Quendahl, Ellen. “Aristotle’s Rhetoric;  Reinterpreting Invention.” Rhetoric Review 4.2 (Jan. 1986).

Quendahl makes the claim early on in this piece that we must read the Rhetoric against the grain, dismissing the tradition of philosophy that has marginalized it into a philosophy of logic of argument or taxonomies of discourse; further, we must resist also reading Rhetoric as divorced from questions of language and style.  To ensure this sort of reading doesn’t occur, Quendahl argues that we must read back through ancient texts and treatises like Aristotle’s Rhetoric with a working knowledge and application of contemporary theory of his time.  For the purposes of this article, Q. argues that the common topoi are actually not merely a collection of devices for invention.  Instead she argues that the topoi are part of a broader theory of interpretation rooted in the composing process.  In conducting this argument, Q. hopes to inform pedagogy and reorient composing towards acts of reading (128).

Q. identifies five terms that demonstrate the emphasis of Aristotle’s Rhetoric: dialectic, proof, demonstration, enthymeme, and topic.  She goes on to claim that Aristotle was actually searching for some sort of theory that describes the method of making rhetorical arguments rather than a simple replication of philosophically useful statements.  As Q. notes, “he shifted his gaze not from embellishment to matter, but to the manner of addressing the questions at hand” (130).

Moving on, Q. highlights how rhetoric shares a couple of characteristics with other disciplines: 1) aporiai – the difficult questions or subjects that require deliberation; and 2) dynamis – reasoning in rhetoric and dialectic are responsible to this quality – a quality of possibility or at least the idea that truth is constituted in language, in discourse about contingent or debatable matters.  On topoi Q. notes that they are usually taken up as heuristic in the canon of invention.  Next she argues that the word “element” is the same as “topic.”  Working through some ancient Greek definitions of the word “element,” Q. concludes that the word element actually operates as a point of departure (in her example the topic “opposition” is the element) . . . thus meaning that the topics were sites of departure for the interpretive (not invention) process.  Q. then argues that Aristotle studied the topics not only as a theory of interpretive strategies but as forms of performance and power in specific contexts (135).  What this means is that they topoi are not places to look for arguments, commonplaces, or set premises; rather, they are actually elements of interpretation (or meaning-making) that are embedded in commonplaces and in figures of speech and thought.

Useful stuff:

1.      Purpose of topoi: to discover a method by which we shall be able to reason from generally accepted opinions about any problem set before us (how to explore and clarify terms).


1.      Does Q.’s argument rest on the idea that the process of invention isn’t at all a hermeneutic endeavor?  If so, I think you can make an argument that invention is an intensely interpretive action.  In other words, I don’t think Q. is making a very useful or accurate distinction about what it means to do invention.  Toward the end of the article, Q. notes that she’s not entirely sure why the process of invention has been divorced (by lit crits) from the process of interpretation.

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