoric just means “forward looking,” and “policy deciding” it doesn’t just have to be about whether we should go to war with Sparta—and not just because the city state of Sparta isn’t much of a threat anymore. No deliberative rhetoric can also include private arguments: from questions as trivial as “where should we go for lunch today?” To as important as “should our family accept that job in North Dakota?” and “should Billy join the marines?” These instances of deliberative rhetoric are usually informal—we have a speaker of the house, but we don’t have a speaker of the home. They are, however, no less important. Consider the impact during the 60s and 70s of a hundred thousand private deliberations over how to treat people of other races, or the family debates about moving to the city during the industrial revolution.  Private sphere deliberation matters.




Technical deliberation is the deliberative rhetoric that takes place among experts who have specialized knowledge of the subject matter.  For instance, you might think about a group might come up with professional standards or expectations like the rules of conduct for lawyers or teachers. They set rules of their own group. Technical deliberation might also result in suggests or recommendations for other groups. A group of climatologists, for example, might write a brief on climate change, or a congress of feminist scholars might make a declaration on pornography, something that everyone argues over until they can agree on a common stance. These experts can debate in a very technical and in-depth register.




When private and technical deliberation can’t get the job done, it’s time for public sphere deliberation. Goodnight classifies the public sphere as the "argument sphere that exists to handle disagreements transcending personal and technical disputes." Once things enter the public sphere of deliberation, Goodnight says it’s time to focus on the common good—not just what’s right for individuals or families, and not just for groups of experts, but for everyone  in the public.






And that’s the general gist of deliberative rhetoric.


Now if you’re as sad as I am that we’ve wrapped up the last of the 3 genres of rhetoric, then I have good news for you! All month long, the month of October is going to be devoted to deliberative and political rhetoric. That’s right, to lead up to America’s election day on the first Tuesday of November we’re going to talk about all kinds of ideas and issues about using rhetoric in politics, especially in a democracy. So strap on your star-spangled goggles, for a wild ride into the radical idea that we can talk about what we’re going to do before we do it.


Direct download: deliberative_rhetoric.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:12 PM


Today in honor of Scotland voting to stick with the rest of the United Kingdom, we’re going  to talk about Hugh Blair. That’s right--  a Scottish rhetorician to honor the Scottish referendum. Hugh Blair was a bit of a rising star. He was a Presbyterian clergyman, but the top of the top of Scottish clergymen, eventually getting the High Church of St. Giles: the highest honor for the men of the cloth in Scotland. Once you’ve peaked out in divinity, what do you do? Well, if you’re Hugh Blair, you begin teaching about literature and writing. Originally, he taught pro bono, as  a way to stave off the boredom of dominating Presbyterian clergy, but his classes became increasingly popular and the king gave him the Regius Chair of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres.




Which King? King George the III, the same one who lost the Colonies. So when you think about Hugh Blair, put him in context with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.




So King George lost a hemisphere and gained a rhetoric professor, and what a rhetoric professor he gained. Think of the title. Chair of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres.  Rhetoric, as listeners of this podcast, you know, but what’s Belles Lettres? Belles Lettres means beautiful or fine writing, so all of literature—poetry, drama, fiction. These were considered similar enough to rhetoric so that one chair might have both responsibilities.  Blair’s classes were so popular that anyone who was lucky enough to sit in on them could take notes and then redistribute or sell them to others. But if you’ve ever gotten notes from someone in class, then you know that there can be a big different between what the teacher said and what got written down. This bothered Hugh Blair, so he decided to set his lectures down on paper and compile them into a book. This book was given the incredibly clever title Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. The lectures are not particularly novel: Blair draws a lot on Quintilian, whom he loved, as well as contemporary theorists about writing, like the newspaperman Joseph Addison. A lot of what Blair sounds really familiar to us, for reasons I’ll discuss in a minute.






Blair states that “to be truly eloquent, is to speak to the purpose” and “whatever […] the subject be, there is room for eloquence” (234).  That means that you don’t have to wait for a noble subject to speak noble words. It’s more important, Blair suggests, that you pay attention to why you are speaking, to the rhetorical situation and then adapt what you say to fit the situation. It’s also important to be sincere: “Nature teaches every man to be eloquent, when he is much in earnest” (235). Language should be simple (naïve) in construction, seemingly natural, avoiding ornament and unaffected (184). This straightforward style is often what Anglo Americans expect when reading everything from newspapers to academic reports.Blair thought that national languages were best for expressing ideas. These means that instead of dropping in tons of Latin or French, you should use good old English, and instead of using the English of Shakespeare or Milton, you should use contemporary English. In short, language should be current and national He defines purity not as referring back to some long-gone golden age, but purity is “use of such words […] as belong to idiom of the language which we speak” (33) propriety depends on relation between the word and “express[ing] the idea which he intends” and “express[ed] fully” (34).  So eloquence depends on language that is current and national, natural and sincere.




Still, style, according to Blair, “is a field that admits of great latitude [..] Room must be left here for genius” (190). So there’s room for individuality within the boundaries of “good style.” Individuality matters an awful lot in delivery, too: “Let your manner, whatever it is, be your own; neither imitated from another, nor assumed upon some imaginary model, which is unnatural to you” (336).




