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Booth

Booth

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TheRhetoricalStance
1IIiiiiil
..
1IiiiII@
Wayne
C.
Booth
CollegeCompositionandCommunication,
Vol.14,
No.3,
AnnualMeeting,LosAngeles,1963:TowardaNewRhetoric.(Oct.,1963),pp.139-145.
StableURL:http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0010-096X%28196310%2914%3A3%3C139%3ATRS%3E2.0.CO%3B2-8
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The
Rhetorical
Stance
WAYNEC.
BOOTH
LAST
FALL
I
had
an
advancedgraduate
student,bright,energetic,well-inform
ed,
whosepapersvverealmostunreadable.
He
managedto
be
pretentious,dull,
and
disorganized
in
his
paper
on
E1nma,
and
pretentious,dull,
and
disorganized
on
Madame
Bovary.
On
TheGoldenBowl
he
wasallthese
and
obscureaswell.
Then
oneday,
towardthe
end
ofterm,
he
cornered
me
afterclass
and
said,"Youknow,Ithinkyou
were
allwrong
about
Robbe-Grillet's
Jealousy
today."
We
didn'thave
time
to
discussit,soIsuggested
thathe
write
me
a
noteabout
it.
Five
hours
later
Ifound
in
myfacultyboxafour-pagepolemic,unpretentious,stimulating,organized,convincing.
Here
wasa
man
WllO
had
taught
freshmancompositionforseveralyears
and
who
wasincapableofcommitting
any
of
the
moreobviouserrors
thatwe
thinkofascharacteristicof
bad
writing.Yet
he
couldnotvvritea-decentsentence,paragraph,
or
paper
untilhisrhetoricalproblemwassolved
-until,
that
is,
he
had
found
adefinitionofhisaudience,hisargument,
and
his
ownproper
toneofvoice.TIle
word
~ ~ r h e t o r i c "
is
one
ofthosecatch-allterms
that
can
easilyraise
troublewhenour
backs
are
turned.
As
it
regainsapopularity
thatit
onceseemedpermanentlytohavelost,itsmeaningsseemto
range
all
the
way
fromsome
thing
like
~ ~ t h e
whole
art
ofwritingon
any
subject,"as
in
KennethBurke's
Author
of
The
RhetoricofFiction(1961),
Mr.Booth
is
a
member
of
the
EnglishDe-partmentat
the
University
of
Chicago.
TheRhetoric
of
Religion,
through"the
specialartsofpersuasion,"
on
down
to
fairlynaITO'"notions
about
rhetoricalfigures
and
devices.
And
ofcourse\vestillhave
with
us
the
meallingof"enlptybombast,"asin
the
phrase"merelyrhetorical."ISupfpose
that
the
questionof
the
roleofrhetoric
inthe
Englishcourse
is
meaninglessif
we
thinkofrhetoricineitheritsbroadestoritsnarrowestmeanings.
No
Englishcoursecouldavoiddealing\vithrhetoric
in
Burke'ssense,un-derwhatevernrone,
and
on
theother
hand
nobody
wouldeveradvocateanything
so
questionableasteaching"nlererhetoric."
But
if
we
settleon
the
following,traditional,definition,somerealquestions
are
raised:"Rhetoricis
the
art
offinding
and
employing
the
mosteffectivemeansofpersuasiononanysubject,considered
independently
ofintellectualmasteryof
that
subject.';
As
the
studentssay,"Prof.Xknowshisstuff
but
he
doesn'tkno\v
how
to
put
it
across."
If
rhetoric
is
thought
ofas
the
art
of
"putting
it
across,"consideredas
quite
distinctfrommastering
an
"it"
in
the
firstplace,\ve
are
immediatelylan-ded
in
a
bramblebushof
controversy.Is
there
such
an
art?
If
so,
what
does
it
consistof?Does
it
have
acon
tent
ofitsown?
Can
it
be
taught?
Should
itbe
taught?
If
it
should,
how
dowe
go
about
it,
head
onor
obliquely?Obviously
it
would
be
foolish
totry
todeal
withmany
oftheseissues
in
twentyminutes.ButIwish
that
there
\veremoresigns
of
OUf
takingallof
them
seriously.Iwish
that
along
with
139
 
