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Digital Rhetoric





Lanham: Digital Rhetoric

According to Eyman rhetoric is “placed in opposition to philosophical theories about computing, logic, and artificial intelligence”. Richard Lanham says a lot about how rhetoric and computers. He begins with “in practice the computer often turns out to be a rhetorical device as well as a logical one, that it derives its aesthetic from philosophy’s great historical opposite in Western thought and education, the world of rhetoric” (1992, 221). Lanham then argues that “it is the computer as fulfillment of social thought that needs explication” (243, emphasis in original) and that rhetoric provides the best theoretical frame for such an explication. So while Lanham is credited with coining the phrase “digital rhetoric”, he doesn’t really provide a definition. Lanham helps show that digital items (like computers) can help understand rhetoric, just as rhetoric can help understand digital items. 

Different Definitions of Rhetoric

Other voices have tried to give their own definitions to either rhetoric or digital rhetoric. Like Doug Brent, who claims that “the term ‘rhetoric’ has expanded well beyond the original meaning of a persuasive argument designed to overpower an audience and bring them over to the speaker’s point of view. The ‘New Rhetoric’ now foregrounds interaction, conversation, and joint construction of knowledge” (n.p.). This “New Rhetoric” is an important move because it gets rid of the limiting purview of rhetoric to “style” or verbal ornamentation and rejoins it with the other fields of the classical rhetoric canon and formal logic

While Brent creates the term “New Rhetoric”, Cory Heba suggests the development of a multimedia-based “HyperRhetoric”. This “HyperRhetoric” is “a form of communication that continually invents and reinvents itself through an ongoing negotiation among users, developers, electronic content, and its presentation in a multimedia environment” (22). Heba notes that different digital forms are all capable of producing meaningful information. Heba says “this idea of multisensory communication, the attendant literacies that accompany them, and the technology required to produce and transmit information combine to form the basic condition of HyperRhetoric” (29). 

Aristotle also comes up with a definition of rhetoric. Rhetoric presents “us with alternative probabilities” (1357a) which places digital texts under rhetoric. This is because digital works always have the potential of multiple readings; meaning they always offer alternative probabilities. Keith Kenney has another form of classical rhetoric. He mentions how rhetoric was traditionally “considered to be public, contextual, and contingent” (322). This shows digital communication because not only does it enact probability, but it also functions within networks that are typically public and connect to other digital texts.

Zappen: Communication

James Zappen mentions how the new digital media explains some of the basic communication characteristics in digital spaces. Such characteristics function as both affordances and constraints. He also says how the new media supports and enables the “transformation of the old rhetoric of persuasion into a new digital rhetoric that encourages self-expression, participation, and creative collaboration”. Zappen provides work that he sees contributing to the establishment of digital rhetoric as an integrated theory, focusing on four major areas: “the use of rhetorical strategies in production and analysis of digital text, identifying characteristics, affordances, and constraints of new media, formation of digital identities, and potential for building social communities” (319)

My Definition

My definition of digital rhetoric is: how a “text” is approached, afforded, thought of, perceived, consumed, and created by a variety of works and voices on different platforms. This holds up to all the different definitions in this blog. My definition includes all the different aspects of rhetoric while including the impacts digital has on rhetoric. The same words might not have been used, but the idea is very similar. The idea is that digital rhetoric is so hard to define because not only does rhetoric have a lot of different aspects, but there are so many different affordances and constraints to digital. 

This is why there are so many voices having so many ideas but hitting on the same notes. All of them give such complex ideas to digital rhetoric. From trying to include all the different forms of media (Lanham, Brent, Heba) to including all the different impacts digital has on rhetoric (Aristotle, Kenney, Zappen, Eyman). There is no one definition of digital rhetoric. There are way too many ways digital aspects affect rhetorical aspects. Way too many new media are being created for there to be one set definition. So, our definitions are similar because they are all complex and don’t fully cover what digital rhetoric is. 


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