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with the relationships between man and man.17 All rhetorical theorizing
attempts to answer one or more of these questions.
Rhetorical criticism is the deJcription, analysis, interpretation, and
evaluation of persuasive uses of language. These stages in the critical
process have three general purposes: (1) to describe discourses ac-
curately and perceptively so that the unique qualities of individual dis-
courses or genres of discourse become clear to the reader; (2) to
analyze internal elements and stratagems of discourses, and to describe
the relationship between discourses and their cultural contexts and the
persuasive forces impinging on them; (3) to make evaluative
of discourses based on explicit criteria so that the grounds for evaluation
are apparent to the reader. Well-done, thorough criticism increases the
reader's capacity to appreciate rhetorical discourses and enables the
general audience to make informed and deliberate
judgments based on
persuasive discourse. In addition such criticism improves the quality of
persuasive discourse in society, and tests and modifies both theories of
rhetoric and critical systems.ls Unfortunately there is far too little
criticism of contemporary persuasion; and when it appears, such criti-
cism is available only to limited, usually academic, audiences. It is even
more tragic that powerful political figures, such as the President and
Vice President, attack critical efforts despite the essential part that
careful criticism plays in the decision.making process of a democratic
Some of the essays exploring ethical sta4dards may be
Johannei en, i a.., ntnti and' Persi asi on (New York: Random House, 1967)'
An innovaiive statement of the naiure of rhetorical criticism may be found
in I-a*ienci Roienfield,
Anatomy of Critical Discourse," Speech Monographs,
Vol . 25 (March 1968), pp. 5G-69.
The Process of Rhetorical Criticism
In its final form rhetorical criticism is the result of a three-stage
process: The critic locates the unique characteristics of a discourse or
of discourses; he analyzes the internal workings of the discourse
and its relation to its milieu; and he selects or creates a system of
criticism to make evaluative judgments of its quality and effects. The
three stages are not distinguishable in a written criticism; the critic
must go through these stages in preparation of his critique. In the
criticism each process is integrated into a coherently developed struc-
ture. There is no guarantee that performing these steps will make a
critic, but the chance of producing insightful and creative criti-
cism is greatly increased.
The critical approach used in this book rests on a strong peisonal
commitment to organic or situational criticism in contrast to formulary
or prescriptive criticism. The prescriptive approach to criticism applies
a formula or set of prescriptions to all discourses. For example, such
criticism frequently examines discourses in terms of the classical canons
of invention, disposition, style, and delivery and the classical modes of
pathos, and ethos. The critic of contemporary rhetorical
musi make a conscious decision about the system of criticism
he intends to use. For some discourses traditional precepts constitute
an ideal and workable critical system. For many others, especially in the
American milieu, they are inappropriate. Traditional,
theory, in keeping with its classical origins, is committed
to the values of reason, order, and law. These values are being chal-
today in rhetorical acts which argue that power holders use such
values to rationalize injustice and oppression. The contemporary critic
must examine and develop critical systems to interpret and understand
such rhetoric in ways that do not inevitably force him to censure its
purposes and stratagems.l
The organic approach to criticism is concerned with the specific goals
of particular persuaders in speciSc contexts; it views rhetorical acts as
patterns of argument and interaction that grow out of particular condi-
tions. In such an approach the critic applies critical categories that grow
out of the nature of the discourse, and he adapts the critical system to
reveal and respond to the peculiarities of the discourse.
Conflict between the two approaches need not be irreconcilable. Good
criticism is often the result of selection and application of the formula
most suitable to the discourse under consideration. Three broad critical
systems are outlined in chapter 3. In one sense these are formulas or
prescriptions that iepresent options for the critic. But for many dis-
courses the critic must invent a critical approach adapted to the dis-
course or genre he intends to evaluate. The critiques of the Paul Ehrlich
essay, Black Protest rhetoric, and, to some extent, the Nixon, Agnew, and
Wald addresses illustrate such invention.
