Can We Create New Values Through Epideictic?

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.

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Towards an Epideictic Debate

Sullivan, Dale L. “The Ethos of Epideictic Encounter.” Philosophy & Rhetoric, Vol. 26, No. 2 (1993), pp. 113-133. Jstor. Web. 9/23/2014. <>

Both of my resources today center around the idea of a lesser-known (and, until recently, respected) form of rhetoric: epideictic.  Discarded in former times as a mere ornamental style, epideictic has recently been receiving an increased amount of scrutiny, as people begin to look at how values are constructed in a society that doesn’t seem to particularly value oratory.  Whereas previously, lore contended that epideictic is simple ceremonial speech, today there are questions about whether it should truly be limited to mere ceremony.  In my first reading, Sullivan examines what sort of ethos the epideictic speaker possesses.  Sullivan begins by arguing for the increased importance of ethos in epideictic speech. Since epideictic is reliant on an audience’s assent, the speaker needs to show that (s)he is reputable (119).  Additionally, the speaker needs to demonstrate an ability to “see,” which Sullivan seems to equate almost to prophecy (122). This image of the speaker as prophet infuses Sullivan’s encomiast with an almost otherworldly vision, able to see things as they truly are, rather than as they seem to be.  In regards to the question that I will pose in my next blog post, Sullivan makes the following answer to the question of “what, exactly, is epidictic (for)?”

We should not define epideictic rhetoric primarily as the rhetoric of praise and blame or as the rhetoric that attempts to reinforce traditional values, for both of those definitions are dependent upon the speaker’s intentions. Instead we can define it as the experience of members of an audience who find that the speaker is saying exactly what needs to be said, who find that they are being caught up in a celebration of their vision of reality (128).

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A (VERY) Brief History of Rhetoric in the Modern Academy

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

A Bibliography and a History

In Maureen Goggin’s “Tangled Roots of Literature,” (available here) she first explores the importance of paying attention to the history of English studies. She argues that interest in the history of these fields is important for E.S. as a discipline, because it legitimizes it as a field. In making this argument, Goggin points out the various niches carved out by each field in different intellectual space; calling attention to the use of the German ideas of Wissenshaft (science), naturwissenshaft (“an endeavor that created universal truth”), and geisteswissenschaft (“an endeavor that operates within contingent truths”) (65). This seems to be regarded as the largest tipping point of the differentiation into disciplines, as McComiskey also calls attention to this split as being very significant to English studies (6). Continue reading A Bibliography and a History