.Rhetorical Criticism Definitions

Rhetorical Criticism
A Quick Introduction
…maybe not so quick
John A. Cagle
Rhetorical Criticism Definitions
• ....the systematic process of illuminating
and evaluating products of human activity.
• ....description, analysis, interpretation, and
evaluation of persuasive uses of
• A communication critic seeks to make an
argument that interprets or evaluates the
messages to which the individual or society
is exposed.
Donald C. Bryant:
Three things
common to all criticism
1. the description of the object to be judged,
2. an exposition of and argument for the
critical standard to be employed, and
3. a judgment made in terms of that standard.
Definitions from Dann Pierce
The goal of popular critics is to express informed
preference or “taste.”
The goal of rhetorical critics is to advance
knowledge about human communication that
reaches audiences with public messages.
Rhetorical critics are required to systematically
explain and defend three things:
1. The necessity of their research, analysis, and criticism
2. The means or method of their analysis
3. The telling accuracy of their discoveries in analysis
Pierce’s Acronyms
• JFS: Justification for Study
• JFA: Justification for Artifact
• RQ: Research Questions
• Method
Sonja Foss: things suitable for rhetorical analysis...
TV programs
public demonstrations
films and plays
e.g., Dean & Benoit: Rhetorical
Criticism Ballot Judging Criteria
From the data gathered here, the following judging criteria emerge in competitive
rhetorical criticism:
1. adequate delivery skills (conversationality, enthusiasm, appropriate movement and
gestures, direct eye contact, etc.)
2. memorized speech (no manuscript)
3. creative and substantive introduction and conclusion
4. clear preview
5. appropriate transitions
6. adequate documentation
7. focus of study appropriate for time limits of speech
8. judicious use of available time
9. inclusion of specific illustrations from the artifact(s) studied
10. analysis balancing description and criticism
11. justification of artifact(s) selected for study
12. justification of critical methodology
13. clear explanation of methodology
14. concise but complete explanation of the historical context in which the artifact occurred
15. clear judgment of the rhetorical effects of the artifact(s)
16. discussion of the implications of the criticism
e.g., Terry Barrett's Criticizing Art:
Understanding the Contemporary
Description: What do I see? ( feel, hear, smell, taste)?
Subject Matter: Does the artwork depict anything? If so, what?
Medium: What tools, materials, or processes did the art maker use?
Form: What elements did the maker choose and how did the maker
organize the elements?
Interpretation: What is the artwork about?
Interpretive Statement: Can I express what I think the artwork is about in
one sentence?
Evidence: What evidence inside or outside the artwork supports my
Judgment: Is it a good artwork?
Criteria: What criteria do I think are most appropriate for judging the
Evidence: What evidence inside or outside the artwork relates to each
Judgment: Based on the criteria and evidence, what is my judgment about
the quality of the artwork?
About Art Criticism:
Sally Jackson on a blog
Judgment is formed on a basis of one's own background in the medium under
consideration. I have no way of judging whether a piece of oriental brush lettering
is brilliant or ugly. I know virtually nothing about it and have no basis upon which
to form a judgment. On the other hand, I know a great deal about calligraphy and
illumination. This is the result of many, many years of study and work and training
in the field. I have, therefore, a valuable resource to draw upon and a basis upon
which to form a judgement as to the skill or lack thereof exhibited in a calligraphy
work. I am competent to make a judgment in this area. There are juried exhibits,
and the jurors are those who have a background in the field they are judging.
I suppose the thing that springs to mind here is the trite saying, "I don't know
anything about art, but I know what I like." Everybody does. There is a generally
agreed upon perception of what constitutes beauty, and this probably changes from
one culture to another. Even the Impressionists, so beloved today, were reviled
when the movement was new. Caravaggio, Beethoven, Rembrandt, Bach, the
Pucelle Brothers, van der Goes, Michaelangelo, The Master of Mary of Burgundy,
Mozart, and on and on - most of us would agree that what they created was
beautiful. I can't say what the standard is for art in general comes from. I simply
don't know. I know the basis for my standards of beauty in my own field, and I
could tell you what they are. This is a narrow field, though, and you raised the
question of art in general.
Television Criticism
[James A. Brown]
Prerequisites for proper critical perspective outlined by
Lawrence Laurent three decades ago remain apt today:
• sensitivity and reasoned judgment,
• a renaissance knowledge,
• coupled with exposure to a broad range of art, culture,
technology, business, law, economics, ethics, and social
• all fused with an incisive writing style causing commentary to
leap off the page into the reader's consciousness, possibly
influencing their TV behavior as viewers or as professional
Functions of Criticism
• Criticism helps to clarify and define the
theoretical basis of public address.
