Brooke – Lingua Fracta

Brooke, Collin. Lingua Fracta. Creeskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc., 2009.

Lingua Fracta starts from the premise that there is a technological dimension to rhetoric, but as a discipline we have become fixated on the print context of rhetoric. As a result our understandings and practices of rhetoric are steeped in print media and do not appreciate any other dimensions, least of all new technologies. Instead of technology being the enemy and impending doom of print media and rhetoric, as some have predicted, new communication and information technologies can in fact go beyond offering new sites for rhetorical practice and prompt us to rethink our traditions. At the same time, in moving toward a rhetoric of new media, Brooke urged scholars not to try and reinvent the wheel, but to look to our traditional canon and trivium for the basis of this transformation.

Brooke’s underlying argument is that criticism and critical frameworks are inadequate and unsuitable for the study of new media because it requires a stable and fixed text: “New criticism simply because criticism or “close reading,” a species of analysis that survives to the present day in the form of rhetorical analyses for instance, that urge students to locate instances of ethos, logos, and pathos in particular texts” (9). Brooke stated that new criticism is not intrinsically wrong, but they are not suitable because they render “new media” as objects to be studied and “[n]ew media ‘objects’ lend themselves neither to close reading nor really to demonstrating the broader values represented by the theoretical concepts that Landow deploys” (14). Instead, Brooke asserted that a rhetoric of new media should view new media and texts as interfaces instead of objects:

“A turn toward the interface as our unit of analysis would be an acknowledgement that it is not necessary that these processes culminate in products (which can then be decoupled from the contexts of their production), but rather that what we think of as products (books, articles, essays) are but special, stabilized instances of ongoing process conducted at the level of interface.” (25)


“…we must begin to move from a text-based rhetoric, exemplified by our attachment to the printed page, to a rhetoric that can account for the dynamics of the interface” (26).

Brooke argued that while a rhetoric of new media requires us to rethink our fixation on textual objects, we do not have to invent this rhetoric wholesale. To this end, in chapter 2, he explicated how we can revamp our traditional rhetorical canons in light of an ecological framework, highlights scholars who are beginning to do such work, and lays out his model of rethinking the trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and logic into layered ecologies.

In this ecological approach the trivium can be rethought as:

  • grammar —> ecologies of code
  • rhetoric —> ecologies of practice
  • dialectic/ logic —> ecologies of culture (47)

“One way of describing the relationship among these three ecologies is to see practices as combining various elements of code to produce a statement or action, one of many such that then combine and contend to produce a particular culture” (52).

Brooke also described each of the five rhetorical canons as an ecology: “a complex system of people, sites, practices, and objects” (52) Taken together, Brooke used the canons to form an ecology of practice within which the canons operate.

In chapters 3-7, Brooke refashioned each of the canons as ecologies that work to expand not only our notions of rhetorical possibility for new media, but “traditional” rhetoric as well.

“This framework is particularly useful in the case of interfaces, those imperfectly bounded encounters where users, technologies, and contexts intersect. Instead of describing a process that culminates in the production of a textual object, the trivium and canons help us envision a discursive space that is ongoing – one that is shaped both by the intentions of individual users and contextual constraints.” (200)

Enoch – Survival Stories: Feminist Historiographic Approaches to Chicana Rhetorics of Sterilizationand Abuse

Enoch, Jessica. “Survival Stories: Feminist Historiographic Approaches to Chicana Rhetorics of Sterilization and Abuse.” Walking and Talking Feminist Rhetorics. Eds. Lindal Buchanan and Kathleen J. Ryan. West LaFayette: Parlor Press LLC, 2010. 183-199. Print.  

In “Survival Stories: Feminist Historiographic Approaches to Chican Rhetorics of Sterilization and Abuse,” Jessica Enoch draws on feminist historiographic methods, including those employed by Shirley Wilson Logan and Jacqueline Jones Royster recover rhetorical work of African American women in order to recover and reassess the Chicana rhetorical tradition of speaking out against sterilization abuse against Chicanas and other women of color. Enoch’s study is centered on the class action civil rights action suit, Madrigal v. Quilligan, in which ten Chicanas joined forces to argue that their constitutional rights were violated when doctors at the USC-LA Medical Center performed tubal ligations without the women’s informed consent. Enoch uses Cherríe Moraga’s “theory in the flesh,” in which physical realities of minority women’s lives necessarily come together to create specific voices, politics, and epistemologies, to frame the plaintiffs’ arguments for justice as collective “rhetorics of survival” in which they “forcefully fought for their right to personal, familial, and cultural survival.” (184)

