It is…distinctly possible that it was a mistake to read these articles right after sitting through the travesty (nudge nudge, wink wink) that was the opening presidential debate. At any rate, the first thing I thought as I read both introductions is that rhetoricians (or critics; to be honest I can’t tell which Bitzer and Vatz are supposed to be) overthink this stuff way. Too. Much.
Now if I’m being honest, I know that’s not really fair. The nature of rhetorical discussion and analysis means that it grows by thinking about it, and talking about it. The essays basically testify to that; Bitzer has one notion of how rhetoric develops, and in response to that, Vatz proposes another. But that doesn’t mean that it’s all new or exciting stuff.
Bitzer points out that “no major theorist has treated rhetorical situation thoroughly as
a distinct subject in rhetorical theory; many ignore it,” at which I thought, “well yeah, because the rhetorical situation is implied; everyone already knows it’s there.” No, I suppose that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a theory on rhetorical situation(there’s one for everything else, so why not?). But also, no, Bitzer, you have not demonstrated that the question is not an idle one, just that you’re the first person to put time into it.
I thought I was going to side with Vatz, until I realized that he was going to turn it into his own rhetorical theory. Still, it holds some interest because it’s a showcase of a “genesis” of rhetorical theory: someone has a question—whether it’s genuinely contributory, or just desperate is open to debate—and probes the issue, forming their own answer, and someone else probes—again, actually offering something, or just desperate to contribute? Who knows—that and finds a different answer. In the end I do sit firmly on Vatz’s side, in the sense that I think situations are rhetorical, though I felt that was obvious from the opening lines of Bitzer’s paper.