So, I kind of forgot that I had to do some makeup work for the class. Anyway, this is my first response essay, or rather; it is the response essay to the first reading that was assigned back in September. It is now November and the semester is more than half over, but here it is. The reading that was assigned back then served as an introduction to rhetoric, something that I have had experience in with a previous class, and have continued to learn about through the class I am currently taking. It was strange in a sense to go back and read an introduction to rhetoric when I was already picking up definitions and getting a general handle on it. Also, I’m one of those people who do not normally read the introductions. I look at it, see how long it usually is, and then go, eh, I can figure out what this book is about by reading it. Despite the oddity of reading an introduction about a topic halfway through a course on that topic, I did find the introduction to rhetoric to be an informative read that succinctly laid out the history of rhetoric. I enjoyed reading how, throughout the ages, approaches to rhetoric changed and evolved.
Although I am going for an MA in English, my specialty is in literature and not rhetoric. Having been exposed to rhetoric, I can see the immense value that it has and why some of my friends were attracted to further study it at the PhD level. What I enjoyed the most about the reading was the section on postmodernism and how the movement affected rhetoric. I liked the idea that meaning can be a construct determined by those who are in power to reinforce their own power structure, while further disenfranchising other groups.
My own personal battle within the realm of rhetoric is dealing with those who believe that I should not have rights because of my sexual preference. I am all too use to hearing how my love, or my desire to be married is wrong because it conflicts with another person’s belief. It becomes even harder when that belief is one that has been shared by the majority of Americans. I am all too familiar with anti-gay rhetoric and the negative effects it can have, whether on myself or any of my brothers, sisters, gender fluid, or transitional members of the LGBTQIAP?+ spectrum. But, I also participate in the field of rhetoric, I may not study it, but I use language every day. It is my own personal use of language that allows me to establish my own identity. There are oppressive groups that seek to repress me and others of my group. But I am still here. I can and do use language to assert my selfhood. Language, especially rhetoric associated with propaganda, has certainly been used to assert power and dominance at the expense of those who fall out of the so called traditional mainstream. However, I think that language can also be utilized by disenfranchised groups to rewrite the narrative that places them in those oppressive positions. How this can be achieved is something worth studying.
In the “Rhetorical Tradition,” readers are given a general introduction into how the use rhetoric has evolved since the Classical Era. Interestingly enough, it’s easy to see how the Classical period’s definition(s) of rhetoric still dominates much of how it’s viewed today.
It is inescapable to discuss Classical rhetoric without discussing Aristotle, the reading suggests, because of his creation of the system by which it was defined. For example, rhetoric was largely defined by oration and, by no surprise, emphasizes the importance of public speaking by offering detailed description of how to prepare speech in governmental settings, political settings, and ceremonial settings.
It is even more interesting, however, to note how many church fathers during the early Christian period condemned and even attempted to suppress rhetoric because of its association with the “paean” past. This attempt to disassociate with the Classical definition was seemingly unsuccessful with Augustine’s decision in favor of rhetoric. It does so, it seems, because of how powerful rhetoric can be in influencing “principles and beliefs” (8). It is clear how the use of rhetoric and language can be used as a way to obtain power.
By definition, the Renaissance strived to imitate the Classical period in many ways -- and this is even exemplified in its use of rhetoric due to “renewed interest in classical learning” (9). The Renaissance, too, is notable for increasing the literacy of women. The suppression of a woman’s right to speak or read, however, was still very much alive, but here readers can begin to see an emergence of a marginalized group using speech and writing to fight against marginalization.
The eighteen-century, it seems, differs in its definition of effective rhetoric due to its increased emphasis on appealing to emotion (pathos) instead of solely logic (logos). While “Classical rhetoric emphasizes logos” (4) Eighteenth-century philosophers underline the importance of pathos possibly due to the increased study of psychology and examination of human nature. And, by the nineteenth-century, Alexander Bain’s textbook on written composition exemplifies the interconnectivity between rhetoric and psychology, showing the further emphasis of psychology as an independent field of study. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychology, would then go on to study hidden speech -- a new frontier in the use of rhetoric.
A last notable observation: Virginia Woolf’s argument that “what women can do with language is not yet known” (15) is fascinating to consider, and would make for an interesting class discussion.
James Clifford’s “The Predicament of Culture” opens with a poem by William Carlos Williams that is not only a relevant introduction to the author’s subject matter, but raises a number of questions and concerns about Williams’ attitude toward the growing social and culture shift occurring throughout the twentieth-century.
It seems that the twentieth-century can partially be defined as a “collision” of different cultures, religions, and traditions more obviously visible than in the recent past. Williams returns home to practicing medicine (it seems) to be directly confronted by a young woman he employs, a housekeeper, whom he considers an “other.”
It is difficult not to see how Eloise is considered an “other” when he refers to her as having “a dash of Indian blood” and “ungainly hips and flopping breasts” (3). Williams even flirts with what many would consider the white savior complex in his line that states: “she’ll be rescued by an agent -- / reared by the state and / sent out at fifteen to work in / some hard-pressed / house in the suburbs “ (3). His use of the word “rescued” is impossible to ignore -- Williams seems to view Elise as a victim, and one that would have otherwise had very little future without his family employing her.