First, Enoch examines the arguments made in the case as both an instance of and an inroad to the rich tradition of Chicana feminism (185). For her third approach, Enoch contextualizes the women’s arguments in their immediate setting to better understand the intended meaning of their rhetorical strategies and how they were received and interpreted by the presiding judge. In her fourth move, Enoch offers a new feminist methodology through “historiographic tracking” and recontextualizing the arguments made by the original Chicanas beyond their immediate contexts in order to answer the question, “what else?” (185, 196)

Enoch expands traditional feminist historiography in significant ways by situating Chicanas own words in their immediate rhetorical situation and by recontextualizing them in subsequent rhetorical situations.  The former approach has the potential to reveal new phenomena, such as the judge in the case’s “rhetoric of normalization” and his characterization of the women as atypical and deviant (198). Enoch states this is significant in that it:

“It is no longer enough to know that women’s words have been stricken from the public record. We should now press further to excavate and understanding the rhetorical strategies that those  in power used (and use) to make this striking seem “logical,” “normal,” and “reasonable.” (198)

By adding her fourth methodological tool of locating prior rhetorical arguments in different rhetorical situations to the historiographic trade, Enoch gives voice to marginalized women. She suggests that this method “enables scholars to look beyond the ways that rhetorical endeavors of women were ignored or silenced in order to see how these rhetorics survived,” and concludes that, “This method should give us hope and enable us to tell survival stories.”

Aune – Marxism and Rhetorical Theory

Aune, James Arnt. “Cultures of Discourse: Marxism and Rhetorical Theory.” Rhetoric and Marxism. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, Inc, 1994. 539-551. Print. Polemic Series .

James Arnt Aune began his essay from the position that rhetorical theory could benefit by filiing in the gaps between it and Marxism and questioned what Marxist rhetoric would look like in times past and at the time he wrote his text. He claimed that if in fact Marxism had been silent about rhetoric, which he asserted, then rhetoric had been just about as silent about Marxism.

One major difference between rhetoric and Marxism Aune noted was that the while he claimed the term “ideology” had attained quasi-conanical status in rhetorical criticism, Marx’s central focus was on class struggle; this focus Aune posited had been “thoroughly ignored” by rhetorical scholars.

His major critique is that rhetorical criticism was not as productive as it could or should be because scholars hadn’t “seriously” examined the root of how capitalism has affected the theory and practice of rhetoric: “The ambiguous position of academics within the class structure of advanced capitalism makes ideological criticism appealing but scarcely more useful politically than when the Frankfurt school invented it in the 1930s” (540).

To this end, Aune focused on the repression of rhetoric in Marxist theory and the reading of the history of theories of public argument in Marxist terms in order to present the beginnings of a theory of Marxist rhetoric. To do this he identified limitations of both Marxist traditions that specifically address communication, and rhetorical studies’ emphasis on ideology.

On page 549, he concluded and summarized the main themes of his overall argument in the context of some of his theses toward a Marxist rhetorical theory:

  1. “By foregrounding the role of labor in constructing our human world, a Marxist approach to communication may help revitalize the criticism of public discourse.”
  2. “By foregrounding class struggle rather than public consensus, a Marxist rhetorical theory may be better able to explain broad historical shifts in rhetorical practice and pedagogy than do existing alternatives.”
  3. “Traditional rhetoric, in privileging common sense as a starting point for the construction of enthymemes, may provide a needed corrective to Marxism’s tendency to view the common sense of a culture merely as a rationalization of that culture’s relations of domination.”
  4. “Uniting Marxism’s traditional concern for economic democracy with traditional (if at times ambiguous) concern for political democracy may provide a narrative structure for a new politics, one that views revolution as a struggle against racial, sexual, and economic oppression and against the specialized languages of expertise, which have characterized “liberal” reform in this century. Marxism needs to correct rhetoric’s avoidance of the category of labor in the construction of the social world, while rhetoric needs to correct Marxism’s one-sided focus on labor at the expense of other forms of domination.” (549)

Aune’s main argument is “…that a revitalized conception of traditional rhetoric, one informed by Marxist theory and practice, may be of some use in advancing, in not the Revolution, at least the humane practice of public argument” (549).

