After reading “Rhetorical Situations and Their Constituents” and “IText: Future Directions for Research on the Relationship between Information Technology and Writing,” my reaction is mainly one of awe at the great complexity of rhetorical situations. The study of rhetoric and its uses seems to have reached monolithic proportions, and even the brave efforts of the articles’ various authors seem insufficient to harness the complexities involved. In fact, the articles give me two distinct impressions. The first is that experts in the field of rhetoric often do not agree; this is illustrated by Grant-Davie’s use of sentence starters like “I think” and “I propose” (266) instead of sentence starters designed to exhibit the voice of authority. The second is that the vast nature of rhetorical studies makes it unlikely that research will ever reveal all the secrets of any given rhetorical situation. Geisler and her associated writers intentionally or unintentionally give me this impression when they speak of “the complexity of the meaning-making process, the historical forces that shape interactions with text, and the powerful impact literate interactions in these new electronic environments are having on society” (297).
I believe the compound rhetorical situations described by Grant-Davie provide prime examples of the great and growing complexities of rhetoric. Grant-Davie says that “exigence, rhetor, audience, and constraints can interlace with each other, and the further one delves into the situation the more connections between them are likely to appear” (277). Such rhetoric situations create webs of inputs so vast and tangled that they can be almost impossible to comprehend in their entirety. This seems to be especially true when these situations are placed in electronic formats packed to bursting with stimuli.
For example, one political campaign ad can contain many forms of communication (speech, written words, music, facial expressions, and more), be disseminated to a vast and highly variable audience, have a large number of different goals and implications, and be subject to a great number of constraints. How could such an ad possibly be analyzed so thoroughly that all the rhetorical factors associated with it could be discovered? Is it likely that all of the professionals analyzing the ad would agree upon its attributes and intentions? To see an ad which demonstrates the character of modern compound rhetorical situations, check out an Obama campaign ad here.
All of the great complexities associated with such ads and the field of rhetoric in general make me feel as though attempts to classify elements of rhetorical situations into neat, box-like categories lead to the formulation of possibly inaccurate assumptions and dangerous simplifications. One example of a classification system that makes me uncomfortable appears when Stanley Fish describes people as either homo seriosus or homo rhetoricus. According to Fish, homo seriosus believes in a central identify and referent reality while homo rhetoricus believes in shifting realites and constructions of the world (127).
A question which I would like myself and others to ponder at length is whether or not the dichotomy that such a description of humans seems to create is consistent with the reality of compound rhetorical situations described by Grant-Davie. Can most people be described as serious man or rhetorical man, or are most humans a hybrid form of both? In my opinion, people are as complex as the rhetorical situations of which they are a part. I think the majority of people could be described as a blend of serious man and rhetorical man as they seek to form some sense of reality but also recognize the persuasive powers of rhetoric and writing. Even scientists regularly utilize rhetoric to argue that their scientific findings are accurate interpretations to help understand our perceived realities or to persuade government and private investors to fund a project. Many would even admit that science is influenced by factors associated with rhetoric. Cezar Ornatowski of San Diego State University has even more to say on the subject of the complex but potentially peaceful blending of science and rhetoric which can be viewed here.