Friday, December 9, 2011

Neo-Aristotelian Analysis

The following is a summary of the basic components of Neo-Aristotelian analysis that I wrote up for my 10th and 12th graders. If you have any feedback to offer, I welcome it!

Historical Context
With the Pericles’ speech, it is of particular importance to pay attention to two details of the historical context: the occasion and the genre. The occasion is a funeral oration following the last battle of the first year of the Peloponnesian War. The battle was a loss for the Athenians. The fact that Athens lost and that this is the initial year of the war brings a lot of uncertainty into the situation for the speaker: what will be the audience’s opinion as to the wisdom of this war, the strength of Athens to win it, and the worthiness of cost of lives given the recent defeat? The genre is a eulogy, or a speech praising the dead. What sort of expectations does Thucydides tell us about how this sort of speech is typically given, and what sort of things it is supposed to say or accomplish? What does your own experience of eulogies in our own culture lead you to surmise about what they are to say and accomplish?

Invention has to do with both the means of persuasion, how it is that the speaker makes use of certain arguments, facts, details, etc. to make himself and his message more likely to accomplish whatever is his aim or aims for the particular audience. The first step is to identify what you think is the aim of the speaker. Only in proposing an aim can you evaluate what he is doing in the speech. Then comes the criteria for proofs that can be accomplished by the speaker: logos, ethos, pathos.

Logos has to do with the arguments or reasoning demonstrated by the speaker. Aristotle says that all arguments come by example or enthymeme. Examples have to be made or chosen, and so what the speaker uses as examples reflect his thoughts on what sort of audience he is dealing with, and how he wants them to be directed in terms of their thoughts. Examples also have elements of ethos and pathos, but to consider logos exclusively for a moment, one must ask how it is that the example is a means for persuasion, as opposed to saying something else, or nothing at all. What type of assumption is required for the example to be considered good? What values are made use of in offering the example as something good? For enthymemes, you are paying attention to the arguments or claims that are being made. How is it that the conclusion is being supported? What rationale is given or exhibited by the speaker? What values, presuppositions, or cultural capital does the speaker use to advance his claims?

Ethos has to do with the credibility the speaker is able to develop with the audience by virtue of his speaking. Certain credibility is had simply because of the reputation of the speaker, the occasion, etc., but these factors are only supports or potential problems that the speaker must work with in his actually speaking to the audience. Credibility is made or lost upon three fronts: competency, goodwill, and display of virtue. Competency has to do with the audience’s perception of the speaker’s knowledge on the subject matter, and his ability to put what he knows into common sense or easily to understand and accept language. Goodwill has to do with the audience’s perception of how well the speaker shows his concern for the audience’s well being and their interests. Display of virtue has to do with the audience’s perception of the speaker’s own moral character—does he impress with his ability to speak the right word at the right time, or does he handle difficulty with ease and appropriate respect, and so on. Aristotle says that ethos is the most important rhetorical proof, because people are more willing to accept a person whom they consider trustworthy than they are someone who is only good at argument or only good at stirring emotions.

Pathos has to do with the emotions the speaker is able to display and promote among the audience. The speaker may wish the audience to feel pity or to arouse their anger, and whatever emotions are sought, they are sought with a view toward bolstering an argument, avoiding an argument, raising the speaker’s credibility in the eyes of the audience, or driving home the action or mindset the speaker desires to elicit from the audience. Analyzing pathos is difficult because we don’t always have knowledge of how the audience responded to the speech during its delivery. Here is where we have to try and relive the speech while putting ourselves in the position of the audience. The better able we are to reconstruct for ourselves the potential emotions of the audience, the better will be our analysis of the speaker’s ability to use pathos as a means of persuasion. Generally speaking, a speaker must balance emotion Too little emotion and the audience with lose interest, respect, or lack compulsion at the speaker’s claims (for he seems too dispassionate himself about that which he speaks. Too much emotion and the audience will suspect dissimulation and grow skeptical of the speaker’s intentions. Both of these extremes impact the speaker’s ethos, and how his arguments are taken as well.

