Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Senses of Rhetoric

This blog is intended as a place to engage in informal, short reflections on rhetoric in its various senses, and as it addresses our various senses. Many of the best critical blogs that I try to keep up with are quite sensibly devoted to a single medium or genre. I would like to try my hand, in this exercise, at a deliberately mixed collection of forms. Perhaps that's partly because of my own restlessness or short attention span, but I'd like to think that it is responsible to a notion of rhetoric as always mixed and always present in human action.

In 1978 I published an essay called "The Senses of Rhetoric: A Topical System for Critics," in the Central States Speech Journal as it was then called--it is now called Communication Studies.
In that essay I attempted to articulate some starting points for the rhetorical analysis of texts in a variety of media and genres, both political and cultural. The idea of the topical approach was to permit theoretical rigor without invoking categorical blindness, a problem at the core of the rhetorical tradition. In the rhetorical tradition, a topic is a place where arguments and ideas may be found, a starting point for the process of invention. These places are sometimes "commonplaces" of tacit cultural knowledge, sometimes analytical promptings.

Thomas W. Benson. "The Senses of Rhetoric: A Topical System for Critics." Central States Speech Journal 29 (1978): 237-250.

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