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Let the carnival commence

This entry is meant to serve a couple of purposes. First, below, I offer a quick chapter summary of Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric of Rhetoric. Presumably, when any of us engages his ideas specifically and closely, we'll provide citations, pull quotes, etc., but for those readers who are looking for the basic sweep of the book's argument, here it is.

Second, this entry provides a hub for the discussion. Please point your trackbacks at


or add links to your pages in the comments. Obviously, we'll be linking to each other as we build on and respond to each other's ideas, but ideally, this entry will collect it all. For convenience's sake, I'll leave this entry sitting at the top of my blog for a couplefew weeks. Any questions? I refer you finally to the house rules. And we're off...

Update: John has set up a hub over at jocalo for his own posts.
Update: Byron has responded to each of the eight chapters, and provides a hub of his own.
Timing Update: I've reset the date on this entry to π day (3.14), after which I'll be blogging from San Francisco at the CCCC.

Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication (Blackwell Books, 2004).

Booth offers a chapter summary in his Preface, but rather than simply replicate that here, I'll go chapter-by-chapter myself, and try to include as much in the way of keywords as I can. Also when I have the time, I'll try and work in links to specific entries as they show up here. Two quick prefatory notes. Booth defines rhetoric as "the entire range of resources that human beings share for producing effects on one another" (xi). And the claim that "unites" this book is that "the quality of our lives, especially the ethical and communal quality, depends to an astonishing degree on the quality of our rhetoric" (xii).

Part I: Rhetoric's Status: Up, Down, and -- Up?

Chapter 1: How Many "Rhetorics"?

The chapter opens with a survey of competing definitions of rhetoric and while Booth asserts that a certain amount of ambiguity is inescapable (9), he offers some additional distinctions. In addition to the rhetor/rhetorician distinction, he coins several terms: listening-rhetoric (LR), rhetrickery, rhetorology, and rhetorologist.

The chapter moves on to consider rhetoric's constitutive force. Booth outlines three "Realities": permanent truth, realities changed but not created by rhetoric, and finally, "contingent realities about our lives," which he subdivides further into Aristotle's deliberative, forensic, and epideictic. Finally, he coins "rhetorical domain" as a term that allows us to track the differences in rhetoric from one context to another. What is successful rhetoric in one domain may be completely inappropriate for another.

"The thesis of this book might thus be reduced to: Let us all attempt to enlarge the 'domain' of those who work to avoid misunderstanding" (21).

Chapter 2: A Condensed History of Rhetorical Studies

This chapter begins from the recent resurgence of interest in rhetoric, and then looks back at its "fall" as a central feature of education. Booth lists several factors, some of which he sees as causes for that fall, and some of which he is more cautious about defining that way: scientism, secularist humanism, reductionism, logicism, individualism, and historical determinism. A secondary list includes aestheticism, psychologism, economic determinism, the pedantic reduction of rhetoric to terminology, and possibly even democracy. The chapter closes with optimism for the continued "flowering" of rhetoric.

Chapter 3: Judging Rhetoric

Chapter 3 opens with a consideration of ethics, which underlies Booth's definition of rhetoric. or rather his definition of good rhetoric. Skillful rhetoric can be deployed in any direction, but defensible rhetoric strives for the kind of listening that Booth advocates (43). Much of the chapter is taken up with laying out an ethical spectrum of different types of rhetoric:

  • Win-Rhetoric (WR), subdivided into honest (WR-a); a justified, "by any means necessary" approach (WR-b); and mercenary rhetrickery (WR-c) (43-45)
  • Bargain-Rhetoric (BR), subdivided into dialogic (BR-a), compromise (BR-b), and incompetence (BR-c) (45-46)
  • Listening-Rhetoric (LR) is obviously privileged, and aims to "pursue the truth behind our differences" (46). It is divided into hope for dialogue (LR-a), dialogue despite the beliefs of the interlocutor (LR-b), listening as a strategy in WR (LR-c), self-censorship (LR-d), and dogmatic listening (LR-e).

The rest of the chapter attempts to trace out the difference between listening and thereby accommodating one's rhetoric on one hand, and simple spin or preaching to the choir on the other.

All good rhetoric depends on the rhetor's listening to and thinking about the character and welfare of the audience, and moderating what is said to meet what has been heard. To repeat again: the good rhetor answers the audience's questions before they're asked (54).

