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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Toward a rhetoric of reading Brent, Douglas Allan


Rhetoric is a process not only of persuasion but also of socially constructing knowledge. A rhetorical model of reading accounts for the role of reading in this epistemic process by expanding the canon of invention to explain not just how one can find arguments but also how, through being persuaded by the texts one reads, one can invent the propositions that one wishes to argue. Thus it complements theories of rhetorical production with a theory of rhetorical consumption. The model combines the insights of traditional and modern rhetoric, reader-response literary theory and discourse processing theories of comprehension. Reading is described as a constructive process guided by the reader's prior knowledge and values (his repertoire) and by the matrix of questions that he wishes to ask of the text (the rhetorical situation). However, to be rhetorical, reading must not be fully free; the writer must be able to predict the reader's response. This predictive ability results from the public, shared meanings of words, from commonalities among discourse communities, and from the expectation that the reader will attempt to build a coherent, unified interpretation. Rhetorical reading also involves judging which elements of which texts to accept into one's own belief system. This process is accounted for by an expanded notion of the three rhetorical pisteis: logos, pathos and ethos. The concept of the enthymeme is adapted to describe how readers find logical connections between the new perspectives presented by texts and their own prior knowledge (doxai). The reader may also be persuaded by emotional connections (pathos) and by her response to the writer's implied character (ethos). The critical potential of the model is illustrated by an analysis of an intertextual dialogue concerning the value of James Kinneavy's taxonomy of discourse. The model provides terms of reference that highlight the ways in which the participants in the dialogue construct and judge Kinneavy's and each others' works. "Rhetorical reading can also inform composition pedagogy, notably the teaching of the research paper, by providing an account of mature performance.

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