Becoming Rhetorically Aware

When I think of rhetoric, I think of words with the purpose to persuade. From what Kieth Grant-Davie states in his article, “Rhetorical Situations and Their Constituents,” I believe my grasp of rhetoric and rhetorical situations is correct. In the beginning Grant-Davie is claiming that rhetoric only exists in circumstances where words can have an effect on masses of people to sway an outcome. So an earthquake is not a situation where rhetoric exists but rhetoric does exist in eliciting help from people and shaping people’s reaction to the earthquake. In other words, rhetoric does not exist in cases where we have no direct control, but rather in situations where we can attempt to control the response of the populous or pursued some sort of action from the populous.

Just like your parents used to control you with this phrase all the time, the media, advertisements, politicians, and, heck, everyone around you try to manipulate you using rhetoric. Enjoy that bit of information!

What I have not considered rhetoric before, however, was physical action. Grant-Davie uses war as an example of what exigence and discourse is, “On the battlefield, one side’s ability to select the ground to be contested has often been critical to the outcome of the engagement. In the same way, rhetors who can define the fundamental issues represented by a superficial subject matter-and persuade audiences to engage those issues-is in a position to maintain decisive control over the field of debate” (276). At first I found this contradictory, because, in my mind, rhetoric exists in forms of communication, both verbal and written. The more I thought about it, though, the more it became clear that rhetoric doesn’t just exist in verbal and written words, but in actions as well. Grant-Davie uses physical examples of exigence to make this connection for the reader. A bully uses more than just words to coerce his or her victim, just as both sides of a war use force and tactic to pursued the other side to give up.

You know, you should totally give up, ’cause like, our tank is WAY bigger than you, lone guy waving.

I think that the idea that “Rhetors may play several roles at once, and even when they try to play just one role, their audience may be aware of their other roles” (270) is a very interesting one that I had not considered before. A politician is more than just candidate X to the populous; their role involves being a member of a family (generally the father, but sometimes the mother), being a member of their political party, their voting record if they’ve held a political office before, what their stance on certain issues is, etc. As a writer, my audience knows me as a student as well as a female, and may or may not know me through my previous work. I wear several hats outside of author of this current post and some or all of my audience may be aware of that multiplicity.

I love how, later, Grant-Davie brings up the idea that “Major sources of exigence, like civil rights, can continue to motivate generations of rhetors” (274). This concept that the rhetoric outlives the original rhetor(er?) is one I can plainly see and agree with. Clearly, people still read and cite Aristotle today (as this article does) and continue to ponder and build on his work. Outside of the repetition or reexamination of rhetoric, good rhetoric continues to live on in its original form. Poems outlive their poets, and speeches like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech outlive the speaker. Great writing, which contains great rhetoric, lives on and the persuasion of those pieces carries on as well. I can only hope that, someday, my writing, and rhetorical awareness within my writing, will outlive me and that whatever message I am trying to share carries itself into the future through my rhetoric. Isn’t it the goal of every writer to be immortalized in such a way?

Great words live on, despite great men dying.

– Amanda Riggle


  1. Pingback: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Power of Great Rhetoric, Part 1 | The Poetics Project

Tell Us What You Think.