The Rhetorical Stance
Wayne C. Booth
College Composition and Communication, Vol. 14, No.3, Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, 1963: Toward a New Rhetoric. (Oct., 1963), pp. 139-145.
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Thu Jul 27 10:35:002006
The Rhetorical Stance
WAYNE C. BOOTH
LAST FALL I had an advanced graduate
student, bright, energetic, well-informed, whose papers vvere almost unreadable. He managed to be pretentious, dull, and disorganized in his paper on
E1nma, and pretentious, dull, and disorganized on Madame Bovary. On The Golden Bowl he was all these and obscure as well. Then one day, toward the end of term, he cornered me after class
and said, "You know, I think you were
all wrong about Robbe-Grillet's Jealousy
today." We didn't have time to discuss
it, so I suggested that he write me a
note about it. Five hours later I found
in my faculty box a four-page polemic,
unpretentious, stimulating, organized,
convincing. Here was a man WllO had
taught freshman composition for several
years and who was incapable of committing any of the more obvious errors that we think of as characteristic of
bad writing. Yet he could not vvrite a
-decent sentence, paragraph, or paper
until his rhetorical problem was solved
-until, that is, he had found a definition
of his audience, his argument, and his
own proper tone of voice.
is one of those
catch-all terms that can easily raise
trouble when our backs are turned. As it
regains a popularity that it once seemed
permanently to have lost, its meanings
seem to range all the way from something like
w hole art of writing on
any subject," as in Kenneth Burke's
Author of The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961),
Mr. Booth is a member of the English Department at the University of Chicago.
The Rhetoric of Religion, through "the
special arts of persuasion," on down to
fairly naITO'" notions about rhetorical
figures and devices. And of course \ve
still have with us the mealling of
"enlpty bombast," as in the phrase
I Supfpose that the question of the
role of rhetoric in the English course is
meaningless if we think of rhetoric in
either its broadest or its narrowest
meanings. No English course could
avoid dealing \vith rhetoric in Burke's
sense, un-der whatever nrone, and on the
other hand nobody would ever advocate
anything so questionable as teaching
"nlere rhetoric." But if we settle on the
following, traditional, definition, some
real questions are raised: "Rhetoric is
the art of finding and employing the
most effective means of persuasion on
any subject, considered independently
of intellectual mastery of that subject.';As the students say, "Prof. X knows his stuff but he doesn't kno\v how to put it
across." If rhetoric is thought of as the
art of "putting it...
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