Carter, Michael. “The Role of Invention in Belletristic Rhetoric: A Study of the Lectures of Adam Smith.” RSQ: Rhetoric Society Quarterly 18 1 (1988): 3-13. Print.

  • Adam Smith’s contribution to rhetoric included the first unification of belles letters and rhetoric and his role as Hugh Blair’s teacher while in the Scottish provinces.
  • Carter defines belletristic rhetoric thusly: “a study of the common ground shared by classical rhetoric and belles letters: taste, style, criticism, and forms of discourse, usually studied through works of literature, including drama, poetry, history, and biography” (3).
  • According to Carter, belletristic rhetoric – because of its emphasis on both rhetoric and poetics – deemphasized invention and concentrated its efforts on arrangement and style.
  • In this article Carter considers Smith’s taxonomy of the forms of discourse.  In so doing he argues that though this system posits an equal relation between rhetoric and poetics it actually prefigures the subordination of rhetoric to poetics and the subsequent subordination of invention to style and arrangement.  Afterward he demonstrates how the belletristic articulation of the rhetorical canons of arrangement and style actually derive their legitimacy and method from the canon of invention.
  • Carter finds it remarkable that Smith’s description of Belletristic rhetoric actually unites classical rhetoric, common-sense philosophy (scientific discourse), and the semi-classical discourse of the belletristic movement (7).  Yet the division between rhetoric and poetics actually diminished rhetorics importance as it was seen primarily as a oral art, not written.  This predilection for the written is also demonstrated through his choice of examples: for oratory he used the classics, for belletristic (written) he used more modern writers like Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton.  Further, his classification of rhetoric as “persuasive” dilienated it to the same subordinate position that Plato outlined between rhetoric and dialectic – charging it with a sophistic quality that was unbecoming to truth/beauty.
  • Smith’s discussion of style – the most important rhetorical canon for Belletristic rhetoric – actually incorporated another inventional aspect: ethos.  In the Aristotelian sense, ethos was instrumental to the creation of a good argument (dependent on audience and conveyed not through reputation but through the act of arguing itself).  Smith takes the concept of ethos and ties it directly to style, subsuming the inventive aspects into a formal quality of a rhetorical artifact (11).

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