Rhetoric, Drama, History

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Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. Persuasion can be attained by two mediums, text and speech, so rhetoric is by definition the art of speaking and writing effectively. Rhetoric has three types based on Aristotle’s ‘Rhetoric’; juridical, epideictic, and deliberative. Juridical is dealing with the past; epideictic with the present, and deliberative with the future. Courts are the places for juridical rhetoric, whereas streets for epideictic rhetoric, and politics for deliberative rhetoric. That is why rhetoric is always thought as a counterpart of politics. However, rhetoric should not be narrowed it down to one subject matter. Rhetoric is such a universal art- like dialectic- that can be applied to any subject matter. It needs to invent its subject matter in every given problem it encounters.

Given the name ‘De Inventione’ to his foundational book of rhetoric, Cicero might have insisted on this invention side of rhetoric. Cicero, having stated the parts of the rhetoric as invention, arrangement, expression, memory and delivery, claims that invention is the most important among the others. Explaining the invention, he proposes ‘issue’ as a subhead of an argument. Every subject, which contains in itself a controversy, to be resolved by speech and debate involves a question about a fact, or about a definition, or about an act. The question, which the whole case arises, is called ‘issue’, or constitution. By using Aristotle’s four methodological questions, is it? What is it? What properties does it have? And Why?, he suggests conjectural, definitional, qualitative, and translative constitutions to understand, deliberate and produce the subject matter in an argument.

Richard McKeon puts Cicero’s use of rhetoric in a more conceptual and wider historical perspective. According to him, Cicero enlarges rhetoric to an inquiry rather than a verbal art. McKeon sees three highlights of rhetoric, meaning the conception of rhetoric as an architectonic productive art that combines the eloquence and wisdom in subject matter in western thought; first, in Roman Empire with a practical orientation; second, in the Renaissance period with a poetic orientation; and the third that he suggests, in the Twentieth Century with a theoretical orientation. He called the last one ‘New Rhetoric’, which sprang from the emergence of technology. We are experiencing an era of fragmentation of knowledge, and isolations between arts. To overcome this fragmentation, we need an architectonic art that combines knowing, doing, and making. The new rhetoric tries to bridge the fragmented knowledge by using the theoretical orientation, which consists of creativity and invention, fact and judgment, sequences and consequences, objectivity and intersubjectivity in communication and knowledge.

The ‘creativity and invention’, which perceived implicitly, has not got a method or a standard in people’s minds. But invention as mentioned before has been an important part of rhetoric. McKeon raises the question whether it is same as, or totally different from the discovery. Then he suggests that the new architectonic rhetoric must eliminate this dilemma between invention and discovery. Invention can be joined to discovery in an art, which is productive of things and arts or skills, rather than of words and arguments or beliefs. Drama as an art of discovery can be situated well as an example to McKeon’s argument.

Discovery by definition means making something visible and known. Drama makes its discovery by the imitation of an action using the elements of plot, character, thought, language, pattern, and spectacle. The subject matter of the dramatic art is the action of a subject, method is the imitation with the means, objects, and manners, and goal is the discovery. The discovery from the audience point of view is the pleasure gained at the end of the play that is called catharsis. The most important element in the play is plot. A plot is a combination of incidents having a beginning, middle, and an end, which should not be either too short or too long. It should have a magnitude and a unity in itself. The unity of plot means unity of action: a play can cover several incidents, but these incidents all work toward one whole action.

Drama consists of potentials as something can develop or become actual. Potentials are possibilities and probabilities. The possible means what might happen whereas the probable means what might more probable than other possibilities. The poet begins with possibilities, gradually narrows down the possibilities to probabilities, and resolves the plot to a necessity, which is also called the climax. The play ends with the closure, which is depicted by Aristotle as dénouement. Art of invention takes part in the space of possibilities. Brenda Laurel in this sense makes a great job with Computers as Theatre. She uses poetics by analyzing the human computer activity with dramatic theory. Having discovered the possibility of a common space between drama and human computer activity, she transforms the passive audience of drama to active participants of human computer activity. Her transformation creates a place (topos) for invention, which she derives principles and gives examples at the end of her argument.

History, unlike drama, focuses on a particular subject such as an object, an era, a person, or an event. It is, by definition, a chronological record of significant events often including an explanation of their causes. Chronological record documents the past events, meanwhile explanation of causes helps us to understand the past and present, and contemplate on the future. The subject matter of history for John Heskett and Adrian Forty is design, specifically Industrial design. History of design for both of them is not just the history of products, but also the history of social phenomena. John Heskett approaches the history of design by combining the formal qualities of products and the social context they emerged from. He casts his goal as stimulating an understanding of how and why objects that surround people are as they are, and to provide an outline into which readers can add their own perceptions of the objects of their life. Adrian Forty crystallizes his goal as an explanation of change, and defines the subject matter of his inquiry as the causes of change in the design of industrially–made goods. He begins with stating the historical approaches as determinate situation, and makes them indeterminate by hypothesizing that the history of design should not be the history of aesthetics, but a history of relations. In constructing his argument, rather than being comprehensive and covering the whole design products, he prefers making selections and investigating the themes arising out of those selections. The themes that can stand by their own suggest a unified whole that becomes an inquiry as an extension of design culture. Interestingly, both John Heskett, and Adrian Forty crossed similar themes at the end of their inquiries such as home, office, and corporate identity. It supports the idea that art is making variations.

To conclude, history and drama, as the two productive arts in Aristotelian sense, can use rhetoric to develop an inquiry. In Brenda Laurel’s ‘Computers as theatre’, we see an example of this inquiry as rhetorical poetics. She uses dramatic theory to explain the human computer activity and suggests a new place for invention. Adrian Forty, in ‘Objects of Desire’ defines his problem space as the history of design. Having analyzed the approaches that reduce the history of design to aesthetics of products, he suggests a new argument for history of design that combines the product and its social context. He develops an inquiry that uses rhetorical poetics in a similar way to Brenda Laurel. As he clearly states in the introduction part, his book is not about the history of particular products, but raising the kind of questions that might be asked, and answers that might trigger an argument in readers’ minds. These inquiries make clear how the new rhetoric acts as a bridge between the fragments of knowledge, and arts.