Six white sticky notes

The Meaning of Rhetoric was Messy Enough.




Juan Torres

The meaning of rhetoric is usually oversimplified. When defined by most, it is usually connected to persuasion with confident exclusivity. “The art of persuasion,” or something of that ilk. Luckily, I’ve already had a taste of bending that definition to its limits. In a previous class, we had a long debate about the difference between rhetoric and poetry. It was a hard distinction! Rhetorical devices happened to pop up in poetry often. I was, at least, satisfied with the notion that rhetoric was a more formal, less “artsy” category in that context.

The meaning of rhetoric is more complicated than that, even without digital means. Rhetoric covers techniques used to convey any sort of meaning through text. The repetition of words. Sentence length. Generally, the choices an author makes so that the reader feels a certain way. One opens another can of worms when they take rhetoric into the digital realm. Digital rhetoric goes beyond author choice. It also encompasses what the viewer chooses to take from it. It encompasses the various mediums that the Web allows for.

And now, Eyman.

Regarding digital rhetoric, Eyman starts out quoting Richard Lanham. His definition predates the wide adoption of the Web. Thus, its main precedent is with older artistic and literary forms. Lanham could not conceive of the various fashions in which digital forms could be manipulated. Choices from an author in a digital space can be visual; hell, they almost have to be.

Eyman does discuss how time and technological advancement enhanced the meaning of rhetoric in the digital world. He starts with hypertext, allowing for linking of texts (of any medium), and goes into how new literary forms arise from it. For that, he refers to Doug Brent. It’s from Brent that Eyman arrives at the conclusion that digital rhetoric “foregrounds interaction, conversation, and joint construction of knowledge.”

Yeah, let’s go with that.

Digital rhetoric blurs the line between author and reader. Readers can be authors and authors can be readers. The choices that an author makes can be ignored by a reader. As a matter of fact, the reader can simply make their own choices. A lot of thought and care went into making the user experience for the original iPod work. With some moderate digital literacy, you can basically say, “Screw you, Apple!” and shove in a custom UI.

You can add your own stuff to Wikipedia pages if the moderators are feeling generous. The comments section for any article or video on Earth can append information or foster conversation (of dubious quality). In that sense, digital rhetoric is any meaning that can be wrought from the messy relationship between author and reader, throughout no shortage of forms. Remember when YouTube had video responses?

Actually, remember when YouTube channels were customizable? Now that could say something about a person.


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