Towards a Poetics of Contemporary Public Rhetoric: The Problem of Platitude and Cliche

By:
Dr. Tom Clark
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The public language of political, business, and sports personalities has been heavily criticised in recent years and in many countries. Most criticisms have singled out two features for attention: imprecision and obscurantism. In doing so, many critics have emulated Orwell in identifying platitude and cliché as the phenomenological core of the problem. Such criticisms have also linked a perceived decline in standards or precision and clarity to a more widely noted alienation between public and private spheres, including a decline in the perceived trustworthiness of crucial public institutions.

This paper asks how we may assess the role of platitude and cliché in the process of composing contemporary public rhetoric. It will ask whether these features are necessary components of the grammar of contemporary public language. It proposes that the most appropriate approach to answering such questions is, counterintuitively, to investigate contemporary public rhetoric as a species of poetic composition. Consequently, this paper’s methods of analysis will draw heavily on methods pioneered for the analysis of oral-traditional poetry.


Keywords: Rhetorical poetics, Oral tradition, Politics, Sport, Satire
Stream: Media, Film Studies, Theatre, Communication
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Towards a Poetics of Contemporary Public Rhetoric


Dr. Tom Clark

Lecturer, School of Communication, Culture, and Languages, Victoria University
St Albans, Victoria, Australia

Tom Clark has worked in a range of fields, including political advisory roles and studies in medieval Germanic poetry. He completed his PhD in the Department of English at the University of Sydney, awarded in 2003, which comprised a study of irony in the Old English poem Beowulf. He has published refereed articles on higher education policy, as well as a monograph version of his PhD thesis. He is currently developing a comparative international research project to examine improvised and semi-improvised public language in the fields of sport, politics, and satire.

Ref: H06P0600