Towards a formulaic poetics of contemporary public rhetoric: the interpretative processing of platitude and cliche

Full text for this resource is not available from the Research Repository.

Clark, Tom (2007) Towards a formulaic poetics of contemporary public rhetoric: the interpretative processing of platitude and cliche. International Journal of the Humanities, 5 (7). pp. 205-214. ISSN 1447-9508


The Aristotelian tradition of rhetorical commentary has assumed that rhetoric begins with the composer-performer, whose role is prior to that of listeners. Voloshinov (Bakhtin) has called this relationship into question, noting that the grammar with which a listener interprets rhetorical utterances or texts is in an important sense prior to the utterance, and is therefore an influence on performance. The poststructuralist critique of semiotics has problematised both the original formulation and Bakhtin's inversion of it, by focusing on the simultaneous presence of performative and interpretative grammars, and their mutual influence through moments of performance and feedback. Within this theoretical debate, there is an important pragmatic complication. Whereas rhetorical performance is overt and explicitly invites our analytic attentions, interpretation tends to inscrutability. Several approaches to this complication have been attempted, including Voloshinov's reliance on reported speech to reveal 'steadfast social tendencies in an active reception of others' speech' (1986: 117). This paper attempts to reconcile interpretative practice with a research methodology currently under development: the attempt to apply a formulaic poetics approach, derived from twentieth century scholarship around oral-traditional poetry, to the topic and phrase patterns of contemporary public rhetoric. Previous papers have shown this approach's relevance and validity at the rhetorical levels of public performance and journalistic reporting. This paper will show that the approach is also valuable in accounting for the behaviour of audiences.

Item type Article
Official URL
Subjects Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Communication and the Arts
Historical > RFCD Classification > 420000 Language and Culture
Keywords ResPubID12818. rhetoric, politics, spoken performance, poetic formula, semiotics
Download/View statistics View download statistics for this item

Search Google Scholar

Repository staff login