Lyon, Arabella. "Rhetoric and Hermeneutics." Perspectives on Rhetorical
Invention. Eds. Janet Atwill and Janice Lauer. Knoxville, Tenn.: Univ. of
Tennessee P, 2002. 36-52.
Lyon works at the intersection of rhetoric and hermeneutics in an
effort to make sense of the relationship between the two concepts. To
weigh the terms and explore their interrelationship, she uses invention
as a fulcrum. Rhetoric and hermeneutics, Lyon explains, both can be
thought inventive, but they are not equal terms with respect to invention.
Lyon is concerned that "[b]y turning toward interpretation and away from
production and making, rhetoricians have diminished the place of rhetoric as an
action in the world" (36). With this, Lyon makes a strong argument for the
inventive orientation of rhetoric the must not be lost with turns to rhetorical
criticism, hermeneutic invention, or rhetorical reading. Hermeneutics and
rhetoric are "not the same project" (37).
Lyon attributes one explanation of the interpretive renewal in traditional
rhetoric to Dilip Gaonkar and Michael Leff who "draw attention to the
relationship between interprettion and agency" (39), keeping them separate
rather than working to harmonize them. Next, Lyon sets out to examine two
treatments of the relationship between hermeneutics and rhetoric: one she
regards favorably by Hans-Georg
Gadamer and one she regards skeptically by Steven Mailloux. Gadamer reserves
some distinctions between hermeneutics and rhetoric; toward a "philosophical
hermeneutics" he says they are "interdependent" and they "work synergistically"
(40). Lyon explains Gadamer’s stance: "Hermeneutics is a re-vision of an earlier
production, an earlier invention. Hence, hermeneutics is dependent on what is
said or written. There is a crucial rhetorical event (invention) priotr to
Mailloux, on the other hand, defines rhetoric in such a way that "emphasizes
the cultural effects of and response to a text and ignores the rhetor’s activity
of purposeful production" (42). Lyon takes exception with Mailloux’s discussion
of how interpretation works, particularly for his mention of "translation" and
"transformation" (42c). She contends that by collapsing rhetoric and
hermeneutics, Mailloux’s approach glosses significant distinctions between
the two concepts as it relies on a logic that slides from hermeneutics to
rhetoric: "hermeneutics is argument is rhetoric." This risks reducing rhetorical
theory to "linguistic situations" alone (45c).
Continuing, Lyon discloses a preference for keeping hermeneutics and rhetoric
distinct. She examines three interpretive-productive modes to attenuate
the distinctions: rhetorical invention, hermeneutical invention, and
rhetorical reading. Rhetorical invention applies to a certain contextual
novelty (not wholly made up because of the accruals of language), whereas
hermeneutical invention is much more closely aligned with paraphrasing.
Hermeneutical invention, like rhetorical reading, is "a mediation" (48d,
Finally, Lyon reasserts what is useful from Gadamer’s nuanced stance on the
subtle distinctions between hermeneutics and rhetoric. Gadamer’s fusing of
horizons allows for prejudice, for bias, for the ways texts act on us and
infiltrate us, as "the text becomes part of our being" (50). Lyon calls for
caution over allowing interpretive modes to detract from rhetorical invention:
"Rhetoric’s increasing affiliation with textual reception, specifically
Gadamer’s hermeneutics, while increasing concern with discourse and text,
potentially diminishes many aspects of textual production and rhetoric" (50).
- Consider the ways hermeneutics, particularly philosophical hermeneutics,
might tie in with "wonder" as a shared dimension of invention (from
- Lyon’s critique of Mailloux’s use of "translation" considers translation
as discursive/discursive or linguistic/linguistic, but never
discursive/extra- or non-discursive, never linguistic/visual. I
don’t mean that this is the sort of translation Mailloux considers, either,
but it does seem to be one limitation of the critique. How would the
hermeneutics/rhetorics discussion shift if production,
translation/mediation, and interpretation were opened to encompass
non-discursive forms as would be necessary to carry this over to the
"I believe the concept of invention allows us to begin to separate
hermeneutics from rhetoric; moreover, this process of differentiation shows both
where rhetorical invention lies and how inventive rhetorical invention can be"
"My point here, that rhetoric and hermeneutics both engage processes of
production and reception, is not controversial. The controversies turn on the
extent to which each is characterized by production and reception and the degree
to which any type of production or reception is similar in the context of rhetor
and audience purposes." (43).
"Hermeneutics is a theory not about the effect on an audience, but about the
truth-seeking approach of an educated interpreter" (44).
"Hermeneutics may require an argument; interpretation does not" (45).
"Furthermore, I suspect one can make too easy an argument for rhetorical
situation as encompassing more than linguistic situations, starting with the
example of the Titanic and working up to armed robberies and bad dates" (45).
"It is my belief that we learn more about the concepts and our practices from
the difficult task of differentiating hermeneutics and rhetoric than from that
of collapsing them" (46).
"In Gadamerian hermeneutics, the interpreter stops interrogating and
manipulating the text and allows the text to interrogate our prejudices and
intentions and finally to be applied in our present situation" (49).
"The point of hermeneutical invention is to produce a new position for the
Terms: rhetoric, invention, hermeneutics, Gadamer, Mailloux, interpretation,
reading, theory, discourse, mediation, language, audience, production,
reception, translation, transformation, understanding, horizon, wonder
- Related sources:
- Gadamer, Hans-Georg. "Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and the Critique of Ideology:
Metacritical Comments on Truth and Method." The Hermeneutics Reader. Ed.
Kurt Mueller-Vollmer. New York: Continuum, 1992. 274-92.
- Mailloux, Steven. "Articulation and Understanding: The Pragmatic Intimacy
Between Rhetoric and Hermeneutics." Rhetoric and Hermeneutics in Our Time: A
Reader. Ed. Walter Jost and Michael Hyde. Princeton: Yale UP, 1997. 378-94.
- Mailloux, Steven. Rhetorical Power. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1989.