Mere Rhetoric (general)

Welcome to Mere rhetoric, a pocast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and I’d like to take you back, back in time…




It was 1985. As Bowling for Soup would later describe the year, “there was U2 and Blondie, and Music still on MTV” And in the pages of College English a debate was raging. Two scholars, careful and smart, battling over a question that still haunts beginning composition instructors: should we teach punctuation to first year writing students? The debate between Martha Kolln and Patrick Hartwell describes some of the difficulties in navigating the question of teaching grammar and punctuation, but it doesn’t begin with the Hartwell-Kolln debate of the 80s: it begins with the Braddock Report of 1963.




            The Braddock report, or, more properly, “Research in Written Composition" by Braddock, Lloyd-Jones, and Schoer was commissed by the National Council of Teachers of English to answer the question of whether grammar instruction had any impact on improving student writing. And what they found was that, using one- and three-year studies, instructing in grammar  was “useless if not harmful” to the teaching of writing. And for many instructors, that sealed the deal. Grammar fell deeply out of favor. But the Braddock report wasn’t carefully applied: its full argument was that: "The teaching of formal grammar has a negligible or, because it usually displaces some instruction and practice in actual composition, even a harmful effect on the improvement of writing" (Braddock, Lloyd-Jones, and Schoer, 1963). The way grammar was being taught could be faulty without the practice of teaching grammar being problematic. In other words, to cite the 1960 Encyclopedia of Education Research “Diagramming sentences …teaching nothing beyond the ability to diagram.” Still, grammar was out.




            For Patrick Hartwell, that sealed the deal. In “Grammar, Grammars and the Teaching of Grammars,” he makes some strong claims against the teaching of grammar in composition. For one thing, he says that most errors don’t matter and those errors that do matter can usually be “caught” without knowing if they’re a predicate or a verbal adverb or whatever. Some of these errors will be caught ‘naturally,” Hartwell says, without anyone teaching explicitly. As he says, “If we think seriously about error and its relationship to the worship of forma l grammar study, we need to attempt some massive dislocation of our traditional thinking ,to shuck off our hyperliterate perception of the value of formal rules, and to regain the confidence in the tacit power of unconscious knowledge that our theory of language gives us.




Most students, reading their writing aloud, will correct in essence all errors of spelling, grammar, and, by intonation, punctuation, but usually without noticing that what they read departs from what they wrote.” If you can speak it, you can get it. Hartwell does admit that people who are coming at English from another language tradition may need more explicit help, but grammar can be cut from most classes without much harm being done. Hartwell cites research that spending time on grammar is useless and claims that “It is time that we, as teachers, formulate theories of language and literacy and let those theories guide our teaching, and it is time that we, as researchers,  move on to more interesting areas of inquiry.”  




Martha Kolln was not ready to move on. Kolln read Hartwell’s argument and gave it a big ol’ nu-uh. Students don’t just have an inborn sense of grammar because they don’t have an inborn sense of rhetoric.  She doesn’t think composition should be exclusively a grammar class, but she does believe in what she calls “rhetorical grammar.”




In her book of the same name, Martha Kolln tells us that punctuation is part of our voice, not just a “final, added-on step” (279). Some of these consequences are more delicate (“will that semi-colon create a more formal air than that dash?”), while others are more blunt (“if you use all caps here, your academic paper will look like an eight-grader’s text-message”). Kolln does a good job of not saying that certain things are off-limits—sentence fragments, passive voice, ellipsis.  Overall, these are choices, just like any rhetorical choice. So when Hartwell says that grammar shouldn’t be researched or taught in composition, she read his argument as saying “a subset of rhetorical choices shouldn’t be taught in composition.” And So she wrote a comment in to College English.




In this comment she agrees that composition shouldn’t be just about grammar and she agrees with the Braddock report that “formal grammar is not the best way to teach grammar” but “rhetorical grammar has a place in our composition class, because of course grammar is there” (877). And if the grammar is there, then it ought to be talked about intelligently. Kolln sees a lot of throwing the baby out with the proverbial bathwater in getting rid of all grammar instruction.




When people claim “ Our students should learn to write by writing-only by writing, by letting it all hang out. Let's not in-hibit their creativity by calling unnecessary attention to the structures they use; and we're certainly to have no "lessons" on sentence structure or parts of speech, on "formal gram-mar."






How foolish. How harmful. The result is a generation (or more) of students who have no language for discussing their language. We teach them terminology in every other field-in science and math and history and geography and computer science and physical education, in literature, and in French. But not in their own language.”




