Gretchen Rich (grich@HU1.HURON.EDU)
Thu, 8 Aug 1996 12:25:21 -0500

As a new listserv recipient, I am engrossed in the discussion of
rhetorical theory. I find so many of the comments enlightening that I
couldn't help myself--I had to respond with my two cents.

I teach both speech and writing in a small midwestern college. I meet my
students frequently--since often the speech folk are also the writing
folk. I make connections with them--and for them occasionally--as a
facilitator that astound me. Perhaps the question that most frequently
comes up is: "Why didn't they believe me when I told them...?" "The
speech/essay was persuasive in its content and its language, but the
audience wasn't ready to receive it" usually comes out as the answer. It
smacks a bit of Socrates and his Apology to the people who had handed him
the Hemlock. That speech itself is perhaps the most perfectly designed
argument of its time--or most others for that matter--but he still died.
Was it because he didn't persuade his audience? I don't think so--his
speech survived afterall. Was it because Plato and company remembered
their teacher with fondness and recorded the words? Perhaps. But also
perhaps--after the fact unfortunately for Socrates--the audience became
aware of the problem and finally became capable of dealing with the
issues after the death of a great teacher and rhetor.

I think that as teachers of rhetoric--verbal and written--we must be
aware of the audience's abilities to comprehend and accept the words we
use. We must insist that the students use the symbols--the language--
that best pulls the audience into their experience and allows that
audience to be aware of their world and their experience. If we deny
authority as the "officious words of little minds," we are perhaps
denying the experience of the officials we quote. On the other hand, if
we refuse to take the biases of those authorities into consideration, we
are misled and misinterprete the experience they note. That's another
aspect of rhetoric which we haven't heard about yet, isn't it? Or did we
discuss this concept before I joined the group? Consider the source, my
mother always told me--and it still holds true for rhetorical studies.
If the source has some other axes waiting for the grinding, perhaps I
should examine them as well???

I am SO glad you folks are out here talking about these issues!! I
sometimes feel all alone and isolated because I have no permanent
colleagues in the area.[I told you it was a small school, right??]

Gretchen Rich