Modern Rhet – Week 3

Richards, I.A. Philosophy of Rhetoric.

Purpose of Rhetoric: “Rhetoric should be a study of misunderstanding and its remedies” (3).

Keywords: meaning, context, (mis)understanding,

Quick Summary: Richards contends that “meanings,” or I suppose one could say “signified,” only exist as a way for us to obscure the complete relativity of words, whose “meanings” are ALWAYS contingent on what surrounds them (including the other words, but also the cultural context, the speaker’s ethos, etc.). (10). Rhetoric should study Losses in communication instead of simply successes in communication (3).

“The proper meaning superstition” (11) key term. Idea that a word has a meaning of its own. A superstition when it forgets that meaning comes from context. Meaning not something to be used, but something to be explained (which diverges from Derrida, b/c he goes further and says that conversation cannot be made clear b/c every return to the conversation is going to change the meaning… etc.)

Taking on two schools of meaning. Associationists – word refers to a symbol, done by association between morpheme “Cat” and the animal you see. Two way operation.

Richards finds fault with that definition, by making it about three things – word, referent, and context. Three way operation.

(13) language and thought are not the same (challenges behaviorists and associationists, who are both positivists)

He feels that art for art’s sake, the image alone, is not worthwhile criticism.

Large potential for social unrest, so focus on misunderstandings, building community,

What are the problems of traditional rhetoric? Too focused on macro level. Why? Views any type of misunderstanding as a weakness or teaches ways to get around it instead of how to work with and get around, and functions only to uphold the status quo. Doesn’t let people outside club have access.

Look at macro level, as welll as micro (which is his addition whereas trad. Rhet was only macro)

Suggests that persuasion is but one mode of discourse and that the old rhetoric has unfortunately been too preoccupied with it. There are other modes, such as “exposition” that attempt to state a position rather than persuade others to it. (24)
“All thinking from the lowest to the highest … is sorting” (30). This is connected to the idea that there are no sensations, only perceptions because everything we feel is filtered through what we have felt in the past, we don’t just feel pain, we construct a category of pain and place the feeling into that category by likening it to other sensations and sorting them among all our other feelings.

Our understanding based on context is still hinging on what we pay attention to (ie – the coroner who says the man died b/c of the murderer’s acts, rather than his lack of wearing a bulletproof vest or his meeting the murderer, etc) (34)

Ambiguity is no longer a fault, but an indication of the power of language (40).

Lecture III – an emphasis on movement, from and between meanings, rather than a fixed or stabilized meaning
Reponse: What is most striking to me about Richard’s text is the year in which it is written. Though I hear constantly that the ideas of social construction, or deconstruction, or whatever other “current” ideas we have stemmed from somewhere, I so often only see contrasts between then and now. Richards provides a nice link between the Blair and Campbell age and the Derridean age. At one point, Richards states that the inquiry of rhetoric must be philosophic, and here I think he basically means critical, that “rhetoric” must always be in play and not taken to mean what we ‘currently’ seem to think it means. It must be a larger philosophic (critical) inquiry into how language works, rather than simply a focus on style. However, he does not quite go so far as Derrida when he suggests that we can “fix” misunderstandings (see above). His stress on the power of language (40) suggests that he is coming closer to that social constructivist (or perhaps Berlin would call Social-epistemic) stance.

Berlin, James. “Rhetoric, Poetics, and Ideology – Chpt. 5”

Purpose of Rhetoric: A study of language that goes beyond signs and signifiers to study the context of language use and its implications in power.

Keywords: Social constructionist, social epistemic, ideology,

Quick Summary: Taking previous argument about rhetoric/poetic split to next level. Discusses the nature of ideology using Therborn – “ideology interpellates subjects… through discourse and offers directives about three important domains of experience: what exists, what is good, and what is possible” (84).  He then goes on to explain how Social Constructionist rhetoric tried to take up these ideas, but didn’t take economic issues into enough account, rather focusing on the political.  The key difference was that Social Constructionism “never abandons the notion of the individual as finally a sovereign free agent, capable of transccending materials and social conditions” (86).  In Social Epistemic, it’s “political agency, not individual autonomy” that is the guiding feature.  He wraps up that section by stating that “The work of social-epistemic rhetoric, then, is to study the producion and reception of these historically significant signifying practices” (90).  The point Berlin is driving towards is that rhetoric and poetics are not about Composition and Literature, but rather are a symbiotic pair in the study of language and its relation to our preceived worlds.  Thus, there should not be a prizing of Literature over Rhetoric.

Response: I see where Berlin is going with this, because that’s where he’s always going, but I think he goes around the bush a few too many times and I get a little lost about what the point is to some of it.  I also worry that the only people this type of chapter convinces are those who are already convinced.  One of the most persuasive parts, though, was when he discussed the need to understand both aesthetics and function (poetics and rhetorics) when looking at a complex social text like Hitler’s speeches in order to find out how they managed to persuade so many people to do such monstrous things.  Overall, it feels like an unsatisfactory conclusion for all the postmodern, ideological, social arguments that he makes.

I found the separation between social constructionist and social epistemic an interesting one (as I could never figure it out before), though I do wonder strongly at his classification of “writing as a process” as part of the elite social-epistemic rather than simply the social constructionist.  It seems to me this idea falls more squarely into the first category, unless one is talking about the materialist arguments such as Bruce Horner makes in his Terms of Work in Composition.  Or, I suppose, he does talk about Janice Laur who did a lot with feminist material conditions.  I just don’t really understand how open-ended questions and discovery and invention work classify something as being about political agency without individual autonomy.


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