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

Return to Listings