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Discursive Ideologies

Reading Western Rhetoric


Publication Year: 2014

In Discursive Ideologies, C. H. Knoblauch argues that European rhetorical theory comprises several distinct and fundamentally opposed traditions of discourse. Writing accessibly for the upper division student, Knoblauch resists the conventional narrative of a unified Western rhetorical tradition. He identifies deep ideological and epistemological differences that exist among strands of Western thought and that are based in divergent "grounds of meaningfulness.” These conflicts underlie and influence current discourse about vital public issues.

Knoblauch considers six "stories” about the meaning of meaning in an attempt to answer the question, what encourages us to believe that language acts are meaningful? Six distinctive ideologies of Western rhetoric emerge: magical rhetoric, ontological rhetoric, objectivist rhetoric, expressivist rhetoric, sociological rhetoric, and deconstructive rhetoric. He explores the nature of language and the important role these rhetorics play in the discourses that matter most to people, such as religion, education, public policy, science, law, and history.

Published by: Utah State University Press

Title page, Copyright

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1. The Meaning of Meaning

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pp. 1-25

What we believe about words influences the ways in which we live our lives, what we think and say and do. Notice that I’m not referring to our uses of language: it’s obvious that speaking, writing, listening, and reading have consequences for our lives. What I’m suggesting is rather...

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2. Magical Rhetoric

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pp. 26-48

The story of magical rhetoric is not commonly discussed in histories of Western discourse theory, partly because of the mostly religious rather than secular contexts of word magic and partly because of the proprietary claims of Greco-Roman rhetoric and European enlightenment...

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3. Ontological Rhetoric

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pp. 49-75

The dominant rhetorical tradition of ancient Greece and Rome, from Plato (429–347 BCE) to Quintilian, is characterized by a view of discourse that is arguably the antithesis of magical rhetoric, proposing, in essence, that language is all humble rather than all powerful. The reason for its...

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4. Objectivist Rhetoric

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pp. 76-102

Rene Descartes (1596–1650) begins his Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences by describing his mistrust of books. Reviewing the course of his own early learning, he identifies the knowledge to be gained from books, including famous...

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5. Expressivist Rhetoric

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pp. 103-129

The early Greek sophists, whom Aristophanes called “a ruffianly race of tongue-twisters” (The Birds 1694, qtd. in Dillon and Gergel 2003), had the misfortune of dying three times, each time more definitively than before. These itinerant teachers of the arts of discourse, who roamed...

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6. Sociological Rhetoric

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pp. 130-162

Since rhetoric is always, in some sense, about people communicating, any story about rhetoric, including those discussed in preceding chapters, incorporates an idea of the social. Magical rhetoric ascribes to language the power of communicating with God and depends on the...

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7. Deconstructive Rhetoric

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pp. 163-192

In the world of deconstructive rhetoric, a text is not a mirror held up to nature, as it was in the ontological tradition; it’s a mirror held up to other mirrors. Discourse is a house of such mirrors, texts facing other texts, words reflecting and refracting other words. Terry Eagleton illustrates...

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Afterword: Critical Reflections

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pp. 193-200

Having elaborated a system of conceptual oppositions, grounds of meaningfulness, for understanding European rhetorical theory, let me specify the claims I’m prepared to make for it and also caution against the philosophical hazard of mistaking its limitations for virtues. Chief among...


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pp. 201-203

About the Author

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pp. 204


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pp. 205-208

E-ISBN-13: 9780874219364
E-ISBN-10: 0874219361
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874219357
Print-ISBN-10: 0874219353

Page Count: 231
Publication Year: 2014