Arrangement has to do with the overarching structure of the speech as well as the internal divisions the speaker uses. The power of structure is manifold. It can allow the speaker to seem more competent, it can aid the audience in their ability to follow the speaker, it can enhance or detract from the arguments made, and it can be used to create emotive responses as well. The analysis of arrangement must be done in conjunction with ethos, pathos, and logos, for these are the means of persuasion for which the arrangement is crafted according to the speaker’s aim or aims. There is a measure of observational skill required to discern a speech’s structure, and several possible structures may emerge as possible. Analyzing the effects of that structure is more subtle, and more tenuous as well. How can we ensure that the audience was effected by the structure in such and such a way? Does it matter whether or not the audience was aware of the structure? Are there substructures or hidden elements of emphasis that result from the structure? There are some points of view (e.g. structuralists and post-structuralists) who place a great amount of emphasis on structure as it regards the means of persuasion, or even as a means of undermining the more explicitly attempted means of persuasion (such as arguments, emotions, etc.). Aristotle and his contemporaries often used very formulaic and intricate structures as a means for the speaker to easily remember claims and the progression of the speech. Others, like the Pythagoreans (including Plato), used structure to veil their essential doctrines that are otherwise apparent upon the surface of their speeches and writings. Structure is also an element that ties in closely with style, since a large part of style is how the elements of language are structured.

Style, like arrangement, considers the speech as a whole as well as in its parts. Low style is relatively free of ornate arrangements and figures of speech; clarity and plain terms of description characterize low style. Middle style incorporates more figures of speech and ornate patterns for the purpose of delighting the audience in addition to giving them clear understanding. High style engages with even more ornate figuration and purposes to arouse the audience to emotion and conviction that leads to action rather than understanding, delight, or contemplation alone. The figures of speech are as numberless as are the possible variations of language at the level of the word, the clause, the sentence, and so forth. Some figures play with the structure or arrangement of words while others seek to play with how words mean or symbolize; still others make use of sounds and rhythms for various purposes. Like arrangement, certain perspectives on style make it the primary aspect for the means of persuasion, and also like arrangement, the elements of style are intricately connected to the way arguments are made, understood, and received.

Delivery & Memory
Delivery consists of all of the non-verbal aspects of a speech: vocal level, quality, and variation; physical gesture, positioning, and expression; and all other potential uses of the body and its senses. It is a truism that 90% of communication is made through nonverbal aspects, but it is often difficult to reconstruct the delivery of speeches after the fact prior to video technologies. Furthermore, even the ability to detect these factors does not ensure that the audience’s response to them is easily predictable, as many such nonverbal cues go either unnoticed, or may be interpreted in various ways, despite the additional contextual aids of the message’s content, the structure, and so on. If delivery cannot be reconstructed by having actually witnessed or seen footage of the speech, it can in some cases be partially reconstructed by witness testimony. If no such testimony to the actual speech exists, testimony as to the normal delivery exhibited by the speaker may prove useful to generalize to the speech in question. If none of these aids exist, one’s analysis of delivery may need to be omitted with a note to the reader as to why. Memory has to do both with the means by which the speaker has committed the content of the speech to memory (whether entirely memorized, spoken from notes, completely extemporaneous, etc.), in which case it might be useful to examine drafts of speeches or structures within the speech that provide insight into this process. Memory also has to do with cultural memory, or the ability of the speaker to recall upon immediate needs the aspects of the audience’s cultural realities to aid him in his speaking. Sometimes memory is considered in terms of the audience, and how the speaker attempts to make memorable to them the contents of what he is saying.

Audience Effect
Perhaps the most contested area of analysis is the effects of a speech upon a given audience. What are the appropriate criteria for evaluating the effects of a speech? Is a speech effective only if it results in the audience taking some observable action? And if so, how long after the speech must the action take place for its purpose to be effective? Much of the value of analyzing the effects will result from properly identifying the speaker’s intentions, the constraints of the situation in which the speech is given, and the particular categories of effects that can be applied to the various types of people in the audience. For example, in a speech before an audience of wide-ranging demographics, the speaker may have multiple audiences, gearing different aspects of his speech in hopes of impacting each audience for very different goals—to bolster one’s allies while simultaneously inspiring fear in one’s enemies, and move those indifferent toward one or the other camp. Audience effect may also be considered apart from the speaker’s intentions, not only in the sense that certain effects were not met, but also in terms of unforeseen or unforeseeable effects that result from a speech. In this way a speech can function as a historical artifact, from which questions very different from “was it persuasive to audience X” are asked. Whether or not such questions continue to be proper to “rhetorical analysis” is open to question, but the key is to allow “effect” to be considered from various and sometimes opposing criteria.

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