The Technological Crisis of Rhetoric

Heim, Michael
January 1988
Philosophy & Rhetoric;Winter1988, Vol. 21 Issue 1, p48
Academic Journal
This article discusses the technological crisis of rhetoric. Such a crisis occurs when rhetoric or public speech lacks psychic depths and when the absence of psychic depth is generally and increasingly conspicuous, both to those in power and even to the public on whom the technology operates. Psychic depths arc lost when the technology itself becomes ascendant. And the technology is in turn justified by the nature of the very public it has created, that is, the mass mind. The traditional ways of transcending technique, such as reasoning, become overwhelmed. This is even and especially so where facsimiles of reasoning and public debate take place as a matter of course in the media. Selectively staged forms of persuasion create the illusion of a process of ongoing public reasoning and debate. In essence, however, the power of electronics overwhelms the give-and-take, the public remaining a mere audience or indistinct mass of viewers to be entertained. The intervening technology takes over by the quantity of claims and premises, by the sheer finesse of image-conscious presentations. The reason modern communication theory has not been prepared to cope theoretically with these new developments is that classical rhetoric, though inherently practical, never envisioned the insertion of technology into the communication process. Classical rhetoric, like classical philosophy, kept a certain distance from techniques and from the cultivation of external devices.


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