Christian Kock, Copenhagen University
There is not one but many ‘rhetorics’. In this paper Christian Kock considers the various uses of the term in the academic world of today. He identifies two basic trends: one is a reduction of rhetoric to a ‘restrained’ doctrine, usually about ‘tropes and figures’, while the other sees rhetoric as – just about everything. Also, he indicates a number of fields that rhetoric has something in common with, and with which it might profitably cooperate. Finally he offers his own answer to the question of what rhetoric is, or should be, as a legitimate academic discipline and program – an answer concluding with a list of ten examples of subjects that invite rhetorical research projects.
Christian Kock (2011) remarks
This paper, like all rhetorical documents, should be seen in its situational context. I was applying, alongside strong competitors, for the Chair in Rhetoric at the University of Copenhagen. I wanted to signal what conception of the discipline I stood for. Rhetoric at Copenhagen offers a full-scale program, turning out a fair number of graduates at the MA level, plus a few Ph.D.’s. Given that, I emphasized the practical aspects of rhetoric as centrally concerned with actual poiesis, not only with specialized research and compehensive theories. I wanted to underline and recommend the way the Copenhagen program unites aspects of the discipline that in American institutions are mostly kept wide apart. I believe a more ’synoptic’ program promotes the usefulness and employability of graduates – very real concerns, and rightly so. Also, I wanted to be explicit about what rhetoric, in my view, is. Colleagues in other fields as well as journalists keep asking about that, or getting it wrong. This is partly because rhetoric has only recently become an academic discipline again, partly because there are several revivals of ’rhetoric’ which actually designate something else. This made me write in a way that was in many cases too sweping. Yet while asserting the legitimacy of rhetoric as a discipline and a useful professional education I also wanted to signal openness to other fields. Hence my emphasis on the ’empirical’ nature of the discipline; there had, I thought, been enough rhetoric which considered venerable doctrines to be sufficiently warranted as such. I think that although rhetoric is traditionally strong in certain areas, much that we also need can best be acquired from contact with others.
About this article
- Part of: Scandinavian Studies in Rhetoric. Rhetorica Scandinavica 1997-2010, Kjeldsen & Grue (eds.), Retorikförlaget Publishers 2011.
- Original Danish: “Retorikkens identitet“, Rhetorica Scandinavica 1 (1997).
- Article pp 40–55
About Christian Kock
Christian Kock is Professor of Professor of Rhetoric at Copenhagen University. His main interests include rhetorical theory and the history of rhetoric.