Chapter 4: Some Major Rescuers

Chapter 4 offers a quick overview of those thinkers, both disciplinary and extra-disciplinary, whom Booth sees as having rescued rhetoric, including Michael Polanyi, Susanne Langer, J. L. Austin, Charles Sanders Pierce, William James, John Dewey, I. A. Richards, Deirdre McCloskey, Steve Covey, Chaim Perelman, Lucie Albrechts-Tyteca, Kenneth Burke, Jacques Derrida, Richard McKeon, and Pierce Bayle. The chapter closes with a long list of other rescuers whose work goes uncovered in the chapter.

Part II: The Need for Rhetorical Studies Today
Part III: Reducing Rhetorical Warfare

Forthcoming soon


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Let the carnival commence:

» The Carnival Commences from The Blogora
The multi-blog-based reading group dedicated to reading Booth's Rhetoric of Rhetoric together is now officially underway on Collin's site. Feel free to post your responses here or there.... [Read More]

» The Rhetoric of Rhetoric from Confessions of a Graduate Student
Mike brings up the genre of manifesto and how it plays into Booth's argument....Being a newbie to the field of rhetoric, I was pretty surprised to read about the reactions Booth described within academia. Is this as widespread as he makes it sound, o... [Read More]

» Internettery from Collin vs. Blog
I've got several lines of thought I'm looking to trace out, but I'm going to start with what's a relatively minor point, one that allows me to get a little snark out of the way. The listening that Booth advocates is largely undifferentiated in RoR--in ... [Read More]

» Carnival Booth from Translated, Mediated..
For me the most suprising part was how little he seemed to practice the LR that he values. [Read More]

» The (un)attainable Listening Rhetoric? from Confessions of a Graduate Student
While I would agee with Bender's critique to some extent, I guess I'd probably lean toward a defense of Mr. Booth here... [Read More]

» On Booth 1 from vitia
What's interested me most in reading The Rhetoric of Rhetoric (if you haven't been following the discussion, it's Wayne Booth's popular-audience "manifesto" on the applications of rhetoric in contemporary mostly-American culture) has been in foll... [Read More]

» Putting the Fest Back into Manifesto from Stupid Undergrounds
"Carnival madness is going on up in this space." --HST I'm finally getting on board for the carnival over Wayne Booth's Rhetoric of Rhetoric. I'm not finished with the book yet, and much of what I had planned to say... [Read More]

» Failure of Imagination from Translated, Mediated..
Ultimately, I can appreciate the attempt to provoke, but I wasn't sure where to go with the text. [Read More]

» On Booth 2 from vitia
Brief recap: earlier, I offered several contentions regarding Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric of Rhetoric. First, Booth seems to me to be considerably more interested in the motives of the rhetor and the content of the rhetoric than in the character of the... [Read More]

» Rhetrickery = Cookery? from Collin vs. Blog
Mike caught me in a bit of sloppiness in a comment over at his site this past week, and I thought I'd see if I couldn't redeem myself here. While I can't claim the background in classical rhetoric that Mike has, I'd like to explore my intuition that Bo... [Read More]

» On Booth 3 from vitia
Another brief recap: after Wednesday night's characterization of Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric of Rhetoric as focusing more on the content of the rhetoric and the motives (which, Booth repeatedly asserts, must be pure) of the rhetor than on the style of... [Read More]

» poking around Rhetoric of rhetoric from digital digs
First a confession: I've never felt very comfortable with the appellation [Read More]


This is a useful summary for me and you've inspired me once again to pick this book up and read, maybe while riding the bike at the gym. But just out of curiousity, how have you managed to time travel three weeks into the future?

Oh, it's just a quirk of MT. The cool thing is that once the date comes and goes, it'll just slide down like normal...

Booth certainly does not lack for ambition in this provocative short book (which I'm in the middle of). While he does privilege listening rhetoric, his main project appears to be to both rescue rhetorical study and the term "rhetoric." His use of "rhetrickery" and "rhetorology" seem clever, but unlikely to make their way into broad usage. I think there's a reason that the term "rhetoric" has maintained duality of meanings for at least a thousand years. "Grammar" is a similarly ambiguous term, whether used by a linguist or the ordinary speaker. The language prefers these dualities and resists the efforts of language planners like Booth to change the semantic territory by conscious effort.

