Rhetoric and alternate realities

"Reality is Smashed" by Nualabugeye on Flickr (Creative Commons license)

We have all heard the phrase “Rhetoric or reality,” which presents rhetoric as if it were not real, and reality as if it were opposed to rhetoric by its very nature.

  • If rhetoric exists as a concept, and can be talked about as a thing or phenomenon, is it not real enough to be praised as well as vilified?

The word “rhetoric” has often been used to malign people’s speech (and to imply that the maligner does not use rhetoric, not even to malign).

The most common meaning of the phrase “rhetoric or reality” is that which opposes talk to action.  It is often used as a complaint against leaders who make boasts or claims or promises and then do not fulfill them.

  • Why can’t talk precede action?  Is the contrary actually better — to act without any prior consultation or proposal or articulated vision?
  • Isn’t talk itself an action?  In “speech act theory,” certain social actions are fulfilled through speech: “Do you take this man…”  “I do.”  Done.

Rhetoricians have tried to propose other words that could be used in place of “rhetoric,” words which would have a clearer negative or positive connotation.  Wayne Booth, in his book The Rhetoric of Rhetoric, proposed that we call bad rhetoric “rhetrickery.”  In contrast, he also proposed that a good kind of rhetoric be named as “rhetorology” — a process of finding common ground, or the best kind of “listening rhetoric.”

What other alternate realities are there for rhetoric as a word-concept?

  • rheality — here is a term that one could use to talk about the realities that are brought into pre-existence through the power of rhetoric.  Rhetoric has the power to help us to imagine alternate rhealities, better rhealities.  It’s more than saying “real rhetoric,” since in this single word proposed, “real”is not merely a descriptive adjective of a separate thing called rhetoric.  No, rather, rheality itself is being claimed to be rheal.  It’s rheally true!
  • unrhetorical — “How unrhetorical of you to say that,” one could complain. This term could be used to criticize a speaker of being blind to the reality and power of rhetoric. It could become a new “shame word” to blame speakers who accuse others of using rhetoric but don’t seem to know they are using rhetoric themselves.  It could have similar connotations as words like “unenlightened” or “insensitive” or “discriminatory.”   It could be the new way to say one lacks self-awareness or lacks social graces… or rhetorical graces.
  • rhetoricality — like the word “theatricality,” rhetoricality could be considered the way that some performances of rhetoric bring attention to themselves as acts of rhetoric.  Normal rhetoric, on the other hand, might not be very rhetorically obvious.
  • rhetalistic — if something is realistic, it is like reality.  Believable.  If something is rhetalistic, then it must be like rhetoric.  Speakable.
  • realitrickery — here is a more awkward construction.  It plays on Wayne Booth’s “rhetrickery” by going the opposite direction.  This word exposes those who seem to speak of “reality,” showing that they are indeed tricking us into believing that we are getting a whole picture of reality rather than a biased one.  This is especially the case when speakers point out (selectively) which elements of “reality” we should look at while ignoring others.  That is reality, but not that over there?  Come on.  Really, that’s trickery.  Reali-trickery.

What do you think?  Rheally, now?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s