Spatial Rhetoric and Rhetorical Space—Silence or Articulation? Violence or Harmony? Lets’ Talk: A Reflection on Michael de Certeau’s “Walking in the City”

When I first looked at the syllabus at the beginning of the semester, I thought contemporary rhetorical theory and literary theory are parallels. Therefore, there should not be a “lower division” at all in our department. Because they are equals, not higher or lower, just they functions in different ways. However, now I think rhetoric more powerful because it directly encourages action and change. Imagine how long takes one to read a piece of literature and than changes his or her mind. Just how much a live speech will be powerful to move the audience into quick actions. This is so true when I look at the title of de Certeau’s book “The Rhetoric of Everyday Life,” for if you read literature, it take that much time for you to ponder what the novel or literary work can do in real life space.

The spatial turn seems a sub category under the big umbrella of postmodern turn. However, it helps us in understanding the physicality or the materiality of our life and the way our surroundings unbound or constrains us. The very act of walking as mentioned in “Walking in the City” (91) is metaphorical because it shows how our daily actions can transform places into spaces. The word “city” is already loaded with meaning (93). City of consumption, of sin, of violence, of struggle, of spiritual poverty, of destruction of the natural environment, and so on? The idea of Erasmus is quite appealing now that Medieval rhetoric is brought to a new focus. The postmodern era seems a digital afterlife of the Middle Ages. Why not “Waking in the village”? Why “walking,” not “speaking,” “acting,” “living,” and so on(97-99)? The act of walking is often forgotten, the traces of people’s life left into a voidness that should not be neglected (97). This remapping of memories, of traces of life itself is a rhetorical act in space.

The most powerful rhetoric in de Certeau to me, is that he emphasizes agencies’ role in reappropriating spaces into whatever they are not intended for (102-107). Here lies the significance of change and the manipulation of meaning by the audience rather than the writer or producer. We are living in a rhetorical space where we can create our own spatial rhetoric no matter what the original expectation of the space designer intended. This reminds me of various public spheres as spaces where changes can be made, not merely in the city, city being the most intense symbol of consumer society though. For instance, as what we discussed in today’s class, pulpits. Changes have already taken place in some churches where women can stand on the pulpits and preach. Some of the pulpits even has visual, digital, and even rock and roll live concert elements for younger and fashionable church goers. I went to the Buckhead Church and was amazed by how they make use of high-tech for the purpose of preaching and worshipping. There are also much more subversive examples, such as the use of the word “church” for bar’s name. I one saw one in Atlanta near the Martin Luther King Museum.

This agency with power is in accordance with what we read on how to make changes in institutions, between sexes, and among races. Only this one seems much more vivid because we cannot escape from space. Anything authoritative, anything that gives rules is tied up with space and time. If we cannot change the past, then what we should do is to change our space. Make our own space a rhetorical space rather than a dumb space is each individual’s task if we want a change. We do not want our little kids get killed in school, we do not want our friends killed by in terrorists, we do not want our roommates poison us, then we have to make our space rhetorical and rather than crying for the consequences of other’s spatial rhetoric. Especially for us the instructors, we have a power in influencing our students, if not shaping them who they should be. Then, if not in our countries, what about we think about other spaces? Such as those Middle East countries, North Korea? What are their spatial rhetoric and rhetorical space we can build between and among different systems? What should we do to prevent tragedies from happening again and again? We do not want to be the victims of the next round!


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