The question hung in the air as he stared at me from the spectral projection on the wall. I had no idea how to answer. Was he trying to trap me? Was he trying to confirm his suspicion and reveal my ignorance? Was this a helpful pedagogical move, or was it born from more insidious motives?
“Do you know what rhetorical arguments you used in the dissertation?”
Do I bluff and grasp at the sketchy fragments of rhetorical vocabulary that sat on the virtually empty shelves of my knowledge? Do I retort with a question, attempting to deflect and distract? I am not a rhetorician! My research was on spiritual formation with suburbanites, for crying out loud!
Dr. Kiefert is one of the most brilliant minds with which I have had the privilege to personally interact. I knew he would see through any pretense.
“Well,” I meekly replied, “I have never formally studied rhetoric, so I don’t know how to answer that question.”
The cat was out of the bag. The “imposter syndrome” that had plagued me throughout my PhD studies had been verified as reality. I don’t even know the basic tenets of rhetoric, what am I doing sitting in an oral defense of a PhD dissertation? It was over, I thought. I might as well pack up and go home with my tail between my legs.
An interesting thing happened in the next moment. He simply paused, with a slight “hmm,” as if pinning a note to his mental bulletin board, and moved on.
The defense continued and I passed.
I have since met privately with Dr. Keifert and realized that he had no ill will toward me and seeks only my continued education. Ironically, we did not discuss rhetoric. His question during the defense, however, has haunted me ever since then.
Today, I discovered a web site that is the perfect gateway into the land of rhetoric. I look forward to learning more and I share this site with you.
So, what rhetorical device did I use in this post? (honestly, I want to know, because…well, you know)