Defining Rhetoric: A Vain Attempt

To begin, I would like to criticize Kenneth Burke’s complex statements for my simple mind.  Although reading Anne’s post provided clarity regarding his text and idea of  “alienation” resulting from languages’ (signifier) inability to fully express meaning (signified), I believe Burke is entirely too concerned with opposition and anti-thesis.  His lengthy sentences preoccupied with presenting opposing points of view in order to possibly arrive at his thesis made me run in circles in an attempt answer: “What does he mean?” His writing seems to be a conspiracy against me in which Burke fuses sense and rubbish in order to push and pull me in dizzying directions.  But maybe that’s just me . . .

With my rant out of the way, I would like to focus on the two texts more easily comprehensible or maybe more alignedwith my thought processes: The New Rhetoric and Language is Sermonic.  Agreeing with Uzma, there is not much new about The New Rhetoric.  It appears the text’s aim is to map out an argumentation theory but fails to provide a process in which  to ascertain what are  good or bad appeals.  In order to introduce some new into the text, Perelman highlights the digrading effect the sophists had on the term rhetoric, who made the bad appear good.  Thus, the new rhetoric is simply the old rhetoric without the negative connotations.

Weaver’s text Language is Sermonic, brings Plato’s Phaedrus more into the realm of rhetoric comparing the lover and the non lover to the use of language.  However, what struck me most regarding the text was the title.  Weaver’s argument of Rhetoric over Dialectic is the argument of faith over reason.  According to Weaver, “there are some things in which a group needs to believe which cannot be demonstrated rationally”.  We use reason and dialectic to arrive at definitions, thus, rhetoric and faith cannot be defined by themselves.  If we don’t base rhetoric on reason(dialectic), how do we know that rhetoric will not present the bad.  Weaver writes the rhetorician reinforces “the order of presumptive goods”(80).  Without reason and dialectic, how do we define the “presumptive good” as good or bad? Weaver doesn’t define rhetoric.  Thus, is it vain to “define” rhetoric?

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