Rethinking the Epideictic in Rhetorical Theory
Since Aristotle, theorists of rhetoric have been confronted with three distinct categories of rhetoric: forensic, deliberative, and epideictic. Indeed, these three types demarcate three different styles of speaking in regard to each one’s respective temporality, purpose and audience (Aristotle, 1335). The influence of Aristotle’s taxonomy of language is far-reaching and even today it remains a staple in speech and communication discourses. Perhaps of even more historical importance is Aristotle’s claim that “Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic” (1325). Contrary to Plato’s less forgiving critique, Aristotle made rhetoric’s relationship with philosophy and logical dialogue a more appropriate—albeit complex—question. If rhetorical theory can serve as a compliment to philosophic endeavors, then it is necessary to consider the philosophic implications of the three types of rhetoric.
In 20th century philosophy, few thinkers remain as widely influential and confounding as Martin Heidegger. His hermeneutical method, criticisms of Western metaphysics, and approach to language remain foundational in understanding much 20th century critical theory. Although Heidegger never published explicitly on rhetoric, his 1924 lectures have recently been published and translated into English. Therein, Heidegger claims: “Rhetoric is nothing other than the interpretation of concrete being-there, the hermeneutic of being-there itself.” Furthermore, for Heidegger, the Aristotelian notion of logic—so fundamental to Western thought—loses its significance and “concrete function” when rhetoric is ignored as “the discipline in which the self-interpretation of being-there is explicitly fulfilled” (75). Clearly, Heidegger’s analysis of rhetoric is also an implicit criticism of the historical appropriation of ancient Greek thought. In order to understand Heidegger’s view of rhetoric, the complicated intersection of rhetoric and philosophy will also have to be addressed.
My proposed project is to critically evaluate Heidegger’s interpretation of rhetoric and see how it can serve as a genesis for new approaches and criticisms to contemporary rhetorical theory. In particular, I am interested in how his views have influenced rhetorical theory thus far and if these strands of influence are in line with his recently published lectures. Specifically, Lawrence Rosenfield applied Heidegger’s thought to rhetoric, possibly laying the foundation to a new understanding of epideictic rhetoric. I will write a 10-15 page academic paper that will be comprised of research and analysis. Dr. Dale Sullivan has agreed to be my mentor and can offer his large theoretical frame of reference and expertise in rhetorical criticism and history to help guide my research.
This project is constituted by two main objectives. The first objective is to gain experience researching and writing about the intersection between philosophy and rhetoric. Heidegger is arguably the most important philosopher of the 20th century, and he spent much of his academic life writing on language. Consequently, reconciling (or problematizing) his philosophy with rhetoric involves participating in an important and interdisciplinary conversation. Furthermore, my interest in rhetoric—as a general study of meaning, persuasion, and identity-creation—inherently involves other discourses due to its abstract subject matter. By investigating the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric I will prepare myself for my future research goal in graduate school. The second objective is to increase my knowledge of contemporary rhetorical theory. By reading as many sources as I can, I will pick up on more refined and significant trends in discussion right now. This will increase my critical reading abilities as well as prepare me for graduate level work no matter what my area of focus will be. Additionally, it could possibly serve as a writing sample for some graduate school applications, although I have a couple other pieces that I am considering. Either way, this project will give me an important glimpse into the rigor and methodology of graduate-level research.
In order to obtain the best results for my project, I will implement four main methods of research:
- Research the intersection between philosophy (esp. phenomenology) and rhetoric
- Research epideictic and aesthetic theories of rhetoric
- Implement writing exercises to further refine my research and experiment with complex ideas
- Incorporate additional help in phenomenology from Dr. Vincent Wargo
Perhaps the most important step in my research is simply to read as much as I can about philosophy and rhetoric. On the side of philosophy, I will supplement my reading of Heidegger’s Lectures on Aristotelian Philosophy with a general overview of phenomenology, titled The Way of Phenomenology: Criticism as a Philosophical Discipline, by Richard M. Zaner. This will give me a larger framework to integrate and compartmentalize Heidegger’s unique contribution. Additionally, since Heidegger’s view of rhetoric involves being-there-with-others-by-speaking, I will examine some of Heidegger’s later works in the language-focused compilation Poetry, Language, Thought. The intersection between the two discourses will become less implicit in my reading in rhetoric. I have already accrued a collection of books about rhetoric and phenomenology, as well as rhetoric and Aristotle. Understanding the particulars of each will give me the foundation to extrapolate on their relationship(s).
