Monday, November 26, 2007

An Overview of Rhetorical Situation and a Reading Assignment

Your first reading assignment is here:

It's a short overview of topics which will come up again and again in this class, topics like: rhetoric, rhetorical triangle, author, message, audience. Motley, the author of the article, uses the terms, writer, subject, and reader, but the terms author, message, and audience are interchangeable. The main point is this triangle gives those who think about rhetoric (read: you, now you're in this class) a convenient way to break down and analyze any situation where people are using language or language like behavior to try and do things.

Every text has an author. Every author has intentions, an agenda, or a set of goals for his text. This set of goals is called a rhetorical purpose. Every text is encoded by the author in such a way that they believe their audience can understand the author's intentions. This encoded text is the message. If communication is to happen, texts also have audiences, and not always the ones the author intents. What we'll be talking about in this class is how to encode messages in such a way you, the author, have the effects on your audiences which you intent.

This way of breaking down communication is not limited to just writing. Rhetoric applies every time you use a system of communication and address someone else to achieve some end. Rhetoric is why we know not to wear bathing suits to most job interviews. The way people dress, the gadgets they own, the places they live, their body language, almost everything which reflects a person's intentions involves rhetoric. For example, the way people dress involves them in a rich language of nuance and suggestion. Suits mean. Tee shirts mean. The difference between a rhetor, that is, a user of rhetoric, and everyone else is the rhetor is aware he or she is going through life sending out messages, being read, and interpreted by most everyone he or she meets. The rhetor tries to take command of the various messages s/he sends and encodes them in ways the audiences s/he wants to affect will be affected.

One last term, and I'll end this post. Noise. Modern communication theory evolved out of the traditions of rhetoric. One way to think of the rhetorical triangle is as follows:

sender ====================> receiver

In between the sender and receiver is a signal which contains information. The sender needs to encode the message in such a way the receiver can decode it. In between the sender and the receiver is both the message and noise. If you've ever driven a long distance with an FM radio station on and heard it slowly fade into static, then you've experienced noise getting in the way of the signal. Noise is entropy and/or Murphey at work in the world. Noise is all the stuff which gets in the way of the receiver getting the message the sender encodes in the signal. There are ways to work around noise, but there is no way to get rid of it entirely. This is one reason why folks don't understand you completely when you write. Writing is a good technology, but it has severe limitations and inherent noise. Noise in writing can come from such factors as a person's culture, background, politics, gender, ...well, you get the idea. Noise is why when you say a word, the receiver will not understand 100% of what you mean. Noise is always there. One of the things we'll speak about in the class is how to overcome noise.

Here's one of the things you need to know: noise is always there, but we usually manage to make spoken and written communication do what we want anyway.

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