Friday, September 10, 2010

Rhetoric: An Introduction


If Aristotle considered rhetoric to be the study of "the available means of persuasion," modern rhetoricians take a more expansive view of rhetoric, one which studies all of the relationships between text producers (writers, speakers, designers), text consumers (readers, listeners viewers), and the meaning or content present in that text. When we are primarily interested in moving the text consumer, we are focusing on the kinds of persuasion Aristotle emphasized. When we focus on the text producer, we are more interested in expressive communication than persuasion. When we focus on content, we are more interested in in informative communication. Finally, when we focus on texts, we are interested in the kinds of interpretive work we often associate with courses in literature.

Looking at rhetoric from a broader view, the Greeks viewed rhetoric as techne: a practical art achieved through the deliberate action of a rational being. The Greeks saw the acquisition of this type of knowledge occurring through a three step process. First, the individual begins with the natural disposition (physis) to acquire the art, but suffers through a period of inexperience. Next, through a combination of experimentation and chance, the individual achieves a measure of success. After repetition of this success, the individual reaches a level of practice said to be "skilled" or "experienced." Thus, rhetorical practice for many early Greek rhetoricians often began with memorization and repetition of classic speeches.

So rhetoric, as a techne, begins as a gift of nature (physis), but through practice, raises it to an art, and gives it a place in public life (the polis).


Post a Comment

<< Home