Lecturing again at Cornell University on Monday. The topic is an introduction to rhetorical studies; the audience is mixed undergraduates.
The central problem is how to provide a good introduction that will make these students feel confident in their exploration and study of rhetoric for the remainder of the term without creating something too solid, too complete, and therefore incorrect.
Aristotle tells us that rhetoric is at its best when it is not about itself. How do you provide a foundation in the understanding of rhetoric? Keep rhetoric off the table so they can see a good example of it in practice?
There seem to be a few strategies of approach:
Plan 1: Offer all of the conceptions of rhetoric to them at once, like a giant, general strike. Explain that everyone is in agreement that rhetoric is an incredibly powerful and vibrant area of study. This would have metaphorical connections to talking about "the X movement" and showing a variety of videos of people demonstrating for a number of incompatible, or at least distant, causes.
Plan 2: Talk about something other than rhetoric - music, art, film, etc. Get the class involved in a discussion of meaning. Try to get them to nail meaning down for various things such as genre, or quality. Turn the discussion toward how those decisions were made - who persuaded who - and with what facts - get a proper panic started about the lack of fundamentals in these very accurate and very good definitions that we wove out of the air.
Plan 3: Show various examples of the rhetorical. Claim that some of these examples are not rhetoric. Discussion ensues as the students try to guess what is not rhetoric or what is. The students enact the struggle of naming that rhetoric's contemporary work is predicated upon. The naming and deciding of the rhetorical is the rhetorical in two ways: the naming process, and the struggle to maintain that name in a world that is aloft in the winds of the stripping of names and the re-affixing of labels.
I will probably hit somewhere in the middle. My lecture is oriented around different definitions of rhetoric through time. I will try to keep those alive and current through the discussion; no labeling of "old theories" or "what people used to think." They are all present, at once.
Also James Wichelns was a professor at Cornell when he devised the English/Rhetoric break. So I'll be giving a lot of attention to him. Couldn't have it any other way.