The Simplest Way To Define Rhetoric
The simplest way to define rhetoric is persuasive language. From studying rhetoric and being exposed to the different theorists who also studied rhetoric, I have come to the conclusion of what I think is considered to be rhetoric and what type of characteristics good rhetoric holds. To me, rhetoric is similar to a buffet. you take what you want, and you leave the rest. The food is hot and fresh. It is tasteful with a lot of seasonings and even after you have eaten more than one plate you still demand more. So, let’s venture off on a rhetoric buffet journey. It’s all you can eat!
At a buffet, the dishes are supposed to be tasteful, rich in flavor. The chief has slaved in the kitchen, cooking over the stove preparing the meal, and letting it marinate in herbs and spices. The seasonings combined work collectively to produce a flavor your taste buds will appreciate. Even just a dash of salt can make a difference. But if one of the seasonings is off, either too much or too little it can interfere with the entire balance of the dish. When it comes to rhetoric, the language must be tasteful. All components must be balanced and complement each other in order to effectively persuade. If a dish is not properly seasoned, then the one eating it will not enjoy it and therefore will not want to eat there again. In rhetoric, the language must be “seasoned”. The argument presented must be complete, balanced with both sides, nonbiased. Characteristics of rhetoric must be “tasteful”.
But as with any buffet, there is a right time and place to choose to eat there. One might not want to eat at a buffet at 6 am. A buffet early in the morning as such might be too heavy on the stomach as opposed to something lighter, like having coffee and a bagel. There is a time for buffets, typically lunch or dinner where a larger selection of food may be more accepted by the one receiving it. In comparison to rhetoric. There are ideal moments to make persuasive arguments. If one tries to do it too early the chance for it being effective is gone. And on the opposite end, perhaps going to a buffet right before it closes may not be the best time either. Since it is close to closing time the food may not be as hot and fresh. With rhetoric if you wait too long then the food or message in this case “gets cold” and the one who was about to be persuaded or “attempting to eat” will not want to eat there or hear what you have to say. Rhetoric is contextual. It’s about the right time and place.
The goal of rhetoric is to persuade. It uses language to shape the way people think. In order for rhetoric to be effective, it needs to adhere to time and tastefulness. If rhetoric holds these characteristics true, then just like at a buffet one plate is never enough. Even upon finishing the last bite, there is a demand for another round. A good buffet keeps you coming back for more just as effective rhetoric keeps the audience wanting more. It brings the all-you-can-eat/ reoccurring attribute because the audience is never fully satisfied.
Many theorists have studied the characteristics of rhetoric and of the many Sonja Foss and Cindy Griffin might agree with me in the comparison of rhetoric and buffets. Foss and Griffin move in a new direction of rhetoric. “It is an invitation to understanding as a means to create a relationship rooted in equality, immanent value, and self-determination” (Reader, 176). They argue that the old strategies no longer work; we as a society are more diverse and intelligent than before. They introduce the concept of invitational rhetoric- removing the goal to change people’s minds, opening the floor for them to decide on their own. It is rhetoric without the intent/goal. Hence referencing back to the take what you want, leave the rest. A buffet presents all types and styles of food. Options of Asian, Mexican, American, etc…all in one sitting. One has the option to have a variety of different cuisines or stick to one in particular. They are not forced to choose which one they put on their plate nor forced to try them all. Just like invitational rhetoric it provides options and gives you’re the choice to decide.
Another theorist that studied rhetoric is Plato. Plato described rhetoric as an art. A sham art to be exact. It is the art of making the false appear true and the worst appear better. To Plato, the art of culinary would not be an effective usage of rhetoric because no real knowledge of the food industry is required of the cook nor the owner of the buffet. The buffet would be considered a sham because the food has the potential to appear fresh, organic, or healthier, but there is no truth/ evidence to that. Just because a buffet may offer a salad bar as a vegetarian option or a soup bar for someone who may be feeling a little under the weather doesn’t necessarily mean there is truth to it being a healthier choice or a remedy to cope with sickness. The point that Plato makes is that “some people possess a knack for preparing foods that make one feel temporarily satisfied or even healthier, but which achieve their effect with no knowledge of illnesses and their cures is not required of the cook, only a knack for making a suitable dish that recreates an impression” (Reader, 55).
Arguing against Plato was the sophistic theorist. They viewed rhetoric as magic. In order to create magic Kairos was emphasized. Kairos relates back to the right opportune moment (Reader, 43). When demonstrating a magic trick in order to create the perfect illusion timing and placement must be exact. Sophistic theorists argued that you can control persuasion and for it to be effective it has to be the opportune moment for action. As mentioned before in regard to the buffet. There has to be the right time to select and go to the buffet. There’s a right time to serve a particular style of food. Breakfast buffets are usually in the morning and dinner buffets are usually at night. With an expectation to find bacon and eggs at 6 pm, one missed the window where that particular style of food was prepared. Adding to the list of rhetorical theorists was Bakhtin. Bakhtin brings the term heteroglossia to rhetoric. From Bakhtin’s perspective heteroglossia meant “multiple ‘voices’ or positions constitute the social world” (Reader, 143). Heteroglossia in terms of rhetoric is presented in buffets by the varieties of cuisine. Even going to a seafood buffet, it’s not just made up of fish, it has multiple types of seafood. Shrimp, lobster, sushi, etc…
Just as I referenced rhetoric as a buffet, Michael Foucault, yet another theorist would object to my metaphor and say that rhetoric is actually a security mechanism. He describes the function of rhetoric as fear. He uses the metaphor of the panopticon prison to illustrate the minimum effort for maximum control (lecture notes). A buffet, on the other hand, should not be used as a scare tactic. If someone is scared while eating, then there is a problem. What Foucault is talking about is something that we see in the modern-day. He is talking about rhetoric in postmodernism. Although the rhetoric buffet metaphor can be seen in postmodernism as well, considering buffets are still present to this day. Foucault’s approach to rhetoric is more relevant because of the simple fact that society is constantly surrounded by the “Big Brother” aspect. The feeling of being watched. For instance, take traffic light cameras. They are constantly scanning the road catching vehicles who run red lights or make illegal turns. It provides a “watch guard” even though an actual person is not present. Would people still continue to run red lights and speed if they knew that someone was watching? Do the cameras even work? Possibly so, but there are also tons of people who are too scared to even take the chance.
So, to tie everything together there is no single definition to describe what rhetoric is. There are many characteristics that are similar that rhetoric consists of, but everyone will have a different interpretation of what they think that rhetoric means. The characteristics of rhetoric consist of the contextual situation, the different options provided, including your choice to pick and choose from those options, the balance of those arguments/options, and rather or not if your choice to choose is based on free will or a choice you’re being made to make out of fear. Remember rhetoric is used to shape the way we think, thus being used as a tactic to persuade, rather it’s effective or not is up to debate.