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What Makes This Rhetorical? An exercise

This exercise is a trial run at working with exercises like this one, observing, taking notes, and considering an artifact from a rhetorical perspective. A rhetorical artifact is a text, a web page, an image, a tweet, a video, a audio file, a transcript of an audio file, a CD cover and on. You should review the CourseStatement to get a sense of the method I'm asking you to engage for this exercises.
Read Rhetorical Analysis chapter 1 and chapter 2 to p 21.

Take at least an hour of close, studied work of observation and notes for this exercise. Two hours will yield even more. And three, even more.

If you're unsure how to proceed, don't worry. Take a breath and start taking notes. People learn to do this by actually doing it for a while, unsure at first, but gaining a sense of the task.

Contemporary rhetoricians take the perspective that any language artifact is rhetorical. A text or object might not be overtly persuasive, but it does influence attitudes, values, or beliefs. As in this definition from Stoner and Perkins:

Rhetoric: The art and science of creating and analyzing "messages that rely on verbal and nonverbal symbols that more or less intentionally influence social attitudes, values, beliefs, and actions." (Stoner and Perkins, 6).

For a message to be rhetorical, it must rely on symbols - natural language, typically, but the language of film, dance, spacial organization, and the like are all symbolic - but the rhetor need not intentionally or overtly attempt to influence. So, we can say that

Rhetorical messages aim to shape the way people think, act, feel, or believe.

To explore what this means, we'll look at a few artifacts that we don't often see as rhetorical.

How to proceed

Go to your wiki name page and start a new page titled WhatMakesThisRhetorical - followed by your initials. (WhatMakesThisRhetoricalMCM, for instance). Work with this exercise in that page, making notes that others can follow. Your notes don't have to be letter-perfect. You can use bullets or sentences or fragments. But get your thinking down on the screen so you can see what you're doing. Use headings to organize your notes. You can copy and paste the heading below into your page to get started.

==== First Pass ====
==== Second Pass ====
==== Consideration ====

You are going to be composing notes - observations, things to notice - not essays. You're not arguing a point or coming to any conclusions, so relax and observe.


Choose one of the artifacts below to work with. Copy and paste the link to the artifact into your page so you and I can refer to it. Keep the artifact open in a second browser window as you work. Attention to the actual artifact is important in this exercise.

To start, describe the artifact. Use neutral language, move into detail, be methodical, and describe both the artifact and the situation, or situations, it is embedded in. Take notes.

Make two passes in describing.

First pass

Describe from outside the rhetorical interaction. You're not the rhetor, and you're not the audience: Describe as an outside viewer, observing the interaction between rhetor and audience.

From this perspective, consider the situation and the rhetorical elements involved. That is, identify the elements rhetors can use and do use to address rhetorical ends, consider what rhetorical ends they seem to be going for, and how they use the elements to meet the ends. All three of these considerations work together.

Hold off on evaluation: No need to judge the artifact, its aesthetic, its purported effectiveness.
Hold off on gut reaction: Stand outside the rhetorical interaction as an observer.

A Few Guiding Questions
Use these questions to guide and extend your observations.

Second pass

In a second pass, consider the more implicit, unstated ends: those elements and ends the rhetors may not consider rhetorical but that carry a persuasive end anyway.

Look at

Observe, too, what's missing. What isn't in the artifact that could readily be.

A Consideration

Recall that rhetorical messages aren't always overtly persuasive, and that they aim to shape the way people think, act, feel, or believe.

Drawing on your notes of what you have observed, where would you place the artifact on a continuum of The Rhetorical from no persuasion to overt persuasion, and why.

no persuasion ----------------------- hello ----------------------------overt persuasion


retired artifacts - used in pass classes
Oh mistress mine, as displayed on the Poetry Foundation website.
Google page for sunlamp. (Search sunlamp on Google and consider that page.)
Cover of pop song
Paper Planes, sampling The Clash, Straight to Hell.
2 page spread from Wired magazine.
Facebook Profile
Saturday Fun Page, Bemidji Pioneer
This is to say, William Carlos Williams - and a rhetorical response
Illuminated ms
Skater at Play
Lindsay Lohen Doesn't Change Facial Expression: Image mashup. Sound.
BSU Home page
OK Go on treadmills
Saturday Fun Page, Bemidji Pioneer
a grocery list

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