Like many of his time, Blair believed that Invention is beyond the scope of rhetoric—“beyond the power of art to give any real assistance” and “to manage these reason with the most advantage […] is all that rhetoric can pretend to” (316). So the first step for, in Blair’s example, a preacher, is to do research and the first step of research isn’t to go imitate someone else’s ideas but to actually start with “pondering the subject in his own thoughts” (291). Blair also made a distinction between conviction of the brain and persuasion of the will (235). So if I get you to agree that smoking is bad and unhealthily, I can convince you through charts and statistics to the point where you admit smoking is bad, but unless you persuade you in your will to take the steps necessary, you might continue to light up. Convincing gets you to know while persuasion gets you to do. This is, as you might imagine, an important distinction for a preacher.






In sum, Blair’s over all argument was that “True eloquence is the art of placing truth in the most advantageous light for conviction and persuasion” (281).  None of this sounds revolutionary, does it? Partially this is because Blair pretty much just updated classical sources for contemporary genres of writing, but this is also because Blair’s text was hugely successful. The Lectures on Rhetoric were the most reproduced, imitated and distributed text of its era, and even into the next century…and the next. But it wouldn’t be until the Victorian age that other theorists like Whatley would challenge Blair’s dominance in rhetoric in general and preacher-training in specific.


Blair’s Lectures went through over a 130 editions in the next century and its ideas filtered down through textbooks for college students, high school students, even into elementary school readers!. Sound like the upperclass and you’ll be able to smoothly move into the upper class. All that stuff about current & national language? Turns out that there’s a “correct” type of current and national language.




They were especially influential in America, where Hugh Blair’s texts were seen as a way that you could rise above your station. So around the same time that America gained its independence from England, Blair was writing his rhetoric that would encourage Americans to unite in a “current and national” language. Even though Scotland voted to remain with the rest of the United Kingdom, Blair helped them, too, to recognize the potential of their own current language.






Direct download: hugh_blair.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 9:05 PM



 When we talk about the rhetorical tradition on this podcast, we actually don’t mean the rhetorical tradition. We mean the tradition of a very small group of people living mostly in one city in one corner of the Mediterranean. We mean Athenian rhetorical tradition, which, no doubt, has had a long and extensive influence in Western culture from the Romans to the Victorians to this podcast. But while many views of rhetoric focus on the Athenian theories, rhetoric has a far larger reach. After all, what could be more universal than using words to convince other people, to make them better understand you, to create a connection? If we define rhetoric, as Burke does, as “the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or induce actions in other human agents”—why everyone does that! There have been so many human agents on the world, all over the world, and how have they thought about forming attitudes or actions with words?




This is one of the questions that Carol D. Lipson and Roberta A Brinkley seek to answer in their edited anthology Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks. The book looks at 3 major regions, as well as a few “bonus” sections, to find alternative views of rhetoric in the ancient world. The three main areas are Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Chinese rhetoric.








William W Hallo does a quick survey of ancient Mesopotamia and finds rhetorical genres like diatribes and proverbs and disputations as rich ground for a foundation of rhetoric, not to mention the value of looking at epic poetry like Gilgamesh  for examples of the kind of rhetoric that sets up such poetic words. Think of the Exordia that calls all the people around to listen to a tale and promises them the relative merits of doing so. Roberta Brinkley, too, looks at the Mesopotamian epics as an early rhetorical hotbed. She focuses on how the epic of Inanna illustrates the rhetorical choices of “the earliest known writer” Enheduanna, who lived in 2300 BC. Let me say that again, 2300 BC. I’m not sure what the Greeks were doing at that time, but  they probably weren’t writing what Brinkley calls “rhetorically complex sophistical compositions [that] challenge the traditional canon of rhetoric and thereby many of the origins stores and foundational assumptions of the humanities” (49). And yet, Binkly points out, when did you hear of Enhuduanna? Paul Hoskisson and Grant M. Boswell  turn from religious hymns for a goddess to another key genre: shameless self promotion, as Sennacherib “the great king, the powerful king, the king of all there is” sets up some columns to set up how great he is. As Hoskisson and Boswell point out “Assyrian kingship was performative in that Assyrian kings continuously legitimized their claim to the throne” (75).y






The next section shifts to the West to  the Egyptian rhetorical tradition.


Carol S. Lipson argue that “It all comes down to Maat” in ancient Egyptian rhetoric, where Maat is “what is right” sort of justice and morality and the order of the “sun, moon and stars” a “balanced state of creation” (81). Egyptian letters concern themselves with moves that perform “maat” Deborah Sweeny meanwhile examines  the legal texts of ancient Egypt for examples of persuasion and eloquence. Just as legal tradition spurred the development of rhetoric in ancient Greece, Sweeney sees similar developments in the legal texts of Egypt.




Chinese rhetoric may seem the epitome of exotic compared to Athenian rhetoric, but  the Chinese had a richly developed pattern for discussing rhetoric. George Q Xu describes the confusion principles of rhetoric which ranks different kinds of speech, with “clever talk” taking the lowest rung (122) Arabella lyon, meanwhile, describes the value of silence in confusion rhetoric As she says “Confucian silences go beyond a reticence to speak, a willingness to act and a refusal of eloquence” the “silence workds by not saying what should be obsious, what should be self-discovered and that which alienated” (138). Yameng Liu Xunzi and Han Feizi’s rhetorical  criticism, arguing hat “instead of a mere byproduct of philosophical inquiries, classical Chinese rhetoric was a discipline/practice in its own right” (161) as different schools of thought competed with each other.