“What Marxism has taught us, in admittedly flawed ways, is that human beings have the potential to build a heroic society. What students of rhetoric and communication can give Marxism is a more human way of bridging the critique of ideology with political action. The ultimate point is that audiences, when presented with the contradictions inherent in their social systems, have a choice about the ideological narratives to which they will subscribe or which they will create. That these narratives will not be limited to the banal yet frightening ones of the White House or the Kremlin depends on our ability to extend our imaginative range. As Marx (1975) himself wrote, “Every emancipation is a restoration of the human world and of human relationships to man himself” (p. 240).” (550)

Edbauer – Unframing models of public distribution: From rhetorical situation to rhetorical ecologies

Edbauer, Jenny. “Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 35.4 (2005): 5-24. Print.

In this article, Jenny Edbauer further expanded the theory of rhetorical situation by urging readers to rethink notions of public and location that had been thought of as static and fixed. She situated her own assertion that rhetorical scholars and pedagogues might benefit from using the framework of a rhetorical ecology as opposed to the traditional rhetorical situation among Lloyd Bitzer’s theory of rhetorical situation and its critiques. According to Edbauer, Bitzer and the critiques all work to “create a body of scholarship that stretches our own notions of “rhetorical publicness into a contextual framework that permanently troubles sender-receiver models.” Additionally, she drew upon scholarship on public communication to demonstrate the limits of oversimplified communication and rhetorical situation models that examine either sender- receiver-text, or rhetor, audience, context as discreet, objective elements.

Edbauer also drew on Louise Wetherbee Phelps to argue that rhetorics should not be read as elemental conglomerations, but as always in a state of flux. For Edbauer, there is no fixed location, but exigence is an amalgamation of processes and encounters. Contrary to Bitzer and some of his critics, like Richard Vatz, exigence is not located in any element of the model (8). Edbauer asserted that “indeed, that we dub exigence is more like a shorthand way of describing a series of events. The rhetorical situation is part of what we might call, borrowing from Phelps, an ongoing social flux” (9). Instead of using the terministic screen of conglomerate elements, Edbauer advocated for using a framework of affective ecologies that recontextualizes rhetorics in their temporal, historical, and lived fluxes: “While one framework does not undermine the other, I argue that this ecological model allows us to more fully theorize rhetoric as a public (s) creation.”

Edbauer explicated how this ecological shift can unframe or expand the way in which we understand rhetorical production. She highlighted how the Latin root of “situation”, situs, implies a “bordered, fixed location” (9) and the incompatibility with embodied and networked nature of rhetoric: “the social does not reside in fixed sites, but rather in a networked space of flows and connections” (9). Edbauer discussed Margaret Sylverson’s emergent ecological process of writing as an example of a rhetorical ecology framework applied to composition that doesn’t just focus on the “writer” “audience” or “text” at a time. For Edbauer, this also has real implications for the classroom:

“Bringing this logic into the realm of our own rhetorical pedagogy, we are reminded that rhetorically-grounded education can mean something more than learning how to decode elements, analyze texts, and thinking about public circulations of rhetoric. It can also engage processes and encounters. Not “learning by doing,” but “thinking by doing.” Or, better yet, thinking/doing—with a razor thin slash mark barely keeping the two terms from bleeding into each other” (22-23).

Perelman and Olbrechts-Tytecha – The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation

Perelman, C., and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1969. Print.

In this classic text on argumentation originally written in French by Perelman and Olbrechts-Tytecha, the authors presented a “new rhetoric” that reintroduced argumentation into rhetoric and reason. The two asserted their theory of argumentation by establishing its link to Greek rhetoric and dialectic in order to break with Cartesian concepts of reason and reasoning which they claimed had defined Western philosophy for the previous three centuries. The exigence behind their argument is that traditional logic and reasoning alone cannot help resolve all disputes (and they never have); to this end all available means need to be explored. Under Cartesian logic, claims that are not self-evident could/ would be considered false, but Perelman and Olbrechts-Tytecha argued against this reasoning and for the exploration of the plausible:

