Constructing Meaning the Rhetorical Way

I wish I would have asked myself what my definition of reading is before I read Haas and Flower’s article. Or at least what my strategy for reading is. Do I simply construct knowledge from looking at the words on the page, maybe highlighting what appear to be a few key sentences of content and information? Or, do I read rhetorically, “imagining audience response, acknowledging content, and setting [my] own purposeful goals?” That is, a rhetorical reader takes a text and constructs meaning from it by thinking beyond what is written on the page before her. What are the author’s intentions for me? How does this information relate to my experiences? How do the author’s concepts function outside of the discourse of the topic? These are some strategies a rhetorical reader might utilize when obtaining a richer representation of an author’s work.

I honestly do not know which method I would have said I used, or was closest to using. Haas and Flower’s studies show a strong reason to believe that readers who take purposeful actions while reading to make a representation of the text, are more likely to detect the explicit and implicit intentions of the writer. So certainly I’d hope that when I sit down to read “The Basics of Judicial Review” or “The Moral Reading and the Majoritarian Premise” I read a little deeper than the words on the surface.

Haas and Flower ascertain that a reader can grasp a greater understanding of a book or academic article by transcending merely “figuring out” the content. For example, in my reading of those tremendously entertaining texts I mentioned above, I should be constructing meaning by implementing a tool box of strategies so I can make sense of these esoteric topics. I should be looking at a what the words mean under a greater viewing lens, building a relationship with the author’s purpose and effects of the words she writes.

The parallel between reading and writing in Haas and Flower’s heuristic is that both require us to construct meaning. How we do this creates a divide in the understandings we each come away with from engaging in these disciplines. As a reader, in all honesty I probably would have said that I read by carefully following the lines on the page to remember the most important sentences later, rather than dissecting the author’s points and intertwining them with rhetorical strategies.

As a writer, I want to attempt to incorporate some of Haas and Flower’s findings into my next essay or paper. By thinking deeper about the interrelatedness of my ideas and use my own strategies, not some industry standard, to express myself. Perhaps I can attain a greater ability to construct more persuasive writing by following the concept of rhetoric. In past writing, I think I have begun to do such things. Taking into account the audience I’m addressing and the possible

As I wrote this blog post, I became more and more convinced that I do enlist the help of rhetorical thinking in my writing and reading. Referring back to my first blog post and issues with getting the wheels of a work rolling, I think I am very cognizant of rhetoric. Sometimes I think too deep into a piece–wondering how it will be interpreted by different people, what points, if any, other than the ones I expressly argued will permeate out of my work. Doing so allows me to become better equipped to confront any rebuttals or critiques of my work later, while giving me more confidence in what I am writing prior.

I think the strategy of rhetorical reading and writing emanates out of critical thinking. Looking deeper into the words on the page or your own thoughts as you prepare to write afford the opportunity to build more concrete final products. I can use the same diligent and substantive skills I use to look at others’ writing to become a better writer myself.

2 thoughts to “Constructing Meaning the Rhetorical Way”

  1. I’ve been aware of rhetoric for a long time. I just haven’t thought about it as “rhetoric.” I’ve thought “Oh, this Anne Lamott woman is trying to win us over by using her humor to negate the sometimes stuffy image of writing and make people feel better about it; that’s why writing teachers keep picking her to help give less experienced writers more confidence” (I’d already read it in another class) But honestly, most of my rhetoric thinking about reading happens after I’ve read an article, when I’m thinking about what I’m going to write about it. Would I benefit by doing it more as I read? I don’t know. I think there is something to be said (which Flower and Haas may have ignored in their essay) for waiting till the end until you start making judgments about a piece. I think, like you, I read most rhetorically when I’m reading my own work and searching for any leaks I need to plug, any arguments I need to patch up, anything I can do to bolster my point for a shrewd eyed professor’s approval. I wonder if readers who don’t read as rhetorically, like poor Lara, have weaker papers because they don’t apply these rhetorical readings skills to the editing process. I definitely agree with you that you can use rhetorical thinking to become a better writer.

    Also, one of your questions stuck out to me, “How does this information relate to my experiences?” I was taught to do closed readings, basically reading a piece of text without any historical context or context about the author or where and why it was first published. You were supposed to write in third person only about the text. Now you could put some of your own experience into what you wrote about that piece, but that was mostly experience with biblical and mythic symbols. Two things that really interest most high school students. Perhaps that’s why a 27 year old, almost ten years out of high school, was better posed to read rhetorically because he had time to forget old high school reading conventions.

  2. Reading your post, I began to wonder perhaps in addition to using a variety of reading strategies from the reading tool box, but what if reading comes in stages? What if at first, when we approach a new text, we read it for content, for information, and perhaps pick up some rhetorical features if they’re really prominent. And then, after we’ve gotten the sense of what its about, we can focus more on the words, sentences, punctuation as a whole and get a sense of how they interact with each other–because I feel as if you almost have to get a familiarity with the text so you can look at from an almost bird’s eye view.

    I’ve heard that 60% of verbal communication is body language. But when is the last time you consciously thought, “oh my roommate is crossing his arms now–that’s a defense gesture.” Or “she combined the leg cross with a look to the left–those are signs of boredom.” That never happens. Body language is perceived. You experience it and respond as it affects the dynamic of your conversation. I feel like good rhetoric is the same way. When you’re reading Letter From a Birmingham Jail, you experience the rhetoric as part of the piece. It moves you in conjunction with the content.

    I don’t know–let me know what you think of my theory.

Leave a Reply