Serap Durmuş Öztürk

Published Apr 14, 2021

Rhetor(ic) is more than a word, it is a game.

The etymology of the term rhetoric comes from Old French rethorique, Greek rhētorike tekhnē ‘art of an orator’, from rhētōr (genitive rhētoros) ‘speaker, master speaker, orator; an artist of discourse; teacher of rhetoric’ (Lanham, 1991).

Even in this short etymological definition, it is possible to say that rhetoric is defined as a relation of art, communication, discourse, and education. This situation re-emphasizes the rich content of the word for architecture. Rhetoric is not a new term and has come to the present day, taking its roots from antiquity. However, it remains up to date due to its potential, which is constantly updated and its meaning can evolve in different directions (Durmuş, 2004). Rhetoric as a way of generating discourse often referred to by the world of communication and politics, according to Aristotle’s book ‘The Art of Rhetoric’, in the general sense of the use of language in such a manner as to impress the hearers and influence them for or against a certain course of action, is as old as language itself and the beginnings of social and political life (Freese, 1926).

Apart from the fundamental meanings of rhetoric in terms of persuasion and art of speaking, I would like to talk about this concept as manipulation in architecture. I am talking about a rhetor(ic) architecture as the center of deception, fallacy, and manipulation. Olmsted (2006: 22) supports this argument and says that “rhetoric easily slides into deception and emotional manipulation. In order to please (and to control) others, rhetoricians become chameleons that adapt themselves to the preferences of their audiences”. Besides as Aristotle observes, rhetoric works very much like medicine. Doctors practice their art as well as possible even when they cannot achieve a perfect cure (Olmsted, 2006).

Although it offers limited definitions such as term use, persuasion or manipulation, the word rhetor(ic) performs itself in two ways as a conceptual expansion: rhetor as an actor and rhetoric as an action. The unity of an old and deep-rooted concept like rhetoric causes the concept to behave sometimes as an actor and sometimes as an action.

Rhetor, the actor, comes from the orator. Expanding from its narrowest meaning to its supreme meaning, the rhetor manifests himself as a strong actor in front of the masses, while at the same time positioning him as a prayer or pleading actor. This hesitant attitude of the speaker is an indication of the slippery ground of the concept. As an action, rhetoric points to accuracy with both persuasion and deception meanings, but also a fallacy. However, he wants to manipulate it. He directs the action and decides the way the action is represented. The modes of realization of the action re-exist in countless concepts to form its own lexicon. It takes on different characters in different contexts.

Well, is it possible to be persuaded/deceived by an actor or action in architecture? Does the subject’s positioning himself in architecture change the form of his action? Or does architecture reconstruct its action subject in its own way? While all this is happening, does architecture prefer to be persuaded or deceived? Does it feed on the dynamics of the discipline or does it enable interdisciplinary initiatives? Here are the numerous questions that occupy the agenda of architecture, as a fallacy (1) referring to the philosophical way of thinking. Rhetoric is not only effective art of persuasion, as we have always thought, but also an important deception. This deception exists rhetor(ic) as a game, with the unexpected scenarios instead of being present in its pejorative sense.

A rhetor(ic) architecture uncovers a series of questions/problems in terms of actor and action, rather than giving us an absolute conclusion. It transforms into a word game with the conceptual expansion and promises to present and performs itself on the slippery ground as an actor and action. This ground aims to displace an architectural action dedicated to invariable truths and an actor who is supposed to do so-called correct architecture. Rhetor(ic) architecture neither establishes nor recognizes rules. It does not take refuge in any field of knowledge unconditionally, but rather interrogates and doubts. Rhetor(ic) architecture prepares a slippery ground that allows defining architecture without an origin, fragile and ambiguous, instead of accumulating knowledge.

Do you think it is possible to talk about the existence of absolutely correct and persuasive knowledge in architecture on the slippery ground that rhetor(ic) offers? As a concept that advises thinking about architecture, rhetor(ic) is a way of thinking that focuses on fallacies rather than invariable truths and aims to notice the difference. Rhetor(ic) architecture is a chosen actor and a controlled action. Or it is an ordinary actor and independent action. It is an either/or game, just as Derrida (1988) points out.

The way of thinking, which is called slippery slope fallacy in philosophy, as a deception, often warns that one should not walk on the slippery roads that take people to where real evil awaits (Law, 2012: 210). Slippery slope arguments often arise unexpectedly. For example, if we allow couples to determine the gender of the baby they will have today, the choice of eye and hair color tomorrow may be tolerated (Law, 2012).


Derrida, J., 1988. Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Brighton: Harvester.

Durmuş, S., 2014. Mimarlık Düşüncesinin Retorik İnşası: Usûl-i Mi’mârî-i Osmânî (Rhetorical Construction of Architectural Thought: Usûl-i Mi’mârî-i Osmânî), Unpublished PhD. Karadeniz Technical University. Turkey.

Freese, J. H., 1926. Aristotle: The “Art” of Rhetoric. LCL. Cambridge, Mass.; Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann.

Lanham, R. A., 1991. A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. London: University of California Press.

Law, S., 2010. Felsefe, Görsel Rehberler. İstanbul: İnkılâp Kitabevi.

Olmsted, W., 2006. Rhetoric: An Historical İntroduction. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.