Let’s not slander Rhetoric(a)


Rhetorica hovers as a young man receives rhetorical instruction in this late Renaissance image from the Netherlands.   Source: Cornelis Cort [1533-1578] nach Frans Floris: Die sieben Freien Künste: Rhetorica.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who sighs at all the abuse hurled at dame Rhetorica lately in the media. It’s downright slander and abuse of a beneficent art.

I am not complaining that there’s a lot of bad rhetoric going on in the world. Of course there always is, and perhaps there’s been a lot more bad rhetoric around us lately than there has been since World War II, and it’s driving more people to remark on how bad the bad rhetoric is.

I’m complaining that while this bad rhetoric is occurring, it’s counterproductive and wrongheaded to blame rhetoric itself and drag the art and use and NAME of rhetoric through the mud in headline after headline.

I have subscribed to a Google Alert for “rhetorical.” Today, September 3, here are some of the phrases used in headlines:

  • Nicolas Sarkozy’s absurd zero-sum rhetoric on Calais shows how quickly Europe is falling apart (Telegraph.co.uk)
  • After The Olympics, Women Should Earn More Considering The Sexist Rhetoric And Ignored Talent (Forbes)
  • The Clinton campaign’s slippery rhetoric on Trump’s ‘immigrant’ plans (Washington Post)
  • G20 to go long on rhetoric, short on economic policy: experts (Yahoo news)
  • EC spokesperson on “escalation of rhetoric” in Balkans (B92)

The negative contexts and adjectives surrounding the word “rhetoric” continually throw dirt on the reputation of this glorious art. Rhetoric can be zero-sum, sexist, slippery, and lack policy.

Can you find the word “rhetoric” used with positive adjectives?  You could pile up dozens more negative adjectives than positive ones by googling rhetoric today.

However, it’s even more troubling to see the naked word “rhetoric” used without any qualifying negative adjective, as if rhetoric alone was something essentially bad and ugly. The final example in the list above is one instance of slandering rhetoric itself, as if merely “escalating rhetoric” means escalating tension and disagreement toward violence.

Let’s stop slandering Rhetorica. Let’s renew her reputation, beauty, strength and glory. I believe we need her more than ever today.  Continue reading


The rhetorical experience of live classical music audiences

NotesAs a member of the Calgary Renaissance Singers & Players, a community choir that performs European renaissance music, I have been practicing for an upcoming concert.

I recently had the opportunity to be in the audience of a performance of the music of Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven by Jane Perry, our current choir director, who played the piano alongside a cellist and clarinetist from our city’s orchestra.

This led me to some reflections on the rhetorical aspects of participating in early and classical music performances as an audience member, especially when one is also a performer of similar music from a nearby culture and era. Continue reading

Edu*Rhetor’s 2010 in review

I received this in my email from WordPress, and thought it would be of interest to some, and an interesting bit of history ten years from now after my blog will have grown more.

— — QUOTE — —

“The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Website analysis in Calgary Herald

My participation in an interview with Tony Seskus, a journalist at the Calgary Herald newspaper, spurred me to write this blog post on mayoral candidates’ websites a couple of days ago:

Website rhetoric of mayoral candidates

Now some of the content has appeared in this article —

Can mayoral hopefuls emulate Obamamania?

By Tony Seskus, Calgary Herald June 27, 2010…

for a bit of fun this last week, I asked Tania Smith at the University of Calgary for her thoughts on a selection of mayoral candidate websites.

Smith teaches a course in advanced professional and technical communication, where students work on real-world web design projects and study online communication.

She reviewed the websites of nine mayoral candidates and scored them on first impression, message and readability, and interactivity, giving up to five points for each.

Calgary Herald website: http://www.calgaryherald.com/

Website rhetoric of mayoral candidates

View from Calgary Tower.

View from Calgary Tower. Photo by palestrina55 on Flickr

Many decades ago society started talking about how televised debates were beginning to influence election campaigns.  Now we have new questions about how new media influences them, such as — What makes effective website rhetoric for a mayoral candidate nowadays?

The city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada is going to have a municipal election in October 2010.  Although it is only June, nine candidates have put their hat in the ring, and they all have websites already. Tony Seskus, a Calgary Herald journalist, contacted me yesterday (June 24, 2010) for my input on the candidates’ sites.  I provided to him some of my general findings and advice, and critiques and ratings of all nine candidates’ websites, and a memorable image clip from the site.

As I posted this on my blog, I added two final sections that help readers think about the theory and criticism of website rhetoric — what methods are needed, and how my theoretical framework for analysis relates to what ancient and contemporary rhetoricians have said.

If there is interest in this topic, I may give an update in October/November on how the candidates’ sites looked on voting day, and see if my ratings have any correlation to the results of the election.
Continue reading

Canadian and U.S. Rhetorical Cultures

CBC Cross Country Checkup comment page

Teaching and studying “Rhetoric” in Canada is different from doing so in the U.S. because of Canadian “rhetorical culture” within which we live and work.

Rhetorical study has flourished more in the U.S. because there is less social stigma against using and studying rhetoric in the U.S.

Consider one small segment of our rhetorical culture — among academics.  The rhetoric we are accustomed to use in our colleges and universities as students, teachers, academic colleagues, and academic presenters.  Our cultural context beyond the university/college makes a difference in how we organize and deliver our presentations.  It probably impacts the way we do “small talk” and network and give feedback among colleagues at academic  conferences.

In his blog post on the CSSR (Canadian Society for the Study of Rhetoric) conference in 2010, David Beard (alias syntaxfactory) describes how his experience at our Canadian association conference differed from his experience of the RSA (Rhetoric Society of America).  He writes,

The feedback was neither agonistic (as so many conference Q&A become competitions between audience and speaker) nor was it skew (as so many conference panel Q&A become about “the paper I wish you’d written instead”).

Why was the feedback not agonistic or skew at the CSSR?  Because that’s a norm of our rhetorical culture.

Thinking beyond our academic worlds to the societies that support them, I often meditate on the differences in the “rhetorical culture” of Americans and Canadians.  There are negatives and positives on both sides, but the Americans have an advantage over us because they actually study their own rhetorical culture in a focused and open manner.

Canadians need to catch up with the U.S. in their study and refinement of rhetoric.  And when we do that, we may actually excel in the quality and broad impact of our rhetorical accomplishments for the betterment of society.

Continue reading