Monday, October 4, 2010

Response to Reading Seven

In order to fully understand the consequences of Gutenberg's printing press, one must also explore texts from that era. One Medieval document that seems to especially represent the effects of printing is Boethius's "An Overview of the Structure of Rhetoric."

In the essay "An Overview of the Structure of Rhetoric," Boethius metaphorically compares rhetoric to the scientific method. Being that post-print society was highly concerned with science and fact-based logic, this comparison fit quite well with society's focus. Boethius describes how rhetoric is like a hypothesis, and involves five necessary components. Just as with the steps of the scientific method, a missing element of rhetoric prevents the whole process from working. Boethius explains this, "Rhetoric has five parts: invention, disposition, style, memory, and delivery. They are referred to as parts because if an orator lacks any one of them, then his use of [rhetoric] is imperfect" (489). Boethius's entire argument is laid out logically, with each component of rhetoric building from the last. This organization is highly demonstrative of the printing press's effect on society, as it resulted in a far more analytical culture.

The printing press directly helped to fuel the development of the scientific revolution. While early handwritten documents focused on imagery and aesthetic quality, printed texts were fare more "wordy." The significance of the text was its content, not appearance. This signaled a transition from an imaginative, artistic culture to an analytical one. Audiences became less engaged with the metaphor and flowery language of the past; instead, they sought provable and scientific evidence. Oral tradition was dependent on captivating the audience with eloquent words and stylized delivery, whereas published texts did not have to rely on similar "smoke and mirrors" tactics. Facts could be more easily and effectively distributed through text. Rhetoric, therefore, had to adapt to these new societal needs. The logos of previous centuries evolved from law- and religious-mindedness to scientific approaches. "An Overview of the Structure of Rhetoric" proves an incredible examples of this transition.

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