After Mesopatamia, Egypt and China are investigated, there’s a sort of catch-all of many alternative traditions. David Metzger  writes about the rhetoric of the frist five books of the Hebrew Bible, and James W Watts and C Jan Swearingen look at ancient near eastern texts. Meanwhile Richard Leo Enos actually deals with Greek rhetoric, but a different type of Greek—the rhetoric of Rhodes. Rhodes was a far more diverse city-state than Athens.  As Enos says “the orientation of rhetoric at Rhodes was not internal but external. That is, the emphasis on rhetoric was directed toward facilitating communication with other peoples (184) Such a perspective emphasized a cross-cultral epideictic rhetoric, inclusive and found on declamation” (194). Going over my notes in this text, I see I’ve written “ooh, I’m all psyched now,” and I admit that I am again—there’s a lot more the Greek rhetoric than just one city-state stuck in a hundred-year period.  That’s what the whole book is arguing—there’s a whole world of rhetoric out there and we ought to do something to explore it.




There are some questions of omission you could have about this volume: for example, why talk about ancient China but not India? It’s hard to anthologize anything without leaving something out and especially a topic as ambitious as everything-not-ancient-Greek. Don’t worry, Lipson and Brinkley came out with a sequel to this book five years later called Ancient Non-Greek Rhetoric. And, yep, it continues to expand the view of what is rhetoric, collecting works about the ancient near-east,  Japan, India and pre-Roman Ireland.  It’s a pretty exciting and wide ranging  text itself and you know what? It’s not done yet! Studying the rhetorical traditions of people wherever they use language can yield fresh insights into what rhetoric is and how it works. Kind of makes you want to get out there and open up rhetoric to something beyond just 5h century BC Athens, up to the whole world.


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Transcripts of 05The_Idea_of_a_Writing_Center

 Welcome to mere Rhetoric. The podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements that have shaped Rhetorical History. I'm Mary Hedengren. You can find mere Rhetoric on iTunes, or by directly subscribing from our rss feed. You can also find us on twitter at @mererhetoricked. Also you can email us at Now me recording this podcast in 2014 is especially timely, because we're going to talk about an important article that came in college english 30 years ago this year. Stephen North's "Idea of a Writing Center" This essay has been hugely influential in the rapidly growing and professionalized field of writing center studies. Back in 1984, though, writing centers couldn't get no respect. Writing labs of the early 20th century, were often responses to a deficiency model of writing education. The students who were coming in were seen as remedial. And thus in need of one on one attention from tutors before they could proceed in their composition classes. This was a response to the same crises that we talked about in the podcast about the Harvard reports. By the 1980's writing centers were becoming more abundant on campuses, but that doesn't mean they were popular. Often shunted to the literal basements of building, with creaky, leaky facilities and an underpaid, non 10 year track director, writing centers were somehow expected to fix students writing, but even under such terrible circumstances, writing center theory, was blossoming. Aided by such scholars as Murial Harris and Stephen North. Stephen North was a good candidate to have written such a manifesto as "The Idea of a Writing Center" In the 1980's, North was a discipline maker. His thorough taxonomy of composition research in "The Making of Knowledge and Composition" has sometimes been tapped as the foundational manifesto of research and composition. We'll probably talk about it in the future, but, the idea of a writing center was no less a manifesto, in the world of writing center studies. The first line of the article reads, "This is an essay that began out of frustration." The frustration is palpable, as North addresses some of the complaints that writing centers have, from, and he means this the nice way, "ignorant colleagues" Everyone is ignorant according to North. Everyone in the profession. Even people in composition are ignorant. They do not understand what does happen, what can happen, in a writing center, says North. And it's not just that North feels misunderstood, it's that this misunderstanding affects the students who come into his door every day. "You can not partial out some portion of a given student for us to deal with," he fumes against his colleagues in writing classes. "You take care of editing, I'll deal with invention. Nor should you require all of your students to drop by with an early draft of a research paper to get a reading from a fresh audience. You should not scrawl at the bottom of a failing paper 'go to the writing center' even those of you, who, out of genuine concern, bring students to a writing center, almost by the hand, to make sure they know that we won't hurt them. Even you are essentially out of line" Ow it seems like a long list of ways to misuse the writing center, and even to a modern audience, all these techniques seem innocent enough. "The main problem" North points out "is that we are not here to serve, supplement, back up, compliment, reinforce, or other wise, be defined by any external curriculum, unless you think North has it out for his colleagues, he even admits that his own writing center includes in it's mission statement, the description of the center as "a tutorial facility for those with special problems and composition" If it's possible to spit something out in a written scholarly article, North fully, spits out the words, in self loathing, and the loathing is that the idea of a writing center can be some sort of skills center, a fix it shop. So, if writing center's aren't just a support for composition, what is the idea of a writing center, anyway? North says "we are here to talk to writers" This definition makes the writing center an independent entity, with it's own purpose in the university. Not just an appendage or fix it shop for composition classes. What a writing center can be is much larger, and North sets out a definition for a writing center that persists to this day. At a writing center, "the object is to make sure that writers, not necessarily their texts, are what gets changed by instruction." In axiom form, it goes like this: Our job is to produce better writers, Not better writing. Ooooohhh. I almost get chills. It's a phrase you hear a lot in writing centers. Better writers, not better writing. What it often means is that writing centers aren't editing services or a way to improve an assignment, or even get an A in the class, but and educational site themselves, that hope to teach writing skills and process that students can take with them in any class and even after graduation. In this sense, the writing center, as North says, is going to be student centered in the strictest sense of the term. It will begin from where the student is and move where the students moves. North suggests that writing centers are uniquely qualified to do this work, since the teaching of writing can take place as much as possible, during writing. During the activity being learned. Instead of before or after the writing in a class. The fact is, North continues, not everyone's interest in writing their need of desire to write or learn to write, coincide with the 15 or 30 weeks they spend in writing courses. Especially when, as is currently the case at so many institutions, those weeks are required. Anyone who has taught composition can attest that students sometimes have a hard time, seeing the point of skills that their teachers immediately identify as critical for future writing. But then imperative of finishing the class, can be the only imperative for students, and so it can be hard for them to understand how these skills apply in other writing situations. On the contrary, at writing centers, North suggests, this is not the case at all, because the motivation is real. Any given project is the material that students bring in, and that particular text, it's success or failure, motivates the students. Students who are motivated by applying to law school or understanding a lab report, are often suddenly willing to see the importance of writing skills, that would have been abstract in a writing class. These students, as North says, are suddenly willing, sometimes overwhelmingly so, to concern themselves with audience, purpose, and persona, and to revise over and over again, because, suddenly writing is a vehicle. A means to an end. And when those ends are important to students, so will the means be. The ideas from North's idea of a writing center have become common place. Both because the resonate with what was already happening in the writing lab newsletter and other places, and also because they set a course that is followed on still today. Journals such as the writing lab newsletter and writing center journal, in North's words, Demonstrate that writing center folk in general, are becoming more research oriented. And that tradition has expanded as peer reviewed articles  and writing center studies support half a dozen journals, including one here out of UT called Praxis. Additional, there are articles often being published in journals like College English, and College Composition and Communication, that deal with different aspects of writing center studies. And when North saw that writing center directors were meeting, "as a recognized national assembly, at the national council of teachers of english" he might have foreseen that writing center studies would bloom into the international writing center association, a biannual conference that draws participants from around the world in the hundreds, and all of the regional conferences affiliated with IWCA, which reminds me, one such conference is the South Central WASSAP writing center association conference, which, actually we're hosting here at the University of Texas at Austin, this coming February. I confess that my interest in the topic of North's article was partially inspired by a call for papers for this very conference, which invokes a 30 year anniversary of the idea of the writing center. If you are interested in writing center studies, and would like to submit a proposal for the conference, please come check it out. Our website is, and you can find additional details there about the conference, and the call for papers, and specific dates. Things like that. Again, that's The deadline is October 15, so you have plenty of time to put together any ideas of what you think the idea of a writing can, and should be. I'm going to be one of the folks hosting the conference, so, I would love to see you all down here in Texas this winter, as we talk about the ideas of a writing center s and how much has changed in the last 30 years. 

