- Rhetoric and Power: The Drama of Classical Greece by Nathan Crick
Aristotle's Organon provides an ingeniously systematic way to identify the discrete nature of disciplines that concern human thought and expression. While such an approach helps to understand the unique properties that warrant the recognition of disciplines as discrete, Aristotle's system of classification does not capture well the dynamics, synergy, and symbiotic relationships that appear when disciplines intersect. Perhaps, in fairness to Aristotle, his task was not to explore such relationships, but that does not mean that we should not try to better understand the nature and impact of disciplines such as rhetoric by examining their interplay within the dynamics of social interaction. It is this dynamism of disciplinary interaction that concerns Nathan Crick's Rhetoric and Power: The Drama of Classical Greece. Specifically, Crick's insightful work concentrates on how power (kratos) serves as the common denominator that grounds all disciplines of human thought and expression in classical Greece. Crick's perspective is shared by earlier scholars of rhetoric. For example, Jeffrey Walker's brilliant 2000 volume Rhetoric and Poetics in Antiquity helps us to understand that while disciplines may have discrete properties they are nonetheless inextricably bound together in the intersections of human symbolic action. That is, both mimetic and nonmimetic disciplines (e.g., poetry and rhetoric) work together in the social interplay of a culture's activities and, consequently, both their discrete (Aristotelian) properties and their relationship(s) with one another should be the object of study. The significance of Crick's Rhetoric and Power is revealed within the study of such relationships.
Crick argues that rhetoric functioned as power in ancient Greece and that this phenomenon explains both the social contributions and the centrality of rhetoric in Hellenic culture. The quest, use, and abuse of power is a controlling force in classical Greece. "What is particularly notable about the Classical Greek inquiry into power," Crick observes, "is that it always ended up placing power in relationship to speech" (3). From this perspective, the techne or "art" of rhetoric enables the manufacturing of power in human communication. Drawing on such modern thinkers as rhetoricians Kenneth Burke, Richard Weaver, and Chaïm Perelman, as well as philosophers Jürgen Habermas and Friedrich Nietzsche, Crick explains how this rhetorical capacity has resulting social consequences across all fields of [End Page 233] human communication. In short, Crick's work suggests that rhetoric is the art for creating and performing social dramatism through "representative publicity" (242n26).
Crick's orientation encourages us to reconceptualize rhetoric by moving away from Aristotelian notions of rhetoric as solely field-dependent casuistry and toward an idea of it as a phenomenon that encompasses all Hellenic disciplines during the classical period. To this end, Rhetoric and Power re-views such dominant aspects of ancient Greece as Homeric, Presocratic, tragic, Sophistic, Isocratean, Platonic, and Aristotelian thought. Crick's thorough and systematic treatment of each of these vectors of Greek thought is framed by the relationship between rhetoric, power, and drama. "Rhetoric," Crick argues, "therefore stands in relationship to power as a facilitator and medium," and "any discussion of rhetoric must be grounded in a conception of power," since it is rhetoric that functions as a medium for power through a spectrum of symbolic forms (6, 10). All major forms of art have the capacity to serve as media to perform power; this social dimension of art helps to dramatize the crises, struggles, and issues of the time, and it is through this dramatization that we can both understand and appreciate the scope of rhetoric's influence. For example, this view of rhetoric enables us to see how the Homeric rhapsode's dramatic narrative shaped the paideia of culture through an oral epic. We can see how Presocratic philosophers, dramatists, Sophists, and Plato shifted views of power, representing it as a human capacity rather than the province of gods. Crick also shows—and I believe these are the best points of the book—that the written forms of rhetoric taken...