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Rhetorical Criticism as an Argument

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

It is correct to assume rhetorical criticism is a form of argument.  However, rhetorical criticism does not resolve disputes, but rather it presents an issue in a certain manner to persuade the audience to think differently about it.  The rhetor is “regarded as a helper rather than an exploiter” of an issue in rhetorical criticism (Hart & Daughton, 2005, p. 7).

 A rhetorical critic should provide textual evidence that supports the claims he makes to provoke questions, but not answer them (Hart & Daughton, 2005). Bostdorff’s (2003) article about Bush’s 9-11 rhetoric of covenant renewal is an example of this because it suggests “the evolution and characteristics of covenant renewal rhetoric” by providing examples from Bush’s and the Puritan’s rhetoric (Bostdorff, 2003, p. 294). The author does not explicitly say that Bush and the Puritans used the same type of rhetoric, but the evidence given throughout the article show they faced the same problems of “how to convince the younger generations, awed and intimidated by the accomplishments of their elders, to renew the community covenant” and insinuated they may need to use the same type of rhetoric to deal with these problems (Bostdorff, 2003, p. 312). Therefore Bostdorff leaves it up to the audience to conclude whether or not Bush and the Puritans used the same type of rhetoric.

A rhetor should present an issue that requires choices to be made, and then narrow the choices for the audience to choose (Hart & Daughton, 2005). Although rhetorical criticism is not a direct method of argumentation, it still works to persuade an audience to think and believe certain things about specific issues. Rhetoric works to unburden because it is created when people have an issue they must get off their chests (Hart & Daughton, 2005).  Different issues discussed in rhetorical criticism work to address issues of general interest. These include issues about classic dilemmas, unresolved tensions, projected problems, parallel instances of current problems, and unique circumstances (Hart & Daughton, 2005).

Perez’ and Dionisopoulos’ (1995) article about presidential silence is a rhetorical example of a classic dilemma.  Regan kept his silence on the AIDS epidemic by having his administration regularly claim it was Regan’s “number one priority” (Perez & Dionisopoulos, 1995, p. 29). Regan did this to convince the public he was actively working on the problem. The article deals with the classic dilemma of presidential silence by suggesting “ to be effective, such a surrogate discourse has to offer more than a simple reiteration of presidential ‘concern’ about [a] problem” (Perez & Dionisopoulos, 1995, p. 29).

Wyman’s and Dionisopoulos’ (2000) article about the virgin/whore dichotomy is a rhetorical example of an unresolved tension.  The virgin/whore dichotomy has been an ongoing problem because women are held to specific sexual standards that men are not. The article suggests that the male characters in Dracula were “defined according to their potential for fulfilling [their] needs”, but it disregarded the needs of women in their definitions (Wyman & Dionisopoulos, 2000, p. 232).  This article worked to solve this tension by suggesting that “looking at female sexuality from an alternate vantage point- one which rejects males models of normalcy and highlights female needs- may provide a provocative contrast to the traditional virgin/whore dichotomy” (Wyman & Dionisopoulos, 2000, p. 210).

Osborn’s (1967) article about archetypal metaphor is a rhetorical example of projected problems. This article looks at “the idea that a fresh and sensitive look at the figurative language of a speech, focusing especially upon its metaphors, [and how it] might yield a critical product rich and useful as some similar ventures in literary criticism” (Osborn, 1967, p.115). This article gives examples of metaphors and suggests ways to analyze them for future rhetoric.  It focuses on the projected problem of incorrectly analyze metaphors, and works to create more effective ways for examining metaphors.

The Entman (1991) article about framing U.S. coverage of international news is rhetorical example of parallel instances.  The author compares coverage of two international stories to show the “de-emphasizing [of] the agency and the victims and by the choice of graphics and adjectives” in news story frames (Entman, 1991, p. 6). This article demonstrates that similar uses of graphics and adjectives are being used in two different situations about foreign news. Therefore they parallel each other with their similarities.

Goldzwig’s and Dionisopoulos’ (1986) article about phases of mourning a space tragedy is a rhetorical example of a unique circumstance. It ties the ways society grieved over the Challenger tragedy to John S. Stephenson’s three-phase description of the mourning process. This article employed the grieving process as a way to understand the mediated response about the Challenger tragedy (Goldzwig & Dionisopoulos, 1986). This article worked to explain the unique situation by examining media coverage as an example of the grieving process.

In rhetoric, a rhetor will describe what they consider to be good, resonates the rhetoric with a particular audience, and clearly imply policy recommendations (Hart & Daughton, 2005). The rhetor will always aspire towards the side they consider to be good. A rhetor will provide evidence to suggest “a” is better than “b”.  For example in Murphy’s (1990) article on Kennedy’s American jeremiad, he suggests a modern jeremiad works as a “means to restore social harmony in a time of crisis” (Murphy, 1990, p. 402). Murphy (1990) infers that the use of the American jeremiad is one of the best ways to restore social harmony. So, the “good” in this article is the American jeremiad.

