Introduction to Contemporary Rhetorical
Shaped by Same Forces that shaped Life in the Twentieth Century
- Growth of Western Science. As the century proceeded, the dominance of science and
technology that had begun in the nineteenth century spread into the social sciences. The result
was a shift in dominant rhetorical theories from formal to mechanistic theories. Contemporary
rhetorical theory arose as a synthetic response to the domination of analytical theories in the
- Adolph Hitler. In rhetoric, Hitler represented the embarrassment of the century. He was the
master rhetorician, but the century's symbol of evil. Thus, skills of rhetoric become associated
with evil. But the influence is stronger than simply the symbolic embarrassment. The
subordination of Nazi Germany posed questions about just how rational people really are. The
large role for sound argument in rhetorical theory meant that this critique undermined the
viability of rhetorical theories.
- Movements for liberation from domination. The late century was marked by many
movements that identified sources of domination and opposed that domination in various
theories of liberation.
- Postmodernism. The critique of modernity in the final two decades of the century cast doubt
on the future of the Enlightenment. Because the disparagement of rhetoric was such a central
part of the Enlightenment, the attack opened new opportunities for rhetoric.
At the close of the century, rhetoric is at the confluence of intellectual thought.
Changes that Differentiate Contemporary Rhetorical
Theory from Traditional Theory
- The Rise of a Social Locus for Rhetorical Invention. The answer to Foucault's question
"Who is the author?" is no longer as simple as identifying the person who generates the
message. Contemporary theory raises the possibility of multiple answers to the question.
Accouts of rhetoric must be puntuated differently. Cultures may be said to invent messages.
One can even speak meaningfully of language as the inventional force. Contemporary theory
posits the process of invention as a dialectic of individual and culture or even a complex of
multiple nodes of inventional power.
- Motivational Webs of Action replace Mediated Behaviors. Traditional theories of rhetoric
describe rhetoric as arising in periods of exigency, thus focusing on the power to initiate
change. Thus, rhetoric is fixed in particular space-time moments. Contemporary theories
integrate language and behavior totally. Patterns of action are performed in entailed patterns
of communication. Thus, linguistic forms attain motivational power to perform action. The
dialectic of stablity and change is played out in the living out of the motivational power of a
- Dialectical Logic. The relationships among
concepts are governed by the power through which discourse merges the forces
shaping the moment into interpretation.
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