“…the post-Cartesian concept of reason obliges us to make certain irrational elements intervene every time the object of knowledge is not self-evident. Whether these elements consist of obstacles to be surmounted-such as imagination, passion, or suggestion-or of suprarational sources of certitude such as the heart, grace, “Einfuehlung,” or Bergsonian intuition, this conception introduces a dichotomy, a differentiation between human faculties, which is completely artificial and contrary to the real processes of our thought.” (3)

The consideration of these irrational elements, nor argumentation are “new” to rhetoric; however, Perelman and Olbrechs-Tytecha posited that these elements had been neglected to the detriment of rhetorical theory and criticism. They wrote: “The effect of restricting logic to the examination of the proofs termed ‘analytical’ byAristotle, together with the reduction of dialectical proofs-when anyone felt they were worth analyzing-to analytical proofs, was to remove from the study of reasoning all reference to argumentation” (509). Their text is an attempt to reduce and further reduction of proofs to formal logic.

In this treatise on argumentation, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tytecha put forth numerous technichal elements of argumentation which they said only scratched the surface. A major takeaway is that argumentation is audience-centered, not form-centered and as such:

  • has the goal of persuading a “universal audience” which is a construct of the author’s mind (the audience can legitimately be treated as universal because “for legitimate reasons, we need not take into consideration those which are not part of it” (31).)
  • is more influenced by ethos (18)
  • dictates that the presumption and “burden of proof” are dictted by the audience, not the question or rhetor (105-106)
  • relies on the “community of minds” or what Burke would call identification (14)
  • uses strategies associated with sophistry, like dissociation (the constant constantly detaching from or adding “appearances” to notions in order to appeal to their audiences) (412)

Perelman and Olbrechts-Tytecha acknowledged that their theory of argumentation and with these proofs that fall outside of formal logic sound sophistic, and would typically be dismissed as a “misleading form of reasoning” (512); however, they argued that “absolutist epistemology” has not served us as well as desired.

“Only the existence of an argumentation that is neither compelling nor arbitrary can give meaning to human freedom, a state in which a reasonable choice can be exercised. If freedom was no more than necessary adherence to a previously given natural order, it would exclude all possibility of choice; and if the exercise of freedom were not based on reasons, every choice would be irrational and would be reduced to an arbitrary decision operating in an intellectual void.” (514)

“The theory of argumentation will help to develop what a logic of value judgments has tried in vain to provide, namely the justification of the possibility of a human community in the sphere of action when this justification cannot be based on a reality or objective truth. And its starting point, in making this contribution, is an analysis of those forms of reasoning which, though they are indispensable in practice, have from the time of Descartes been neglected by logicians and theoreticians of knowledge.” (514)

Booth – Modern Dogma and Rhetoric of Assent

Booth, Wayne C. Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent. 5 Vol. Notre Dame Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1974. Print. Ward-Phillips Lectures in English Language and Literature.

In Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent,  Wayne Booth worked to deconstruct and show the incompatibility of motivism and the dogma of doubt with rhetoric and the finding of a common truth. At the core of the text is the centuries old tension between philosophy and rhetoric.  Booth analyzed a series of Bertrand Russell’s essays that illustrate the dogma of doubt to demonstrate its inability to bring people together because no reason can ever be “good” enough. Booth argued that based on motivism, where there are no experts because everyone has underlying motives that discredit them, and the requirement that Bertrand gives that the experts must agree on something for the opposite of it to be uncertain – there can never be sufficient grounds for a positive opinion.

“Russell had no place whatever for what traditional philosophers called dialectic, or sometimes rhetoric: the careful weighing of more-or-less good reasons to arrive at more-or-less probable or plausible conclusions — none too secure but better than would be arrived at by chance or unthinking impulse.” (59)

Despite Bertrand’s at times more rhetorical view on certainty, Booth asserted that Bertrand’s and other’s dogma of doubt and modernism has led to what Booth called a “befouled rhetorical climate” (99).

“…all three Russells in their different ways had told me that if they found it seeming right to do so, if their consciences told them that other men were flatly wrong and they themselves flatly right, if their visions of truth and justice were in conflict with those of other men, arbitrary decision about right and wrong could “rightly” be imposed upon others. This worldview of modernism has given support to self-righteous authoritarians of the right and to their spiritual brothers who use violence to attack the “rational establishment” from the left. A thoroughly articulated, seemingly impregnable system of dogmas has sliced the world into two unequal parts, the tiny domain of the provable, about which nobody cares very much, and the great domain of “all the rest,” in which anyone can believe or do what he pleases.” (85). (emphasis mine)

SN: A contemporary example of this climate can be seen in our current political discourse, for example, as  discussed by Karolyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson in their keynote at the 2012 Rhetoric Society of America Conference where Campbell stated Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s assertions about his opponent, President Obama, depend on public assumptions of the POTUS. These arguments, she said, don’t rely on traditional forms of argument or rebuttal because they are not evidence-based, but based on “belief”. Note these are not beliefs that are gained through mutual inquiry from both sides, but by the pushing of preconcieved notions.

