As part of the Great Teachers lecture series, Peter Simonson, professor of communications at the University of Colorado-Boulder, delivered his speech in the Annenberg Forum on the revival of rhetoric in the twentieth century. Simonson is renowned in his field, publishing multiple books, and has received numerable awards in excellence for undergraduate teaching. He was excited to deliver a speech at the university, as his first doctorate student attended the university.
The question that Simonson was attempting to answer was how rhetoric came to be revived as an intellectual subject in the twentieth century. “Rhetoric had fallen out of fashion,” Simonson said. “It was energetically revived.” He first divided rhetoric, or the art of discourse, into two categories: manifest rhetorical thought and latent rhetorical theory. Many who weren’t communication majors whipped out their phones at this point, lost in the complex theories.
Simonson then discussed the two major players in the revival of rhetoric: Charles Sanders Peirce and Friedrich Nietzsche. “Charles was a marginal character during his lifetime,” he said. Peirce believed that grammar, logic, and rhetoric are the three vital disciplines of education and that rhetoric studied how symbols had an impact on the mind. He argued that rhetoric was a step towards greater understanding. Simonson argued that Peirce was vital in laying the foundation and reconstructing the discipline of rhetoric. Nietzsche was also only recognized for his work after his death, but was antagonistic of Peirce in many ways. Nietzsche believed rhetoric diverted us away from the truth and that “rhetoric is a deconstructive practice.” Simonson chose to focus on Peirce. “It will reflect an optimism in the American character,” he said.
Simonson credits three things towards the revival: mass communication, educational and political projects and field-specific intellectual developments like English, criticism and philosophy. Simonson referenced Hollinger, a philosophical author, frequently. “Hollinger talks about two different strategies: the strategy of knowing and the strategy of artifice,” Simonson explained. Knowing represents the knowledgeable scientists who aren’t optimistic, and the artifice is the “rhetoric as a social practice to create communities to mobilize political ends.”
Culture is also a large part of the revival and revitalization. It combines both artifice and knowing to create diverse communities. Art too is vital to humanity; as Richard McKeon said, “We don’t need to talk about art for art’s sake, but instead art for life’s sake.”
The lecture received mixed reviews. Those who weren’t communications majors were quickly alienated by the complex terms and ideas. “This is dumb,” was whispered from the back row, where 6 people sat on their phones the whole lecture.
Other students disagreed. “It was very interesting,” freshman Brian Kellogg said.
Katie Rodgers, a junior and communications major, had an inside perspective from the lecture as she read Simonson’s books in class and discussed his ideas. Rodgers was the manager of the whole process. “He’s super friendly… he was really cool to work with,” Rodgers said.