Booth recognized the danger of listing lots of rhetoricians by name, because he risks important omissions. The most obvious--and curious--to me is his failure to mention Edward P. J. Corbett, whose textbook Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student has had more reach than any of Booth's books, at least in lower division writing courses.

His use of the term "scientism" seems particularly loaded. "Science" works for me. And it does bespeak a major factor in the decline of rhetoric that he doesn't seem to recognize: the rise of philology. From the late 18th century, increasing work on language description--empirical studies in language history, dialectology, and anthropological linguistics--created a tension--useful and necessary, in my view--with rhetoric's reliance on a formal, a priori apparatus for discovering arguments and arranging them.

Well, there's lots more to comment on in these early chapters, but I'll wait to see what others focus on. (Am I practicing LR?)

I, too, was surprised by Booth's omission of Corbett, and I'll agree with John's description of the book, as well: it's certainly both short and provocative.

But I'm wondering: can we pin down more precisely some of the ways in which it's provocative? I was interested to see that it's in the "Blackwell Manifestos" series, and explicitly identifies itself as a "manifesto" at the start of its concluding paragraph. So my initial questions are genre-related: what does naming the text a "manifesto" tell us about it? What are the characteristics of a manifesto, and how should understanding the text as a manifesto direct us to read the book? Manifestos, as I understand them, are public declarations of principle with a (usually somehow) political purpose, but I'm sure other folks can think of the manifestos of other movements (not just of those linked above, but plenty of other organizations, as well, from the Declaration of Independence to the nineteenth century's Radical Republicans to the Wobblies to the SNCC) and offer additional generic characteristics. But one big one is this: manifestos -- perhaps because they're public declarations of principle -- are almost always in opposition to some other older thing.

While Booth certainly privileges listening-rhetoric, I think it would be silly to see him as forbidding opposition, or opposing dissent. So I'll ask: in his manifesto, what does Booth oppose? What's he arguing against -- and who would argue for it? Booth himself mentions the American Revolution repeatedly, and acknowledges that "most British readers, especially back in 1776, would surely find many of his arguments not just shaky but scandalous, making unfair, even dishonest claims against the enemy" (42). Who, today, would see Booth's arguments as shaky or scandalous, as unfair or dishonest -- and how might understanding their perspectives help us understand what Booth is doing in his manifesto?

I will be commenting shortly. Just didn't want you to think that I fell off the carnival bandwagon!

I finished the first section of Booth's book last night. For me the most suprising part was how little he seemed to practice the LR that he values. I don't know how many times I noted pot shots at critics, reviewers, and others who disagreed with or had, (in his opinion) ignored his work. I wasn't sure if he was being playful, but it certainly didn't feel that way after awhile. Indeed I found it off-putting in a text that argues for listening and finding common ground. Many of his comments sounded dismissive, bitter, and angry.

I also found his confession of still being solidly Platonic (pg. 13) troubling. "Though rhetoric is needed to change minds about such truths--they're only in effect discovered through centuries of catastrophe and discussion about it--they are for me still part of unchangeable reality."

Among these "truths" he lists slavery is always wrong and killing children for pleasure is always wrong. "Can you join me in claiming that no amount of future rhetoric will justify slavery, even if this or that culture becomes convinced that it is needed and thus justified?"

Obviously I'm not going to argue for killing children or owning slaves. However, I found his argument that these can be considered eternal truths and later quibble with pacifists (48-49), more than a little disingenuous. Violence of some sort is, it seems, justifiable.

If that is the case, then I have to wonder whose version of violence is justified (the just person of course) and whose is not. How is that decision made, and more importantly who gets to make that determination?

In other words, I found Booth's own notion of truth rhetorical--and found the denial of his own rhetorical truths disingenuous. He seemed to slide in and out of "truth" when it suited his purposes to do so.

All that said, I like the idealized forms of rhetoric he offers as ways into a discussion about rhetoric and will probably use this text (depending on how the other 2/3 go). I wanted to be on board with him.

Okay, geez. I'm finally here. I was thinking along the same lines as Mike above. This is a manifesto? I'm seriously considering sending this book to my parents, neither of whom ever understand what their daughter studies. ("She does rhetoric. . .whatever that is.") I guess this just feels like an introductory text more than a manifesto, which (as Mike suggests) draws some lines in the sand.

