Post #8: The Rhetorical Situation

Let me first start off by saying this: What did I just read?

Taking on the unit of rhetorical analysis in my writing class, tonight I read an essay by Lloyd F. Bitzer about the rhetorical situation. My first thoughts on the essay were, “Am I missing something? Why is this so hard to understand?”. Throughout the entirety of the essay, while Bitzer argues an extremely thorough and well developed idea about rhetorical situation, he does so using very complex sentences that make it difficult to understand sometimes. So since I spent more time translating this essay than reading it, let me break it down for you in simple terms.

In the first chunk of the essay, Bitzer introduces the topic of his essay which will be about explaining rhetorical situation in an easy way to make it possible for readers to understand while also communicating why and how it is an important part of studying rhetorical analysis. Following this, Bitzer goes on to talk about a sample passage and then explains to the audience how the example is proof of how the situation influences the observations to be made. He finishes this section by establishing that rhetorical communication, or as his calls it discourse , comes in to play in response to a specific situation.

After several passages, Bitzer finally begins defining what he has been talking about since the beginning. Not very helpful for the reader. Here Bitzer answers the question: what does rhetorical situation even mean? A rhetorical situation is people, events, objects and relations that present a demand which can be removed if rhetorical language is applied to change people’s opinions. Every rhetorical situation contains three elements: the exigence, the audience, and the constraints. The exigence, latin for demand, is the obstacle or problem trying to be solved. The audience is the people listening to the argument that can be influenced by the speaker. And finally, the constraints are the preconceived beliefs that the audience comes to the table with: attitudes, facts, traditions, interests, motives, etc.

The next thing Bitzer does is talk about and explain some general characteristics of rhetorical situations. Big ideas that he touches on are that rhetorical language is brought about by the situation, any rhetorical situation is trying to invoke a specific response but the situation must motivate the specific response to be made, and finally all in all rhetorical situations all have a very dignified structure that organizes it. In the end, Bitzer concludes by saying that in a perfect world there would be no need for rhetoric, however since the world presents problems that can be changed through communication there is a practical need for practicing the rhetorical situation.


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