Keith Grant-Davie’s Piece on Rhetoric

If you’ve glanced at all at the other posts about Keith Grant-Davie, you’ll know that not unlike his name, the article is heavy. It felt almost like a tongue twister and a mind melter trying to sift through everything he was trying to say. I think it was mostly confusing because he kept quoting and name dropping while also adding in his own arguments.

Nonetheless, here are the top 3 key points I think are important about his analysis of the rhetor and rhetoric:

1. “Writers who know how to analyze these situations have a better method of examining causality. They have a stronger basis for making composing decisions and are better able, as readers, to understand the decisions other writers have made.”

– Here I think it’s great that he summarizes exactly why you should even care about rhetoric analysis. If you know more about rhetoric, and in turn causality, you will basically be a better writer. He says it in a lot more words, but you should keep reading his article if you want to be a better writer and reader. He also wraps up the conclusion by saying that teaching student readers and writers to analyze rhetorical situations helps them to find their style and their role in the writing world.

2. “the four constituents I see in rhetorical situations: exigence, rhetors, audiences, and constraints”

– Keith Grant-Davie believes there are four rhetorical situations and while he goes deeper into all of them for the rest of the paper, what is key is that these are the ones that exist to him. You should know that these four are what he believes create the situation or add to the situation of a piece of writing. (I’m not sure if it was just me, but I had to Google what exigence meant…) Either way, he makes a pretty compelling argument for why he believes each constituent is important and convinces me at least.

3. “The rhetor’s sense of exigence, when communicated successfully to the audience, can become a positive constraint, a factor that helps move the audience toward the rhetor’s position.”

– This one’s the kicker. He just threw all four constituents into one sentence. It doesn’t get more clear than this. Through all of his jumbled jargon and quotes and analysis, this is the one sentence that combines it all. He wants us to care because the point of (most) writing is to get someone else to care about something you care about or to convey some sort of feeling, message, policy, etc. When it comes to being a convincing writer, he displays, quite literally with this sentence, that all four constituents matter.

—Sorry this was so long.

Say What You Mean. Mean What You Say.


“So, what are you trying to say?”

This phase has been uttered far too many times in the history of phase uttering. Why can’t everyone just understand what everyone else means? (Do you understand?) What’s wrong with a little clarity in our lives? And besides, mystery is SO overrated.

But what if all the misunderstanding is due to our reading inadequacies? Christina Haas and Linda Flower make a case for the weight of “rhetorical reading” and, in turn, meaning construction (“Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the Construction of Meaning,” 1988).  The piece addresses rhetoric from the lens of the reader, the person whose eyes stream across the page picking up language and turning it into meaning. The authors argue that the way in which readers read varies across experience levels as they employ techniques to make that meaning. They also claim that a reader must read for purpose, motivation, intended audience and a foundation of deeper understanding as opposed for “merely an information exchange.”

We’ve been drilled through grade school, almost as if our hands write and our eyes read like puppets on the end of an instructor’s string. What’s really interesting is that our minds are the true pieces of value, according to the authors. It’s what we believe and interpret that’s important, not simply what we see and regurgitate.

Frankly, I’ve never been so meta with my own meaning making before. I would never think twice when constructing my thoughts on a Boxcar Children chapter book, TIME column, E:60 short documentary, etc. Was I thinking original thoughts or thoughts that the author intended me to think? Was it me they were targeting or was I a new sector of audience intruding with interpretation? I don’t have any answers, but I do have a new perspective from which to view.

So, do you get what I’m trying to say?

A Rather Meta Post

This essay reminded me of modern art, which is a reference I don’t always make positively. Haas and Flower argue that meaning is constructed from texts by reader. With modern art, the meaning is largely constructed by the viewer as well; that’s what makes something beautiful. The picture of a picture below could just be splotches of paint on paper or this piece could be about the process and breaking the rules of painting and questioning the role of the artist. More radically, it could be both. Maybe it’s neither.

Kazuo Shiraga- Painting With His Feet

Back to writing, my problem with Modern Art as with my problem with Reading as Construct is that it implies if someone thinks a work is bad, it is merely because they don’t appreciate it. It is on the reader, not the writer to convey meaning. For example, Kara, one of the test subjects mentioned by Haas and Flowers, thought a piece of work was confusing; does that mean she is a bad reader or does that mean that the piece of work was actually confusing? I do admit that in Kara’s case, it was her inexperience, not a lack of clarity in the work that caused her to think the piece was confusing. Still, I feeling like meaning in a piece of writing is created by both the reader and the writer. The writer must lay down a solid foundation, even if its a complicated an many layered one for the reader to build on first. Rhetorical readers seem to make the best buildings, able to incorporate their experience, context and other factors into their constructs, rather than merely summarizing for information. This kind of skill or action is one I normally associate with writing. When I write, I try to put in as little summary as possible and focus on interpretation and context. I’ve never thought to apply it to reading before now. This makes the line between the two a little thinner in my mind.

An important feature of a piece of work, which Haas and Flower mostly ignored, perhaps on purpose, is the intentionality of the writer in a piece. This is not necessarily the thesis but rather the goals of the piece. What impression is the writer trying to give the reader? What does the writer want the reader to think about them and their subject matter? What does the writer do to try to make the reader see as they see? What do the writer’s intentions discernible from this piece say about the writer. For example, when I was reading this piece I noticed that they use off phrases like “complex rhetorical model”, and  “discourse acts”, academic-style terms not fully defined.  These word choices means they are not writing for readers like Kara. They are mostly likely writing for other teachers. Writing in this formal style, referencing research in various fields and capitalizing on words like “rhetorical”, gives me the impression that they want the reader to think they’re authorities. It is their intention to put forth a piece that convinces you that their way of thinking is right -teaching rhetorical reading is critical for making better thinkers, readers and writers and thus should be implemented. There is nothing wrong about with their efforts; all writers need to establish some kind of authority to make them worth reading and have some kind of argument, preferably a goal, too.  Thinking about the writer’s intentions as more than just the information they wish to convey is important, especially when dealing with sources that are not university academics but bloggers, especially political pundits and those who have an agenda. Through reading, it is possible to  see a person through his or her writing.