But what exactly are the lines here? I mean, is Booth responding to anyone here?

Hmm. Well, given what I was thinking earlier (about my parents), maybe we've stumbled onto something here. Could this be a layman's text? A manifesto NOT for us rhetoricians, but for the non-rhetoricians? After all, it would blaze some trails for people who do, in fact, believe in rhetoric as bad, dishonest, etc. Blackwell is more of a mainstream publisher, after all. Could this be the aim?

If there's something "manifesto"-like, I guess it's Booth's argument for Listening Rhetoric as the highest, most virtuous form of rhetoric. But, as I've riffed about a bit over on my blog, it isn't clear to me how we practice listening rhetoric on issues that are really truly tough: my example is same-sex marriage. When and in what forum would the two sides be practicing Listening Rhetoric? It's kinda idealized, kinda like that idealized public sphere we keep hearing Habermas talk about. But I'm willing to listen to anyone who wants to talk up the possibilities of Listening Rhetoric. I definitely see the virtues; it's the materiality of such a practice that's tripping me up.

The book is in my hands, I'm skimming it, looking for a place where I can dig in with any kind of sincerity, and so far I haven't found it. Writers such as Wayne Booth, with their happy sense of certainty, leave me feeling oppressed. I'm searching for a less visceral response to his work, so that I can engage it in that distanced, cerebral analysis that we all value so highly. So far failing. When he claims foundational truth by decrying slavery and child murder, I am simply repulsed by the calculated red-herring manipulation of my logical faculties. When he attributes the alleged eighteenth-century decline in rhetorical studies to Vico's disdain for rhetorical terminology, I can only grunt in disgust.
But I'm trying. I know I should be able to put myself on Booth's side, even hypothetically, so that I can read this book linearly and derive from it the value that others are rightfully finding. I'll keep trying.

I'm still going to post a response too, but it may be a week before I can get to it, unfortunately. Too many other deadlines.

In light of the efforts to characterize Booth's belief structure based on RofR, y'all might find his account of his Mormon upbringing and missionary experience revealing. I've linked to it at the hub on my web page: http://faculty.deanza.fhda.edu/jocalo

Guess we've slowed down a bit--must be a lot of papers being read and written.

I've just posted an excerpt by poet Jane Hirschfield that characterizes Hermes as god of rhetoric and captures very succinctly a lot of what Booth seems to say regarding the relation of rhetoric and rhetrickery. You can find it on the RofR link on my page or at this URL: http://faculty.deanza.fhda.edu/jocalo/stories/storyReader$1350

I've been way behind in following the conversation. I've just now finished the book. He's a link to my comments. I'll try to play catch up in the conversation if possible.

I'm sure the carnival is over, but I just got my copy (free shipping thing caused delay). But as I move through this book I'm a bit depressed at the positons: truth? morality? common understanding?
Oh no. I call that totalitarian rhetoric. Thought we got around that kind of thinking long ago. Storm the Reality Studio, as Burroughs says.

Fire it up, J. We're not dead here, just slow. Really, really slow. But if you hold a mirror in front of the collective mouth of the carnival, you'll be able to detect the faintest of breaths...

