Making and Unmaking the Prospects for Rhetoric: Selected Papers from the 1996 Rhetoric Society of America Conference

By Theresa Enos; Richard McNabb et al. | Go to book overview

ULRIKE ZINN JAECKEL University of Chicago at Illinois


Hecklers and the Communication Triangle

In the traditionally accepted version of the origins of rhetoric in Greece, rhetoric emerged in the fifth century BCE as the art of public speaking when Sicilian aristocrats argued before the courts in order to regain the estates confiscated by their dethroned tyrant. All three species of rhetoric laid out by Aristotle -- deliberative, judicial, and epideictic -- involve public speaking. As public speaking, rhetoric deals with a special case of divided roles in communication: the single speaker addressing a group of listeners. Depending on the situation and the customs of the culture involved, civility requires the audience to hear the speaker out by remaining silent during the speech or by limiting themselves to short manifestations of approval or disapproval; anything more may be regarded as unseemly interruption if not heckling. 1 This pattern assumes the existence of a rhetorical situation as it has been described by Lloyd Bitzer: An exigence presents itself, an audience capable of mediating change is at hand, constraints -- enabling as well as hampering -- are in place, and a speaker authorized by a legitimate office seizes the occasion to mend the exigence by giving a speech. The audience may not be induced to think or act as the speaker wishes; but by its attendance and willingness to listen, it demonstrates its recognition of the speaker's authority and its concern for the exigence. To use Ellen Rooney's phrase, it is "available to be persuaded" (5). Clearly, the relationship between speaker and audience in situations of public speaking is asymmetrical: The one holds forth; the many hold still. Under normal circumstances, this is not a problem because speech sound can be received by many ears at once. If a crowd of listeners holds still, each one can hear what the speaker says. 2

Public speaking thus does not correspond to the ideal type of the speaking situation depicted in the communication triangle as used, for example, by James Kinneavy to represent the relationship among speaker, audience, and reality (19). The symmetric design of an isosceles triangle 3 makes visible the assumptions in models of rhetoric as conversation or dialogue that take as their prototype a group of two equals: one speaker (encoder) and one listener (decoder) who cooperate in making meaning and constructing reality. Speaking as encoding and listening as decoding seem to correspond to each other without a remainder: Speaker and listener occupy the same status and have equal power. Moreover, the question how they come together is not asked. The

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