Archive for introductions

The first paragraph of my first draft of my first research-grant proposal

Although we might normally associate emotion with the personal realm, our public lives are actually dependent upon emotive functions of discourse. A public that is comprised of shared spaces and texts also shares ready-made rhetorical meanings that are constantly used for communication. These ready-made rhetorical meanings link together certain discourses and emotions, creating an archive of rhetorical figures that members of the public draw upon. For example, discourses about urban issues are often linked with images of crime, race, youth, and danger. In turn, this complex of discourses is further linked to emotions such as fear, anger, and depression. So familiar is this particular public rhetoric, in fact, that one element (urban crime or racial youth) might be invoked in order to suggest the others (fear or anger). Politicians seem to understand this public archive when they speak about “our children” as a way of invoking feelings of protection or anxiety among their audiences. Likewise, discourse about urban sprawl and land development is often linked to feelings of anger, disgust, and suspicion. For many people, the term “land development” contains an inherently negative ring. Through public archives of pathos, meaningful rhetorics are shared among participants.

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Guilty appeals

It’s a textbook example of rhetorical pathos calling long-distance on my telephone. I have not called home for weeks, no doubt too caught up in work to spare a few minutes for my mother. When the phone rings, I pick up to hear her alarmed voice. She tells me that she has been worried sick about me, wondering if I was ill or in some kind of trouble. I snicker while listening to her melodramatic image of me lying unconscious on my bathroom floor after slipping in the shower. But this is no joke. My mother has been driven to the edge with worry, and she wanted me to know it. Please, she implores with a tearful voice, don’t ever go so long without calling home. You worried me sick. I feel waves of guilt seep into my skin, as I promise her that I will call faithfully from now on.

“The New Pathos”

My title is a little misleading. There is no new pathos at work in public life. Rather, I am suggesting a new concept of pathos for rhetorical theory. The pathos at work in public culture has never resembled the simplistic images of emotional discourse or personal expression that is sometimes defined under the heading of pathe. From the beginning, pathos has been a complex and difficult dimension of rhetorical discourse. Perhaps now, for a variety of reasons, we are ready to tackle the full complexity of pathos—what it is, how it operates, and what it allows for.