Evidence in rhetorical criticisms consists of serial examples, extended examples, quantification, isolated comparisons, testimony, definition and contrast (Hart & Daughton, 2005, p. 86).  An example of a serial example would be modern jeremiad works as a “means to restore social harmony in a time of crisis” (Murphy, 1990, p. 402). This is a statement that adds totality to the rhetor’s argument.  An example of an extended example comes from Orbson’s (1967) article when he says  “One example among Churchill's many finely wrought images illustrates clearly most of the characteristics discussed in the preceding section” and then goes on to show a quote by Churchill and adds further detail (Orbson, 1967, p. 121).  A quantification can be found in Martin’s (1997) article when he says a “town and country will provide 12-year abatements worth 50 percent of the property taxes on the new investment” (p. 687).  This provides a concrete enumeration with a number or percentage.  Isolated comparisons bring in realism such as “reference groups are like partners- you can’t live without them, but sometimes it’s darn hard to live with them” (Hart & Daughton, 2005, p. 84).  An extended comparison uses a psychological reference such as “ A reference group is similar to a mother- it nurtures our feelings when we are hurt…” (Hart & Daughton, 2005, p. 84).  Testimony is demonstrated in Henry’s (1988) article, when he quotes Cuomo saying he “never felt comfortable reading someone else’s words” because he uses a known source’s words to support his evidence (p. 110).  Definition is used to add specificity like in this example “let’s consider what is not meant by a reference group. It is not just any group we belong to, nor is it always identifiable. Rather it is…” (Hart & Daughton, 2005, p. 85).  Finally contrast gives dramatic quality to evidence “by depicting opposed elements” as in this example “those who identify with many groups have very different attitudes from those who are more individualistic” (Hart & Daughton, 2005, p. 85).

Rhetoric is used for a variety of reasons, People may engage in rhetoric because it allows them the opportunity to “unburden” themselves from things that bother them (Hart & Daughton, 2005).  Another reason for using rhetoric to persuade may be to obtain all of the attention of the audience because it distracts (Hart & Daughton, 2005).  People may also engage in rhetoric because it has the power to enlarge, name, empower and elongate an issue (Hart & Daughton, 2005).

A strong argument is one that is well researched, well warranted, with good evidence, provides research that justifies its claims along with showing instances where the claim may not hold up, it tries to change the way the audience thinks about the world, and it tells a story that is “bigger than itself ” (G. Dionisopoulos, personal communication, February 2, 2009). Strong arguments explain and add to what’s already out there.  They also produce heuristics and create understanding (G. Dionisopoulos, personal communication, February 2, 2009). A weak argument will do just the opposite. Either the argument will not include any of the features listed above, or it will be missing features of a good argument that noticeably weaken the rhetoric.

An example of a good article would be Perez’ and Dionisopoulos’ (1995) article entitled Presidential Silence, C. Everett Koop, and the Surgeon General’s Report on AIDS.  This article would be considered good because it presents an argument by “examining the potential difficulties that may arise with attempting to maintain a lengthy presidential silence in an age which popularity equates public discourse with presidential leadership” with providing sufficient evidence to demonstrate this (Perez and Dionisopoulos, 1995 p. 19). It makes an argument that is bigger than it self suggesting “to be effective, such a surrogate discourse has to offer more than a simple reiteration of presidential ‘concern’ about [a] problem” (Perez & Dionisopoulos, 1995, p. 29). The article did not just focus on what Regan should do, but what all presidents should do given his situation. The article took a situation that was already out there, the Regan presidential silence, and worked to create understanding, the reasons for this silence and the potential ways he could deal with the crisis , through the rhetoric.

An example of an article that needs improving would be Tonn, Endress and Diamond’s (1993) article on Donald Rogerson’s murder. It did add to a concept bigger than itself by demonstrating that “a scenic perspective can transform an agents’ actions into motion”, and it found the transformation of motion in action can occur (Tonn, Endress and Diamond, 1993, p. 178). However, this article contained a weak argument because it did not include instances where the claims being made did not hold up. The article simply showed that the study supported earlier studies, therefore insinuating that the argument is completely correct (Tonn, Endress and Diamond, 1993).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Bostdorff, D. M. (2003). George W. Bush's post-Septemeber 11 rhetoric of covenant renewal:Upholding the faith of the greatest generation. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 89(4), 293-319.

 

Enthman, R. M. (1991). Framing U.S. coverage of International news: Contrasts in

 

narratives of KAL and Iran air incidents. Journal of Communcaiton, 41(4), 6-25.

Hart, R. P., & Daughton, S. (2005). Modern Rhetorical Criticism (3rd ed.). Person Education Inc.

 

Henry (1988). The Rhetorical Dynamics of Mario Cuomo's 1984 Keynote Address:

 

Situation, Speaker, Metaphor. SSCJ, 105-120.

 

Goldzig, S., & Dionisopoulos , G. (1986). Explaining it to ourselves: The phases of national mourning in space tragedy. Central States Speech Journal, 37(3), 180-193.

Osborn (1967). Archetypal Metaphor in Rhetoric: The Light Dark Family. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 53, 115-126.

 

Martin, C. (1997). Disciplining the workforce: The news media frame a general motors plant closing. Communication Research, 24(6), 669-697.

 

Murphy, J. M. (1990). A time of shame and sorrow: Robert F. Kennedy and the

 

American Jeremiad. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 76(4), 401-414.

 

Perez, & Dionisopoulos, G. (1995). Presidential Silence, C. Everett Koop, and the

 

Surgeon Generals Report on AIDS. Communication Studies, 46, 18-33.

 

Wyman, L. M., & Dionisopoulos , G. (2000). Transcending the virgin/whore dichotomy: Telling Mina's story in Bram's Dracula. Women's Studies in Communication, 23(2), 209-237.


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