The Rise of Rhetoric and Its Intersections with Contemporary Critical Thought

The Rise of Rhetoric and Its Intersections with Contemporary Critical Thought

The Rise of Rhetoric and Its Intersections with Contemporary Critical Thought

The Rise of Rhetoric and Its Intersections with Contemporary Critical Thought

Synopsis

Against the backdrop of the Greek history of rhetorical theory, this book accentuates contemporary critical and Marxist theories of resistance, domination, knowledge, and systems of ideological control.

Excerpt


The Circumstance Behind the Development of Rhetorical Theory

In Classical Athens, as well as today, rhetoric can be understood as a system of communication that has the power to alter and shape an audience's way of thinking or acting. It is a dynamic force that influences our lives in various ways. From the very beginning of Western culture, the Greeks felt that persuasion could color our experiences and even beguile us, as if by magic, to sway us toward particular ends. The Ancient Greeks began a systematic study of this phenomenon in order to understand its influence, and to tame and control it. In so doing, they stripped it of its magic, and turned it into an art. More specifically, they developed a vocabulary by which they could meaningfully interpret their social world. This vocabulary, like any vocabulary, reified the concept and gave it a substance that could be studied and understood.

Persuasion became, over time, "rhetoric," -- the art of speaking. Yet this "art" did not spring up from nowhere. Its articulation as a body of knowledge, its boundaries, and its implications, are the results of historical conditions that give a cultural resonance to the need for such a language and literature. In other words, the vocabulary and knowledge that the Greeks recognized as being important were the result of historical accidents and conditions, indicative of their particular historical moments. While it is tempting to look to the past and to maintain that because something exists (i.e. "rhetoric"), it must exist, we must resist such temptations. It is impossible to know that which we do not have a language for, and the language that we do have is dependent upon the way knowledge has been conceptualized in the past. Rhetoric is a historical contingency, as is all of our knowledge in the West. All knowledge is dependent upon the need for its use. If this is true, how do we know anything? More importantly, how do we know that we know?

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