Revolution Lullabye

June 25, 2007

June 25 Response

Filed under: Uncategorized — by revolutionlullabye @ 2:36 am

Laura J. Davies

June 25, 2007

CCR 720: Agnew

Reading Response


                What is the field doing with classical rhetoric today? The five readings we had for today – LaGrandeur, Lipson, Hawhee, Jarratt, and Campbell – each take up the question in a different way. As a whole, it seems as if classical notions of rhetoric are being stretched and expanded to apply to both modern concerns and issues and to understand and recover other ancient forms of rhetoric. It’s interesting the rhetorical weight placed on the classical Greek rhetorical theories and practices. Even as we try to recenter and reimagine the canon, Aristotle and Plato and other classical authors seem to be the golden standard by which we measure and admit as worthy other forms of rhetoric. What does that say about our field? Do these classical notions have some sort of truth in them that we recognize as valid, and so our use of them as an assessment or as proof for our arguments is legitimate? Or do we need to reconsider our notions of rhetoric as a whole and think again about what we prioritize? Maybe a little of both?

            It interested me that in Campbell’s article, he makes a point of stating that African rhetoric is not just based in orality; that in the ancient African cities and the medieval city of Timbuktu, there is some evidence that Africans used written text for recording and preserving information. Campbell’s backhanded dismissal of orality seemed counterproductive to his argument, which was in part, I believe, to expand the notion of ancient rhetorical practices beyond the Mediterranean basin. Why is he using Western notions of rhetoric, which were largely based in written texts, to prove the viability of ancient and medieval African rhetoric? Again, in Lipson’s article, the emphasis seems to be on the presence of texts in Egyptian culture. Can there be a definition of rhetoric and an assessment of rhetorical practices that does not rest in Greek and Roman traditions? Or were the Greeks and the Romans the only ancient and classical thinkers who thought and wrote about the connection between language and reality and taught how to effectively communicate? I think there a problem when we say we want to search out and welcome in other alternative rhetorical practices and then feel the need to authenticate them according to our classical standards.

            Jarratt’s article, to me, seemed to be driven more by emotion than by clear academic argument. I was bothered by her critique of Bush’s post-9/11 rhetoric because, in attacking the “premodern” good/evil binary that he used often in the aftermath of September 11, she introduced and employed a new binary, that of premodern/postmodern, sophisticated/ignorant, and enlightened/intolerant. Because Jarratt fails to try to understand the logic behind the other side of the argument (at least a logic other than a conspiracy theory of censorship), her own argument is unbalanced and reads like a one-sided polemic. She could take a cue from the Sophists and Dissoi Logoi: that to effectively argue, you must first see all sides of the debate and understand the perspectives that your audience might be coming from, because if you are blinded to them and wedded to your own agenda, then you lose the moment and the rhetorical opportunity.

Notes and Quotes

LaGrandeur, Kevin. “Digital Images and Classical Persuasion.” In Eloquent Images: Word and Image in the Age of New Media. Eds. Mary E. Hooks and Michelle R. -Kendrick. Cambridge, Massacusetts: The MIT Press. 117-136. 

“Where once only words were malleable enough to be widely wielded as a rhetorical tool, in the latter half of the 1990s the digital image became prevalent, easy to manipulate, and consequently, easy to recontextualize, meaning that now just about any image is available to any computer user for any occasion” (117).

We can use either postmodern theories to interpret the persuasiveness of these digital images (as part of an increasingly situated and fragmented world), or we can turn to classical rhetoric to think about how these images might be complex, interrelated, and meaningful (118).

Kathleen Welch argues that 20th century digital literacy is like ancient Greek literacy with its focus on orality and performance.

“Classical notions provide us with excellent, codified ways to think about the persuasive efficacy of images and words as interdependent and interactive things” (119).

Classical rhetoricians understood how the image could persuade the audience by tapping in on the emotions or by establishing credibility – Encomium of Helen mentions it, and Horace compared the affective quality of poetry with that of images (119).

“Fluency with images and their use has become crucial to controlling credibility and creating emotional appeal, and even, to some extent, logical appeal” (119).

Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric (the available means of persuasion) allow us to include images, and his work referred to images in his discussion of metaphor and emotional appeals.

Gorgias/Sophists saw the power of images to be equal to the power of words, and their emotive capabilities can overwhelm logos in an argument.

