Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasion

11 Sep

In the past week of our English 110 class, we delved into the concept of rhetoric, and its impact on individual ideas, actions, and beliefs. As simple as it seems, rhetoric has such a prevailing effect on the world at large. Language and words can change the way we think, and consequently, change our actions in ways we cannot even comprehend. When we find a question or idea that piques our interest, our mind fixates on it and it becomes an integral part of our daily thoughts. And that’s precisely what writers aim to do – they aim to please, amuse, enthrall, intrigue – all of which happens through a process of effective writing strategies.

Aristotle once said that rhetoric was “the art of making messages persuasive.” So how exactly do writers go about influencing/informing/brainwashing us? “Thinking rhetorically” is an imperative part of the process, in which writers must write according to their specific purpose, audience, and genre.  Most importantly, good writing goes hand-in-hand with a riveting question or theory – one that gets our mind fluttering with endless ideas and possibilities.

Take, for example, an article written by Ian Bogost for The Atlantic. Called “The Cigarette of this Century,” this was an insightful commentary on how smartphones and Blackberries are nearly consuming us and affecting social behavior – just as cigarettes did in the 1960’s. It seems impossible to imagine a world without smartphones, as everyone has their life set around this high-capacity gadget.  More importantly, it seems to help us flourish in social interactions, which is slowly drifting from the traditional tête-à-tête. Bogost compares this technology to the cigarette, which was also once a placeholder for the meaningful conversation that we avert from nowadays. The most remarkable part is that we won’t completely understand the extent to which these technologies affect us – until time has passed and it becomes replaced by something bigger and better. For now, all we know is that the Blackberry is virtually impossible to live without in our ever-growing, materialistic society.

The way Bogost wrote the article was in a free-flowing, open-form prose. He aimed this at busy, intelligent, educated readers who probably owned smartphones. His purpose was to enlighten them with this idea that the smartphone was inexplicably taking over their lives, and that perhaps they should stop checking it at the dinner table every once in a while. The conventions, content, and structure that he used correlated with a blog/news article. Writing carefully with his purpose, audience, and genre in mind, Bogost wrote an article that impressed myself as well as the rest of my class.

Just like news articles, there are many other mediums in which rhetoric can be used. It can be a simple word, quote, or video. The three aspects of purpose, audience, and genre apply to just about anything. “Through the Wormhole” is a wonderful video series exploring philosophical and scientific questions that seem virtually impossible to grasp. Hosted by Morgan Freeman, and discussing  theories of genius astrophysicists, this series exudes powerful rhetoric, better than I could ever find elsewhere. Information is presented in an articulate, imaginative stream of thoughts. Its target audience is anyone remotely interested in understanding the world, and finding out big unanswered questions about black holes, time travel, time, creationism, and the extent of the universe.

When I first watched this video about time travel, I was taken aback. My mind wandered for an entire day about the possibilities, and I soon became fascinated with all of the videos. To me, that’s the best type of rhetoric – words that consume you, engross you, immerse you entirely into a world unknown.


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