Posts Tagged ‘The King’s Speech’

Anna Elizabeth Dickinson (1842-1932), the first woman to address the US Congress was by all accounts "a gifted orator".

Many in the field of rhetoric, I’ll wager, are happy to see an article about their discipline at all in a major newspaper like the Guardian.  Being a philosopher myself I sympathize with the sort of small-town-ish “Hey! They’re talking about US!!” feeling engendered by articles like Mary Beard’s What makes a great speech?

The article itself, however, is rather a letdown in terms of what it communicates to the reader about rhetoric.

Let me begin in fairness by noting that Mary Beard is a well-known classicist in the UK.  Thus it is not surprising that her treatment of rhetoric here focuses primarily on sources and examples drawn from Greco-Roman antiquity.  Be this as it may, she speaks in a general voice here about rhetoric and so her discussion is disturbingly incomplete. Rather than showing rhetoric as the very active and modern discipline that it is, her focus on the ancients gives the impression that the study of rhetoric ended with Cicero. She makes no mention at all of any figures in the history of rhetoric between antiquity and the present day. Not even foundational figures of contemporary rhetoric like Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, get a mention, to say nothing of figures lesser known outside rhetoric but equally if not more important within it like Burke, Richards, Toulmin, or Henry Johnstone Jr..  Though to her credit she avoids rehashing the standard Platonist objections to rhetoric, Beard’s presentation is rendered somewhat shallow by her lack of modern sources.  (more…)

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