140
COMPOSITIONANDCOMMUNICATION
ournewpassionforstructurallinguistics,forexample,wecouldpointtothedevelopmentofarhetoricaltheory
that
wouldshow
jllSt
howknowledgeofstructurallinguisticscan
be
usefultoanyoneinterested
in
theartofpersuasion.IwishtherewereInorefreshmantextsthatrelatedeveryprincipleandeveryrule
to
functionalprinciplesofrhetoric,or,wherethisprovesimpossible,Iwishonefoundmoresystematicdiscussionofwhy
it
is
impossible.Butfortoday,Imustcontentmyselfwithabrieflook
at
the
charge
that
thereisnothingdistinctive
and
teachableaboutthe
art
ofrhetoric.
The
caseagainsttheisolabilityandteachabilityofrhetoricmaylook
at
firstlikeagoodone.Nobodywritesrhetoric,justasnobodyeverwriteswriting.
What
wewrite
and
speak
is
always
this
discussionofthedeclineofrailroadingand
that
discussionofPope'scoupletsandtheotherargumentforabolishingthepoll-taxorforgettingrhetoricbackintoEnglishstudies.
We
canalsoadmit
that
likeallthearts,
the
artofrhetoric
is
at
bestverychancy,onlypartlyamenabletosystematicteaching;
as
weareallpainfullyawarewhenour1:00sectiongoesmiserablyandour2:00sectionofthesamecourse
is
adelight,ourownrhetoricisnotentirelyundercontrol.Successfulrhetoriciansaretosomeextentlikepoets,born,notmade.Theyarealsodependentonyearsofpracticeandexperience.Andwecanfinallyadmitthateventhefirmestofprinciplesaboutwritingcannot
be
taughtin
the
samesense
that
elementary
logiC
orarithmeticorFrenchcan
be
taught.
In
myfirstyearofteaching,I
had
astudentwhostartedhisfirsttwoessayswithaswearword.WhenIsuggestedthatperhapsthethirdpaperoughttostartwithsomethingelse,
he
protestedthathishighschoolteacher
had
taught
him
alwaystocatchthereader'sattention.Nowtheteacherwasright,
but
theapplicationofevensuchafirmprinciplerequiresreservesoftact
that
weresomewhatbeyondmyfreshman.Butwithallofthereservationsmade,surelythechargethattheartofpersuasioncannotin
any
sense
be
taught
is
baseless.Icannotthinkthatanyone
WI10
haseverread
A r i s t o t l e ~ s
Rhetoric
or,say,Whateley's
Elements
of
Rhetoric
couldseriouslymake
the
charge.There
is
morethanenoughintheseandtheothertraditionalrhetorics
to
prOvidestructure
and
contentforayear-longcourse.Ibelieve
that
suchacourse,whenplanned
and
carriedthrough
with
intelligenceandflexibility,can
be
oneofthemostimportantofalleducationalexperiences.But
it
seemsobviousthattheartsofpersuasioncannot
be
learned
in
oneyear,thatagoodteacherwillcontinuetoteachthemregardlessofhissubjectmatter,
andthat
we
as
Englishteachershaveaspecial
re-
sponsibility
at
alllevelstogetcertainbasicrhetoricalprinciplesintoallofourwritingassignments.WhenIthinkbackovertheexperienceswhichllavelladanyactualeffectonmywriting,Ifindthegreatgoodfortuneofasplendidfreshmancourse,taughtbyamanwhobelieved
in
what
he
wasdoing,
but
Ialsofindacollectionofotherexperiencesquiteunconnected
'vith
aspeci6cwritingcourse.Iremember
the
instructorinpsychologywhopencilledonewordafterapeculiarlypretentiouspaperofmine:
bull.
IrememberthedaywhenP.
A.
Christensentalkedwithmeabout
my
Chaucerpaper,
and
mademeunderstandthat
my
failuretouseeffectivetransitionswasnotsimplyatechnicalfault
but
afundamentalblockinmyeffort
to.
gethim
to
seemymeaning.Hisoff-the-cuffpronouncement
that
Ishouldneverletmyselfwriteasentencethatwasnotinsome
wa,Y
explicitlyattachedtopreceding
and
followingsentencesmeantfarmore
to

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