Booth offered an alternative:

“My goal is (once again) not to establish a philosophy… What we must find, I think, are grounds for confidence in a multiplicity of ways of knowing. Such grounds need not be what was sought by philosophers who based themselves in science: a theory providing fixed and proved principles from which all genuine reasoning could proceed. It need only be a revitalization of what we naturally assume as we go about our intellectual and practical business in the world: namely, that there are many logics, and that each of the domains of the mind (or person) has its own kind of knowing.” (99)

Booth used Aristotle’s three proofs of logos, ethos, and pathos to elucidate how his rhetoric of assent might change the way we view rhetoric and argumentation. Booth suggested that this shift would not lead to a clear distinction between the three types of proof but a hazier one where “emotional and ethical proof will often turn out to be ‘substantive,’ and logical proof useless and misleading” (145).

Booth asked readers to “entertain” the possibility of a “social test for truth” whereby “‘it is reasonable to grant (one ought to grant) some degree of credence to whatever qualified men and women agree on, unless one has specific and stronger reasons to disbelieve'” (101).

How does this play out, however, in an example like the 2008 Presidential campaign where it was asserted and believed by many that the then presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama was a Muslim and somehow anti-American. Even “qualified” elected officials have also intimated that they believed variations of this. Is there there a greater reason to disbelieve them because of their prejudices and motives to have “their” candidate win?

Booth would argue against his rhetoric of assent being used for deception and manipulation as he asserted the goal is not to talk someone into a preconceived view, but to engage in mutual inquiry or exploration (137). For him, it is the joint inquiry that is most important and productive:

“The process of inquiry through discourse thus becomes more important than any possible conclusions, and whatever stultifies such fulfillment becomes demonstrably wrong” (137). Even if a committed doubter did not accept the “valued fact” of all individuals rhetorical nature, Booth contended,  the doubter could not avoid illustrating it as she/ he argued against it – “we discuss our doubt together, therefore we are” (138).

This all sounds great in a “good” world as Booth claimed that “rhetoric is a supremely self-justifying activity for man when those engaged in it fully respect the rules and the steps of inquiry” (138). But, as Booth well knew, we are not inthat “good” world; therefore, perhaps more than anything else, a rhetoric of assent presses us to change the constraints that hinder its fulfillment:

“A rhetoric of assent does lead, generally but firmly, to important political conclusions. Some of them will seem conservative, at least in our society, though in most societies in the world’s history they would be revolutionary enough: traditions of free discourse, of respect for persons, of civil rights, of democratic process become defensible in this view not simply as traditions but as the very conditions for fulfilling man’s life as we have defined it. But some of them are radical enough: for example, “capitalist” forms of production and distribution, as now defined, must be discarded, insofar as they depend on systematic deception.” (footnote 201) (emphasis mine)

Biesecker – Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation from within the Thematic of Differance

Biesecker, Barbara A. “Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation from within the Thematic of Differance.” Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader. Eds. Sally Caudill, Michelle Condit, and John Louis Lucaites. New York: Guilford Press, 1998. 232-246. Print.

In this essay Barbara Biesecker challenged rhetoric theorists and critics to further destabilize Lloyd Bitzer’s theory of rhetorical situation. While Richard Vatz inverted Bitzer’s hierarchy between the event and rhetor, but Biesecker questioned the potential for not “simply choosing sides” but using Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction and différance to upset the hierarchy altogether. Biesecker pointed out that deconstruction hadn’t been productively appropriated by critics working in Rhetoric. She, therefore, sought in her essay to do a reading of the rhetorical situation from within the frame of deconstructive practice in order to the possibilities  for useful analysis of rhetorical events. One example of the limitations of prior considerations of rhetorical consideration she gave is that rhetoric was seen as only having the power to influence, but not to form new identities (111).

