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On Rhetoric and Symmetry

From "Rhetoric and Symmetry: A Neglected Linkage" by Jose Luis Caivano

Rhetorical figures can be defined as a deviation, a conceptual or formal transgression produced in a statement with the aim of bringing the receptor of the message to a meaning that is beyond the literal meaning. Usually, it is considered that the field of rhetoric is poetics, or the figurative language; however, these operations are extended across all kinds of discourses and languages. For rhetorical operations to be perceived as such, it is necessary to establish the existence of rules or norms of enunciation, from which rhetorical operations are constituted through creative alterations or contraventions.

Rhetorical operations also appear in visual images, insofar as the observer possess incorporated rules or norms that can be transformed or broken to produce a message with a non-conventional meaning. Artistic images, painting, architecture, photography, caricature, advertisement, and various other genres of visual production rely mostly in the rhetorical use of visual signs. Rhetorical figures are generally produced on the basis of symmetry rules. Sometimes, these rules constitute the rhetorical operations themselves; in other cases, they act as a kind of zero degree, against which the rhetorical operations, being a transformation or a breaking of those rules, can be perceived.

…Even when the ancient rhetoric was conceived as the art of persuasion by means of the attractive speech, we can also note that the beauty of poetry basically relies on the use of rhetoric figures: rhyme, metaphor, comparison, antithesis, etc. Already here we can postulate a direct relation to the visual arts, because the use of symmetry with all its variations in art, architecture, and music follows the same purpose: to attract the senses, to create a beautiful visual "discourse".

…..On the other hand, the concept of dissymmetry, as an imperfect symmetry, with little deviations from perfect geometric symmetry, does not seem very far from the concept of rhetoric. Dissymmetry results are more attractive than those of perfect symmetry. According to Pasteur, the Universe is a dissymmetric system and life is a function of this dissymmetry.