The First Stage ol Criticism
Through descriptive analysis, the first stage in the critical process, the
critic attempts to discover the unique and defining characteristics that
make a discourse or genre distinctive. At the completion of this stage,
the critic will be familiar with the nuances of the discourse and will be
aware of the rhetorician's selections of language, structure, arguments,
and evidence. He will have excellent grounds for determining the rhet-
orician's purpose and the responses that rhetorician seeks from his
audience. The critic will also have extracted information to determine
the role the speaker or writer has chosen to play, the ways he perceives
and selects his audience, and his choice of persuasive strategies.
The stage of descriptive analysis is entirely intrinsic; that is, the
critic makes descriptive statements solely on the basis of the content of
the discourse itself. He uses outside materials only to determine the
authenticity of the text. At this stage the critic ignores information about
the context, the audience, the author, and the occasion' Rather he is
concerned with the elements of tone, purpose, structure, and strategy;
he concentrates on the supportive materials and the relationship between
rhetorician and audience implied in the text itself.
For discussion of the conflict between traditional rhetorical
temporary rhetoric, ."" noUiii L. Scott and Donald K. Smith, "The Rhetdric of
Conirontition," Quarterly Journal of Speech, VoI. 55 (Februaty 1969), pp' 1-8'
Ihe.Process of Rhetorical Criticism
The term tone refers to those elements (primarily language elements)
that suggest the rhetorician's attitude toward his audience and his
subject matter; Statements about tone are inferences drawn from
stylistic qualities. The critic may describe tone in an infinite number of
ways: as personal, direct, ironic, satirical, sympathetic, angry, bitter,
intense, scholarly, dogmatic, distant, condescending, "tough" or realistic,
"sweet" or euphemistic, incisive, elegant, and so on. Each such Iabel
should reflect, as accurately as possible, whether the language is abstract
or concrete, socially acceptable or unacceptable, technical or colloquial;
it should reflect sentence Iength and complexity. The critic should also
be prepared to support each label with evidence from the discourse that
shows most clearly the general attitudes of the rhetorician toward the
audience and the subject. For example, the tone of "The Generation Gap"
is generally incisive and cutting, often satirical, quite personal (giving
information about the author), and very direct. The section of criticism
discussing stratagems and uses of language in the Agnew speeches is
based on a descriptive analysis of the tone of those discourses.
The term purpose refers to the argumentative conclusions, particu-
larly the major conclusion, or thesis, of the discourse and the reasons
and explanations that justify it. Analysis of purpose usually requires
an outline of the argumentative structure which states the major ideas
and diagrams their relationships. In many discourses the argumentative
conclusion, or thesis, is explicitly stated, as in Nixon's Vietnam address.
In others, such as in Agnew's speeches, there is an apparent purpose-
to question whether the concentration of the mass media represents a
threat to the dissemination of information and decision making in this
an implicit purpose-to alienate large segments of the
from media outlets critical of administrative policy. The
implicit purpose is closely allied to the tone of the discourse.
In an analytical description of the implicit purpose the critic attempts
to determine the kinds of responses that the author seeks from his
audience or from different parts of his audience. Such purposes may
the traditional goals of acceptance and understanding or such
goals as shame, confrontation, polarization, and alienation.
For eiarnple, confrontation of Anglo-Americans and evocation of shame
and guilt are essential parts of the purpose of "A Letter to the World
Jerusalem." The rhetorician's implicit purposes are related to his
of the audiences he addresses. Eldridge Cleaver has different
for black audiences and white audiences; Ben Yisrael has dif-
ferent purposes for Jewish audiences and non-Jewish audiences. For
instance, although he
Yisrael provides many
confronts and shames
bases for identification
between this audience
The term structure refers to ttie torm of the discourse, the method of
its development, and the nature of its movement. The critic should de-
scribe how and why the discourse develops, how it creates expectations
in the audience, whether it promotes a sense of inevitability, and how
the speaker or writer constructs a context for materials that follow.
The kinds of structure in rhetorical discourses are numerous, and a rhet-
orical act usually employs more than one form. The method of develop-
ment may be narrative-dramatic, historical-chronological, logical or
pragmatic (problem-solution, cause-effect, or effect-cause), topical
(analysis by a number of facets or perspectives), or taxonomical (division
of a process into its relevant parts). These forms are not mutually ex-
clusive; the discourses in this book all use a combination of them.
