April 10, 2021

Interdisciplinary Discourse

Forum for KU Academics

What Rhetoric Means to Me

– Hem Raj Kafle
My academic standing as an M. Phil. in English and a teacher of English language, literature, technical communication and media studies in Kathmandu University has largely shaped my inquiries into different domains of rhetorical scholarship. My entry in this field began with a limited understanding of rhetoric as an embellished discourse where literary tropes played major role in eliciting certain emotional responses from a reader/auditor. Poetry featured most in this understanding, with fictions and persuasive essays to complement at times.
When I studied the classical system of rhetoric, with Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian as focal resources, my perception broadened from rheotric’s aesthetic dimension to more practical contextual dimensions for its being a system of organized, persuasive discourse. The practical sides, basically the three genres (forensic, deliberative and epideictic), three modes of proof (ethos, logos, pathos) and the five canons (invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery) guided my teaching of English and media studies and helped shape my own researches, presentations and writings.  
My work has not been unidirectional, as is common in a qualitative inquiry. If I had chosen to be registered full time, with rhetoric at hand, and was not teaching at the university, I would be more focused to the task of clearing methodological and analytical arrays now. But I might have been in disadvantage in two respects. I would not adapt to the pedagogical value of the classical system of rhetoric through practical applications in everyday professional activities. Nor would I consciously improve my sense of discourse embellishment through the awareness of embellished arrangement and style. Allowing myself open channels of learning and practice, I have helped myself to experience my subject in its multiplicity. 
I am trailing through two rich territories of rhetorical scholarship. The first is Rhetorical Studies, which helps scrutinize the social, historical, political dimensions of the April Movement and its representations in the editorials. The second, scholarship in English studies with Rhetoric and Composition as a disciplinary category, teaches me the nuances of discourse structures, figures of speech and overall aesthetics of editorial writing. Unlike a general trend in rhetorical scholarship in the west where a researcher/candidate is formally confined to only one of these disciplinary terrains, and where the two hardly combine or “cross-pollinate”, I have enjoyed the freedom to draw knowledge from both. This may ultimately lead me to a third territory, that of Rhetoric in its fundamental classical sense, where the study directs me to recognizing a particular system of rhetoric characteristic to a non-western, Nepalese context. To be more specific, this is where the inferences might help explore a pattern of Nepalese media rhetoric reflective of a social movement. 
Fantasy Theme Analysis (FTA), a method of rhetorical criticism underpinned in Ernest Bormann’s Symbolic Convergence Theory, which I aim to apply in the study of about 400 editorials, blends the aforesaid lines of scholarship. It merges aesthetics (for its emphasis on performative/dramatic qualities of discourse) and politics (role of time, space and actors). Symbolic Convergence Theory which takes that any communication helps construct a rhetorical vision, a symbolic reality which underlies the convergence of a cumulative number of people who identify with the reality and participate in transferring it further.  Fantasy theme analysis systematically examines how rhetorical visions are constructed from communicative artifacts. It takes communication as a form of drama with characters, actions and settings where realities are dramatized in the form of fantasy themes (shared narratives). FTC accepts the notion that shared narratives accumulate as fantasy types which constitute rhetorical vision, the symbolic reality with which the participants of communication identify. 
I have internalized rhetoric in three dimensions. Whether it really can be of practical, pedagogical value is my first concern. And it does have. The classical system of rhetoric, which involves three genres, three modes of proof and five canons, is useful in the practice and teaching of oral presentation and written composition. I have conceptualized two classroom approaches/activities with the help of the five canons.  The first is what I have introduced as “The Eight R’s of Presentation” involving the steps of preparing an effective oral presentation. The second concerns a blog entitled Rhetorical Ventures intended to facilitate and archive student compositions. I presented this blog in two International conferences of English teachers in January and February 2010.
Besides, I have included fundamentals of rhetoric and rhetorical criticism in the syllabus of Text and Audience, which is taught in the third year of Bachelor in Media Studies, Kathmandu University. This helps complement a small section of the syllabus of Public Relations for the second year, which contains rhetorical strategies as communication strategies for public relation campaigners.
Subsequently, as a second dimension, rhetoric functions as an important tool for the creation and critique of everyday communication. I am conscious of using effective means in all forms of communication, be it meant for persuasion, information, invitation, identification or settlement of conflicts. I have been more conscious seeing the same means critically in the communications of other people. One achievement in this direction is the development of the habit of what Wayne Booth calls “listening rhetoric”. This helps me make clear sense of any communicators’ intentions, weigh the extent of truth and lie in their words, and trace a ground for devising appropriate forms of response. Rhetorical awareness saves me from potential relationship crises because it helps me decide when to force an argument and where to withdraw it in the lack of adequate modes of proof. 
The third and the most crucial dimension of my present study on rhetoric involves critical scholarship. First, it drives me more towards my research through the painful and pleasant moments of losses and finds — my journey of oscillation across disciplines and approaches, and of the moments of serious discourses with the supervisors and potential readers. While the actual analytical journey stills remains in a bulk, I have been trying to feel the adventure through shorter writings, presentations, editing, reviewing, and supervising student projects.
Overall, with two years’ intense involvement in rhetorical scholarship, I have learned that in research the process counts as important as the product.  The process helps me grow along with the concept, and gradually ensures the reflection of this growth in everyday professional adventures.  I am equally conscious that the product has the potential for adding some dimensions to the field of scholarship where I have so far trailed and toiled. The work is ongoing. I feel the growth every time I encounter a new rhetorical challenge.
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