Tag Archives: Gorgias

“Speech is a Powerful Lord” Johnstone

In this article, Johnstone confirms Gorgia’s assertions about the magical effects of oratory rhetoric in ENCOMIUM OF HELEN with evidence from contemporary research in pscyho-phisiology.  After presenting research positing that (as Gorgias understood and articulated) oral langauge has cognitive and emotional effects on a listener, and thus, psychological power, Johnstone concludes with a couple of claims that raise questions related to disability studies.  Johnstone writes that we would to well to sustain Gorgias’ belief that “the persuasive power of logos cannot be understood apart from the sounds of speech….spoken rhetoric has been an embodied art, its practice inseperable from the voice that utters it” (12).  I appreciate Johnstone’s attempts to emphasize the power of spoken rhetoric, for presentation and delivery to contribute in significant ways to how rhetoric is both produced and consumed.  I wonder, however, about the implicatons of Johnstone’s claims for the hearing impaired or persons with other disabilities who cannot hear the power of which Gorgias and Johnstone speak.  If we embrace the notion that the persuasive power of logos cannot be seperated from sound, utterance, etc., then does that mean that those without ability to hear cannot experience the power of spoken rhetoric.  Does that mean that logos can only be expressed through the spoken word?  I agree with Johnstone in that we should be acutely aware of the power voice plays in spoken rhetoric.  I do wonder though if we often give too much credit to voice in spoken rhetoric.  What role does body language play in the persuasive power of spoken rhetoric?  Can we seperate logos from body language?  Most associate the ability to reason with the ability to verbally articulate reason, yet don’t we make logical appeals through other means than the voice?  While it is certainly useful to focus our research on the emotional and cognitive effects of the spoken word, it would behoove us to begin researching the emotional and cognitive affects of body language employed in oral rhetoric.  This research would deepen our understanding of the pyschological effects of oral rhetoric articulated through the body, but perhaps more importantly, it would deepen our understanding of how those with certain disabilities both persuade and are persuaded through logical appeals in ways previously not understood.

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