Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Rhetorical Consideration of Audience (According to Twain)

Audience: A key component of Rhetorical Compostion, Literary Analysis, Usability Testing, Experience Design...

I offer here a little advice on making the most rheotrical hash of this substance. But it is not my advice - no, it is advice from the "great one' himself - Mr. Samuel Clemens. So, enjoy Mark Twain's take on the proer consideration of "audience."


Whenever I am about to publish a book, I feel an impatient desire to know what kind of a book it is. Of course I can find this out only by waiting until the critics shall have printed their reviews. I do know, beforehand, what the verdict of the general public will be, because I have a sure and simple method of ascertaining that. Which is this—if you care to know. I always read the manuscript to a private group of friends, composed as follows:
1. Man and woman with no sense of humor.
2. Man and woman with medium sense of humor.
3. Man and woman with prodigious sense of humor.
4. An intensely practical person.
5. A sentimental person.
6. Person who must have a moral in, and a purpose.
7. Hypercritical person—natural flaw-picker and fault-finder.
8. Enthusiast—person who enjoys anything and everything, almost.
9. Person who watches the others, and applauds or condemns with the majority.
10. Half a dozen bright young girls and boys, unclassified.
11. Person who relishes slang and familiar flippancy.
12. Person who detests them.
13. Person of evenly-balanced judicial mind.
14. Man who always goes to sleep.

These people accurately represent the general public. Their verdict is the sure forecast of the verdict of the general public. There is not a person among them whose opinion is not valuable to me; but the man whom I most depend upon—the man whom I watch with the deepest solicitude—the man who does most toward deciding me as to whether I shall publish the book or burn it, is the man who always goes to sleep. If he drops off within fifteen minutes, I burn the book; if he keeps awake three-quarters of an hour, I publish—and I publish with the greatest confidence, too. For the intent of my works is to entertain; and by making this man comfortable on a sofa and timing him, I can tell within a shade or two what degree of success I am going to achieve. His verdict has burned several books for me—five, to be accurate.

Excerpted from "Who is Mark Twain" by Mark Twain, which can be found at

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

America is... a Nation of Cowards?

Sound bite of the day...

Persuasion depends on handling well matters of Ethos, Kairos, Pathos, and Audience?

Some say you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar...
Jethro said that you catch even more with a dead 'possum.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Rhetorical Power of Narrative in the Campus Tour

The New York Times recently ran an article describing a shift in College tours from mere fast-paced, fact-quoting, run around a predetermined course to a more leisurely, story-filled experience.

You can see the article "Colleges Seek to Remake the Campus Tour" here.

The thing that stood out to me is power of narrative - i.e. mythos, story, telling, etc.

"Something there is that loves a story
That sends the heart swell up to meet it
That perks the ears to listen
And opens the heart wide enough for truth to pass..."

Apologies to Mr. Frost, but the smell of universality is rich around the use of story.

I remember taking my daughters on college visits and the obligatory campus tours. There was one incident when my daughter said, "You wanna do something else with the rest of the day? 'Coz I'm not coming here." This college, which we will call "In Why You", belabored stats in a overly self-important manner.

Yet, on an other tour, the conclusion was "This is awesome - lets get a T-shirt!" (T-shirt being a sort of engagement icon.) The tour of this school, which we will call "Yell," was led by a young man who was a student there, and chocked full of stories - both historical and personal woven into a sort of, dare I say, Grand Narrative? (Gasp!) It ended on the spot where he had made his decision to attend that institution. He finished by reading the engraved words that he had read a few years before - "For God. For Country. For (insert name of school here)." I felt goosebumps and a lump in my throat - and not simply for wondering how much this would cost!

It was the power of the STORY, mythos, narrative!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Facebook Killed the Blogger Star

Those witty insights that formerly appeared as brilliant, though pithy, blog entries have been commandeered in service of Facebook wall postings. Such is the excuse for lack of attention to my blogs.

I have a suspicion that my case is not unique. So I wonder what this all means.

Why do I post more on FB and neglect my blog? Is it possible that the "audience" is more immediate? or that the audience is more familiar?

In moving more of my comments to FB, am I robbing the rest of the "non-friend" universe of my gifts of erudite banter? Am I becoming isolated and insular in my communications? Like an island? and if no man is an island - am I becoming "no man?"

Will the trend toward talking (if blogging or FB posting is indeed talking) to only "friends" serve to close down social networking that the web promised to open up? Or is it making the social networking of the web more vibrant, less shallow, more real, less intangible?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Web is (always already) Changing (again)

The NY Times recently published an article entitled,
"Rise of Web Video, Beyond 2-Minute Clips"
you should check it out here.

The "web" as new media is in a constant (non)state of dynamistic flux.

To say, "this is how the web works," or "thi sis how communication takes place online," is a guarantee of obsolescence.

Here's a notably quote from the article: “A few years ago, three minutes ‘watching’ your computer felt like a novelty; now, it’s as familiar as your television set.”

Perhaps more than old media, new media as compositional space is chimeric and chameleonesque - never allowing haunches ot be rested upon!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

You Can Handle the Truth! (gradually)

The nape of the neck is more alluring than the pointing of the bony finger...

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant
Emily Dickinson

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---
Success in Cirrcuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---

Welcome to my world.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Time for Talking...

In our Accelerated Composition class, we are learning to "read rhetorically," or to perform rhetorical analyses on "texts" of all type - written, film, video, visual, aural/oral, etc. Keeping in mind Aristotle's idea that "Rhetoric is the art of discovering the available means of persuasion in a given situation," we look at communication artifacts in terms of their logos (logical argument), pathos (emotional argument), ethos (ethical/relational argument), and their kairos.

, the Greek word often translated as "time," represents the time, occasion, context - that is to say - the rhetorical situation of a speech, text or other composition. Is it possible to use our rhetorical evaluation to predict, as well as to analyze, texts? I think it's worth a shot...

Much has been made (and will be made) about the upcoming Inaugural address of President-elect Barak Obama. The New York Times has an interesting video about the occasion. Pearson's DK Handbook (p. 114) has some interesting analytical questions that may be applied to the upcoming speech. For example:
  • Who is included in the target audience? Who is excluded? Why?
  • Toward what will the speaker draw the audience's attention? What might be overlooked as a result of this "directing?"
  • What will be the guiding purpose of the speech? How explicitly will it be stated?
  • What events at the time of the speech's production are likely to shape the audience's expectations? How will these events shape the writing of the speech?
  • Where will this speech be delivered? (Specifically, how will the physical staging be set?)
Can you presciently answer these questions about Obama's inaugural speech? I bet you can. Weigh in with your prognostications, and then check back to follow-up after the speech is delivered.