Posted on

Blog Post #2 “An Overview of Rhetoric”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this course so far, it’s that everyone seems to have a form of gripe with the word “rhetoric.” I’ve also learned that the people most offended by this discord are the people that have some vague idea as to the actual textbook definition of it. A fine example of someone who is rather livid with this situation is Mr. James A. Herrick. A major authority on the subject of rhetoric, Herrick is a staunch advocate of the rhetorical revisionist movement that seems to be championing a new era of people actually understanding what the word actually means. Herrick is also good at grammatically incorrect sentences and starting a bunch of them with “but” or “and.”

An accurate depiction of how I felt reading some of the sentences.

QUESTION #1: How does Herrick define rhetoric, rhetoric, the “art” of rhetoric, and the functions of rhetoric?

It should come as no surprise at this point that defenders of rhetoric are inclined to label it as a form of art. After a very strange analogy using The Police song “Every Breath You Take” (which prompted a response similar to the picture posted earlier), Herrick gets to the point and begins to coherently defining rhetoric.

“Thus, I will define the art of rhetoric as the systematic study and intentional practice of effective symbolic expression. Effective here will mean achieving the purposes of the symbol-user, whether that purpose is persuasion, clarity, beauty, or mutual understanding… The systematic presentation of the art of rhetoric, descriptions of rhetoric’s various functions, and explanations of how rhetoric achieves its goals are collectively known as rhetorical theory.” (Herrick, 7)

Pictured Above: Sting playing with The Police/ The most rhetorical thing on the planet.

It’s clear that Herrick’s definition of rhetoric is a bit more all-encompassing than most other people’s definitions. He doesn’t view the act of speaking as the only way to convey rhetoric; he also sees symbols, and physical expression means to convey rhetoric in one way or another. He furthers this by stressing that language is a “symbol system” (Herrick, 7) that is commonly employed to get this point across. Out of all the people that have defined rhetoric as an art, Herrick is the only one that has actually clarified this definition by actually paralleling the idea of rhetoric with artistic expression. Art is a term that’s used to describe film, paintings, literature, video games, and music. Until this point, “art” and “rhetoric” seemed pretty alien to each-other since the only definitions given to us were textually based. Because of Herrick’s more wide-reaching definition, it’s clear that rhetoric can be used to describe any form of human expression that’s attempting to get a point across.

“And over here we are going to paint a happy little rhetoric”

Despite this, Herrick is still quick to denounce the idea that rhetoric is just a glorified way to say the word “persuasion” and furthers the idea that expresses that conveying an idea and a point is similar to persuasion in a passive way.


QUESTION #2: “How does Herrick’s explanation of rhetoric enhance, challenge or extend the definition of rhetoric presented in ‘In Defense of Rhetoric: No Longer Just for Liars.'”

The main flaw with the video and definition presented in the video was that it was relatively abrasive. As you may remember, the overall summary of rhetoric in ‘In Defense of Rhetoric’ was that it was a tool that was used aggressively to get points across by people with fictitious power  and the only way to combat it is, more or less, in by debating the hell out of them.

Never forget the stare of a man who lost rhetorical battles.

The other definition that was promptly used in the video was that rhetoric is used to create a form of reality. Of course, it doesn’t physically create this reality, but what it does is manufacture an understanding of the reality that we already experience and, in doing so, creates an alternate reality. For example, if you were over my house and I told you that you couldn’t go into a certain room because there was something terrible behind the door, rhetorically I’m creating this reality in your mind that there is indeed something bad behind the door without you even seeing it.

But behind the other door there could be a FABULOUS PRIZE!

This being said, the main discord between Herrick’s work and the video is that the video really stays with the idea of verbal and textual communication as opposed to any other form of expression. In this sense, it can be said that Herrick’s definition extends the definition that was presented in the video. However, due to the fact that Herrick repeatedly stresses that persuasion is not the most prominent thing that rhetoric is used for, it can also be said that Herrick is somewhat challenging the argument in the video. Besides the idea that rhetoric creates reality, there really isn’t any form of definition pertaining to the arts as explicitly as how Herrick defines it. In this sense, it can be said that Herrick’s more in-depth analysis of the word is a challenge to the rather watered-down limited definition provided by the video.


QUESTION #3: “What do you not understand, or what might be a little fuzzy, about the terms Herrick discusses in his chapter?”

Overall, there really wasn’t anything that threw me off about this article. Herrick is a pretty coherent author with a very strict mindset when it comes to rhetoric. He does a very good job explaining his point as well as rationalizing all other arguments that may be in direct contrast with what he actually things/says. If I had any sort-of comment to say about his writing, I’d say that he is a bit scatterbrained at points. He definitely has plenty of ideas but his means of conveying what he thinks is a bit odd. At points it’s clear that he thinks certain things in his paper makes complete sense but, once applied to paper, it makes little to no sense.

At the same time, I’m glad that he doesn’t have a video because I don’t think I could bring myself to watch it. Unless, of course, he litters it with clips of The Police preforming.

The Police providing the soundtrack to rhetoric.




Herrick, James A. The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction. Boston: Allyn and Beacon, 2005. Print.


About chrisjricci

I write blogs for my class.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s