Toward a Phenomenological Rhetoric: Writing, Profession, and Altruism

Toward a Phenomenological Rhetoric: Writing, Profession, and Altruism

Toward a Phenomenological Rhetoric: Writing, Profession, and Altruism

Toward a Phenomenological Rhetoric: Writing, Profession, and Altruism


Current rhetorical and critical theory for the most part separates writing from consciousness and presumes relative truth to be the only possible expressive goal for rhetoric. These presumptions are reflected in our tradition of persuasive rhetoric, which values writing that successfully argues one person's belief at the expense of another's. Barbara Couture presents a case for a phenomenological rhetoric, one that values and respects consciousness and selfhood and that restores to rhetoric the possibility of seeking an all-embracing truth through pacific and cooperative interaction.

Couture discusses the premises on which current interpretive theory has supported relative truth as the philosophical grounding for rhetoric, premises, she argues, that have led to constraints on our notion of truth that divorce it from human experience. She then shows how phenomenological philosophy might guide the theory and practice of rhetoric, reanimating its role in the human enterprise of seeking a shared truth. She proposes profession and altruism as two guiding metaphors for the phenomenological activity of "truth-seeking through interaction".

Among the contemporary rhetoricians and philosophers who influence Couture are Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Martin Buber, Charles Altieri, Charles Taylor, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Jurgen Habermas.


We believe in print. We inspect it in the morning, hoping for clues in the news or the horoscope; scan through dozens of e-mail messages at work, deciding which to answer and when; add to the proliferation of the written word with our own letters, memos, reports, articles, and perhaps books; and we escape in others' writing, discovering hidden pleasures in the lines of glossy magazine features, catalog descriptions, and best-selling novels. the written word--for some of us at least--has a centrality that in other times was reserved for the Almighty. It is a god we honor and expect to redeem us in return. We trust that the ceaseless record of crime, war, and politics in the news will keep us mindful of our priorities and responsibilities as a society. Our correspondence at work documents our achievements, agreements, and progress within bureaucracies. Articles and books bespeak our selves and our aspirations, both social and personal. Countless encounters with fiction, history, philosophy, and poetry connect us to other souls who for a moment seem to be on our path. Little else is so encompassing, demanding, engaging, and entrancing as the written word. It is for many of us our visible spirit--even more so for those of us engaged in its study and teaching.

I am in the business of writing. As an English professor, I have taught it, studied both creative and expository writing, trained graduate students in writing theory, designed and implemented university writing requirements, written technical manuals, and produced textbooks and scholarly articles on writing. As a college administrator, I have written policies and procedures to guide other' actions; pushed out countless administrative messages, memos, and reports; and elaborated with sometimes tenuous certainty the language of grants and contracts. in my private life, I have dabbled in short story writing, put my faith in 'To Do" lists, and indulged in the pleasures of writing to those I love. I am an addict for the written word and in this addiction have been struck with the fact that writing is indeed essential to my spirit. a belief in the essential good of riting drives my research, my teaching, my deep appreciation of literary art, and my patient tolerance of bureaucratic prose. My faith in writing is linked both to my profession and personal philosophy-- a link that leads me to interpret writing as conscious behavior with the potential to bring the one and the many to a common good.

In the midst of my ardor for writing and faith in its beneficence, however, I have felt a growing discomfort about its potential to bring us to truth and . . .

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