More on Bitzer

19 Mar

After our spirited discussion in class this morning, I re-looked at the text of “Functional Communication” and noticed I had left out part of Bitzer’s definition on factual conditions. Here is his definition, in its entirety: “By a factual condition I mean any set of things, events, relations, ideas, meanings — anything physical or mental — whose existence is (or is thought to be) independent of one’s personal subjectivity.” [my emphasis]

Does having that “(or is thought to be)” make a difference in how you understand factual conditions? I think that phrase may help resolve some of the issues we were discussing in class today, in terms of what makes something a “fact.”

Ultimately factual conditions bring us back to the importance of strong logos appeals — the facts of your exigence are fueled in part by the research you do, how you interpret/present that data to your audience, and how you well construct the problem/issue at root in your speech.

That said, Bitzer has been long accused of not using words precisely in his theories — if anyone is interested in finding out more about the critiques of Bitzer’s rhetorical situation, look up the articles written by Richard Vatz. His two articles that critique Bitzer are “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation” (1973) and “The Mythical Status of Situational Rhetoric” (2009).

EDIT: After more thinking on this issue, the main point you should take away from Bitzer’s article (and our discussion of it) is to understand how agreement/disagreement on facts + interests help you, the speaker, position a topic to your audience.

If your audience disagrees with how you’ve interpreted the data as the facts of your exigence, it’s less likely they’ll be open to embracing the exigence that prompted your speech. Likewise, if the audience doesn’t value the interests you’ve connected the facts to, they will probably not be responsive. Look back to the speeches you’ve given, and try to determine if you always had your audience in agreement with you on the facts + interests, or if one of the areas were not as strong.

Finally, another quote from Bitzer that will hopefully provide more clarification on what we discussed today: “The rhetor […] will awaken [the audience] to the reality of the exigence by providing a representation of the factual condition that evokes or engages the required interest.”


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