A Rhetorical Vision: Aesthetics with Ethics

What will emerge from the digitization of the arts is "a new rhetoric of the arts," Richard Lanham (1993) wrote more than 14 years ago in a work that continues to resonate today (p. 14). By exploring the poetic nature of digital aesthetics through a rhetorical lens, we gain an enlarged understanding of the ethical dimensions of art and, reciprocally, an enlarged understanding of the aesthetic nature of rhetoric and poetics. Ignoring rhetoric, as does the "Digipopo" issue of Public, reduces our ability to grasp the way in which poetics always implicates ethics and, conversely, the way that ethics always implicates poetics. Acknowledging rhetoric, on the other hand, anchors us in Joan Retallack's (2003) poethics—her "poetics of responsibility with the courage of the swerve" (p. 3)—which illuminates the necessity of tackling the diffused and distributed nature of the author position in digital poetics, something that ethos, Aristotle's slippery pistis, helps us theorize. The ethico-aesthetic interface in digital poetics reminds us, as Amélie Oskenberg Rorty (1996) says, that the polis always gets the rhetor—or the orator-poet—it deserves; therefore, it is incumbent on all of us as wreaders to conjure the best of possible orator-poets so that we conjure at the same time the best of possible poleis.