After taking up taking up text as a constituent element of the rhetorical situation and fleshing out how Derrida’s différance as demonstrated in his essay “Glas” could be used to better understand how meaning can be made in rhetorical discourse, she then focused on “audience” as a constituent element of the rhetorical situation.

“It is in the middle or the suspense of the two previously unjoined texts that meaning can be said to have been made. In fact we might go so far as to suggest that the blithe proposition in Glas is: everything deliberately and unavoidably happens in its crease, in its fold. It is in the structural space between the Hegel column and the Genet column that Derrida’s text would play out its ‘meanings’.”

Biesecker’s application of différance can be understood in comparison to Bitzer and Vatz’s understanding of where meaning is situated in the rhetorical situation. For Bitzer, meaning is intrisic to the event and for Vatz meaning is derived from the creative act of the rhetor. Using Derrida, Biesecker argued that meaning is found in “the fold” or the differencing zone (119): “Derridean deconstruction begins by considering thè way in which all texts are inhabited by an internally divided non-originary ‘origin’ called différance” (120).

Biesecker asserted that use of this framework would lead to a deconstructive displacement of questions of origin to questions of process. In turn, this would free rhetoric theorists and critics from reading rhetoric discourses and their ‘founding principles’ (either seen as “the event” by Bitzer or the “rhetor” by Vatz ) as either the determined outcome of an objectively identifiable and discrete situation (Bitzer) or an interpreting and intending subject (Vatz) (121). “That is to say,” Bieseckers wrote, “neither the text’s immediate rhetorical situation nor its author can be taken as simple origin or generative agent since both are underwritten by a séries of historically produced displacements” (121).

This framework also challenged rhetoric’s understanding/ treatment of the subject and audience.  Biesecker argued that most scholarship, including Bitzer’s on the rhetorical situation included “audience” as a constituent element; however it is simply “named” it and not complicated it. According to Biesecker, the “subject” or “audience” had been discussed as a stable, rational, human being.

But once deconstructed, Biesecker explained that the identity of the subject then was/ is not stable, but deffered. It is deffered by “… virtue of the very principle of différence which holds that an element functions and signifies, takes on or conveys meaning, only by referring to another past or future element in an economy of traces” (125).

Biesecker presented implications for both the rhetorical situation and rhetoric as a field based on this treatment of “audience.”

For the rhetorical situation:

“From within the thematic of différance we would see the rhetorical situation neither as an event that merely induces audiences to act one way or another nor as an incident that, in representing the interests of a particular collectivity, merely wrestles the probable within the realm of the actualizable. Rather, we would see the rhetorical situation as an event that makes possible the production of identities and social relations. That is to say, if rhetorical events are analysed from within the  thematic of différance, it becomes possible to read discursive practices neither as rhetorics directed to preconstituted and known audiences nor as rhetorics “in search of” objectively identifiable  but yet undiscovered audiences.” (126)

For the field of Rhetoric:

“Simply put, the deconstruction of the subject opens up possibilities for the field of Rhetoric by enabling us to read the rhetorical situation as an event structured not by a logic of influence but by a logic of articulation. If the subject is shifting and unstable (constituted in and by the play of différance), then the rhetorical event may be seen as an incident that produces and reproduces the identities of subjects and constructs and reconstructs linkages between them.” (126)

Biesecker argued that the radical potential in this approach to work against essentializing and universalizing claims presented “one possible way to reivigorate the field, not as the first step towards renunciation of it” (127). Biesecker advocated not using deconstruction as a means to get to a singular “truth”, as Bitzer positioned his theory to do, but as a tool to produce more possibilites of rhetoric.

Vatz – The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation

Vatz, Richard E. “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation.” Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader. Eds. Sally Caudill, Michelle Condit, and John Louis Lucaites. New York: Guilford Press, 1998. 226-231. Print.

In this follow -up and critique of Lloyd Bitzer’s theory of rhetorical situation, it is clear that Richard Vatz also wants to see rhetoric recognized and valued as a discipline, but for different reasons and through different means. For example, Vatz concluded that “It is only when the meaning is seen as the result of a creative act and not a discovery, that rhetoric will be  perceived as the supreme discipline it deserves to be ” (161). Vatz argued that the notion that a single rhetorical situation can be found in a given event is a myth. He continued to go against Bitzer’s (1974) theory of rhetorical situation which relied on the understanding that the situation or event itself contained meaning and called the rhetorical discourse into existence.

