Kerouac's Rhetorical Situation
"Rhetoric" is defined as a system of influence, conscious or unconscious, that persuaders, including cultural persuaders such as artists, writers, and teachers, exert through the narrowing and accentuating of social/symbolic reality. In this sense, On the Road is a rhetorical text because, through it, Kerouac constructs systems of meaning that influence a reader's life decisions, structures of influence to direct action, and an ideology to promote and maintain a coherent and encompassing worldview or epistemology. Above all else, rhetoric involves a rationality, but one without its traditional foundations in a transcendent, Cartesian Reason. Rhetoric encourages a localized rationality, built from specific wants and needs, that advances a communal consciousness. Rhetoric constructs social visions of the "good" and the "just."
In chapter 2, I situated Kerouac in the cultural milieu of his time. Rhetorical artifacts and appeals are, by definition, historical. The qualities of any type of rhetorical transaction can be recognized only as they take place in time. When the temporal element is lost, rhetorical elements blend indistinguishably from the flora of other symbols. This is specifically Foucault point in The Order of Things ( 1970) when he highlights the role of history in giving substance to our understanding of texts. Texts, such as the incomprehensible ancient Chinese encyclopedia Foucault holds up as an example, exist as physical objects. Yet the meaning of this encyclopedia, as well as its rhetorical or informative structure, is lost when its context is lost (xv-xix). The loss of context is like the loss of a language; the link between commonality and rationality is broken between two worlds. Knowledge, after all, proceeds by semblance and metaphor ( Rosmarin 1985). A person's rationality, a person's rhetoric, is his or her