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Transcripts of 04kenneth_burke_final

  Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a Podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, terms, and movement, that have defined the history of rhetoric. Sponsored by the University of Texas, Student Chapter of the Rhetoric Society of America. I'm Mary Hedengren and today we're talking about Kenneth Burke. Kenneth Burke was a major rhetorician who lived from May 5, 1897-November 19,1993 Also, his middle name was Duva, and grandson wrote this song  Which isn't to say that Kenneth Burke was a bad father, I think he was just a better musician. But Burke didn't always want to be a Rhetorician. In fact, Rhetoric was kind of out of favor when he was academically coming of age. So it wasn't really something that he thought he could be doing. He wanted to be a poet, or maybe just a marxist bohemian living in Grenich Village. But events conspired to develop Burke into a Rhetorician. For one thing, he got the marxist's mad at him, when he suggested that they use the word "People" instead of "Worker" They almost threw him out of the entire meeting. Also, his poetry wasn't taking off. That made him begin to move away from politics and the production of poetry, and start thinking more about criticism. Burke's first critical work, Counter-statement, is still powerful today, as a response to new criticism, and the art for art sake crowd. Here he demonstrates the power of art on an audience, the rhetorically of art. In Gregory Clark's words, here he is less "concerned with seeing the arts thrive, than helping the people on the people on the other end of the art" As the form is received by the reader. He developed his aesthetic rhetorical connections when he wrote extensively on how literature is a sort of equipment for living, his phrase, giving the people the models of action, wisdom, and experimentation, that helped him deal with reality. From this auspicious start, Burke's importance for rhetorical studies, only took off more. His redefinitions of rhetoric as "symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that, by nature, respond to symbols" broke rhetoric out an arestaline understanding of rhetoric that had dominated for millenia. Burke's a Grammar of Motives, has as his epigraph adbellum, perafantum. I'm butchering the latin here, but you get the idea, toward the purification of war. He supposedly hand wrote the saying, mounted over his window frame where he worked in an obscured New Jersey farm house, far from typical academic hub bub. It's possible that what he meant by purification of war, is what, according to Burke scholar, James P. Zapen, Micheal S. Haleran, and Scott Wilbs, a gloss of a grammar of motives, studying, "the competitive use of the cooperative" which helps us to take delight in the human barnyard, on the other hand, and transend it by appreciation on the other. So, transcending binaries was a really big deal for Burke. One of his biggest ideas, in fact, was the Burkeian third term. So, for his purification of war let's imagine a war, a sandwich war. So you really really really want tuna sandwiches for lunch, and I think tuna fish is gross, I don't, but that's what makes it hypothetical. I want peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches for lunch. But you think they're too high in calories. We can argue all day, through lunch, and on empty stomach's, about which sandwich is better. But Burke would remind us that there is a third term that unites us. Sandwiches. We can both see eye to eye about sandwiches. The ability for people to connect and divide over similarities and differences, was fascinating for Burke. In fact, that leads us nicely to another one of his main ideas. Identification. In a Rhetoric of motives, not to be confused with a grammar of motives, or the never published, symbolic of motives. Burke describes how symbols don't just persuade people to do things, they also persuade people to an attitude. So when I tell you, well, at least we both agree on sandwiches for lunch, we haven't changed anything about our inability to choose a sandwich, but maybe i've changed your attitude, to me, to our lunch, to arguments in general. If i'm able to talk your language by speech, gesture, tonality, order image, attitude, idea. I'm doing what Burke calls, Identifying my ways with yours, and in that moment, we become consubstantial. Part of me is you, and part of you is me, as we engage in this identification. We are both "joined and separate, at once, a distinct substance, and consubstantial." Another big thing is Burke's pentadad. This way to interpret motives and intention is described in depth in a grammar of motives. The pentadid is this, One, act. Two, scene. Three agent. Four, agency. and Five, purpose. There you go, five major ideas, the pentadid. Later Burke would say that he wished he had added attitude as a sixth. But then it would have been like the sectadid, or something. Anyway, the example Burke gives is this. Say a guy trips you with his legs on the bus. Do you get angry? Well you might. But what if the guy had a broken leg? That changes the agent and the agency. Maybe he couldn't help. Maybe he's not such a bad guy. And if the purpose wasn't to humiliate you, but on accident, you might not think of it as insult. So in this sense, the pentadid, can impact human actions, communication. Was being tripped a deliberate, rhetorical insult? or wasn't it? The last big idea of Burke's is the terministic screen. This is the way we use language. Especially poetic language, and it determines how we see the reality around us. If we're used to seeing the world through certain terms, war, sandwich, bus. We'll only see those terms. Those terms, to use a catchphrase, both reflect and deflect the reality around us. So this is only a brief introduction Kenneth Burke, and there's lots more to say about him and his influence on rhetoric. I recommend checking out, which is a free resource of Kenneth Burke Scholarship, for more information. You also might want ot check out the work of some of the biggest Burke scholars. Jack Seltzer, at Penn State, and George at Texas Christian University. Gregory Clarke, who I quotted here, and who was one of my teachers back at Brigham Young University. And Elizabeth Wizer, who's at Ohio State. If you have any experiences with Kenny B, as I think we can call him now, or if you would like to another podcast about one of Burke's theories, please email me. My email address is just That's Until next time. Remember, Rhetoric is just more of prejoritave. It's a way to encounter life.   


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Transcripts of what_is_rhetoric

