Responsibilities of Rhetoric

First, a blurb from FoolsCap 1.0:

Heidegger mentions Aristotle’s Rhetoric as the first practical study of being-together (god I hate H’s neologisms).  If we can think of networks and network theory as also a study of being-together, how can we use that link to Aristotle to construct/perform a rhetoric that is inherently and essentially of, in, and, for the network?

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to piece together some sort of proposal for the RSA conference next year now that submissions info is finally up.  I was trying to think through things I’ve read that might make good starting points for a presentation, good scenes of inquiry that might fit the theme for the conference, “The Responsibilities of Rhetoric,” and had thus far been stymied.  Then I remembered this tiny phrase of Heidegger’s about Aristotle’s Rhetoric and I now think I may have the germ of an idea.

So, the question above is sort of phrased in response to Rice’s HASTAC presentation from a few months back, but I think this (almost passing) reference to Aristotle remains a good starting point.  Setting aside questions of the network for a moment, here are some corollary questions that might make sense to ask for a possible RSA submission:

  • If we accept Heidegger’s reading of Aristotle, does that mean that rhetoric is inherently imbued with ethical/civic obligations?
  • If so, what are they?
  • Pedagogically, if we then agree that rhetoric is/should be an ethical practice, how do we teach ethical rhetoric without becoming moralists?  There is a fine distinction here . . . .
  • And, in particular, how we teach ethical rhetoric (assuming we commit ourselves to do so) in digital writing spaces?  Do/would rhetoric’s ethical obligations shift as we move from one set of literacy practices–print–into another–the digital?
  • What is the distinction–if there is one–between claiming that rhetoric has “responsibilities” or that it has “civic-ethical obligations?”
  • Much of Plato’s work, esp. in those passages where rhetorike is condemned/maligned as techne, don’t suggest much responsibility of rhetoric at all (in fact, it is the irresponsibility of rhetoric that Plato seems most perturbed by).  But just a generation later, Aristotle (if we accept Heidegger’s reading) can imply that rhetoric does confer ethical/civic responsibilities/obligations on those who use it.  How do we account for that shift?

As always, advice or reading suggestions, feedback of any kind, appreciated.

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2 Responses to “Responsibilities of Rhetoric”

  1. vitaactiva Says:

    If you look at J.P’s 7007 syllabus, you’ll see that Aristotle warped rhetoric for many millenia. Also, something that might also be handy is “cynic rhetoric.”

  2. mike Says:

    I have taken a look at the 7007 syllabus, but I disagree with your characterization of Aristotle’s having “warped” rhetoric for a couple of reasons. First, just a quibble about JP’s syllabus:

    When Aristotle defined deductive reasoning as “the body of persuasion” in the Rhetoric he largely purged the discipline of its preexisting concern with the connection between physical embodiment and forces of persuasion.

    I’m not sure this purge consists of warping in the way you describe . . .to me, at least, “warping” suggests a heavily connottative meaning implying that something has been changed from its natural, ideal, intended state. And maybe that’s what you mean: that rhetoric is supposed to address mind as well as body. In that case, I disagree solely for the reason that I don’t like saying something should or should not do anything.

    ON the other hand, if all you mean is that Aristotle changed rhetorical theory–“warped” minus its connotative meaning–then, sure, I agree.


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