The structure of the discourse is important because it represents the
rhetorician's choice of the most significant perspective on the subject,
issue, or section of reality he wishes to examine. A historical-chrono-
logical form emphasizes development over time. A narrative-dramatic
form reflects an organic view of reality and assumes that vicarious shar-
ing of integrally related experiences is essential to the understanding of
a concept or situation. A problem-solution form emphasizes the need
to discover a concrete policy in order to resolve a troublesome situation'
A cause-effect forin stresses the prediction of consequences. A topical
form selects certain facets of the subject and suggests that others
are relatively unimportant. A taxonomical form focuses on the interre-
lationships between the parts of a process or between the parts and the
whole. Each structural form represents a choice of perspective that
emphasizes certain elements of the material over others. The writer or
speaker uses the structural form to develop the discourse in order to
support his point of view and lead most directly to his desired goal. For
example, an understanding of the structural form and method of develop-
ment of Wald's address is probably the most important factor in dis-
covering the unique qualities of that discourse.
With the exception of addresses using a narrative or historical struc-
ture, an outline of the major ideas and arguments of the discourse is a
helpful critical technique for determining structural form. An outline
may also serve as a basis for testing the coherence and validity of the
rhetorician's arguments. Because the critic is concerned with ideas and
conclusions rather than topics a full-sentence outline is best to use. At
this stage of analysis the chronological order in which ideas appear in
the discourse is not important; the critic reorders concepts so that rea'
sons and conclusions appear in logical relationships. At times the critic
The Process of Rhetorical Criticism
may need to experiment with alternate forms to discover which one, or
ones, most accurately and completely reflect the'patterns of develop'
The supporting materials of a discourse are the explanationq, illustra-
tions, statistics, analogies, and testimony from lay and expert persons
used to clarify ideas, to verify statements, and to make concepts vivid
and memorable. In descriptive analysis the critic is not concerned with
testing the validity, reliability, and credibility of support materials be-
cause such processes require the use of extrinsic sources, At this stage
he is concerned with describing the support materials and analyzing
in the discourse.
Each form of evidence serves different proof functions. To the degree
that an audience can identify with the
or events, a detailed
example is a vivid, personal, dramatic method of illustrating a principle,
concept, or condition. Its primary function is psychological identifica-
tion, for one example has only limited demonstrative value. In most
instances a single case of anything is not adequate grounds for drawing
a conclusion; it may turn out to be an atypical situation, even a remark-
able coincidence or accident. Illustrations, like dramas, serye to "clothe
ideas in living flesh," and their greatest strength is in their concrete im-
pact on individuals. Extended examples also serve to introduce narra-
tive-dramatic form into a discourse.
Analogies, or comparisons, function primarily for the purposes of
prediction; they connect what exists and is known with what is in the
future and is unknown. Figurative analogies
things unlike in detail but similar in principle) operate the same way
to connect the known, familiar, and simple with the unknown, unfamiliar,
Expert testimony or authoritative evidence provides criteria, stand-
ards, or principles to interpret data. Such evidence increases the inter-
capacities of an audience inexpert in the area being discussed.
In addition authoritative evidence demonstrates that experts share the
rhetorician's perspective or attitudes. Instances of lay testimony gener-
ally serve the same functions as examples.
Statistical evidence demonstrates the frequency of occurrence of
Used in conjunction with examples, statistics provide evi-
dence of the typicality of the examples and the size or scope of a prob-
lem. Statistical evidence is strengthened by cultural preference for the
and scientific; but because statistics are often dull, the audi-
may have difficulty absorbing or retaining such data.
In descriptive analysis the critic describes the support materials
used in the discourse and their functions' He also considers how the
evidence is related to the tone, purpose, and structure of the
discourse. Different structural forms require different kinds of support-
ing materials, and the rhetorician may select a structure to avoid certain
evidential requirements. For exarnple, Nixon's speech on Vietnam is so
structured that it requires moral or ethical
justification rather than
demonstrations of feasibility and practiceility. The selection of a struc-
tural form to emphasize certain.kinds of evidential questions is closely
related to the descriptive analysis of strategies.
