My Thoughts on Genung’s Definition of Rhetoric

Genung: “the art of adapting discourse, in harmony with its subject and occasion, to the requirements of a reader or hearer” (The Practical Elements of Rhetoric, 1).

I’m going to leave the science versus art discussion for another time–perhaps even an another author’s definition of rhetoric.

I am also not going to discuss specifically whether rhetoric is discourse or discourse only. That, too, will have to happen some other time.

Instead I am going to move to the adaptation of discourse, in relation to:
topic/content
occasion–as either an event or a time
requirements of the audience

Looking at these in the opposite order, I am going to start with the requirements of the audience.

I like that he defines audience as reader or hearer. There’s not a limitation there to either speech or written compositions. While he does, by word, limit to these two, I think that it would not hurt his definition to expand it to include audiences who see or experience. (Though discourse limits it, perhaps.)

Occasion as we tend to use it means a special event, but it could also simply mean the presentation or publication. Adaptation for the occasion includes the idea of suitability, fit, aptness, or appropriateness. I think that this concept (suitability/fit/aptness/appropriateness) is important to my understanding of good rhetoric–though not necessarily to rhetoric at large. However, his definition seems to remove the the occasion from rhetoric.

Topic or content is not rhetoric, he implies, but is something rhetoric considers. While I wouldn’t want subject matter to be the whole of rhetoric, surely the consideration of content should be included within any description of rhetoric?

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