My current focus is on the relationship between epideictic rhetoric and Heidegger’s own interpretation. Since the phenomenological method has a very specific presupposition about subjectivity and objectivity, I think investigating nuanced conversations about epideictic rhetoric—as the present-tense rhetoric of celebrating, denigrating, judging, etc.—will have an immediate relation to phenomenology. Rosenfield’s articles about the ‘experience of rhetoric’ already hint at this important, and possibly a priori, perception. Furthermore, philosopher Gilles Deleuze (who has impacted rhetoric) has a work, Logic of Sensation, where he also argues for an aesthetic, almost epideictic-like experience, being prior to any formal systematization of experience via language. By becoming fluent in the conversation of epideictic and aestheticism in rhetoric, I will have a rhetorically-grounded angle to compare Heidegger’s theory.
I know that I work best in a sort of intellectually-passive way. Or, better said, I first need to read a lot of material, and then only after I feel like I have exhausted my mental capacity do concrete ideas emerge. Therefore, in order to accelerate the process, I will take semi-formal and semi-informal notes on the material I read. By getting my ideas out in a more creative and informal fashion, certain ideas latent in my mind are able to articulate themselves. This will make connections and ‘dead ends’ more evident.
Last, since this is an interdisciplinary topic, I will consult with Dr. Vincent Wargo in the Philosophy Department. He is an expert in Heidegger and hermeneutical phenomenology. With his assistance, I can better understand Heidegger’s philosophy which will also serve to guide my readings in rhetoric. Without a strong understanding of phenomenology, my project will certainly fail.
I have been, and will continue to, meet with Dr. Sullivan Thursdays at 3:30 to check my progress and discuss the theories. He and I have already established that time and have a productive e-mail exchange rate. When Dr. Sullivan needs to review my documents, I will be sure to send them to him no later than on Sunday (when the assignments are due on Thursday). If need be, I can send him some of my documents earlier so that he can provide me feedback before that Thursday’s class.
Below is my research timeline, showing when I will be working on each step of the project and when each one will be completed.
Aristotle. “Rhetoric.” The Basic Works of Aristotle. Ed. Richard McKeon. Trans. C.D.C. Reeve. New York: The Modern Library, 2001. Print.
Borchers, Timothy. Rhetorical Theory: An Introduction. Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc., 2006. Print.
Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Trans. Daniel W. Smith. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2003. Print.
Gross, Alan G., and Arthur E. Walzer, eds. Rereading Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Carbondale: South Illinois University Press, 2000. Print.
Heidegger, Martin. Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy. Trans. Robert D. Metcalf and Mark B. Tanzer. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2009. Print.
—. Poetry, Language, Thought. Trans. Albert Hofstadter. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1971. Print.
Leslie, Andrew and Stephen O’Leary. “Rhizomatic Rhetoric: Toward An Ecology of Institutional Argument.” Argument in Controversy: Proceedings of the Seventh SCA/AFA Conference on Argumentation. Donn W. Parson, ed. Annandale: Speech Communication Association, 1991. Print.
Poulakos, John. “Toward a Sophistic Definition of Rhetoric.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 16.1 (1983): 35-48. Web. 10 October 2012.
Rosenfield, Lawrence W. “The Experience of Criticism.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 60.4 (1974): 489-496. Web. 2 October 2012.
Sullivan, Dale L. “The Ethos of Epideictic.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 26.2 (1993): 113-133. Web. 29 September 2012.
Vitanza, Victor J. “The Hermeneutics of Abandonment.” Parallax 4.4 (1998): 123-139. Web. 10 October 2012.
Zaner, Richard M. The Way of Phenomenology: Criticism as a Philosophical Discipline. Indianapolis: The Western Publishing Co., Inc., 1970. Print.