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Old 08-23-2007, 06:04 AM   #1
ColoradoGuy
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Whatsa matta wit rhetoric?

Rhetoric (variously defined) has been one of those tropes of literary criticism for decades, with books like Burke's Rhetoric of Motives and Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction staples of Lit/Crit courses. But why did rhetoric as rhetoric get such a bad rap? For a millennium or so it was, along with dialectic and grammar, a respected leg of the medieval pedagogic triad of the trivium, a foundation of the liberal arts. Yet, according to my OED, by the mid-sixteenth century the word had a pejorative sense: "artificial, insincere, or extravagant." But if you look over the touchstone work about rhetoric by Aristotle (available in a very nice, readable, and free online version here) you find him presenting the view that, properly presented, noble and reasonable arguments will prevail over ignoble and unreasonable ones.

Anybody have any thoughts, rhetorically speaking? Does life on message boards largely consist of rhetorical gestures?
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Old 08-23-2007, 06:22 AM   #2
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Sophistry

Quote:
Originally Posted by ColoradoGuy View Post
Anybody have any thoughts, rhetorically speaking? Does life on message boards largely consist of rhetorical gestures?
Is that a rhetorical question?

I don't think anything went wrong all the sudden with rhetoric. Plato showed his own "Socratic" methods to be in some sense the deconstruction of sophistry...the sophist being one whose sophisticated use of rhetoric allows him to move easily from one mode of drawing people in to another and in effect...deceiving them by hiding their own motives in following him by his sophisticated use of rhetoric....ie as much by using the unspoken imagistic (aural and arbitrary and associative) side of language as the explicit syntactical/analytical side of language.
Whenever the unspoken is pulling the audience along more than the explicit...then it seems that rhetoric becomes associated with manipulation rather than enlightened discussion and beneficial group action. This was apparently true in Plato's Athens (at least as Plato saw it) and it may well seem true in other contexts.

On message boards, the unspoken messages are of necessity quite substantial and so it is difficult to feel that one is not being constantly deceived...and all the more so when there are occasional indications of the possibilities of some subtle and sophisticated uses and manipulations of languages and images.

Last edited by Higgins; 08-23-2007 at 06:26 AM.
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