“Understanding the image…means comprehending its dichotomous possibilities: Its persuasive power might add to an argument, but its force and nonrational nature can distract one from a message’s logical appeal, or its lack thereof. I will return to this idea in the later sections of this chapter” (122).

Horace believed that “poetry imitates visual images” and that poetry could both please and teach at the same time – it was persuasive (122).

Images can be used as logical proof because they give the audience a meaningful comparison for an argument – this idea was first expressed by Campbell in the 18th century.

Web images, especially charts and graphs, can serve as logical proof, especially when these images are placed next to supporting text. The two then work intertextually to advance the argument (124).

The Web allows the writer to use the images directly in the text instead of describing the image for the audience. The author’s “choice of graphics and their nature, arrangement, and movement (if they are animated) not only are important to instilling the proper emotion in the audience (and thus elemental to pathos) but are also part of what the audience uses, consciously or unconsciously, to decide if she, and hence her presentation, are authoritative and believable (and thus integral to ethos)” (125).

His model for evaluating digital texts based on the three classical appeals (125): He uses this to teach his students how to rhetorically analyze images.

  1. Logos – how does the image work with the text to bolster the logic and rationality of the argument?
  2. Pathos – how does the image enhance the emotional appeal of the argument?
  3. Ethos – how does the image (and how professional its quality is) add to the credibility of the author

Two test cases

1.      A web page designed to persuade people to get Lasik eye surgery. The image adds to the logos of the argument by clearly showing what the surgery entails. Also, it seems so simple and easy to understand (pathos) and it appears scientific and informative, not commercial (ethos).

2.      A home page created by one of LaGrandeur’s students for an introductory assignment. The students in the groups were entranced by the image (as are the audience members, who don’t immediately recognize the poor quality of the words on the page.) The image was given the most attention, which is also seen in students’ preoccupation with fonts, layout, color, and design, and content takes a back seat.

“Like calligraphy, electronic fonts are as much art as they are signifiers of sound and words…Web designers have already begun using these fonts and other tricks of typography for their power to affect” (130). Connection to The Art of Hand Lettering

Gives example of web page of hate group that uses layout, fonts, images to evoke a powerful, in-charge aura – ethos. Also, the sans serif font and color choice (red) projects an aggressive and intimidating attitude – pathos.

Digital images are so powerful because they can now be easily made and spread quickly and widely.

Limits to the digital image? Images that are too big and therefore don’t download easily on older computers, the fact that the image overwhelms and distracts from the text content. Also, hyperlinks are distracting, forcing the reader to choose between clicking on the link or continuing with the current page’s content. Also, people tend to overuse images, resulting in an obstruction of logos on the digital web page (132-133)

Taking on Plato – “The integration of electronic media into the persuasive endeavor has made a virtue of digital facility by drawing attention to the material effects of graphical style and structure. When a Web site’s images are especially polished, pleasing, and well arranged, its readers often cannot help but be attentive – and even impressed or moved” (133).

Seems like the over-reliance on image (and therefore the construction of pathos and ethos overriding logos) in digital media plays into Plato’s fears that rhetoric can become mere flattery instead of invested in some sort of rationality or truth. The digital image is so easily manipulated and quickly takes precedence over the digital text. Could this be the old Plato-Sophist argument playing out? Seems like the Sophists would LOVE the freedom and versatility of the digital text, while Plato would be very wary, feeling like it clouds over solid arguments because style takes precedence.

“The dominant effect of graphical elements may be leading to the adaptation of an advertiser-centered model of Web design, with its profusion of flashy images and persuasive appeals that work on a subconscious, emotional level, rather than on a rational one” (133).

 Lipson, Carol S. “Ancient Egyptian Rhetoric: It All Comes Down to Maat.” 79-97. 

Her article explores the textual rhetorical practices of ancient Egyptians, which she says are centered around the concept and values of Maat. She looks mostly at letters. Her four claims:

            “1. A number of the popular textual genres present Maat as content – that is, they teach Maat.

2. In the letter genre, common in the everyday life of the culture, the rhetorical form embodies Maat: the written texts serve as rhetorical performances of Maat.

