A few ideas I want to emphasize:

Rhetoric is not just about persuading to action. It is a matter of using symbolic means to influence attitudes, values, and understanding. That makes nearly everything potentially rhetorical. Rhetorical messages aim to shape the way people think, act, feel, believe.

While the practice of rhetoric itself is about successfully influencing attitudes etc, rhetorical criticism focuses on how messages work rhetorically - not so much how well so much as just HOW. The practice of rhetoric is about shaping rhetorical messages. The practice of rhetorical criticism is about understanding them once they are created.

Critical understanding of a message rests on an understanding of the specifics of the rhetorical situation: rhetorical messages do not address a General Audience, or an audience of everyone. They are located and operate rhetorically in specifics of time, place, purpose, audience. The same message will show up in different rhetorical situations (a 16th century sonnet, a 17th century oil painting, MLK's "I have a dream" speech), with a change in audience and purpose and perhaps even actual or implied rhetor (Shakespeare the popular London playwright v Shakespeare the Canonized Belle-Lettre Author). To work with the message, the rhetorical critic - that's you - needs to place the message in the specific situation.

Central in what you looked at in this exerise is the relationship between the implied rhetor and the intended audience. The implied rhetor and intended audience are grounded and defined in the rhetorical situation.The text itself - a speech, an essay, a webpage - creates or projects an implied rhetor and an intended audience. Not a target audience, not a general audience, but one that is implied in and by the rhetorical message.

Here's a more complete model of the rhetorical situation in which all rhetorical messages operate: Print it out. Pin it to your wall. Keep it conceptually in front of you as you work with rhetorical messages: TheTextualizedRhetoricalSituation.

Questions? Use the comments, or edit this page and ask.


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