Culture in Ancient India and china by Robert Oliver—Chapter 1: Culture and Rhetoric

In Chapter 1 of Communication and Culture in Ancient India and china, Robert Oliver attempts to explain the manner in which these cultures talked–“how they addressed one another, under what circumstances, on what topics, in what varied styles, with what intent, and with what effects” (3)–as expressed in communication theories articulated in classical philosophies and in life styles of their societies. Oliver argues that as we begin to locate” rhetorics of the East,” we need to create ways of identifying and depicting these rhetorical practices in ways that make sense to Western minds without denying its unique, essential character (11).

Thomas Mann in MAGIC MOUNTAIN–“speech is civilization itself. The word, even the most contradictory word, preserves contact–it is silence which isolates” (2).

Questions Addressed:

“How have Asians conceived the problems of communication? What significance have they conceived he problems of communication? What significance have they conceived the problems of communication? What significance have they attached to barriers which impede it? By what means and in what contexts have they considered such questions? What sorts of communication systems—nonverbal as well as verbal—have they conceived? What theories and practices have they fostered? How have they institutionalized communication beyond the boundaries of talk?” (3)

Key Quotes:

The standards of rhetoric in the West which have had a unitary development since their identification by Aristotle are not universals. They are expressions of Western culture, applicable within the context of Western cultural values….Any attempt to discover in Asia prototypes of the Western rhetorical canons would be unavailing. It would resemble trying to measure the salinity of water with a ruler” (3).

“What happens when we try to understand a set of meanings in another culture is, to use world coined by Gregory Bateson, schizmeogenetic,” mening in effect, that one difference creates another. Strangeness begets strangness” (5).

“The necessity of accepting differences not as barriers to understanding but as invitations to inquiry, and even to new modes or channels of investigation, is especially pertinent for a study of ancient Asian rhetoric” (6).

“Plato’s injunction to’discover the type of speech appropriate to each nature’ is indeed a rhetorical universal. But his insistance upon ‘knowing the truth about the subject,’ and thence proceeding to ‘isolate it in definition’ and ‘to divide it into kinds’ is based upon a particular view of the nature of truth and a particular concept of psychology” (8)

“In the West rhetoric has been considered to be so important that it has had to be explored and delineated separately, as a special field of knowledge about human relations. In the East, rhetoric has been considered so important that it could not be separated from the remainder of human knowledge. Asian thinkers have consistently seen rhetoric as being inseparably interconnected with problems of ethics, psychology, politics, and social relations” (10).


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