We're discussing rhetoric, and talking about intentionality and such. (We're looking at James A. Herrick's "An Overview of Rhetoric.") The speaker is insisting that something that isn't purposeful isn't "rhetoric." The example was a lazy email from a student, the "hey, did I miss anything in class yesterday?" sort of email. But it's still a text, and I'm not sure it's not rhetoric, since it's communicative.
I'm having trouble resolving the focus on purposeful and intentional "rhetors" and my literary training in reading and thinking about what might not be intentionally done by an author, but is still there.
Let me give a simple example: X tells a joke. Y reads the joke as racist, and calls X on it. X says it wasn't the intention.
Now X might not have been highly aware of the intention, but the joke may well be racist. And there may be a sort of unacknowledged intention of trying to get Y (or other audience folks) to accept and adopt the racist point of view, no?
As a lit person, I step back from intentionality, and look for effects and multiple meanings. That doesn't mean that I don't recognize that people do have intentions and try to achieve those, but that I don't think I can always know those intentions (nor do I think people are always deeply aware of their intentions) and that I think people can express really important stuff without intending to.
The way lit folks read tends to look at authors as cultural products and producers; the way we (here in this room) read tends to look as rhetors as highly individualized, independent, and not as products, but only producers.
I don't think it would really be productive to bring this all up in discussion here in this room, but I do think it's worth thinking more about for me. Even though I think Freud is wrong about lots of stuff (mostly because he thought his culture was "universal" and "real" and not just one of many possibilities, so was way too essentialist) I'm influenced by his thinking about intentionality. I'm also influenced by Barthes, obviously. And De Saussure! And Lacan! (Again, wrong on so many levels but thought provoking.) (An aside: I sometimes like thinkers who are wrong but thought provoking, you know? Being wrong in really interesting ways is weirdly good.)