presence (rhetoric)

Barack Obama holding a microphone and giving a speech.

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In rhetoric and argumentation, the choice to emphasize certain facts and ideas over others in order to secure the attention of an audience.

Through presence, "we establish the real," Louise Karon says in "Presence in The New Rhetoric." This effect is primarily evoked "through techniques of style, delivery, and disposition" (Philosophy and Rhetoric, 1976).

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca write that presence 'is an essential factor in argumentation and one that is far too much neglected in rationalistic conceptions of reasoning.' The presence of a fact or an idea is almost a sensory experience rather than a purely rational one; 'presence,' they write, 'acts directly on our sensibility.'
    "Thus, in argumentation a rhetor seeks to bring his or her audience to the point of seeing the relevant facts, or experiencing the truthfulness of an idea. . . . Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca share Gorgias' and the humanists' intrigue with rhetoric's power to direct thought, particularly rhetoric in the control of a skilled rhetorician. But their confidence in argumentation as a rational foundation of discourse is decidedly stronger than was Gorgias'."
    (James A. Herrick, The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction, 3rd ed. Allyn and Bacon, 2005)
  • Two Aspects of Presence
    "For Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (1969), achieving presence is a rule that guides the process of selection; we choose words, phrases, figurative images, and other discursive strategies to either (a) make something absent 'present' to our audience or (b) increase the presence of something that has already been brought to the audience's attention. An example of the latter sense would be the way in which an orator, in a patriotic Fourth of July oration during the 19th century, would try to increase the presence of the spirit of the founding fathers.
    "These two aspects of presence are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they frequently overlap. An advocate might begin by trying to make something present to an audience and then work to increase the presence of that item (whatever that might be). As Murphy (1994) noted, the idea of presence is a conceptual metaphor; when presence is achieved, what initially was absent 'almost seems to be in the room' with the audience."
    (James Jasinski, Sourcebook on Rhetoric. Sage, 2001)
  • Presence and Figurative Language
    "The very choice of giving presence to some elements instead of others implies their importance and pertinence to the discussion and acts directly on our sensibility, as illustrated by a Chinese parable: 'A king sees an ox on its way to sacrifice. He is moved to pity for it and orders that a sheep be used in its place. He confesses he did so because he could see the ox but not the sheep.'
    "Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca relate presence to the function of certain rhetorical figures. Leaving the customary classifications of rhetorical figures, they discuss the argumentative effects of figures. One effect is to increase presence. The simplest figures for doing this are those depending on repetition, for instance, anaphora, or interpretatio (the explanation of one expression by another--not so much for clarification as to increase the feeling of presence)."
    (Marie Lund Klujeff, "Provocative Style: The Gaarder Debate Example." Rhetorical Citizenship and Public Deliberation, ed. by Christian Kock and Lisa S. Villadsen. Penn State Press, 2012)
  • Presence in Jesse Jackson's 1988 Convention Speech*
    "Tonight in Atlanta, for the first time in this century, we convene in the South; a state where Governors once stood in school house doors; where Julian Bond was denied a seal in the State Legislature because of his conscientious objection to the Vietnam War; a city that, through its five Black Universities, has graduated more Black students than any city in the world. Atlanta, now a modern intersection of the new South.
    "Common ground! That's the challenge of our party tonight. Left wing. Right wing.
    "Progress will not come through boundless liberalism nor static conservatism, but at the critical mass of mutual survival--not at boundless liberalism nor static conservatism, but at the critical mass of mutual survival. It takes two wings to fly. Whether you're a hawk or a dove, you're just a bird living in the same environment, in the same world.
    "The Bible teaches that when lions and lambs lie down together, none will be afraid and there will be peace in the valley. It sounds impossible. Lions eat lambs. Lambs sensibly flee from lions. Yet even lions and lambs will find common ground. Why? Because neither lions nor lambs can survive nuclear war. If lions and lambs can find common ground, surely we can as well--as civilized people.
    "The only time that we win is when we come together. In 1960, John Kennedy, the late John Kennedy, beat Richard Nixon by only 112,000 votes--less than one vote per precinct. He won by the margin of our hope. He brought us together. He reached out. He had the courage to defy his advisers and inquire about Dr. King's jailing in Albany, Georgia. We won by the margin of our hope, inspired by courageous leadership.
    "In 1964, Lyndon Johnson brought wings together--the thesis, the antithesis, and the creative synthesis--and together we won.
    "In 1976, Jimmy Carter unified us again, and we won. When do we not come together, we never win.
    "In 1968, the vision and despair in July led to our defeat in November. In 1980, rancor in the spring and the summer led to Reagan in the fall.
    "When we divide, we cannot win. We must find common ground as the basis for survival and development and change and growth.
    "Today when we debated, differed, deliberated, agreed to agree, agree to disagree, when we had the good judgment to argue a case and then not self-destruct, George Bush was just a little further away from the White House and a little closer to private life.
    "Tonight I salute Governor Michael Dukakis. He has run a well-managed and a dignified campaign. No matter how tired or how tried, he always resisted the temptation to stoop to demagoguery. . . ."
    (Reverend Jesse Jackson, speech at the Democratic National Convention, July 19, 1988)
    * In the presidential election of November 1988, incumbent Vice President George H.W. Bush (Republican) handily defeated Governor Michael Dukakis (Democrat).
  • The Effects of Presence and the Suppression of Presence
    "[Charles] Kauffman and [Donn] Parson [in "Metaphor and Presence in Argument," 1990] make the . . . important point . . . that the suppression of presence can have a persuasive effect. They show that metaphors with and without energeia can be used systematically, on the one hand, to alarm, and on the other, to dampen, public anxieties. For example, using metaphors with energeia, President Reagan speaks of 'antique' Titan missiles that leave the United States 'naked' to attack; he depicts the Soviet Union as an 'Evil Empire' led by 'monsters.' On the other hand, using metaphors without energeia, General Gordon Fornell creates an antipresence designed to sidestep public anxiety in the interest of further weapons procurement. 'The current Soviet ICBM force of 1,398 missiles, of which over 800 are SS-17, SS-18, and SS-19 ICBMs, represents a dangerous countermilitary asymmetry which must be corrected in the near term' (99-100; emphasis mine). The systematic use of such colorless metaphors increases adherence by dampening what might otherwise be legitimate anxieties."
    (Alan G. Gross and Ray D. Dearin, Chaim Perelman. SUNY Press, 2003)
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Nordquist, Richard. "presence (rhetoric)." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). presence (rhetoric). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "presence (rhetoric)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).