  Welcome to mere rhetoric, a podcast for beginners and insighters about the people, terms, and movement that have defined the history of rhetoric. Sponsored by the University of Texas Student Chapter of the Rhetoric Society of America. I'm Mary Hedengren at the University of Texas Austin and thank your for joining us on our inaugural podcast. Today we are going to talk a little bit about what is rhetoric? No more rhetoric says a politician or lets stop the empty rhetoric, it is time to cut the rhetoric and get to action. These are expressions that we hear all the time, rhetoric is one of the only fields that is consistently used as a pejorative. We know better than that though, we know that rhetoric is a dynamic field with really important thinkers and a lot of contributions to a lot of other disciplines, but do we actually know what rhetoric is? It is hard for us to define what rhetoric is when everybody seems to think that it is something like rhetricory to use Wayne Booth's term. So what is it? How do we explain to our potential fathers in law, aunts at family reunions, or hairdressers, what it is that we are doing with our time and our money? Well actually the history of defining rhetoric, is the history of rhetoric. This is a question that has been plaguing people for a really long time and trying to figure out what it is that we are doing and how to describe it becomes an obsession of a lot of the greatest thinkers. Today we are going to talk a little bit about some of these thinkers some of the ways that rhetoric has been defined historically and some things that might be useful for us now as we seek to find an answer to that pesky question, what is it that your doing? One of the biggest ways to sort of think about rhetoric is through metaphors and we will talk more about metaphors and the powers that they have in a later podcast. We might think about some of the ones that Plato brings up when he is talking about in the Gorgias. Is rhetoric sugar for medicine? Spoon full of sugar that makes medicine go down, that its able to sort of lighten the load of the hard truths of philosophical or scientific inquiry? Is rhetoric like fighting and boxing, and when we teach people rhetoric we are only giving them a neutral skill that can be used for positive purposes or negative purposes? These are the few of the many metaphors that come up to sort of try to describe what it is that rhetoric is about. Now some of the different definitions that have come up have been sort of through the western tradition. Plato for example called rhetoric, the art of winning the soul by discourse and we sort of think of plato as being sort of back and forth on how he felt about rhetoric. Sometimes he seems to think that rhetoric is a really bad idea, other times he is more concerned about how it can be done well and defining rhetoric in something that can be useful. So when he says winning the soul through discourse, he is really concerned a lot about how you can talk to somebody who you really love, and care for, and know a lot about them, and sort of have responsible good rhetoric. Aristotle on the other hand, instead of thinking about winning the soul by discourse, is more about finding the available means of persuasion. This is kind of a different switch from Plato were instead of rhetoric being something you use as an instrument, you have what could really be called defensive rhetoric. Just discovering its an act of invention, you sort of see what could be possible. This is going to be important for a lot of rhetorical history especially with pedagogs where people are starting to think about well how do we do exercises where people try to find all of the available means of persuasion? What could be done, what could be effective? Instead of thinking as purely its something that is practical. You may get this a lot when you are talking to people at parties, is rhetoric something that you just teach people so that they can use, so that they can give a good speech or give a good presentation or is rhetoric also something that you want to study so that people aren't taken in by huxtors, or are able to weigh an argument and be more balanced about it. This is a pretty big definition and it bears more conversation then we have time for here, but we'll probably talk about that in a later podcast and if not I encourage you to go through and sort of think about how that definition is going to impact the way that you give an answer and the way that you direct your own work. Now Cicero did a lot of different definitions of rhetoric and he is one of the guys who is most famous for sort of breaking up this one big art, rhetoric, into these several different sort of sub purposes or canons. So we have things like invention as being part of rhetoric and all the way back to memorizing the speech and giving a good delivery pronunciating the words that you say. All of these things Cicero says are part of rhetoric. These distinctions can be important for us as we try to define our own definition of what rhetoric is, are we going to say that rhetoric is about finding the information? Does it include the research that we go through? Does it include the things that impact the way that we do the research we do? What kinds of inquiry are appropriate for the kind of product that we want to produce? On the other side of things how much of rhetoric is delivery, the performace of it? In recent times we have sort of stepped away from thinking about performance to much as apposed to sort of what Cicero was thinking about where it was actually an oral performance where you stand up and entertain people and sort of get at many different sort of public speaking elements that you can to sort of hold their interest. This becomes something that we can really think about, especially this one with whether invention is part of rhetoric. Again back in history this is going to be a big question to sort of define what our field is some people are going to put Peter Ramos as sort of the bad guy in this story as somebody who says maybe rhetoric doesn't have to do with invention. Maybe rhetoric is just this other half, this delivery, how you polish it up, is rhetoric just a pretty face that we put on a good piece of philosophy. This definition may remind you a little bit about Plato idea that this is the spoon full of sugar that makes the medicine go down, but in another sense it is really taking out any sort of invention and putting that more in sort of the business of science as apposed to philosophy which I think is where some of these other Bacon and Ramos where sort of taking it. Now this starts to become a little bit more upended at mostly in the 18th century. We have people like George Campbell who all say that rhetoric is an art or talent by which discourse is adapted to its end. The four