Clifford, while still in discussion of “The Predicament of Culture,” broadens his subject matter to not only include Williams and Eloise, but the relationship between the capitalistic West and by people tied to traditional pasts. This, however, is not the only dichotomy Clifford wants to bring to light. He notes that women and minorities were also beginning to find a voice for themselves. And, because of this, “the time is past when privileged authorities could routinely ‘give voice’ to others without fear of contradiction” (7).
Today, women and minorities continue to fight for a voice. And it is especially disheartening to realize many cultures are continuously forced to prove their identity. Clifford’s description of Wampanoag Indians having to prove their authenticity to the Boston Federal Court is a model example of this notion.
Moving from a specific example involving two individuals (Eloise and Williams), to a group of Native Americans having their identity questioned, Clifford further broadens his focus to stating his book is “concerned with Western visions and practices” (9). More specifically, Clifford’s admission that his “primary goal is to “open space for cultural futures” is, arguably, his most important sentence in this excerpt, and potentially great classroom discussion topic. Clifford recognizes the threat of “national” unification that native groups have had to defend against, and doesn’t want the safeguarding of culture to be looked at as something tied only to the “past”
Finding a balance between cultural preservation and national unity are both undoubtedly important and how we, as human beings, could assist Clifford in achieving his primary goal would be interesting to discuss with other students.
James F. Blandino
Cultural Rhetoric, Critical Response #1
The first set of readings opened my eyes to a new perspective on rhetoric. The topic is expansive, pervasive, and bleeds into all facets of waking life and dreams; rhetoric is used to explain the mysterious and the mundane. Hence, rhetoric will always be tied to culture and ethnography.
My initial thoughts on the subject brought me back to my undergraduate experiences in a speech course called rhetorical communication; this course was limited to rhetoric in the classical sense of effective oratory. This semester of speech communication did not impress upon me the significance of how the ideas of every other subject I was taking are proven, debated, and taught to students through rhetoric. It is ironic that without rhetoric, there is no liberal arts based education, yet they relegate rhetoric to first year speech courses and philosophy courses in informal logic that are primarily geared toward students preparing for the LSAT. I now agree with the ideas of Kenneth Burke: "rhetoric merges with political, psychological, sociological, religious, and aesthetic investigations of human behavior." I may take it a step further and say that without rhetoric, there are no cultural mediums.
Any product intended to persuade can be considered rhetoric. This includes fiction, political speeches, movies, myth, pop music, arguments in a court of law, every religious text, folklore, children's toys, pharmaceutical drug studies, fine art, modern psychoanalysis, comic books, advertisements, philosophical treatise, historical accounts, anthropology, education systems, self-help books; the list is infinite. The reach of rhetoric is grows longer as I write this sentence. Bizzel and Herzberg note that, "After the classical period, the bounds of rhetoric expanded, until today they encompass virtually all forms of discourse and symbolic communication." That is a big bite to chew and swallow in one semester.
After reading this selection, I look at every lecture I notated, every book I read, every song I listened to, every conversation I had in a bar or around a dinner table, every sculpture and painting analyzed, every sermon, every television show, movie, conversations with my parents, newspaper article, and advertisement I have seen as a piece of rhetoric that is shaping my ideas about the spaces I inhabit. Rhetoric is creating my waking and dreaming reality. In fact, this critical response is a piece of written rhetoric that will, in the classical sense, utilize appeals to the emotions and logic of my audience (the class) in order to persuade them that I can add to the conversation surrounding cultural rhetoric. Also in the classical style of rhetoric, I utilized (subconsciously) the first three stages of rhetoric to create this response: invention, arrangement, and style.
We simply cannot orient ourselves in the universe without rhetoric; hence, its pervasiveness. Without rhetoric, there is no way to perceive the state of things around us. The constellations in the night sky would not be more than pretty twinkles without the rhetoric of astrology. We talk things out through discourse and attempt to represent it through symbols. In that vein, I consider the first primitive cave paintings to be artifacts of cultural rhetoric. Even scientific knowledge is debated in order for truth to emerge from the discourse. Bizzell and Herzberg observe that, "Reality itself is a function of the way we use language." Here, rhetoric intersects with epistemology, as it becomes knowledge, our "truth". Our very thoughts are constructs of language and symbols, rhetoric.
Can we trust in rhetoric to produce an absolute truth? I tend to agree with Nietzsche; rhetoric can not show us an absolute truth because it is fundamentally imperfect due to perspectives and ethos. "What we are pleased to call Truth is a social arrangement, not a glimpse of ultimate reality. Scientists and philosophers delude themselves in thinking otherwise. They construct a works they wish to believe in, using language that is far from objective and neutral." To paraphrase, the history of colonial Africa written by an English man is going to be different from a history of colonial Africa written by a Nigerian man. Those who control the popular rhetoric, control history and create the "reality" that the subjugated live in. In the beginning, according to Genesis, God used rhetoric to create the universe; when he "said", aloud in oration, let there be light. Every creation myth of every religion is also a piece of rhetoric, but it is very interesting that the Christian god used the spoken word to create all things.
Rhetoric shapes our perceptions of reality, which is a bit scary because those who control the rhetoric (historically white men of privilege and classical education) can shape culture and history. In doing so, popular rhetoric marginalizes those who not allowed a voic
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