Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasion

Does rhetoric have to be words? After reading Dr. Burton's paper and exploring a bit this was the thought that occurred to me. We don't just persuade people with our words, right? My moment of "oh, I landed on something good!" shriveled up when I realized that the etymology of the word rhetoric is literally "art of an orator." So much for that idea.
As I was moving on to find another interesting bit to post about, my mind flickered back, "well, then, what is it? Where does the visual fit in?" As we delve further and further into our digital/visual age, the argument appears - do images, visual presentation, and object placement have a place within the hallowed halls of Rhetoric? 
That could be a whole essay in and of itself, but I want to discuss more of the practical effects of such a notion. 

We are up to our eyebrows in the Digital Age. We've been discussing the ramifications of a changing society in my class on mass communications and media literacy - a society more familiar and satisfied with the 140 characters of a Twitter alert, than with reading an entire news article. We are having to say the amount we've always been saying and (oftentimes more with the rate of innovation nowadays) with less. Attention has to be grabbed within the first three words or so else no one will read it. And they do say, a picture is worth a thousand words...

This visual persuasion isn't entirely new either. All ancient Helen had to do to convince Menelaus not to kill her for her unfaithfulness was to drop her robe from her shoulders as he raised his sword and instantly "her beauty has blunted their swords" (Euripedes, Orestes, 

Could the visual be more powerful than the written word? In the past, no because the circulation of said visual representations was not efficient or wide-reaching in the slightest. But now...

There are so many holes in this idea, like what about the numberless amounts of words that have made a difference without any visual representation whatsoever, and when the words produce an effect despite the visuals presented with it. But I think the idea is significant as an adjunct method of persuasion, as our culture continues to develop and change. We can't focus solely on words alone - how they are visually presented to the people that won't hear them from our own lips is going to get more and more important.


  1. Good point. Instinctively, I do have to say that images are much more powerful than know with the "a picture SAY a 1000 words" cliche thingy. And I'll be honest: the reason I started reading your post is because of the "Marry Me" written in the sky and I wondered what that could be all about. It takes a vivid picture or a choice title to catch someone's attention, but I believe the real skill in rhetoric lies in whether you can KEEP someone--not only reading--but interested.

  2. This is the makings of a great argument and on an important and timely topic. Consider, also, the hybrids of words and images (such as the word pictures / imagery in literature or oratory or on the other end of things, images constructed of words, like typography art). And do moving images have a different rhetorical dimension than static images? I hope you will pursue this and keep applying it to Milton.