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rhetorical criticism

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rhetorical criticism

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This post of  anarchist_nomad 's has reminded me of the rhetorical criticism class I took in college.

I took it because I was a Comm. major - I didn't know what rhetorical criticism was.  Turns out that it means examining art with a view towards the world as it was at the time and place when the work was created.  It counteracts datedness in the work and cultural centrism in the critic, essentially - you try to consider the subject the same way it would have been considered as it was created, and the criticism stems from that viewpoint.

Rhet. crit. is, to my mind, a pretty cool concept, though at its heart, it's impossible to truly accomplish.  I, like everyone else, exist within the context of my own life and times, and everything that has surrounded me since I became a thinking being affects me in myriad ways.  I can add new items to my awareness, but I can't negate all the things that are already there - there are too many that I can't even percieve, because they are basal aspects of my worldview.  Attempting it, though, is a very good exercise.  The mindset is enormously widening - and the goal can be attained to some degree, at least.  It's the same mindset that leads, I think, to the best ideas in fiction - generating new art to someday be considered in its turn. 

Ever since I took this class, I have seen annotation in a new light - as a connected concept and necessary precondition for rhetorical criticism, a bridge between our unspoken assumptions and those of, for example, Lewis Carroll.  That information is a necessary tool for informed criticism of Alice in Wonderland (I already thought annotation was a cool concept too, though - because I am a geek).

It was a fairly enjoyable class.  I'm not particularly interested in criticism, but I think this is a much better and more balanced way to go about it than simply denouncing things from one's own narrow perspective, which is mostly what I seem to see.  It would have been much more enjoyable, though, had the professor not used a single theme for the whole semester.  That would have been dull to me no matter what the theme (and I think it limited my and the other students' ability to really see the possibilities inherent in the concept, because we spent the whole time trying to get the feel of only one historical context), but the fact that he used WWII as that theme... well, I seem to think that the Japanese exchange student just dropped the class, and even now, I'm sort of surprised she didn't sue the school.  I wonder if she would have won that case?

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