3. The letters use Maat indirectly as an instrument of persuasion.

4. Maat serves as a Superaddressee in the letters, in Bakhtin’s sense of a third voice or participant, an ultimate addressee beyond the writer and the immediate receiver.” (79)

What is Maat? “Both a goddess and a concept” (80). The concept is right behavior and correct order, that human beings are cosmically connected to the greater world and must act in harmony with it. It is interested in preserving this natural order.

Education was reserved for the elite, and students learned by copying and reciting instruction manuals supposedly written by famous people. One of them, The Instructions of Ptahhotep, urges its listeners to do good – to practice Maat – so that they will be respected and properly remembered and revered. Also, autobiographies that contained passages that spoke to how the person did Maat in their life were often recited at funerals. With these two genres – the instructions and the autobiographies – the members of the elite class were persuaded to also practice Maat in their life, which led to an ordered society. (82-83)

Lots of Egyptians wrote letters – they were gone for large public projects and they needed to communicate their needs to those in charge. Even if the individuals were illiterate, scribes would be hired to read and write for them. (85) Letters were written as a response to the person, so if the correspondence was an ongoing dialogue. Often, the text would be read aloud – a public text, usually read aloud by the scribe. The letters written by scribes would often be in the 3rd person (86).

Lipson: the ending lines of these letters from the king speak of the his prosperity, which is “a ritual reaffirmation of the order of things. In the culture’s understanding of Maat, the king is the symbolic center of his people. For the people and the country to prosper, the king must prosper” (87). Also, there was a common abbreviation (l.p.h.) at the end of these letters, which stood for a prayer wishing for the king’s long life, prosperity, and health, which also reinforced the values of Maat.

“I suggest that the letter-writing conventions involve much more than formal conventions” – every aspect of them, from the opening greetings and explanations and the positioning of the subordinate person/person with power are done in accordance and for the maintenance of Maat, which ultimately contributes to a stable society (89).

People of lower levels of society appeal to Maat to persuade those in charge – it’s your duty to behave according to Maat. This power of persuasion given to the lower classes in their letter writing “allow a range of voices to engage in an ongoing pragmatic discussion about what it means to behave according to Maat, within a decidedly undemocratic system” (93).

What is the superaddressee? Someone like God – according to Bakhtin, “an audience ‘whose absolutely just responsive understanding is presumed’ (125-26)” (93). Lipson believes that Maat is the superaddressee in Egyptian culture – Maat will judge them and cannot be argued with.

The letters are always appealing to Maat, the superaddressee, for the correct interpretation of good behavior (Maat).

The written text was highly valued in Egpyt – letters were carved into permanent media, like pottery and stone. The letters were also valued: “There was not a sense that the administrative letters were transient objects, to be used for the immediate purpose then discarded…Rhetorically, then, the conventions of the letter genre seem to have been based on an understanding of long-term availability for multiple audiences and multiple purposes. These purposes range from persuasion within the immediate context to demonstrate the proper performance of Maat within a timeless, divine dimension” (94).

Just because some of these letters were copied down and buried with people, does that mean all the letter writing in Egypt was so highly revered and for the purposes of maintaining proper order in society? Could the appeals that Lipson points out that appear in several of these letters be just convention, like the God Bless You sentiments in letters written between people of the Christian faith?

Lipson writes that more study is needed to see how the concept of Maat and how it was rhetorically expressed changed over time.

Jarratt, Susan C. “A Human Measure: Ancient Rhetoric, Twenty-first-Century Loss.” 95-111. 

How do ancient conceptions of rhetoric and the rhetorical tradition/canon give us tools to use in times of crisis and trauma (citing September 11 specifically)? (95)

“Working from a view of rhetoric as both deliberative and performative, I look to ancient materials as resonant analogues for contemporary uses of public spaces as sites of contestation about violence and as scenes of mourning” (96). What is the purpose behind these short-lived rhetorical acts?

Huge outpouring of rhetorical response from the public (speaking, writing) that was different from the rhetoric produced by the national leadership. What were those resistance acts? What founding do they have in ancient Athenian rhetorical practices, which prized the free debate of the agora?

9/11 asked Americans to reconsider the boundaries of their nation and their own identities (98).

Jarratt: The Bush rhetoric post 9/11 – “’America’ is the center, both geographically and ideologically, a geographic center that is simultaneously a moral center, moral clarity coming down on command of the leader, not to be challenged. The effect, enforced overtly through censures of any questioning of government decisions, is an attempt to block the rhetorical participation of a public inhabited by citizens with the capacity for independent judgment” (98). A little extreme? Is that what Bush is really after?