Vatz main critique of Bitzer’s theory is that it reflected a Platonic worldview that not only assumed a “clear” meaning and exigence, but also a “clear” and “positive” modification that should be taken in a rhetorical situation. Vatz used Burke and sociologist Herbert Blumer to demonstrate the subjectivity in all rhetorical situations. Contending that the  world  was not  a  plot  of  discrete  events, he wrote, “the world is a scene of inexhaustible events which all compete to impinge on what Kenneth Burke calls  our ‘sliver of reality'” (156). In any given situation, according to Vatz, a rhetor must take two steps to communicate: 1) choose what facts or events are relevant and 2) translate the chosen material to make it meaningful (157). That being so, Vatz argued that “[n]o theory of the relationship between situations and rhetoric can neglect to take account of the initial  linguistic depiction of the situation” (157).

Vatz further distinguished his theory from Bitzer’s and explicated what the implications for rhetoric are:

“I would not say “rhetoric is situational,” but situations are rhetorical;  not “…exigence strongly invites utterance,” but utterance strongly invites exigence; not “the situation controls the rhetorical response…”  but the rhetoric controls the  situational response; not “…rhetorical discourse…does obtain its character-as-rhetorical from the situation which  generates it,” but situations obtain their character from the rhetoric which surrounds them or creates them.” (159)

Vatz contended that this distinction in the treatment of meaning and rhetoric would determine whether rhetoric was perceived as “parasitic” in relation to disciplines, such as philosophy and the sciences which make and/ or discover meaning, or thrived at the top of the disciplinary hierarchy as the creator of meaning.

Bitzer – The Rhetorical Situation

Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader. Eds. Sally Caudill, Michelle Condit, and John Louis Lucaites. New York: Guilford Press, 1998. 217-225. Print.

In this foundational text, Lloyd Bitzer made the case that rhetorical stuation had not been adequately attended to by theorists, including Aristotle. Bitzer asserted that prior theorists have focused on the method of the orator to address the rhetorical situation, or ignored it completely. He then unfolded his theory of situation. He stated that this essay, originally given as a lecture at Cornell University in November 1966, should be understood as an attempt to 1) revive the notion of rhetorical situation, 2) provide an adequate conception of it, and 3) establish it “as a controlling and fundamental concern of rhetorical theory” (3). Bitzer concluded by drawing comparisons between the role of science in an imperfect world and the need for rhetoric in an imperfect world. He provided the exigence for his own theorization and argument regarding rhetorical situation and argued for the importance  and relevance of rhetoric as a discipline beyond the understanding that it is merely the art of persuasion, which he asserted was necessary to warrant justification as a practical discipline:

…rhetoric as a discipline is justified philosophically insofar as it provides principles, concepts, and procedures by which we effect valuable changes in reality. Thus rhetoric is distinguished from the mere craft of persuasion which, although it is a legitimate object of scientific investigation, lacks philosophical warrant as a practical discipline. (14)

Bitzer distingushes rhetorical situation from context:

Let us regard rhetorical situation as a natural context of persons, events, objects, relations, and an exigence which strongly invites utterance; this invited utterance participates naturally in the situation, is in many instances necessary to the completion of situational activity, and by means of its participa-tion with situation obtains its meaning and its rhetorical character. (5)

Bitzer contended that rhetorical situation should be given priority because of the strong role of plays in a wide range of rhetorical discourse:

So controlling is situation that we should consider it the very’ ground of rhetorical activity’, whether that activity is primitive and productive of a simple utterance or artistic and productive of the Gettysburg Address. (5)

Prior to the creation and presentation of discourse, Bitzer said there are three constituents of rhetorical situation: exigence (an imperfection marked by urgency, an obstacle, something waiting to be done); audience (persons capable of being influenced – even one’s self); and constraints.

Bitzer also outlined six features of rhetorical situations:

  1. Are called into existence by a situation/ invitation (9)
  2. Invite a response that fits the situation (10)
  3. Dictate the purpose, theme, matter, and style of the response.
  4. Are derived from “real” situations and exigencies, not “sophistic” ones (11)
  5. Exhibit structures which are simple or complex, and more or less organized (11)
  6. Come into existence, then either “mature or decay or mature and persist — conceivably some persist indefinitely” (12)