The description of strategies determines how the rhetorician shapes
his material in terms of the audience and his purposes. Strategies in-
clude selection of structtrral form, arguments, and supporting materials.
They also include choice of language, use of definitions, and repetition
of key words and phrases. The critic might consider certain questions
to determine the rhetorician's strategies: What elements in the discourse
between the rhetorician and his intended audi-
ence? What attempts does the rhetorician make to label or relabel, de-
fine or redefine, strtrcture or restructure the experienced reality of the au-
IIow does the speaker or writer atternPt to provide new experi-
ences for the audience? What changes in evaluation or association does
he seek? fn this book the critiques of Black Protest rhetoric and Agnew's
speeches best illustrate use of the concept of strategies.
The speaker or writer constructs his discourse for particular individ-
uals or groups. In descriptive analysis the critic concentrates on the
ways the rhetorician's discourses "select" an audience or audiences'
The critic locates staternents that indicate the rhetorician is aware of
than one audience. He decides who will compose the actual audi-
ence and what part of that audience will be alienated by the discourse.
He also determines the sorts of people the arguments are constructed
for and examines the supporting materials.
At this stage the critic is concerned with the relationship between
the discourse and the identity the rhetorician creates for himself through
the discouise.2 What is the function of the discourse for its author?
How does it serve to create an identity for him? To what degree does
the discourse serve as self-expression or self-persuasion? If the discourse
were the only piece of evidence available from which to determine the
A major work concerning the identity the author creates in his discourse is
Wayne C,-Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (C]ricago: University of Chic-ag-o Press,
196i). See also Iiichard B. Grege, "The Ego-Function of the Rhetoric of Protest,"
Phi tosophy and Rhetori c, Vol . 4 (Spri ng 1971), pp.7l -91.
The Process of Rhetorical Criticism
character of the author, what inferences could be made about him?
Discourses serve to reveal the attitudes and beliefs of their authors'
The rhetorician's views of man, truth, and society may reveal the
philosophic position or perspective from which he speaks'3
Descriptive analysis, the first stage in the critical
entirely intrinsic and organic. As textual analysis it is designed to focus
attention on the discourse. At this basic stage in the critical pr6cess the
critic gathers the data that will provide the basis for subsequent analysis
and interpretation. Therefore care and thoroughness at this stage is
extremely important. In the criticism of rhetoric information and com-
mentary about rhetoricians, contexts, and audiences are relevant and
appropriate only insofar as they shed light upon the rhetorical dis-
The Second Stage of Criticism
unlike the stage of descriptive analysis, which is almost entirely in-
trinsic and organic, the second stage of criticism examines the extrinsic
elements of discourse. This stage requires further research. The critic
first acquires information about the historical-cultural
rhetorician, the audience, and the persuasive forces operating in the
scene and then determines why the rhetorician made the choices of tone,
purpose, srrucrure, and strategies analyzed in the descriptive stage of the
The extrinsic elements-the external limitations, constraints, or in-
fluences on the rhetorician's choices-affect "the rhetorical problem,"
which emphasizes rhetoric as goal-directed behavior intended to produce
certain responses. A discourse is the rhetorician's solution to a problem
he perceives in a particular context, that is, the rhetorician's attemPt to
"encompass a situation." The elements of the rhetorical problem repre-
sent the obstacles that prevent the author from accomplishing his
purpose immediately and easily. These elements include the audience, the
historical-cultural context, other persuasive forces, and the rhetorician
At this stage the critic is concerned with discovering as much informa-
tion as possible about the persons actually exposed to the discourse. The
Two excellent discussions of the critical
process of examining- philosophic
*"V U" founa ln-lnomis Nilsen, "Intelpretative Function of the Critic,"
Revelation," western speech'
Vol. 2l (Spring 1957), pp. 70-83.