ends of discourse are; enlightening the understanding, pleasing the imagination, moving the passion, and influencing the will. These four ends of discourse become really important and they sort of trickle down a lot through textbooks during this period, is rhetoric something that is going to be involved with literature, and fiction in pleasing the imagination? Is it going to be something that moves our passions, changes our emotions, like a passionate appeal for a political change? Is it going to be something that enlightens the understanding? Do textbooks have rhetoric? These are some questions that sort of Campbell, his definition, are really going to influence with us. Now lets move finally to the 20th century and some of the definitions here. Kenneth Burk sort of changes our idea of what is rhetoric, he sort of says rhetoric is rooted in an essential function of language itself. A function that is holey realistic and continually born a new the use of language as a symbolic means of injected, inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols. This is kind of a step away from some of the things that even George Campbell was saying, what if rhetoric isn't just about persuasion? What if it isn't just about getting people to think the way you do? What if it has to do with any sort of cooperation based on symbols? This is a huge break it sort of breaks away from this idea that it has to be linguistic, or that it have to be about achieving some end, like George Campbell said. Its an exciting development and we will talk a lot more probably in an upcoming podcast about Kenneth Burk. This is a really cool place to sort of push rhetoric in another direction. Now we are finally moving into people who live today, this is not like we've settled the question of what is rhetoric. There are still a lot people who are trying to figure this out and put different definitions of it, the great leader and composition Andrea Lunsford says that rhetoric is the art, practice, and study of human communication. This is an interesting definition that might come up when you are talking with people, this is really hard problem because sometimes we are really good at the study of human communication but as rhetoricians are we responsible to think about the practice of human communications? How well does rhetorician do standing up in front of an audience, talking about their research. This is something that is making me super self-conscious, as somebody who is putting together a podcast, but how much of what we do is sort of divorced from this level where Cicero is talking about it as a performance, a practice, something that sort of happens out there as delivery. Another major trend that seems to pop up with a lot of these modern definitions of rhetoric is thinking about what the goal is for example Charles Chuck Bazerman talks about how rhetoric is the study of how people use language and other symbols to realize human goals and carry our human activities. There is something about getting it done, another definition that sort of focuses on this is, Gerald or Gerry Hosier's definition where he says rhetoric is an instrumental use of language. One person engages another person in an exchange of symbols to accomplish some goal, it is not communication for communication sake. Rhetoric is communication that attempts to coordinate social action, for this reason rhetorical communication is explicitly pragmatic. Its goal is to influence human choices on specific matters that require immediate attention. This is a really interesting idea and its one that Bears thinking about when your defining rhetoric for your friends and for yourself. Do you see rhetoric as something that accomplishes goals? Can good rhetoric be ineffective? A lot of times people think about this in terms of Edmund Burke, who was this great thinker and a fantastic writer. Someday we will talk about him I would like to think so and if not go online and check out some of his speeches because this guy is on fire, he is like one of the best speakers to ever come out of England and he gave one of his crem de la crem speeches, really strong one, saying hey England lets not go to war with America. Wooh! But what happened right? So here is a guy who is really good at what he does and really one of the top retorts, but when he speaks he doesn't bring about change. So was that good rhetoric or bad rhetoric? Does rhetoric depend on its efficiency with audience? Is it all about the ends or can there be good rhetoric that does everything that rhetoric should do, and is a shining beckon, but non the less fails to convince its audience? Another way to sort of think about this, one of my favorite examples is Eminem's song Mosh. Do you remember that? This was from the election, the second election, of George W. Bush, it was this awesome impassioned rap song that sort of tells people to go out and lets not re-elect Bush, and lets show him how angry we are, and its such an awesome piece of music, but you know what Bush didn't win and me I still think Eminem's a great rapper. So in some we have talked about a lot of good questions that you can think about in making your own definition of rhetoric. Is rhetoric something that you practice or is it something that is studied? Does it include invention and coming up with ideas? Does it include delivery and how those ideas are actually presented? Is rhetoric dependent on being language or does it work with any symbol? Does rhetoric always have to involve persuasion and if so does it depend on whether or not the goal is achieved? Whether or not that was good rhetoric? Well, as we continue to define, find sort of a definition of rhetoric the purpose of this podcast is going to be to sort of expand on some of these questions about what rhetoric is doing. We are going to talk about some of the most important ideas, some of the most important figures and some of the most important theories and movements that have shaped the rhetorical field. Decide for yourself what is rhetoric? Why is rhetoric important to you? What sort of advances in rhetoric are going to be the ones that you want to contribute? You can think for yourself, but one sort of one liney piffy definition of what rhetoric is may be coming from some of these theorists. Practice it for yourself a few times and that way next time when somebody at a party asks you what it is your study, you can have a good comeback, instead of just staring at your punch glass for a few more minutes. Well thank your for joining me today. Our first episode of mere rhetoric and if you have any questions or suggestions or things that you really would like to hear more about, feel free to email me. My email is and I will try to take listener questions sometimes, thanks for joining us and remember rhetoric is not just a pejorative.    

