Just My Thoughts: Rhetoric

Teaching College Comp.
Log #5

My operating definition of the term “rhetoric” came from an undergraduate course I took titled “Audience and the Writer’s Voice.” Before reading the readings based on the term and the many different social uses of rhetoric, I used the term loosely as using language as a means to justify the ends of a given situation. For example, we studied the rhetoric situation of the Pearl Harbor speech and how the speech used language effectively to justify the ends of the bombing. The ends were concluded that the American people should go to war with the speech as a catalyst to build the morale of the American people. Another operating definition I had prior to the readings for rhetoric were the use of language using ethos, pathos, and logos in a written work or during a given situation.

Would I change my definition in lieu of the readings? Now, yes I would. Why? Because I believe that rhetoric is a working and evolving term. The word and/or term has undergone many changes over the years. Aristotle was a rhetorician; consequently, we would not regularly equate rhetoric with the persuasive use of language by Aristotle. The readings all focused on rhetoric and how it can be applied to different situations. If I were to change my working definition of rhetoric, the outcome would be as follows:

    • Rhetoric (noun): language that is used to alter a reality through the art of persuasion in any given situation at any given time in history.

According to Lloyd Bitzer’s notion of a rhetorical situation, I have encountered numerous rhetorical situations. In a particular, a rhetorical situation I encountered happened as a result of being called a nigger. I attended a majority Caucasian school, so when I was confronted with the situation of being called a nigger, I did not focus on violence; however, I used the situation to express my distress of the word to my peers through a newspaper article. I was asked by a professor at the college to come into her class and give a speech about the use of nigger to her class because they were reading a book by Tyler Perry in which the word was regularly used, I believe. The rhetorical situation presented itself, and I went into the classroom to deliver my speech.

It was a rhetorical situation because the discourse came to be as a response to being called a nigger. The speech had significance because of the situation. The situation existed as a necessary condition of discourse. Many of the questions went unanswered because people were left to conflict with their own ideas and think. The situation invited discourse and the situation controlled the rhetorical response to the same sense that the question controlled the answer and the problem controls the situation. So, according to Bitzer, this was a rhetorical situation. I used prior knowledge to respond to the situation by not losing my temper or allowing myself to get angry, but to respond in a more respectful and appropriate matter for those who were ignorant.

Rhetoric is used on a daily basis. The rhetorical stance for the argument of understanding the appeals—ethos, logos, and pathos are always in sync with the rhetorical situation. The rhetorical stance is a stance in which depends on discovering and maintaining in any writing situation a proper balance among the three elements that are at work in any communicative effort. In a quick brainstorm analysis of the rhetorical stance of June Jordan’s piece is as follows:

    • Ethos: as a professor of the class, Jordan has the credible reputation to write about the topic that she chooses to touch upon.

    • Pathos: has the emotional appeal to hit home with the reader by adding the story of Willie Jones in the essay.

    • Logos: Uses reasoning to appeal to the readers by breaking down the use of black English.
    In these pieces, we see Jordan using a balance of all three of these rhetorical devices in order to attack the rhetorical situation.

As for the Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede’s distinction between audience addressed and the audience invoked, all writing at least embodies either one of the audiences discussed. A writing situation I have been a part of that these terms examine is the poetry I write and my editor’s note for my literary magazine. Sometimes, as a fear of being misunderstood, I address members of my audience in my poem who are generally invoked. How will “Blank” take this or how will these group of classmates understand this. When it comes to the editor’s note, I address the audience directly. Although it may not be an audience addressed situation, I do directly gear the language as if they audience is directly addressed. Letter writing is a form of the audience being addressed or even presidential speeches.

Rhetoric is always around us no matter what? In meetings, in classrooms, on the bus, on the cell phones, or even within ourselves, rhetoric is always at work. Without rhetoric there would be no change in the world. Without change in the world, we would cease to exist as a society.