problern,--see^ Robert Cathcart, Post'
Com-iintcitiore (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966)' pp' 3G39'
medium (television, radio, print, live presentation, and so on) through
which the audience participated in the rhetorical situation is important
in determining the characteristics of the actual audience. Whether a
given audience was exposed to the entire discourse, to excerpts, or to ari
edited version is also an important point. The attitudes and beliefs of
the audience-discovered through research information about age, oc-
cupation, political affiliation, cuitural experience, education, interests,
economic status, and social class-affect their attitudes toward the
rhetorician and the issue and provide insights into the rhetorician's
choice of persuasive strategies. The audience's degree of involvement
with the issue and their feelings (apathy, ignorance, hostility) toward the
issue, the rhetorician, and the purpose of the discourse are also particu-
To interpret a rhetorical act, the critic needs information about the
immediate social context in which the act occurred, the particular oc-
casion, and the place of the discourse in the ongoing dialogue of the
culture. What events served to focus public attention on the issue dis-
cussed? What is the relationship between the discourse and the occa-
sion? What events preceded and followed the discourse? What are the
social, political, and economic pressures on the rhetorician and the
audience? What is the social or cultural attitude toward this issue?
How is the issue related to the ongoing American dialogue about liberty,
equality, freedom, brotherhood, free enterprise, and so on?
Closely related to the historical-cultural context are competing per-
suaders and alternative policies and positions. The thorough critic deter-
mines what information about the issue was generally disseminated
through influential media and considers whether and how the rhetorician
dealt with alternative policies. He also discovers what groups are in
conflict with the rhetorician's position and what groups are associated
with it. In addition the critic considers whether the rhetorician attempts
to associate (or disassociate) himself and his position with (or from)
other groups or causes and tries to discover possible reasons.
Extrinsic analysis allows the critic to discover information about the
rhetorician's experience, knowledge, and prior rhetorical actions. Is the
rhetorician generally recognized as an expert on this subject? What
statements has he made in the past that limit his choices in this case?
The Process ol Rhetorical Criticism
What associations or interests influence the rhetorician's choices (fi-
nancial interests, constituency, ideology, ambitions)? With what other
issues and causes is the rhetorician associated? To what extent is the
discourse the work of
In the second stage of criticism the critii should test the validity,
reliability, and credibility of the supporting evidence: How accurate
are the citations? What sources does the rhetorician use? Are the sup-
porting materials adequate and typical evidence? During this stage of
the critical process the critic should consider all the tests applicable
for the particular types of evidence.s However, if a critic were to apply
these criteria strictly, most discourses in this book would appear seri
ously flawed. In this respect the least flawed would be the discourses of
Paul Ehrlich and Jo'Freeman. Other discourses, particularly those of
Black Protest rhetoric and of Ben Yisrael, should be examined dif-
ferently because of their use of dramatic form, allusion, and definition.
The Third Stage of Criticism
In the third stage of critical analysis the critic selects or creates a
system of criticism and determines criteria for interpreting, evaluating,
and making his final judgments on the rhetoric. He bases his decisions
on his intrinsic descriptive analysis and extrinsic analysis of the histor-
icaL-cul t ur aI c on t e tct.
White the first stage of criticism focuses on the discourse and the
second stage focuses on the context and scene, the third stage focuses
on the critic, reflecting his interests and biases. George Bernard Shaw
once wrote that "all criticism is autobiography," and other theorists
have recognized that criticism is persuasive discourse. (In a sense rhe-
torical criticism is entirely reflexive; all critical processes used to eval-
uate a discourse should also be used to evaluate the criticisms of that
Although the discussion of the first two stages of the critical process
indicates strongly that the critic must test his judgments against the
discourse and against research from other sources, "good" criticism is
not objective and impersonal; it is evaluative. It makes clear and un-
mistakable judgments about the quality, worth, and consequences of
For an examination of the tests of evidence in the second stage of the critical
see Robert P. Newman and Dale R. Newman, Evidence (Boston: Hough-
Mifflin Company, 1969).
the discourse.6 However, 'lgood" criticism can be distinguished frorn
"poor" criticism in sgveral ways. First, whether it makes positive or
negative judgments, "good" criticism increases the reader's understand-
ing and appreciation of the discourse it criticizes. Second, in "good"
criticism the reader can clearly identify the criteria the critic uses as a
basis for his evaluations. In sho4t good critics identify the system and
standards they use, and their criticism is coherent and consistent so
that the reader recognizes the grounds for critical judgments. Third,
"good" criticism makes a contribution to the ongoing dialogue about the
role of persuasive discourse in a humane society. It deals with ethical
and moral questions and gives the reader a glimpse of an "ideal"
In light of his descriptive and historical-contextual analyses, the critic
should consider the following questions as a general guide in selecting
a critical syste'm for interpretation and in choosing critical standards.