Argues that Bush’s use of good/evil rhetoric places him in the realm of “premodern, cosmological rhetoric” (98). Does having firm values and a dislike for all things postmodern and relative consign you to existing only as an inferior, premodern rhetor? Do you have to sacrifice a firm belief in Truth to be accepted as a real academic?

“The victims of September 11 did not die in battle, but the circumstances of their death – and the ways they are mourned – placed them in the middle of a struggle over national identity” (104). They are appropriated for a cause – one of many instances we have studied where people have been taken on to support another person’s agenda.

Is evil not an accurate description of what happened? What word better describes it?

Assuming this conspiracy without giving any real evidence – what is Jarratt’s proof?

One year memorial – what would any president of any political party done differently?

Treatment of September 11th  vs. the war in Iraq?

Are those who agree with Bush “premodern”? Is it really that one group is modern and the other is Neanderthal?

There is no attempt made to dignify the other side of the argument – it’s a new binary where one side is sophisticated and the other side is ignorant. It’s obnoxiously elitist.

The most important thing was not the people – it was the event, the problem behind it.


Campbell, Kermit E. “Rhetoric from the Ruins of African Antiquity.” In Rhetorica. 255-274. 


African rhetoric is conceived as almost entirely oral, but a study of the rhetorical practices of the ancient cities of Napata, Meroe, Axum, and Timbuktu prove that written, textual language was used for record keeping.

Modern ethnographic studies of current African rhetorical practices do not do justice to what might have been in the past – real historical research needs to be done into the historical records to see what happened then.

“Viewed historically, then, Africa has quite varied and complex uses of oral and written language, and any general theory or concept of rhetoric there must take these uses into account” (259).

Thousands of manuscripts from medieval Timbuktu have been discovered, some written in Arabic, but some also written in African vernacular with Arabic script. Lots of the manuscripts are government documents and treaties.

Campbell: “The oral tradition’s [in Timbuktu] epic poems…are perhaps the richest example of the region’s rhetorical values and practices” (268).

The griot – the orator who recites epic poetry and history and gives speeches and announcements, an advisor to the king or chief

“For even in the case of a relatively nonliterate society like thirteenth-century Mali (apart from the Islamic schools), history and poetry in the hands of the griot become a unique form of persuasion, an exhortation to act or precipitate action for the good of the people” (273).

Uses ethos, pathos to evaluate the little known rhetorical acts of the ancient Nubia and Axum people. Are Aristotle’s Greek rhetorical principles really that universal? Can we use him to evaluate the rhetoric of different cultures?

“At this point, we can simply conclude that Africa has rhetorical traditions that are oral and literate; ancient and modern; political, religious, and social – in other words, traditions that are as rich and diverse as any in the Western world” (274).

 Hawhee, Debra. Bodily Arts: Rhetoric and Athletics in Ancient Greece. Austin: U of Texas Press. 3-13, 189-196.

Draws connections between the ancient Greek practices of rhetoric and athletics to show that rhetoric is concerned with a whole body performance.

The comparison emphasizes delivery

“Athletics and rhetoric were thus bound together, as Isocrates points out, in at least two ways: 1) unified traiing in athletics and oratory provides a program for shaping an entire self, and 2) the two arts draw from similar pedagogical strategies wherein the respective instructors impart bodily and discursive forms of expression” (6).

Both rhetoric and athletics were based in the Greek cultural valeues of agonism and arête. Learning and performance are one with both pursuits (6-7).

How does learning happen? “When viewed terms of education, rhetoric’s relation to athletics hinges on a kind of knowledge production that occurs on the level of the body, displacing the mind or consciousness as the primary locus of learning” (9).

“The intermingling, mutually constitutive, agonistic practices of athletics and rhetoric, brought together at times by spectacular, uplifting festivals, at others by dark-toned, somber funerary rituals, were ultimately treated as bodily arts by the itinerant teachers of rhetoric who first approached these arts syncretically. Athletics and rhetoric thus came together as bodily arts that reinforced and perpetuated the lively culture of contact, movement, and sound so markedly Athenian” (191).

Agonism – the contest, the struggle


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