Abstract: High-modernist writers professed a disdain for rhetoric and yet found it hard to escape. They scorned the artifice of traditional, overt rhetoric and they did not wish to acknowledge that all communication is rhetorical, whether frankly or covertly. They especially distrusted “persuasion by proof” just as they distrusted traditional religion, aversions which had significant consequences for modernist literature. Modernists such as Pound favored poetry over the more frankly rhetorical genre of fiction. They valued the poet's privilege, first articulated by Aristotle and later by Sidney, of writing only of possibilities and therefore escaping the constraints of rhetoric and of historical veracity. Nevertheless, in order to justify their poetics, these modernists developed the concept of poetic belief first popularized by Matthew Arnold and elaborated upon by I. A. Richards and T. S. Eliot. Ultimately that modernist poetics became not only a substitute for religion but a new form of the rhetoric which modernists had hoped to avoid. The poetic theory helped the literature create a covert religious rhetoric that frequently denied its own existence in a ploy for audience belief.
- Copyright 1998, The International Society for the History of Rhetoric