Thursday, January 26, 2006

Rhetorical Criticism

This post is just to invite commentary, questions, and insights about today's discussion in class about rhetorical criticism.

Some helpful links:

Here is Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Here is a site explaining the rhetorical theories of Kenneth Burke.

Here is a site explaining Marxist criticism (as well as psychoanalytic, feminist, dramatistic/narrative, media-centered, and culture-centered criticism).

OK--have fun commenting on today's lecture.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Burke says Rhetoric is: "The use of words by human agents to form attitudes or induce actions in other human agents" and/or "the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols," I would have to agree.

On three points-
1. Martin Luther King Jr.'s August 1963 speech reminds me of Abraham Lincoln's November 1863 speech. The beginning "Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation," evokes the civil struggle of the times. King's articulate use of slave imagery linked the injustices and burdens of that racist institution to the modern problems of segregation and discrimination. It is effective because dreams (given in a public sphere) are a wholly non-public symbol for all humans, which King makes the same/equal for each audience member.

2. In the Marxist critical perspective, King exhorts America to avoid moral bankruptcy and allow protesters to "cash a check." This implied the economic disadvantage possessed by non-whites inherent in the existing system that needed to be changed. King has employed subversion to the meaning of "inalienable rights," which at its outset, applied only to free landed white men; these rights were now appropriated to mean permanently and universally applicable. The same system that denied minorities rights could, in effect, grant them the same rights.
Like Lincoln, who characterized the struggle for national unity as a living process, King sought to anthropomorphize the Civil Rights Movement: "freedom is... a promissory note", "Let freedom ring", "until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream", and so forth. This helped supporters and detractors alike identify with the main message of the movement, and fashioned a strong level of understanding to all concerned.

3. Manacles. Checks and cash. Rivers. Walk. Dreams. Mountains and oceans. These compelling words helped rivet listeners, and they were not class, gender or culturally biased in the traditional sense. Most people knew what chains were, and that freedom was preferable. Adults understood the significance of payday and the misery of a bounced check. All could see the importance of free-flowing justice, people standing up for their beliefs and the benefits of a unified country, cohesive behind a common dream. This was no hole-in-one yachting cruise speech that prayed for stability. No, it mentions riots and unrest, creative suffering and other threats- likening police brutality in the South to the (subtly implied) "trials and tribulations" of the Israelites under Egyptian Pharaohs. Despair and militancy were his watchwords, the social reality that could be changed if only people would "take action" to pursue his shared dream.

Just my three cent's worth.

-Tony C. Yang

12:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In agreement to Yang's Three cents, i think you said a million. The use of language and the repitition of that which is positive, in King's speech gives a lighter view of the nations problems. He does not lay blame, but uses such terminology to describe and explain how it feels to be a "black man" in a "white nation." I believe that the greatest speeches of all times are those that gives everyone the idea that they personally can change the world around them, and that it starts in the home to change those around them.
- Laura VanGrinsven

6:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone can argue that King's speech is anything less than stellar. What makes it such a good speech, according to Burke's definition of rhetoric is the inducing of cooperation in humans by using symbols. It seems that King's goal is to level the field a bit, to start from a place where Americans share the common bond of being simply humans. To reach these pure and balanced circumstances, King uses symbols such as beacon light, flames, daybreak, palace and high plane. His technique works because these are common images that everyone understands rather than accusations or perspectives that only some can relate to. To achieve universal coordination, one must use universal terms.


1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


1:38 AM  

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