Well, Hartwell read Kolln’s argument and made the snappy reply “ther’s little to be accomplished by talking about paradigms” Zing!




I mean, is it okay if I take a sidebar and say that passions here are remarkably high? Both Kolln and Hartwell have deep-rooted passions about the teaching and study of grammar, calling each other’s perspectives “foolish”  and sniping at each other. It’s rare to find such academic vitriol, so when ever it comes up, you know there’s some intense feelings going on.




Anyway, Hartwell says that not teaching grammar doesn’t keep student from talking about grammar because, of course, they will do so naturally, because “every culure develops a remarkable rich metalinguistics vocabulary for discussion language” and current students are no exception. He also says that it’s better to err on his side of thigns because if, hypothetically, he and Kolln were to take a tour of writing instruction among practioners, “ we’d find it dripping with a kind of grammar instruction we both deplore.”






Okay, so after the furver of these grammar debates, where does that leave us? Strangely, the answer to that question depends on which generation “us” is. The Braddock reports did eventually filter down into the classrooms and for a while it looked that Hartwell won this one. During that while was when I went through high school, actually. I had a totally of 3 days of grammar instruction in high school, which came during a creative writing class, of all things. But I was never expected to know any grammar vocabulary beyond what it takes to fillout a MadLibs.




But that’s changed. Yesterday my mom—also a writing teacher—texted me to say that she had been helping her 12-year-old grandson diagram sentences. Diagram sentences! I didn’t know that had been happening since the fifties: bowling leagues, Tupperware parties and diagramming sentences and here’s my nephew, in a generally progressive school, diagramming sentences! I shouldn’t be too surprised, though—I’ve noticed that each year my freshmen student enter with more and more background in grammar. This has led to the odd situation where sometimes my students know more about formal grammar than I do.




If you have strong feelings about grammar one way or another, why not tell us all about it at And don’t worry too much about proofreading your email—I’m not going to send it back corrected.






Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Kolin_Hartwell_Final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:26pm CDT


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: 6:12pm CDT

 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. 

Category:general -- posted at: 7:44pm CDT

Attachment general teaching philosophy 2.docx successfully uploaded and added.
Added Benjamin Syn. Press backspace to remove.


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.   


Displaying what_is_rhetoricTranscript.txt.
Category:general -- posted at: 7:41pm CDT

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: 7:40pm CDT

Kairos Podcast




Welcome to Mere Rhetoric the podcast for beginniners and insiders about the people, ideas and movement that have shaped rhetorical history. Much thanks to the student chapter of the RSA at the University of Texas and also to Benjamin Syn, who not only suggested this episode, but encouraged me to post show notes. That’s right, I’m actually editing and posting our shownotes now! Check them out. You can always email me with suggestions for clever accessablity accomodations or topics for shows at or at our twitter @mererhetoricked if you like that sort of thing.




Is it the right time? The answer to the question may differ depending on the situation. Are you looking at a new clock wondering if it matches the time on your phone? Or are you wondering if it’s the right moment to tell your friend that he has a truly horrible haircut? The ‘right time’ in these two situation highlights the two definitions of time for ancient Greeks:, chromos and kairos.


While chronos chucks around relatively constantly, one minute after minute hour after hours, without any particularly change, kairos is a moment of exigenence, where everything matters on timing. There’s a graph that I like about kairos that I would love to show you, but since I can’t paint you a picture, I’ll have to sing yo a song. While Chronos moves forward like this [solid pitch], Kairos starts low, comes to a fever pitch and then descends again. It sounds like this [assending and descending pitch].  If Chronos is time, Kairsos is timing.




The idea of Kairos is an old one, and a celebrated one. There are many paintings and scultures of Kairos, who was sort of a funny-looking fellow. Or let’s be blunt: he had the worst hair cut known to man. It was long in front and bald in the back, like a reverse mullet: party in the front and all business in the back. The haircut was a metaphor for how you had to grab the moment when it came, because once it was gone, you couldn’t catch it. He had a few other descriptive features. Instead of be describing them, let this Greek poem, translated by Jeffrey Walker,  explain. This poem is ekphersis, a piece of writing that describes a piece of art, in this case a sculpture of Kairos done by Lysippos of Sicyon. The rest explains itself.




From where is your sculptor? Sicyon. What is his name?


Lysippos. And who are you? Kairos the all-subduer.


Why do you go on tiptoes? I’m always running. Why do you have


Double wings on your feet? I fly like the wind.