First, what distinctive characteristics of this rhetorical act should be
emphasized and high-lighted in a critique? The purpose of criticism is to
help the reader become a more appreciative, insightful audience for
persuasive discourse. This question is crucial if criticism is to reveal the
discourqe, explore its peculiarities, and expose its internal workings.
It focuses critical attention on artistic elements in the rhetoric and
encourages the critic to produce innovative and creative criticism. This
question was extremely influential in the choice of the critical techniques
applied to Ehrlich's essay and was somewhat influential in the selection
of techniques used in the criticism of Black Protest rhetoric and the
addresses of Wald and Agnew.
Second, does the rhetorician suggest criteria for judging his work?
Frequently the authors of persuasive discourses suggest standards for
evaluation, which are inherent in statements of their beliefs about the
proper analysis of an issue and the purposes of their discourses. This
question suggests that the critic should take the rhetorician "on his own
terms." The influence of the question is particularly evident in the
critique of Nixon's address.
Third, what critical system will allow the critic to focus on the
criterion or criteria that seem most significant in responding to this
discourse or genre? This question assumes that in some cases the critic
will decide that certain judgments or evaluations of the discourse need
to be made. Perhaps he deems the work highly unethical, a significant
The necessity for judgment and evaluation in rhetorical criticism is cogently
stated by Lawrence W. Rosenfield, "The Anatomy of Critical Discourse," Speech
Monographs, Vol. 35 (March 1968), pp. 5G69. The notion that rhetorical criticism
need not be judgmental is suggested in Jerry Hendrix, "Rhetorical Criticism:
Prognoses for the Seventies-A Symposium," Southern Speech lournal, VoI. 36
(Winter 1970), p. 1&1. Mark Klyn,
a Pluralistic Rhetorical Criticism," in
Thomas R. Nilsen, ed., Essays on Rhetorical Citicism (New York: Random House,
1968), pp. 143-157, objects to the narrow evaluative limits prescribed by neo-
The Process of Rhetorical Griticism
violation of the truth criterion, a unique approach to a complex ethical
problem, a distinctively aesthetic work, or a major reinterpretation of
an issue or value system. In each case he should seek a critical system
that will allow him to explicate and
justify his conclusions most in-
telligently and cogently. The critique of Black Protest rhetoric shows
the influence of this question as does the use of Northrop Frye's concept
of "genuine speech" in the criticism of Agnew's addresses.
Fourth, what critical system would be most antagonistic in its judg-
ment of the rhetoric or most sympathetic in its assessments? The ques-
tion is designed to make the critic self-aware and self-conscious, to
force him to consider alternative critical conclusions that might be
reached on different grounds. The two criticisms of Richard Nixon's
"Checkers Speech" by Barnet Baskerville and Henry E. McGuckin, Jr.
illustrate contrasting critical systems and evaluations.* This question
focuses the critic's attention on what the discourse is and is not, to
induce him to pause and question the fairness of his standards. It also
makes ht n aware of both positive and negative grounds for rating the
discourse. The two critical approaches used on Wald's address, and
the divergent judgments reached, illustrate the influence of this ques-
These ft ur questions underlie the three stages of the critical process.
They represent the bases for selecting critical systems and criteria. The
three stages of the process culminate in the act of formulating and
writing a piece of rhetorical criticism. The finished written document
is itself a rhetorical act that can and must be criticized. I have suggested
the purpose of criticism and indicated that these purposes function as
criteria for distinguishing "good" criticism. Test your criticisms, my
criticisms, and the criticisms of others by these purposes, and develop
other standards for judgment.
See page 57.
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