Category:general -- posted at: 12:40 AM

Ah, the nefarious rhetorical power of...a wedding toast? Epideictic rhetoric on Mere Rhetoric today.


Today we’ll be talking about epideictic rhetoric because it’s probably my favorite of the three branches of Aristotelian rhetoric and it’s my birthday. It being my birthday actually has a lot to do with epideictic rhetoric because birthday speeches are one of the classic examples of epideictic rhetoric, the others being wedding toasts, eulogies,  and Independence Day orations, except I think the people who came up with that last one probably lived a century ago because I have never attended an Independence Day oration, unless you count the one Bill Pullman gives in the movie Independence Day  and that was probably not what they had in mind. But then again, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a birthday speech either.




The point I think I was making is that epideictic rhetoric is  very old and very important. It’s likely older than either political or legal rhetoric, and might have grown out of the same TV-less fascination with sitting around hearing someone talk that makes human beings revere storytellers. Because it has a long history, epideictic rhetoric also has a long history of being studied. Manuals on how to give speeches date back to the 4th and 5th century bc and Greeks continued to be fascinated by epideictic rhetoric. It is one of the three branches of rhetoric that Aristotle describes in the Art of Rhetoric along with the judicial and deliberative. But while judicial rhetoric obviously concerns itself with obtaining justice and deliberative rhetoric obtains laws or political action, it’s less clear what the goal of epideictic rhetoric is. Judicial rhetoric can keep you out of jail or paying a fine; deliberative rhetoric can stop a tax or send you into war with Sparta; epideictic rhetoric—makes a happy day happier and a sad one sadder? It turns out that epideictic rhetoric actually does a great deal of work, but a subtler way than judicial or deliberative rhetoric. It’s sneaky, but lets break it down into three things you need to know about Epideictic rhetoric




The first thing you need to know is that Epideictic rhetoric, according to Aristotle, deals with praise and blame. So all of those special occasion pieces, like wedding toasts and obituaries, point out the good qualities of the people getting married or buried. They talk about the virtues of the people of the hour. For Aristotle, these virtues were well classified: of course, it’s Aristotle so it’s well classified. He mentions “justice, courage, self-control, magnificence, magnanimity, liberality, gentleness, practical and speculative wisdom" or "reason." You can imagine an obituary that pointed out how brave and gentle the deceased was, or a wedding toast that honored the good reason in choosing this particular spouse. This is the “praise” side of epideictic rhetoric, which is easy to imagine because we see it relatively often.  Well, hopefully the people writing the wedding toasts and obituaries point out the good qualities instead of blame, although you could imagine occasions that didn’t sugar-coat everything. Blame speeches are a little more difficult to conjure up, but Guy Fawkes Day springs to mind, as do the journalistic obituaries for dictators and other villains. These blame speeches, for Aristotle, will focus on the opposites of those virtues, so instead of talking about bravery and gentleness of the departed, a blame-based obituary would talk about a tyrant’s cowardice and cruelty. So the first key thing to remember about epideictic rhetoric is that it engages with praise and blame according to some criteria, some list of virtues that are deemed important by that community.




