Attempting to Situate Myself…Hold On

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.

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The Rhetoric According to Dr. Moberly

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.

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PAB #4: The Boring Title Edition

deWinter, Jennifer. “A Bibliographic Synthesis of Rhetorical Criticism.” Rhetoric Review, Vol. 25, No. 4 (2006), pp. 388-407. Jstor. <>

For my two PAB entries today, I chose two very different texts, both touching on the topic of theory/method. The first of these is deWinter’s “Bibliographic Synthesis of Rhetorical Criticism.” I really like articles like this, especially for this class, because it gives a very good general overview of the topic, and that is really what I need right now. There are several methods/theories that conflict in deWinter’s piece, as it is meant to be comprehensive, but the one I want to focus on is the difference between two very diverse methods: etic vs emic (392). Primarily, this is a question of rhetorical analysis scale. Does the scholar choose to focus on the broader implications of a rhetorical text, thus leading to sweeping theories (etic), or does the scholar drill down to “one rhetorical situation as it is contextualized in culture and history,” and make statements only about that event, rather than about rhetorical theory as a whole? I would argue that the former is currently being prioritized in the academy, but that the latter is gaining traction.

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Putting the OoS in Discourse

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).

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The OoS is on Fire

Welch, Kathleen E. “A Critique of Classical Rhetoric: The Contemporary Appropriation of Ancient Discourse.” Rhetoric Review, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Autumn, 1987), pp. 79-86. Jstor. 10/8/14. <>

One of the challenges with studying rhetoric is figuring out how to read ancient literature itself.  What translations are best? What lenses should ancient literature be read through?  In “A Critique of Classical Rhetoric,” Welch gives us her opinion.  Towards the beginning of the article, she laments that the rhetoricians of the ancient past have been reduced to “automatons” (79). She cites a form of “reductivism” (cf 80) that reduces (a job that reductivism seems well suited for!) the rhetoricians to simple logical formulas.  Interestingly enough, one of the formulas she disdains is the separation of rhetoric into epideictic, judicial, and legislative types (79). She cautions against this simple reading of ancient rhetoric, instead enjoining her readers to make themselves aware of the nuances each rhetorician attempts to portray.

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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