Reflections on Rhetoric
Perhaps no other presidential candidate or sitting president has attracted as much attention from rhetorical critics as Barack Obama. Much of this work was conceived and written during Obama’s initial presidential campaign, or relatively early in his two terms in office. This book provides rhetorical critics an opportunity to revisit their published work on Obama in light of events that have occurred since its publication. In each chapter, these eminent critics begin by summarizing the analysis and conclusions in their original essays on Obama, and then reflect on their previous conclusions, revising or extending them in response to developments since the publication of the original work. The chapters provide a glimpse into the inventional strategies of practicing critics and into some of the ways that that critical insights may evolve over time. Scholars rarely have an opportunity to publish essays that reflect on their own previous work, even though few resources can be of greater use to both beginning critics and to established scholars seeking to continue to hone and reflect on their critical practice. This book, then, makes an important contribution not only to the existing literature on the 44th president of the United States, but also and perhaps most significantly to the study of the art and craft of rhetorical criticism.
Chapter Four: Obama’s Rhetoric of Myth and Reason (Robert C. Rowland)
c h a p t e r f o u r Obama’s Rhetoric OF Myth AND Reason ROBERT C. ROWLAND The University of Kansas Obama’s Rhetoric of Myth and Reason Robert C. Rowland One of the themes that dominated late 20th and early 21st century rhetorical theory and criticism is the failure of Enlightenment reason to fulfill human needs and, therefore, the importance of turning to narrative forms, especially myth, to provide meaning. This viewpoint is reflected in the sharp criticism of technical reason by Kenneth Burke and William Barrett and more recently by postmodern theorists and critics.1 Barrett’s book Time of Need built a strong argument that technical reason by itself could not provide people the meaning they needed.2 A similar theme was evident in the work of rhetorical scholars whose primary focus was on narrative forms of rhetoric. Walter Fisher’s work was transformative because he claimed that the narrative paradigm could do what technical reason could not, both provide transcendent meaning and a means of making sensible choices through the “logic of good reasons.”3 The renaissance in mythic criticism that began with the work of Michael McGuire and then continued with that of Janice Hocker Rushing and others similarly focused on the unique capacity of myth to produce transcendence.4 Given the sharp distinction drawn by many scholars between myth and rational argument, I’ve reflected on why the disjunction between reason and myth is totally absent in my scholarship on the rhetoric of President Barack Obama. On the...
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