Richard A. Lanham
Richard A. Lanham (born 1936) is probably most widely known for his textbooks on revising prose to improve style and clarify thought. He is also a notable scholar of the history of rhetoric who has published notable books on the subject.
Lanham was educated at Sidwell Friends School and Yale University (A.B., M.A., Ph.D.). He is Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles, and president of Rhetorica, Inc., a consulting firm. Lanham is a recognized expert in prose stylistics and Classical and Renaissance rhetoric. His Handlist of Rhetorical Terms (2nd ed., 1991) is the standard reference in the field, and he recently revised his Analyzing Prose (2nd ed., 2003), a benchmark work in stylistic analysis. Some other works are "The Motives of Eloquence: Literary Rhetoric in the Renaissance", Style: An Anti-Textbook, Literacy and the Survival of Humanism, and The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts (1995). His Revising Prose and Revising Business Prose—now in revision—remain popular. His latest work, The Economics of Attention, was published in 2006 by the University of Chicago Press.
Long a champion of Sophistic rhetoric as a challenge and counterweight to Aristotelian rhetoric, in recent years Lanham has become very interested in, and very knowledgeable about, multimedia and the implications for rhetoric in this age of electronic text.
The "Q" Question
In The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology and the Arts, Lanham engages what he calls the "'Q' question in honor of its most famous nonanswerer" Quintilian (155). The Q question is this: does education in discourse lead to virtue more than vice? Are good rhetors good people?
Lanham identifies two defenses of the morality of rhetoric. The so-called weak defense (which Quintilian makes as well as Ramus) suggests that rhetoric is separate from philosophy and one first becomes a good person and then can add good speaking on top (158). More modern (and postmodern) theories contribute to Lanham's "Strong Defense" which "argues that, since truth comes to humankind in so many diverse and disagreeing forms, we cannot base a polity upon it. We must, instead, devise some system by which we can agree on a series of contingent operating premises" (187-8). The Strong Defense opposes the universal rational truth and suggests that "what links virtuosity, the love of form, and virtue, is virtu. power " (189).
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- Lanham, Richard A. The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology and the Arts.Chicago: U Chicago P, 1993.