Kastely’s Rethinking the Rhetorical Tradition

James Kastely
Rethinking the Rhetorical Tradition: From Plato to Postmodernism
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies

•    Is there a way to read classical texts as not merely an attempt to resuscitate a dead practice?
o    Is there a way in which the past can speak meaningfully to the present?
•    Need for skepticism and skepticism as political action are Plato’s justifications for rhetoric
•    Central concern for rhetoric is logos
o    Rhetoric is a power: subject to proper and improper use
•    Three types of decisions that affect an audience
o    Time past = forensic
o    Time present = epideictic
o    Time future = deliberative
•    Audience’s ability to become present to itself through discourse
•    “Refutation seeks to make us assume a responsibility for this world while recognizing that we can never be fully present to ourselves.”
•    The issue that makes rhetoric a philosophical problem is injustice
o    Injustice is partly a problem of language
•    For persuasion to succeed, the Other must be silenced
•    Burke’s work argues for the relevance of rhetoric to the postmodern world and it recover the philosophical problem of rhetoric that’s embodied in the ongoing need for refutation
•    Q: What utility is there in the study of the rhetoric of antiquity?
•    A: Such a study justifies itself as a refutation of postmodernism
o    23: “This refutation takes the form of recovering positions that have been taken inadvertently and that have been assumed to be not choices of the particular discourse theorists but discoveries about language or power.  What postmodernism has forgotten, for all of its theoretical sophistication, is that it is itself a rhetorical and hence historical product.”
1: “The contemporary return of rhetoric presupposes, through its very structure as return, an end of rhetoric, a discontinuity within tradition, and an alteration that renders the second version of rhetoric, its modernist-postmodernist redaction, a new form of cultural practice and mode of analysis.  To understand the significance of rhetoric today is to understand why and in what ways it is discontinuous with its past.”
5: “Further, and this is the crucial point, we do not know what ‘success’ would mean except simply ‘continuance.’  We are not conversing because we have a goal, but because Socratic conversation is an activity which is its own end.”
9: “Aristotle does not formulate this failure as an ethical corruption but as an artistic infelicity.  The problem of appealing either primarily or exclusively to the emotions and prejudices of the audience is that the decision that is finally rendered is not an accurate one because the audience who makes the decision has had its judgment distorted.”
12: “Logically, if the purpose of rhetoric is defined as locating the decision that is best for the audience, then invention becomes the foremost concern for the rhetor, who will be guided by the need to discover these interests and then communicate a determinate judgment of how the audience should act.  The art of rhetoric will reside in the invention and communication to the audience of how it should understand a particular situation so that its interests are best served.  It will be the audience that finally renders any given situation determinate by making a particular judgment.  The audience as judge also affords another check to the possible corruption of rhetoric.”
16: “Audiences fail to become participants in a rhetorical exchange because their power renders them indifferent to others, or because their trust has been so violated in the past that they can conceived of any speech only as a cynical attempt at manipulation, or because they remain ignorant of who they are and how they have been formed by history.”
18: “It is the audience as problem that ties the skeptical thread of classical rhetoric to the modern and postmodern rhetorics.  If these more recent rhetorics speak little of refutation, they are fully aware of the problem of the unavailable audience.”
22: “’As far as rhetoric is concerned, then, a Marxist must be in a certain sense a Platonist.  Rhetorical effects are calculated in the light of a theory of the polis as a whole, not merely in light of the pragmatic conjuncture fetishized by post-Marxism.  Rhetoric and dialectic, agitation and propaganda are closely articulate; what unites them for Plato is justice, a moral concept itself only calculable on the basis of social knowledge, as opposed to doxa or ideological opinion.”


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