Why do you have a razor in your right hand? As a sign to men


That I’m sharper than any razor’s edge.


Why does your hair hang down in front? For him that meets me to grab,


By God. Why is the back part bald?


None that I have once passed by on my winged feet


May seize me, even if he wishes to.


Thus the artist fashioned me, for your sake,


Stranger, and placed me at the entrance as a lesson.




It’s a good lesson to learn: you have to catch the moment when in comes.




In recent times, there’s been debate about the detriminacy of kairos, as in the debate of Bitzer and Vatz. You can learn more about Bitzer, Vatz and the rhetorical situation in our earlier podcast “Rhetorical Situation.” In cidentally, there are a lot of connections between Kairos and what Bitzer calls the rhetorical situation. But the question usual revolves around this issue: can you make an opportune moment or do you have to wait for it to come? Aaron Hess suggests the answer is “yes.” The ideal rhetor will be alert to the situation around her and then use all of her creativity and skill to exploit the rhetorical moment in which she finds herself. In other words, it’s not enough just to see kairos the winged flit by—you need to be quick enough to reach out and grab him.








So let’s break down the parts of the kairos song with an example, say, slavery in America:


(low tone) down here might be called the moment that slavery in American begins to be a public issue. This could be called the origin. It might be the 1619, when the first African slaves were brought by the Dutch, but only if the issue of slavery was contested. The origin isn’t necessary when the situation started, but only when people started talking about the situation. The escalating conversation is what makes a public problem move towards a moment of kairos. So even though there were slaves in America in 1619, the escalation came in the 19th century, as the institutuion of slavery changed from something small-scale, individual and temporary to something large-scale that lasted over generations. People began to furiously debate whether there ought to be slavery in the United States on both sides and the issue became more intensely argued (sliding upwards tone). This process is called the maturationof the public issue.  It eventually reached the climax  of the issue (high note.) This high point, the moment of kairos, can be hard to point down: is it the emancipation proclamation? Is it the whole period of the civil war? But somewhere in there, the issue of slavery in America had to be decided. The moment had come. This is what E. C. White calls “"a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved.” Whatever various moments of kairos there were for the issue of slavery, there came a point where the moment passed. The 13th amendment was passed, northern soldiers were dispatched to make sure no one got “re-enslaved,” and the issue of slavery was settled. Now that doesn’t mean people still didn’t argue able it. In fact, lots of people may still debate something after the moment of kairos has passed. This is called deterioration. (sliding lowering tone) The issue of slavery, and what counted as slavery continued through the 19th and even into the 20th century. Today, though, there is effectively no debate about slavery. Sure, there might be a few whack jobs, but you won’t see letters to the editor in the New York Times or Washington Post recommending that we go back to chattle slavery in America. The issue has disintergrated. (low note).




Some issues, like slavery, come to a head, to a single moment of kairos, and then disintegrate for ever, never to return again. Others, though, return periodically. For examples of these kinds of cyclical moments of kairos, you might think about how debates about gun control are renewed every time there is a particularly horrific act of violence. Something terrible happens—the origin—and people renew a fierce debate about whether gun control would have prevented the tragedy. The issue escalates into maturity and then the moment of kairos arrives-- a law is passed, or isn’t passed, and then people gradually stop talking about the issue so much and it deteriorates down again. But then after a few months or—hopefully—years, another tragedy occurs and the issue of gun control again leads to a moment of kairos. Many issues fade in and out just because people lose interest, or get caught up in a public issue that seems more pressing. For instance, people stopped talking so much about violence in schools after Sept 11th because issues of terrorism and privacy and war seemed to be more important. The moment of kairos shifted.








Kairos can be hard to “use” in writing or speaking. It’s not like adding more alliteration, or more imagry or even more appeals to emotion or authority. Phillip Sipiora describes it as "a dynamic principle rather than a static, codified rhetorical technique" (10) Sheridan, Michel and Ridolfo have said"kairos refers to a struggle, at the point of rhetorical intervention, between situational factors" and it’s hard to say—add more struggle between factor to your argument.




Category:general -- posted at: 2:57pm CDT

Just in time for Valentine's Day, the most lovelorn Socratic dialogue, arguing for love, for lovers, and, of course, for rhetoric. Jeremy P Smyczek

joins me for a talk about Socrates' weird reversal on rhetoric, the poetic virtues of a surly philosopher and the continued influence of a very old argument.
Direct download: phaedrus.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:30am CDT