Modern Rhetorical Criticism

Modern Rhetorical Criticism

Modern Rhetorical Criticism

Modern Rhetorical Criticism


A comprehensive and up-to-date introduction to the analysis of public rhetoric, Modern Rhetorical Criticism teaches readers how to examine and interpret rhetorical situations, ideas, arguments, structure, and style.

The text covers a wide range of critical techniques, from cultural and dramatistic analysis to feminist and Marxist approaches. A wealth of original criticism demonstrates how to analyze such diverse forms as junk mail, congressional debates, and traffic regulations, as well as literature. This long-awaited revision contains new coverage of mass media, feminist criticism, and European criticism.


The study of rhetoric is an old one. It was studied by the ancient Greeks and Romans, by medieval courtiers, by Renaissance theologians, and by political thinkers in the emerging democracies of the eighteenth century. Each sensed that something special, something powerful, happened when a firebrand mounted a political platform or entered a church pulpit or hand-delivered a scathing editorial. This power continues to be unleashed today, and so rhetoric is once again being studied with gusto. Here’s why: “fair and balanced” news coverage, twenty-second radio commercials, Internet political campaigns, televised evangelism, The West Wing, the resurgence of state militias, reality TV, AIDS awareness campaigns, La Leche League International, welfare reform, poetry slams, Adolph Hitler’s Big Lie, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. All of these characters and events collect in the rhetorical arena. All of them change people’s lives. To ignore them is to risk one’s political, moral, and financial security.

Modern Rhetorical Criticism is a comprehensive, up-to-date guidebook to public rhetoric. It is written for those taking coursework in rhetorical criticism and for students of literary criticism interested in rhetorical approaches to ideas. Its goals are threefold: (1) to broaden the reader’s conception of persuasion so that its uses in law, politics, religion, and commerce are seen as different species—rather than different genuses—when compared to its less obvious uses in literature, science, education, and entertainment; (2) to sample critical studies of rhetoric produced in the United States the past thirty years; and (3) to equip the reader with the critical tools and attitudes needed to see how rhetoric works its magic.

Any book is necessarily selective. The reader will not find in Modern Rhetorical Criticism a complete history of rhetorical thought or of the rival schools of criticism making up that history. Rather, we emphasize primarily the U.S. tradition of critical inquiry. Historically, this tradition has featured public debate and the spoken word. More contemporary studies have branched out into various media, and the book takes those persuasive forms into account as well. In an era of electronic media, rhetoric—whether oral, written, visual, or nonverbal—has taken on a power and a reach never before witnessed in human history. Each day, after all, the mass media entice us to remember some things and not others, to spend money on this product and not that one, to grieve about these circumstances and to ignore those. Such enticements lie at the heart of rhetoric. We ignore them at our peril.

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