• Criticism helps to set up a standard of
• Criticism helps to interpret the function of
oral communication in society.
• Criticism indicates the limits of present
knowledge in the field of public speaking.
Variables of Criticism
Audience and Environment
Foci: S-M, M-E, M-C, S-M-E, S-M-C, etc.
Judgmental Criteria
Rhetorical effect.
Rhetorical artistry.
Ethicality or morality.
Fittingness or propriety.
Rhetorical competency.
Objectivist Perspective
• Accurate interpretation
• Formal criticism
• Neoclassical criticism
“common standards of accuracy, beauty, or
effectiveness are used to assess the manifest
features of messages”
Deconstructionist Perspective
Value analysis
Narrative criticism
Psychoanalytic criticism
Ideological criticism
“attempt to probe the implicit features of
messages and understand the ways in which those
features govern human experience”
What is a message?
Major interpretations of message
meaning is in the conventions of language
in the author’s conscious intent
in the author’s conscious and unconscious intent
what the best critics see in the text
what the author’s contemporaries would have seen in
the text
what a receiver sees in the text
what an “ideal” receiver would see
relationship of text to society from which it comes
contemporary society and text
Kinds of Textual Data
Subject matter
Probable cause
Stylistic features--syntax, figures of speech
Values, attitudes, beliefs
Argumentative features
Political relations
Hugh Blair (1783)
• True criticism is the application of taste and
good sense to the several fine arts.
• The object which it proposes is, to distinguish
what is beautiful and what is faulty in every
performance; from particular instances to
ascend to general principles; and so to form
rules or conclusions concerning the several
kinds of beauty in works of genius.
Blair on rules of criticism
• The rules of criticism are not formed by any
induction a priori. . .
• Criticism is an art founded wholly on experience.
• Aristotle’s rules . . . were founded upon observing
the superior pleasure which we receive from the
relation of an action which is one and entire,
beyond what we receive from the relation of
scattered and unconnected facts.
Blair on taste and genius
• Taste consists in the power of judging; genius
in the power of executing.
• Genius is that talent or aptitude which we
receive from nature, for excelling in any one
thing whatever.
Blair on the sublime
• The true sense of sublime writing,
undoubtedly, is such a description of
objects, or exhibition of sentiments,
which are in themselves of a sublime
nature as shall give us strong
impressions of them.
• The foundation of it must always be
laid in the nature of the object
• But it must be laid before us in such a light as
is most proper to give us a clear and full
impression of it; it must be described with
strengths, with conciseness, and simplicity.
Herbert Wichelns (1925)
• Literary criticism is concerned with
evaluating the wisdom, beauty, and truth
contained in great works of fiction, while
rhetorical criticism is devoted to assessing
the persuasive effect of situated oratory.
• Rhetorical criticism focuses on discovering
and appreciating how speakers adapt their
ideas to particular audiences.
Ernest J. Wrage (1947)
• Rhetorical criticism can make important
contributions to social and intellectual history.
• Ideas are produced by historical contexts, are
linked to change, and have social
• Ideas, values, and beliefs of a culture are
expressed in speeches.
Wayland Maxfield Parrish (1954)
• Critics should evaluate the quality of a
• The effect of a speech is difficult to assess,
but the quality can be determined separately
from its actual impact on an audience.
• ...relying on the judgment of qualified critics,
rather than trying to compute audience
Preliminary Aspects of Criticism
• Determining the areas of investigation
• Establishing the authenticity of texts
• Reconstructing the social settings
Neoclassical Analysis
Finding issues
Understanding the audience
Discovering the structure
Identifying arguments
Organizing the Neoclassical
Rhetorical situation
Nature of the audience
Structure of the message
Forms of argument
Style and delivery
Assessment of effectiveness
Standards of Judgment
Integrity of ideas: logical proof
Emotion in speech: pathetic proof
Character of the speaker: ethical proof
Structure of oral discourse
Style of public address
Measures of effectiveness
Bases for Judging Effectiveness
Artistic superiority
Integrity and social utility
Immediate surface response
Orator’s wisdom
• Effect on subsequent events
Insightful synthesis
• Thonssen and Baird wrote,
“Insightful synthesis integrates
the many parts and makes the
seemingly discrete
components a whole piece.”