Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Clash of Rhetoric in Salt Lake

For nearly three millennia, rhetoric has been defined in a number of ways by various individuals.

Corax, 476 BCE: “[Rhetoric is] the demiourgos, or artificer, of persuasion” (Kennedy, 1963). Source: Quoted in George A. Kennedy, The Art of Persuasion in Greece. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1963. 61.

Gorgias, 414 BCE: “The power of speech has the same effect on the condition of the soul as the application of drugs to the state of bodies; for just as different drugs dispel different fluids from the body, and some bring an end to disease but others end life, so also some speeches cause pain, some pleasure, some fear; some instill courage, some drug and bewitch the soul with a kind of evil persuasion. Source: Gorgias, “Encomium of Helen.” On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. Trans. George A. Kennedy. New York. Oxford UP, 1991. 287.

Socrates, center, prepares to take the cup of hemlock at his execution.
Socrates (as quoted by Plato):  “Must not the art of rhetoric, taken as a whole, be a kind of influencing of the mind by means of words, not only in courts of law and other public gatherings, but in private places also?” Source: Plato, Phaedrus. Trans. R. Hackforth. The Collected Dialogues of Plato. Ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1961. 261a-261b.

Aristotle, 350 BCE: “Let rhetoric be [defined as] an ability, in each [particular] case, to see the available means of persuasion.” Source: Aristotle, On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. Trans. George A. Kennedy. New York. Oxford UP, 1991. 1355b.

St. Augustine, 426: "After all, the universal task of eloquence, in whichever of these three styles, is to speak in a way that is geared to persuasion." Source: St. Augustine, Teaching Christianity: De doctrina christiana. Ed. John E. Rotelle. Trans. Edmund Hill. Hyde Park, NY: New City, 1996. 4.55.

The consensus of these and other thinkers and scholars is that rhetoric is intended to persuade.

The five canons of classical rhetoric are invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery (Brooke, 2009). These canons lend themselves very well to the linearity and space of the printed page.

As Rice (2006) argues, “the space of the page . . . is tied to the single author, the individual who works in one fixed space within a fixed disciplinary focus with a single identity tied to a singly motivated reading practice tied to a single idea expressed at a single moment” (p. 130).

In contrast, Rice (2006) continues, “The space somewhere else . . . is the open space constructed out of connections where multiple writers engaging within multiple ideas in multiple media at multiple moments function. That space somewhere else is the network. . . . In that process of making networks, writers, through their work, see themselves connected to information in ways the space on the page does not allow” (p. 130).

In a similar manner, the original planners of Salt Lake designed their city to match their faith’s rhetoric of order, conformity, and uniformity. However, over time, as settlers of other faiths—or of no faith at all—moved into the city, the wide streets that conveyed openness began to fill with networks (rhetorical, social, and cultural) that challenged and competed with established ways of life.

My next post will look at the implications of Michel de Certeau’s “Walking in the City” in the wide streets of Salt Lake as the city grappled with this tension between the intent of its founders and its subsequent settlers.



Brooke, C. (2009). Lingua Fracta: Towards a Rhetoric of New Media. Collin Brooke. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Rice, J. (2006, November). "Networks and New Media." College English, Vol. 69, No. 2.

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