Enduring character : the problem with authenticity and the persistence of ethos
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This dissertation is interested in how people talk about character in a variety of public spheres. Specifically, it explores the tangled relationship between authenticity and ethos, or what is taken as the distinction between intrinsic and constructed character. While this dissertation does not presume to settle the question of authenticity’s actuality, it does discuss the ways authenticity cues in rhetorical acts continue to influence how “sincere character” in those acts is understood, even as audiences exhibit shrewdness in recognizing that character is a purposeful manifestation of the rhetor. The fundamental phenomenon this dissertation seeks to describe is how people, with better and worse success, negotiate the dissonance between valuing character as authentic and as presentation and representation. Character in this view is a much richer and more paradoxical concept than many discussions of the term admit. A too-diluted study of ethos limited strictly to pinpointing credibility in an argument makes it difficult to articulate why an exhibition of character sometimes works and sometimes flops. Ethos in its fullest complexity is, and is not, constructed by any single act; it is the consequence of narratives, both of those narratives, and also what we say about those narratives; it is something we know about a rhetor, at the same time that it comes from what the rhetor claims to know; it is, most important, an appeal to authenticity, even when we know ethos is discursively, kairotically, and socially constructed. This dissertation offers an expanded definition of ethos as rhetorical transactions that rhetors and audiences mutually negotiate in order to determine the extent to which all sides will have their rhetorical needs met, and the extent to which all sides can assent to the those needs. The dissertation, using the works of Wayne Booth, Kenneth Burke, and Chaïm Perelman as its primary theoretical structures, offers pedagogic implications for these mutual negotiations.