In this preface, Ong itemizes some of the difficulties inherent in defining
the term "commonplace" in the history of rhetoric. This situation
has persisted from antiquity with no real clarification of the correlation
between the concept of "place" and mental processes. The term has
endured a history of vague, pedagogical classifications since its inception
with Aristotle. However, Ong states that "the imagery of the 'places'
in which one could store knowledge strongly influenced psychological and
literary theory and eventually interacted with Renaissance typographical
developments." He states that Lechner's book reflects the vagaries
of the subject and is a good beginning to tackling this nebulous area.
Ong previously discussed the conceptual development of "method" in connection
with the commonplaces in 1953 in Ramus, Method,
and the Decay of Dialogue.
Lechner, in the introduction to her book, gives her working definition
of "places," i.e. "traditionally, beginning with Aristotle, a topos is
a heading, or, literally, a 'place' where one finds an argument.
There are two kinds of topics, the 'common' or general which could be applied
to any oration and to any case and which included the commonplaces of possible
and impossible, greater or less, past fact and future fact, and magnification
and minimization, and the 'specific' topic, which referred only to particular
subjects." Her book examines Renaissance theory of the commonplace
with consideration of both rhetorical and dialectical topics and describes
the varied conceptual confusions generated by Renaissance rhetoricians
in their treatises on the "places."
Joyce Olszewski Applewhite
University of Dayton