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Reconsidering Obama

Reflections on Rhetoric

Series:

Robert E. Terrill

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.

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Chapter Four: Obama’s Rhetoric of Myth and Reason (Robert C. Rowland)

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chapter four

Obama’s Rhetoric of Myth and Reason

Robert C. Rowland

The University of Kansas

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

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