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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On Great Oratory

"Great is our admiration of the orator who speaks with fluency and discretion." - Cicero

"Oratory should raise your heart rate. Oratory should blow the doors off the place. We should be talking about not being satisfied with past solutions. We should be talking about a permanent revolution." - Aaron Sorkin via Sam Seaborn, The West Wing

Just a short post today, as I've been rather quiet lately.

As Maxwell mentioned, we're working on an article on the subject of same-sex marriage, which is requiring a lot more effort than many of the other posts here. In my work on the piece, I've been studying a number of speeches, articles and letters, and have even picked up a copy of "Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student" (Connors & Corbett, 4th ed., 1999). Although I've had my share of formal and informal training in writing, most of it has been either creative writing and literary analysis or technical writing. Aside from a brief flirtation with debate in elementary school and a required public speaking course in high school, I have had almost no training in 'classical rhetoric.'

The more I study it now, the more I regret this. We often talk about the (supposedly) vital role of science and mathematics in our educational system, but what about rhetoric?

Personally, I believe that great orators themselves are the best teachers - and in my recent studies, the work of two individuals have consistently reappeared: that of John F. Kennedy and of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While their names have both been in the news lately (you all know why - and I adamantly refuse to get any more into the subject that has so thoroughly dominated our entire national discourse that that!), I realize that I am still simply blown away by the power of their work every time I read it. And while both have their sound bytes and classic quotes, practically any sentence out of their work stands on its own as a monument to great oratory. I'll leave you with this, a line I came across recently, from Dr. King's Nobel Lecture, The Quest for Peace and Justice (the full text can be found here), and with a question: aside from these two greats, who are your favorite orators?


"Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meaning can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


- Tiro

1 comment:

Maxwell Evans said...

hrm... I think my favorites are probably Einstein and Hemmingway.

Both had a way of saying long things in short words.