Speech Criticism, the Development of Standards for Rhetorical Appraisal

By Lester Thonssen; A. Craig Baird | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
DETERMINING THE AREAS OF INVESTIGATION

Necessity of Defining Limits of Critical Investigation

On first thought, any attempt to prescribe the legitimate areas within which critical functions shall operate may seem arbitrary, if not patently presumptuous. It seems to smatter of an attempt to reduce the critic's intellectual quest to rule, to fixed system. It reminds us of a remark by Thomas Carlyle:

The Orator persuades and carries all with him, he knows not how; the Rhetorician can prove that he ought to have persuaded and carried all with him! the one is in a state of healthy unconsciousness, as if he 'had no system;' the other in virtue of regimen and dietetic punctuality, feels at best that 'his system is in high order.' 1

Oftentimes it is thus with the critic and the academician. The former does his work, achieves his end--perhaps without direct recourse to the rules governing the province of his expression; the other, mindful of the facts which academically control the field, appeals to system, to a pattern--which the critic may have followed, whether he willed it so or not. Accordingly, just claim can no doubt be made that criticism, like other products of the intellect, achieves rightness through a "certain spontaneity" or "unconsciousness," as Carlyle puts it. "The healthy know not of their health, but only the sick." 2

But it is possible, as well as useful, to consider the areas within which critical efforts in rhetoric are peculiarly active and fruitful, without stultifying the critics' endeavors or circumscribing unduly the province within which their work will be most rewarding. Indicating the boundaries within which speech criticism has flourished in the past, and is now operating, can in no way be regarded as a curb upon free intellectual inquiry. Its only purpose is to outline the field--to find out where the critic may direct his investigations with the greatest expectation of success and with the greatest likelihood of increasing our understanding of speakers and speechmaking.

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