That leads to the second key element about epideictic rhetoric. The praise and blame that people bring up are dependent on the community in which those people live. So to go back to the example of writing an obituary, if you lived in a community where gentleness was not considered a virtue, but, on the contrary, being feared was the most important attribute, you might say, “He was a cold-hearted, calculating tyrant” with utmost praise and affection. When we in our society hear that phrase, we recoil and feel the figure is being blamed, but another culture might interpret that phrase as praise. So one of the jobs of the rhetor is to understand what is praise- or blame-worthy in the community. Chaim Perleman and Lucie Olbrecht-Tyteca have said, “The speaker engaged in epidictic discourse is very close to being an educator ” and must do the work of “promoting values shared in the community” (52).  The community determines what is blamed and praised, but also what is praised and blamed tells you something about the community. So if “He was a cold-hearted, calculating tyrant” is considered praise in a community, you know a lot about what it’s like to live there. You know you want to clear out of there.  But epideictic rhetoric both reflects and creates a community. Celeste Michelle Condit describes this process when she says that one of the key things epideictic does is “shape and share communities” (289). Sometimes the epideictic rhetoric is the first time that common attitudes and beliefs have been put into words, and if the articulation of those  beliefs resonate with the audience, it defines that community. Jeffrey Walker describes this as a lyrical enthymeme. An enthymeme does this [shave and a hair cut knock] It’s hard not to finish it, isn’t it? In your mind you’re filling in the blanks—provided you’re familiar with the whole pattern [shave and a hair cut—two bits]. You could only know the whole pattern if you were part of the culture that made this pattern so common. Imagine the same thing happening in an epideictic speech. I say “Brooklyn,” you say “whaaat?” and I say “He was a cold-hearted, calculating tyrant” and you say “boo.” The audience fills in the gaps. In fact, if the audience doesn’t, Condit sees this as a good sign that you aren’t part of the community. This works in parts as well as over all. The speaker gets to decide which parts of the community to highlight and which parts to downplay. If someone praises something that only 80% of the community agrees with, the remaining 20% are, according to Condit, “likely to [feel] a sense of alienation from the community “ (290). So while almost everyone in our community agrees that being  “a cold-hearted, calculating tyrant” is a bad thing, if the speaker then goes on and says, “and he didn’t like dogs—he liked cats!” then everyone in the audience who likes cats is going to start thinking, “Wait, what’s wrong with liking cats? I like cats. Should I not be liking cats? Do only cold-hearted, calculating tyrants like cats? Argh! I’m terrible, I don’t belong here, what am I doing?” So epideictic rhetoric will sometimes reflect the values of an audience, but sometimes it will create an audience, by alienating some members of the community.




So if the first point is that epideictic rhetoric praises and blames and the second point is that epideictic rhetoric will shape and share our communities, the last thing to remember about epideictic rhetoric is that it’s actually everywhere. At this point you might be saying, “wait a tick, didn’t you just say that Independence Day orations and birthday speeches are really rare?” Yes, but epideictic rhetoric doesn’t always have to be a formal speech. Remember the characteristics we mentioned—praise and blame and reflect the society’s values. Now think about everything that does that. A movie like Independence Day might do that. It praises the courage of Will Smith’s character and Jeff Goldbaum’s quirky intellectual obsession while criticizing cowardly politicians and naïve hippies. If you’re an American, the movie seems to argue, these are the values that you’ll admire. If you don’t admire those values, the movie can be alienating. Movies, song lyrics, TV shows, museums, even art and architecture can be epideictic, establishing what is praiseworthy and what is blameworthy.  A lot of literature, in a broad sense, can be read as epideictic. The idea that the arts presents to an audience stories that we can either praise or blame creates a rhetorical background for the rhetoric of poetics. Scholars from Wayne Booth to Jeffery Walker have noted the way that literature creates an argument for our societies, teaching us values. Being assigned certain “great works” can be a way of indoctrinating young people to the values and attitudes of a community, as can being told that a book or movie is a “classic.” When epideictic rhetoric can be found everywhere, we recognize that we are always being persuaded to attitudes and values, even if not to specific actions.




So while today I might not be getting a birthday speech at my party, I will probably have a conversation with someone about achieving my birthday goal of reading all of Shakespeare’s plays (which are persuading me to espouse certain values), and we’ll listen to the French circus music I like (which may alienate those who don’t appreciate a swing accordion) and when someone wishes me a happy birthday, they will wish me the things we as a community have agreed will bring me happiness.




Direct download: epideictic_.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 1:40 PM