- Rhetorical Concept: Kairos
- Index Card Questions
Rhetorical Concept: Kairos
The textbook definition of kairos is “right place, right time.” But time here means something different than we tend to think of it (as chronos, the quantitative measurement of time’s passing). Rather, kairos means something closer to opportunity, an opening in time. Rhetoricians debated whether a speaker could *create* such an opportunity, or whether she merely *recognized* one. Regardless, the point is that a great speaker recognizes the specifics of a moment and place (a context), and shapes them so that a listener or reader knows why she is speaking at that moment, why she is called to speak, the exigency (situation) that demands her response. So, establishing kairos in part requires
- informing a reader what problem you are responding to
- informing a reader why you are responding to that problem (why is the problem important)
- informing a reader why *you* specifically are responding to the problem (establishing some sense of ethos
These aims can generate a list of standard questions and guides, what we call topoi, for positioning yourself, your problem, and your audience. For instance, is this a problem that gets talked about a lot but rarely acted upon? Then here we go again. Is this a problem that you, a smart functioning human, didn’t know was a problem until recently? Then let me tell you something. Is this a problem that you thought was minor/easy to fix, but have learned it might not be? Then this might get complicated. Etc.
In Aristotle’s (in)famous treaty On Rhetoric, he declares that one of the primary obligations of a rhetor in the opening of her speech is to “prepare the judge” for what they are about to hear. While I have some pretty staunch disagreements with Aristotle, I want to highlight this advice. A millenia later, Martin Heidegger declares that this advice, on the part of Aristotle, is the birth of psychoanalysis and phenomenology: philosophical approaches that begin by recognizing that human consciousness, perception, and reason is always, already influenced by our “mood.” The task of an introduction is to set a mood: to anticipate an audience’s feelings toward a topic and shift them to a position whereby they might be more willing to entertain a new perspective.
When we look at an introduction then, we are looking for the mood the author anticipates her audience to be in, the facts she chooses to set the stage, the history, narrative, or context in which she places her speech. These are all parts of kairos.
To get a sense of this, let’s look at the introductions to a few famous speeches My focus here is on Presidential Inaugural Addresses, but there’s a few others that I want to examine.
- King, “I Have a Dream”
- GW Bush, “2001 Inaugural Address”
- Obama, “2009 Inaugural Address”
- Obama, “Address on the 50th Anniversary of the Selma, Alabama March”
- Trump, “2017 Inaugural Address”
For Thursday’s class, I will ask you to read and comment on 3 of your peer essays. I will provide a link to these essays on Google Docs via Canvas. I will ask you to provide three comments on each essay (you may comment on a comment). I will send out an email with further instructions.