The classical “Renaissance man” such as Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci have become virtually non-existent in contemporary times. Today modern trades have become increasingly more specific and specialized; You would be hard pressed to find a person who is an inventor, architect, artist, and sculptor. I think part of this is due to the accessibility of information.
We discussed in class the other day how it can be increasingly difficult to decipher professional texts, such as a case file for lawyer, a scientific journal, or a high level literary analysis. Primarily, we agreed the difficulty of comprehension was due to the use of jargon specific to that field.
I feel that this is connected somewhat to “major shaming” as we discussed previously. When discussing if a major is “real” the class for the most part agreed that the criteria for this was how much that particular field contributed to society. It can be argued that the use of jargon is a way of protecting that knowledge, of keeping that trade exclusive in a sense, whether it be intentional or subconscious. By making that information exclusive to only people within that field who have the knowledge to decipher that jargon, it validates that major. This exclusivity also further makes sure that that field is still needed and necessary, especially in a time when information is so easily accessible. If everyone could decipher the information for a given field, they could become proficient in it, making no longer needed/viable as a profession.
Traditionally rhetoric is thought of in its natural form of written or spoken word. However, when we consider the definition of rhetoric, it’s clear that an alternate form of rhetoric arose between the use of rhetoric in spoken and written word; that is art.
Art is intended to convey a message, and evoke emotion in its intended audience; these characteristics are also some of the main defining points of rhetoric. The power of art in rhetoric comes from the fact that it is easily understood by people from all walks of life whether they be young or old, educated or uneducated. You do not need to know how to read, or have a respectable vocabulary in order to be able to understand the authors message.
The full power of this can be realized in the art of many of the churches and monuments we have seen on this trip. Many of the ancient monuments near the Roman Forum (particularly the columns) had engravings on them that depicted stories and scenes, usually from whatever war or life that the monument was commemorating. In churches you can more commonly find frescoes or murals depicting religious events or tales from the Bible.
Modern rhetorical art can be found in places like the Banksy Museum in Amsterdam, which I visited this weekend. Banksy is a street artist from London who is renowned for making satirical art on walls, doors, street signs, etc. It was remarkable to see how with a few simple images he could convey his message about war, poverty, police brutality, or whatever else it may be.
Isabella, our guide in Florence, put it the best; “These were like 3-D comic books for the uneducated”. With most of the population at the time these works were commissioned, these works were essential to conveying the message or reinforcing the societal values that the fiancier wished to emphasize. I feel that this is still the most effective means of rhetoric today, even with an educated populace, because level of education does not restrict your comprehension of the rhetor’s message.
With the inauguration in less than 24 hours, it seems appropriate to reflect on an election that was quite unlike any other. Donald Trump shocked the world and won an election using rhetoric that had never been used (at least successfully in a presidential election). Unfortunately, I feel that this was a scenario which proved Plato’s fears and misgivings of the power of rhetoric.
According to Herrick rhetorical discourse is defined as characteristically being “planned, adapted to an audience, shaped by human motives, responsive to a situation, persuasion seeking, and concerned with contingent issues,”. In the case of Donald Trump’s campaign, the campaign looked to persuade certain American demographics to vote for him; he did this by playing on the fears and frustrations of this demographic. This demographic was unsatisfied with the work of the current administration. Trump capitalized on this by using his rhetoric to stoke their fears, advocate their stances on contemporary issues, and demonizing his opponent. This rhetoric focused more on raw emotion, and was aimed at shaping opinions of candidate’s character as opposed to actual political policy.
In this sense it could be seen that the Trump campaign used the rhetoric methods primarily advocated by Gorgias, who felt that the easiest route of persuasion was to bring out emotion in your audience. It can be argued though that especially in cases of elections, this is a dangerous thing. Plato once criticized the Sophists because they sought persuasion about justice through changing public opinion; however he contended that true justice came from knowledge and secured the well-being of the individual and the city-state.
Plato’s main concern was the ability of rhetoric to “manipulate and coerce”. Do you think Plato would have considered Donald Trump a Sophist? Would he have approved of Trumps use of rhetoric? Do you agree that it was Trumps rhetoric that was the deciding factor in the election, or was it his policies?
In the middle of all the intricate ornamentation, beautiful frescoes and mosaics that filled the baptistry, the thing that interested me the most was the viewing galleries high up above the floor. According to our guide, Isabella, men and women were not allowed to be near each other within the baptistry, and women were sent to sit up there by themselves. It struck me as remarkable that for a religion (especially so in Italy) that puts so much adoration on the Virgin Mary, could so openly segregate and take away rights of women.
This corresponds to the treatment of women in rhetoric up to that time as well. According to the passage regarding the life of Aspasia, married women were expected to take care of all duties related to running the home, and to help her husband host guests; however, it was also expected that pretty much the wife’s socializing would be limited to her husband, and wives of the other guests.
These were societal norms that severely restricted the ability of women to speak out and be active on the political scene. Speaking out and taking a hard stance on a matter of public opinion was an easy way to put yourself in danger in those times. These restrictions led to the rise of invitational rhetoric; a very passive way of persuading an audience, in which the rhetor could persuade the audience without conflict, or drawing attention to themselves.
I feel that although women have the civil liberties and legal rights to practice traditional rhetoric, women tend to practice invitational rhetoric more frequently due to restrictions of societal norms. In our culture today women are often portrayed as elegant, and more importantly fragile. The confrontational nature of traditional rhetoric is most definitely not considered feminine. I feel this is the reason why women primarily use invitational rhetoric today when promoting their message on a large scale, so as to effectively persuade their audience, while not shocking their audience by going against cultural standards. In this way although they are legally protected, women are still restricted in what they’re able to say in the public eye.