Here are some images and initial ideas for the overlapping focal points of this course, an introduction to the “Art of Rhetoric” that will give particular attention to the “rhetoric of documentary.” This course serves the W2 writing requirement and its four learning goals as well as the English major; the course is also attached to the Journalism, Editing & Publishing minor as well as the Communication and Media Studies major. One of the key learning goals for both English and the W2 is the focus of this course: rhetorical knowledge.
Ralph Waldo Emerson in his notebook on “rhetoric” quotes the analogy from the Greek philosopher Zeno: “Logic the fist, rhetoric the hand.” The analogy was circulated in the Renaissance by way of this image:
We can begin to think about rhetorical analysis and rhetorical expression–things we can do with rhetorical knowledge–by asking: What does this image suggest about rhetoric (or eloquence, from the Latin eloquentia)? If we are using the art of rhetoric, what are we doing? If we are using logic, what are we doing? Does the image/analogy suggest that logic and rhetoric are opposed, related?
We will read and study ideas and concepts from classical rhetoric–things with Greek and Latin names, a tradition that reaches back to Aristotle and Plato. And rather than simply memorize those ideas and names, we will–in true rhetorical fashion–put them to work, apply them as a way to analyze, grasp, understand, and eventually create documentary literature and film. We will as a class concentrate in depth on two recent documentaries: “The Central Park Five” and “Standard Operating Procedure.” Later, when we explore epideictic or ceremonial rhetoric, we will also encounter documentary in print and multimedia forms: in a nonfiction book such as Nick Flynn’s The Ticking is the Bomb, the lyric essay Citizen, and the documentary film Time. Be advised that these various texts will include images, ideas, and some language that might disturb. We will talk more about these potential disturbances in our discussion and think about them rhetorically: are they effective and/or ineffective in terms of pathos, style, purpose, audience, decorum, kairos? These are some of the Keywords of rhetoric we will be studying and using. Stay tuned.
To start the process of learning and exploration in our first class, consider what you know (which is also to ask, what you don’t know) about “rhetoric” and about the literary and film tradition of “documentary.” How would you, right now, before we begin, define “rhetoric” and what phrases/ideas/people/texts do you associate with the word? Same question for “documentary”: what’s your definition and associations?
We can do some brainstorming for these initial definitions by using as an example the 2021 Inaugural poem by Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb.”
As best you can, using whatever terms you know, what are rhetorical aspects of this presentation?
As you begin to think about your own documentary about any topic of interest (the final project), what would that documentary explore? At this early point, what might your rhetoric for the documentary be? How and why would the documentary be “rhetorical”?
At the end of the course–this is my contention–you will provide a more persuasive response to these questions, and that response, in true rhetorical fashion, will be enacted, not just contemplated, in your Final Project treatment for your own documentary project.