A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

Re-Opening Public Rhetoric: Corbett's "The Rhetoric of the Open Hand and the Rhetoric of the Closed Fist"

Byron Hawk, University of South Carolina

Enculturation: http://www.enculturation.net/re-opening-public-rhetoric
(Published May 16, 2012)


Download video: Ogg format | MP4 format

This video remixes Ed Corbett’s “The Rhetoric of the Open Hand and the Rhetoric of the Closed First” (1969). While Corbett’s essay isn’t exactly unknown, it’s still not a widely anthologized essay in the field and it speaks directly to a change in media and a corresponding change in rhetoric. Corbett remakes the Renaissance’s open/closed distinction to fit the 1960s. The Renaissance extends the rhetoric of the closed fist—the tight, logical discourse of philosophers—to an educated elite and the literate discourse of international politics. The rhetoric of the open hand—or the more relaxed, expansive, ingratiating discourse of orators—becomes the public discourse that uses common values to create identification. Corbett sees these meanings shift by the 1960s. The closed fist becomes the public discourse of the masses that carries its points by non-rational means (the raised, closed fist of the black power movement, for example). Public rhetoric is physical, visual, musical, and sloganeering. The open hand becomes the politics of negotiation carried on by government bureaucrats, a persuasive academic discourse that is a sustained, reasoned discussion of issues. The video remixes this distinction again in the context of the Internet, pointing to another shift in public rhetoric that re-opens its closed form through the intensification of Marshal McLuhan’s global village via recirculation and user involvement.