Two I think of initially: the discourse triangle
– Writer – Reader) and the rhetorical situation (Writer/Speaker – Audience –
Context). Followed by: Aristotle’s: Ethos, Pathos, Logos; Berthoff’s:
Reference, Word, Referent; and my own: Legos, Mentos, Wormholes, and so on. I
made that last one up just now. I’m not convinced that it gets at anything
particularly profound. Heck, it only took a few seconds to think up.
In the past, I’ve used traingular models a time or two for whatever reasons (i.e.,
in a weak moment, deferring to a textbook). I’ve run across a few variants, and
most of them, as well as I can tell, side with one of two teams (been watching the
World Cup?): hermeneutics or meaning-motivated triangles and dramatics or
event-motivated triangles. And when the final whistle blows, they trade jerseys.
I hope you’ll tell me what I’m leaving out.
Here’s the thing: I’ve overheard triangles off-handedly dismissed as only so
much simplistic rubbish (right, of course, there are more thoughtful, respectful
and smart critiques, too). During a few of those triangle bashings, I admit, I
sat by, complicit in my silence. Which should I prefer? Why one? Any?
I briefly looked again at Bitzer’s famous essay early this week and was
reminded that he relies on the troika of exigence, audience and constraints (is
it a generous gloss that this transmodifies into speaker-audience-purpose (or
context)? Or does this last one come from elsewhere still?). Insufficient though
Bitzer’s set may well be, I wonder whether you think they’re suitable as a
beginning model for, say, students in a lower division writing course who have
never heard of rhetoric or who have never considered situation as an object of
study. Given that we’re concerned with a rhetorical situation understood to be a
small slice of a complex ecology of activities and intensities, do you think that
Bitzer’s three terms do justice as a starting point?
Really, what I’m trying to find out is whether you ever use any
triangular model when teaching a writing course. And which one? Why? Go on, be
anonymous with your comments if you wish.