I’m briefly taking up Essays on Classical Rhetoric and Modern Discourse, which is a little dated (1984), so I’m being very choosy, hitting high points and uber-relevant sections, and not spending more time than necessary. I got this text right at the end of my M.A., and it’s served me well since then; there’s lots of important thinking represented under the covers here. I’ll start today with Lunsford and Ede.
Lunsford, Andrea A., and Lisa S. Ede. “On Distinctions between Classical and Modern Rhetoric” (37-59)
Lunsford and Ede argue that much of the discourse distinguishing classical rhetoric from “new” rhetoric (i.e. that of Young, Becker, and Pike, etcetera) has tended toward “unfortunate oversimplifications and distortions” of classical rhetoric (37). As prime exemplar, they offer Aristotle, showing how many “new” readings of Aristotle’s Rhetoric don’t take into account many of the explicit and tacit connections between his rhetorical work and his philosophical and ethical work, instead making false and even contradictory distinctions between classical and modern rhetoric.
They treat four distinctions in particular:
- Classical rhetoric defines man as rational; Modern rhetoric defines man as symbol-using
- Classical rhetoric emphasizes logical proofs; Modern rhetoric emphasizes emtional proofs
- Classical rhetoric takes an antagonistic or manipulative relationship to the audience; Modern rhetoric posits a cooperative and dialogic relationship to the audience
- Classical rhetoric is primarily about persuasion; Modern rhetoric is primarily about communication
(The major contradiction Lunsford and Ede point out is that Classical rhetoric “too rationalistic” according to 1 and 2 and at the same time discounted as “too dependent upon emotional manipulation and coercion” in 3 and 4. (40). The authors then amend these assumptions, showing how the pisteis of logos, pathos, ethos are “inseparable strands” rather than discrete selectable elements of discourse and how the enthymeme is much more than the logical tool it is often accepted to be.
In counter to this separated view, Lunsford and Ede offer a set of similarities (complete with “qualifying distinctions”) between classical (Aristotelian) rhetoric and modern theory:
- “Both classical and modern rhetoric view man as a language-using animal who unites reason and emotion in discourse with another.” Qualifier: Aristotle is about oral, we are about print. (45)
- “In both periods rhetoric provides a dynamic methodology (techne) whereby rhetor and audience may jointly have access to knowledge.” Qualifier: Aristotle assumes clear states of knowing of the world and those in it; modernist world views don’t assume such clear knowers and knowns. (45)
- “In both periods rhetoric has the potential to clarify and inform activities in numerous related fields.” Qualifier: Aristotle has a clear centralizing theory; modern rhetoric does not have a systematic, generally accepted theory to inform practice. (45)
They end with a (now familiar) (and very Booth-esque) appeal to reinstate rhetoric at the center of the curriculum.
Other brief and assorted notes:
“In Aristotle’s system, knowledge may be either of the necessary or the contingent. Knowledge of the necessary or universal, episteme, operates in the realm of the theoretical or scientific. Breaking with Plato, Aristotle admits of another kind of knowledge, that of the contingent. Such knowledge, doxa, is the way of knowing contingent reality (that is, the world around us that is both characterized and limited by change). Rhetoric’s realm is limited to the contingent, and the connections among language, thought, and that reality are grounded in an epistemology which posits reality independent of the knower. In short, rhetoric uses thought and language to lead to judgment (krisis) as the basis of action in matters of this world. [. . .] Rhetoric, poetics, and ethics all involve doxa, knowledge of the contingent, shifting reality.” (47)