I find myself torn between two warring epistemologies: social constructivism/relativism and realism. On the one hand, I am deeply sympathetic to the idea that we construct our own versions of social truths; in fact, most of my research on epideictic rhetoric depends on that fact. If we truly do “make morality,” as I argue society is largely in the process of doing, I can’t very well argue that morality just “is.” Yet, on some level, I do believe that. One of the questions that I posit to my students when this topic comes up is one of scale: are things wrong because society thinks they are wrong, or because there is something in the act itself that is just plain wrong? As with most dichotomies, I find this lacking. Can’t it be something in between?
More even than this issue is the issue I have with the nihilists, especially Nietzsche. In addition to having a completely unspellable name, I can’t reconcile myself to the complete lack of materiality that he seems to suggest. I can’t make myself accept that the world is fundamentally unknowable, that no matter what I am talking about, I am lying, that there is no truth, etc. However, I love Foucault. I think that the way Foucault looks at society makes perfect sense, and that there is a lot of value in seeing the connections and interplay of power in any given situation.
Continue reading Attempting to Situate Myself…Hold On
For my paper this week, I interviewed Dr. Moberly. I asked him a few questions related to theory, and I got very satisfactory answers. I’m going to use that interview to place myself into the discussion of rhetorical theory.
As far as theories of rhetoric in general go, there are definitely some that are considered more authoritative/accepted than others. Though, perhaps when we talk about theories, we are really talking about theorists? When asked about theory, I noticed Dr. Moberly followed a lot of the postmodern/deconstructivists, and referenced Bakhtin, Brummett, Burke, Booth (perhaps having a last name that begins with B predisposes one to be sympathetic to rhetorical theory), Foucault, and Derrida. I brought up Nietzsche, who wasn’t dismissed, and there were currents of McLuhan running under our conversation, though he was never mentioned by name; I suppose that makes him less authoritative. These theorists seem to have some things in common…namely a tendency to see a wide range of texts as rhetorically constructed, and to devalue any sort of idea of truth beyond a social construct. No one on “the list” values a sensory-based epistemology; rather, they all seem to view knowledge as constructed by language, rather than language representing truth in any firm way.
Continue reading The Rhetoric According to Dr. Moberly
As with many things in the very large topic of rhetorical studies, the question of OOS is a tricky, possibly indefinable one. After all, nearly anything can probably be convincingly argued as a “text,” meant to have an effect on some sort of audience, and as such rhetorical study has been applied to everything ranging from architecture to interactions between doctors and patients. So, though I can’t cover all of the OOS, I will focus on a couple of major areas where rhetorical study is used.
One of the major objects available for study in rhetoric is discourse. By looking at actual texts produced by students or others, rhetoricians can begin to identify patterns, discrepancies, or power structures. In composition studies, these texts are often student writing. An example of this type of study can be found in Goodin and Perkins. In their text “Discourse Analysis and the Art of Coherence,” they analyze student writing in search of the “given-new contract” to see what effect, if any, violating said contract had on coherence (spoiler: it affects it).
Continue reading Putting the OoS in Discourse
Traditionally, the field of rhetoric has been divided into three different classes: deliberative, judicial/forensic, and demonstrative (epideictic) (Rountree 295). One of the current debates in the field of rhetorical study is what role epideictic plays in our society, and how it should be defined. For the vast majority of history, epideictic has been relegated to third-class citizenship behind her big sisters, often referred to with the qualifier “mere,” possibly initially due to its association with the Sophists, and then later as a result of culture’s distrust of ornamental rhetoric (Sheard 767-68). However, especially during the 1970’s-1990’s, there has been renewed interest in epideictic as a form. It is likely that this new interest was incited at least in part by George Kennedy’s newest translation of Rhetoric, which was published in 1991; several contemporary scholars who are exploring various aspects of epideictic cite Kennedy early and often, and he is on record as advocating a broader definition of epideictic (Sheard 768). Now that there is renewed interest in epideictic as a genre, discussions have begun concerning just how broad epideictic can be: one of the most interesting and important of these discussions concerns whether epideictic can create values, or whether it is limited to an ability to maintain/strengthen already existing values.
Continue reading Can We Create New Values Through Epideictic?
Many are aware of the origins of rhetoric; it sprang up in ancient Greece, and in many ways has been with us ever since. However, during the mid nineteenth century, rhetoric very nearly disappeared from the academy, only to reappear a century later under new auspices. This post traces both the marginalization and reinvigoration of rhetorical studies in the American University. James Berlin’s “Rhetoric and Poetics in the English Department: Our Nineteenth Century Inheritance” lays out the circumstances in which Rhetoric became marginalized in the academy after centuries of respectability. Berlin points the finger towards a power unbalance between rhetoric and her sister, poetics. Rhetoric, traditionally, has been the type of discourse that deals in practical matters, i.e. public discourse, while poetics was centered around criticism and creation of texts that “embodied the best values of society” (Berlin 522). Historically, the two have always been kept in balance, as two sides of the same coin, but in the mid-nineteenth century, that began to change. Continue reading A (VERY) Brief History of Rhetoric in the Modern Academy