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Dao of Rhetoric, The

Steven C. Combs

Publication Year: 2005

In the first book to systematically deal with Daoism (Taoism) from a rhetorical perspective, author Steven C. Combs advances the idea that the works of Daoist (Taoist) sages Laozi (Lao Tzu), Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu), and Sunzi (Sun Tzu) can be fused into a coherent rhetorical genre, which can then form a methodology for rhetorical criticism. This notion of Daoist rhetoric enables critics to examine discourse from new vantage points with novel processes and concepts that honor the creativity and complexity of human communication. Combs also critically examines four contemporary films—The Tao of Steve, A Bug’s Life, Antz, and Shrek—to amplify rhetorical Daoism, to indicate clear differences between Western and Daoist values, and to offer fresh perspectives on individuals and social action. The book argues that Daoism provides a lens for viewing limitations of current Western rhetorical theorizing, positioning Daoist rhetoric as a potent critical perspective in the contemporary, postmodern world.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Communication Studies

The Dao of Rhetoric

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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

This project is the result of the generous support of the universe, without whose opportunities, none of this would have been possible. I’d like to foreground and thank those who teach me rhetorical criticism—especially Karlyn, Walt, and Randy; those who teach me the Dao—especially Robin and Jeff; and those who teach me what’s most important in life—especially...

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pp. 1-7

Rhetorical theory is often purported to have arisen from the demands of democracies in ancient Greece, and many scholars view the development of rhetorical theory as a decidedly European enterprise. While some make minor mention of non-Western rhetoric, others ignore it or exclude it from discussion. For example, Murphy and Katula (1995) contend, “the...

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1. Culture, Text, and Context

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pp. 9-21

Daoists believe that texts are not created in isolation but are products of avibrant, interactive environmental field. An account of the historical environment or context for the works of the sages, which are analyzed specifically in the next three chapters, adds richness to the potential meanings and applications of Daoism for rhetoric. Insights about context may help...

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2. Laozi and the Natural Way of Rhetoric

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pp. 23-36

According to legend, Laozi was the curator of the Royal Library and keeper of the archives at the imperial court. Sometime after the age of eighty, he became tired of his work, disgusted with the abuses of the court, and saddened and disillusioned that people were unwilling to follow the path to natural goodness. He attempted to flee from the kingdom, setting ...

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3. Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation

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pp. 37-52

Zhuangzi stands with Laozi as the best known ancient Daoist philosophers. His germinal work, Zhuangzi, has been lauded as a literary masterpiece and philosophical classic (Schwartz, 1985; Graham, 1989). Creel (1970) proclaims Zhuangzi “the finest philosophical work known to me, in anylanguage” (p. 55). Despite Zhuangzi’s literary and philosophical significance ...

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4. Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony

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pp. 53-71

A common thread in the rhetorics of Laozi and Zhuangzi is the notion that communication should not be designed to impose one’s ideas on others but to induce the audience to engage key ideas in novel ways that promote self-persuasion. Furthermore, these approaches recommend that conflict be kept to a minimum because it can be unproductive and moves ...

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5. Daoist Rhetorical Criticism

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pp. 73-85

The preceding three chapters discuss the rhetorics of Laozi, Zhuangzi,and Sunzi. In this chapter, I advance the idea that these rhetorics can be fused into a coherent genre I term “Daoist rhetoric.” By articulating Daoist rhetoric as a distinct category of discourse, I not only put forth a statement about the rhetorical principles of Daoists but also propose a...

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6. Is The Tao of Steve Really “The Way”?

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pp. 87-100

If Daoist rhetoric can be adapted for rhetorical criticism, it seems reasonable to expect it to be useful in analyzing texts that identify themselves as “Daoist.” Accordingly, I further advance my claim that Daoism provides a unique vantage point for rhetorical theory and criticism through an analysis of a recent, and surprisingly successful, independent film. The Tao of Steve (Goodman, 2000) ...

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7. Values East and West in Antz and A Bug’s Life

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pp. 101-114

The previous chapter points to the viability of using Daoist rhetoric to assess a film that claims to be Daoistic. It remains to be considered, however, whether Daoist rhetoric is limited to testing the internal consistency of communication acts that claim to be Daoist, or whether it has more general utility in the analysis of non-Daoist communication acts. That is,...

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8. Shrek as the Daoist Hero

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pp. 115-135

For as long as humans have told stories, we have talked about great individuals who have performed with remarkable skill and valor. These “heroes” are notable not only for their reputed feats of conquest but also for their symbolic function. The hero functions symbolically as a role model or possible self that embodies particular social values. We are...

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9. The Future of the Past

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pp. 137-150

Traditional Western wisdom and conventions suggest that the final chapter of a book is a place to attempt, in some way, to bring closure to a project. While that approach makes a great deal of sense, Daoism suggests that we do the opposite: avoid closure and perpetuate a flow of creativity. This chapter attempts to honor Daoist wisdom by widening the field of inquiry...


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pp. 151-153


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pp. 155-161


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pp. 163-167

E-ISBN-13: 9780791484050
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791462812
Print-ISBN-10: 0791462811

Page Count: 178
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: SUNY series in Communication Studies
Series Editor Byline: Dudley D. Cahn See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 62750480
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Dao of Rhetoric, The

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Subject Headings

  • Taoism.
  • Motion pictures -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Rhetoric.
  • Rhetoric -- China.
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