As someone who's curious about the intersections of rhetoric and domination (as my posts on Booth might indicate), I'd like to hear more about how "truth," "morality" (actually, on page 40, he's quite careful to distinguish between ethics and morals, which I know is rather different from his position in The Rhetoric of Fiction), and "common understanding" become "totalitarian rhetoric." Jeff seems to share Rebecca Howard's concern, above, with Booth's highly self-assured tone and apparent deep certainty regarding his arguments -- and, in light of those reactions, I read John's description of Booth in person as a man "not easily persuaded" with considerable interest. So why the apparent super-certainty on Booth's part? I think Jim at Confessions of a Graduate Student nails it exactly in his question: "is it possible to write a 'manifesto' and also practice LR? Obviously this depends on our definition of manifesto, but it seems difficult to write a polemic/manifesto/passioned defense and simultaneously 'hear' the opposition." Bingo: this would seem to indicate a contradiction in Booth similar to what I was trying to point out in Quintilian; namely, an awareness that his own ethical rhetoric is not always practical for certain purposes -- or maybe it's just an awareness that one can't always practice the dialectical listening-rhetoric. Which is where I come back to the totalitarian thing and my concerns about ethics, rhetoric, and domination: under circumstances of domination, Booth's ethical truth-telling rhetoric isn't practical, as he makes quite clear in the example he offers of Osip Mandelstam (54). John refers us to Jane Hirschfield's figure of Hermes, who -- as a latecomer to the Olympus scene -- "speaks by indirection" in order to resist the authoritarian domination of Zeus. I'll agree with John that Booth's desire seems to be "to divide Hermes' inventiveness from his deceits," but I'm not sure I can go along with John's despair that there is little hope that this might happen. As may be obvious from my examples with Quintilian and Tacitus, I'm not so sure such a separation is even necessary, because there may be power relations under which such deceits need to be coupled to rhetorical inventiveness. Which probably sounds very Leo Straussian and University of Chicago-ish of me, which is why I keep coming back to the questions of character and ethics. Quintilian argued for the necessity of the good character of the rhetor (or, as Paul Bender puts it, "the just person") precisely because he saw all around him the uses to which wicked and powerful men could put words; I'd argue that today, with Jeff's concerns about "totalitarian rhetoric," the debate over the ethical questions of rhetoric that displays or hides the truth must go hand-in-hand with the debate over how rhetoric functions in relation to power. Alex Reid notes the incompleteness of Booth's formulation, and I'm with Alex -- if I might borrow some of his language -- on the need for an accounting for the ideological forces at work in any rhetorical exchange. Jenny points out the necessary multiplicity of rhetorics, and contrary to the despair that John describes, I might suggest that it's a good thing that the manifold and protean rhetorics of Hermes can't be sorted out. So I'm wondering: does Booth's apparent desire to separate-out the inventiveness from the deceits constitute a volte-face from his 1961 argument in The Rhetoric of Fiction that "what is needed is [...] a repudiation of all arbitrary distinctions among 'pure form,' 'moral content,' and the rhetorical means of realizing for the reader the union of form and matter. When human actions are formed to make an art work [or an act of rhetoric?], the form that is made can never be divorced from the human meanings, including the moral judgments, that are implicit whenever human beings act" (397)?

Not sure. But since CCCC is in Chicago next year, I think it'd be really cool to see Booth and his University of Chicago colleague Shadi Bartsch (whose wonderful work on the Roman empire has shaped much of what I've said above and elsewhere about rhetoric and domination) on the program.

Mike's synthesis here is impressive. Since he alludes to my dangling personal encounters with Booth, I'll describe them here.

Back about 1999, I was on a panel at an ADE conference held in Traverse City, Michigan. Booth was a speaker at the conference and talked a lot about good writing pedagogy. We got into a long conversation during the cocktail hour in which I described to him an experience involving collaboration among a group of faculty, an article later published in TETYC as "Cooperative Teaching." Booth took the role of teacher with me, giving me an "assignment" to write up my account. When the article was finished, I thought it would be cool if he'd write a head note for it. I had multiple motivations: Not only would it nicely contextualize the article, but I thought it would move forward the 2-year, 4-year dialogue if Booth would be published in TETYC. He begged off due to the press of other commitments.

Then, over the next 2 or 3 years, we'd run into each other at every conference. We had a hallway conversation at MLA in Chicago where I handbilled him with my "Intellectual Failure of the Profession" piece regarding two-year college scholarship. He was polite, but he didn't see the issue. His notion of the two-year college seemed to be the University of Chicago version (where the junior college was first articualated as the lower division of the university). Then we chanced upon each other at the University of Oregon, where I was visiting an old friend and Booth was keynoting a conference. Again, the conversation was engaged and cordial--he's a genuinely sweet man--but the stance was always the same. He would point to a source, something I could profitably read.

Perhaps we're all like that in various ways. We are passionate about what we teach, which makes practicing L-R fairly difficult. Why listen to the other when you can see so much the person doesn't know, how you can help them to know it. I know that's always been my biggest challenge as a teacher--repressing the smart ass impulse that I've had since first grade and remaining open to the students currently in front of me.

As Mike points out, it's easier to conceive this form of Listening-Rhetoric than it is to practice it.

Oh, the idea for a featured session with Booth next year in Chicago is a good one. One of the great CCCC sessions ever was one Don McQuade put together--also in Chicago--where Gwendolyn Brooks, Mike Royko and Studs Terkel each read from the other's work. It filled a ballroom to overflowing one evening.

I say a bit more here.