Oratory in the Age of Obama

A course in rhetoric for the Honors College of Rutgers Camden

Readings and Activities for Thursday, January 21

Posted by William FitzGerald on January 21, 2010


Killingsworth. Appeals in Modern Rhetoric, Preface and Chapter 1.

Video: Address by President Obama at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church (1/10/10): here and here

This first reading introduces the notion of the rhetorical appeal as a site of persuasive activity in both speech and writing. It does so in a way that is not identical with the concept, in classical rhetoric, of the three modes of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. Killingsworth offers a model of speaker, audience and value that forms a conceptual triangle, one whose area may be understood as constituting the ground on which persuasion may take place.

In reflecting on this reading, it is valuable to keep in mind the various ways that people use the word “appeal” to indicate both verbal activity–“I appeal to your good judgment”–and also inherent attraction–a house with ‘curb appeal’ can sell more quickly. To plead as well as to please, as Killingsworth puts it. It’s also important to remember that in this model all manner of appeals are essentially rooted in values. One appeals to (and through) values. All appeals come down to shared or shareable values.

If you work through the clip of President Obama speaking at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church on the Sunday before MLK day (1/10/10), you can see instance upon instance of the President drawing upon all the appeals that are treated in detail in our text and in the course ahead.


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