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Short Paper #1: Bizzel’s “Opportunities”

Bizzell, Patricia. “Opportunities for Feminist Research in the History of Rhetoric.” Rhetoric Review. 2.1 (1992): 50-58.

Patricia Bizzell begins “Opportunities for Feminist Research in the History of Rhetoric” – the oldest selection from this week’s set of readings (1992) – by reflecting on her and Bruce Herzberg’s selections for the (then) first edition of The Rhetorical Tradition. She describes how they were “surprised to find that research in rhetoric was so traditional” (50). They were surprised, she claimed, because there was so much “canon-busting” going on over there in English studies. I found this claim – and their use of words like “surprised” and “dismayed” – curiously passive. Were Bizzell and Herzberg not part of the discipline of English? And how did they define “traditional”? As knowledgeable historians hired to choose appropriate selections for this anthology, how could this have been a discovery for them? The women authors recovered or referenced in the articles by Campbell, Mattingly, and Sutherland – who contributed to the special issue of Rhetoric Society Quarterly twelve years later in 2002 – were exhaustive. I was interested to learn that Bizzell and Herzberg couldn’t find anything, especially when the other authors found so much. A few questions came from this observation: Where were they looking? Did they, in actuality, find stuff but were just too anxious to include them? Was this article actually a rebuttal to accusations that the editors themselves were complicit in such elitist practices? Or were the methods proposed in this piece essential to “open up spaces” for feminist historiography in rhetoric?

While the other questions are worth weighing, the last one renders them more or less moot. Bizzell does not come right out and say it, but her main point in “Opportunities” is to argue that she and Herzberg could not contest the tradition because the real problem was the lack of method for recovering such work – not the lack of extant texts. In response, she outlines three approaches that would prove useful to feminist historiography in rhetoric. The more recent articles we read this week either took up these approaches (especially the second and third) or actually added to them by contributing new approaches themselves. Ultimately, those texts responded to Bizzell’s call for more research, more work – the “let’s do it!” passion that must have made the text so inspiring.

Bizzell’s first approach asks revisionists to become “resisting readers,” a term borrowed from literary critics that requires historiographers to “notice aspects of the canonical texts that the reader is not supposed to notice, but that disturb, when the reader is a woman, and create resistance to the view of reality the work seems to want to purvey” (51). Her idea is to appropriate these texts – to resignify – the traditional canon by using feminist perspectives. Bizzell acknowledges, however, that critics might see this kind of work as not quite far enough away from the tradition (51) – and she might be right. None of the authors we read for today employed this strategy explicitly. Still, some of the authors did encourage re-readings of certain narratives (such as the Lorena Bobbitt story), which could be seen as resistant.

The second approach Bizzell recommends requires scholars to do more recovery work by finding female rhetors similar to those men traditionally canonized. The purpose of this approach, of course, is inclusion, but it is also to “[set] their work in dialogue with the canon” (51), to use them as potential foils for the established rhetors. Each article in the special issue of Rhetoric Society Quarterly agrees with Bizzell that more recovery needs to be done via primary research. Carol Mattingly, for example, begins her article by summarizing how thousands of years of masculine scholarship cannot compare to few decades’ worth of feminist study. Karlyn Kohrs Campbell provides a brief history of recovered texts in the U.S. (perhaps in an attempt to rewrite this canon). And Christine Mason Sutherland suggests that the act of primary research is preferable because is avoids the adversarial/masculine tendency of working with only secondary research.

Bizzell predicted, however, that this second approach would be criticized for borrowing the same criteria as used for men’s inclusion in the canon and thus suggested an alternative third approach that requires scholars to redefine or broaden terms of rhetoric so that previously unchecked areas of history might be recovered. One way to do this, she suggests, is to avoid looking for names and authors, but instead looking for issues. “If women are not represented in the traditional history of rhetoric,” she argues, “we might look for the issues that throw into relief the social practices that resulted in this exclusion, thus also highlighting where women are, as well as where they are not” (54). Examining schooling and literacy, or how women gained the right to speak in public on certain issues would get feminists away from the masculine “counting match” that the study of authors tends to encourage.

Most of the women writing in 2002 agreed that applying masculine criteria to women’s rhetoric would be a step back and thus strove to advance recovery work by becoming more theoretical. Mattingly asks historiographers to reconsider what counts as evidence when looking at how women used rhetoric “since many of the traditional tools of rhetoric were denied to them” (106). Similarly, Campbell reminds us that the criterion used to revere traditional masculine rhetoric is why alternative rhetorics have been excluded in the first place. Instead, she argues feminists need to link recovery with recuperation to theorize about women’s discursive practices.

While Bizzell’s article looks outdated when compared to the feminist texts from 2002, its explicit, innovative approaches clearly had a lasting impact on the discipline; however, I also wonder if it oversimplifies the gender dynamic by reinforcing gender binaries that I assume queer rhetorics have subsequently complicated. I wonder how the male/female dichotomy, for example, actually damages or at least reinforces some of what these methods seeks to subvert.

31 May 2007

So rather than write one long response at the end this time, I decided to type up notes as I read to see how this would be more or less helpful. Though I don’t always synthesize the texts, this format does help to remember the texts. I guess it’s weird being a students again — experimenting with different ways of response and such…

Bizzel – see Short Paper #1

Graff/Leff – “Revisionist Historiography” (2005)

  • As Graff/Leff provide their meta-history of revisionist historiography, they fall into the same trap as their predecessors in comments like “…Charles Sears Baldwin established the standard pattern for twentieth-century studies of the history of rhetoric” and “[Carole Blair’s] essay ‘Contested Histories of Rhetoric: The Politics of Preservation, Progress, and Change’ represents the last major entry in the wave of revisionism…” because they never explain how they’re coming to these conclusions.
  • Oddly, when discussing the new scholarship that has emerged in com/rhet since the first wave, the authors do acknowledge that they do not “have space in this chapter to review all of the different perspectives featured in the early stages of the discussion but can identify some of the basic tenets as well as characteristic assumptions and motives animating the broader revisionist projects within the field of composition-rhetoric.” Again, no real discussion here about how these “basic tenets” were generalized. To what degree, then, do historians need to be explicit about who/what they’re including/excluding and their reasons for doing so? As an outsider (someone just now learning about this discourse community), it seems that the risk in not being explicit is unchecked canonization of certain authors – more on this below.
  • In outlining a chronology of first and second wave revisionists, are Graff and Leff contributing to the traditional view of history as a linear enterprise and in turn, canonizing certain historiographers and theorists (names that I now recognize as important)? We have more taxonomies (“critical historiography”). Interesting to have read this after Octlog and after last week’s readings. How would I have framed those authors if I had read Graff/Leff’s account of them first?
  • What’s also suspect is Graff/Leff’s four-page interrogation of Carole Blair. Seems like she being used for a set up, though it’s difficult to tell without knowing more about revisionist approaches. I also wonder if she is attacked because of some disciplinary distortion – as the authors admit, her speech background “contrasts sharply” with comp/rhet’s.
  • Argument for why we should look at pedagogy moves a bit quickly for me, though I like their suggestion to study the pedagogy of rhetoric since teaching is my most viable and rewarding reason to study histories of rhetoric (as opposed to other ways of viewing it, which so far seem more interested in its philosophical, textual, and therefore abstract consequences).

Carol Mattingly’s “Telling Evidence: Rethinking What Counts in Rhetoric” (2002)

  • Agrees with Bizzell that more needs to be done to “explore the broad range of texts that can contribute a vibrant understanding and appreciation of women’s role in rhetoric.”
  • Outlines early recovery efforts and uses the example of Cady Stanton and Anthony to argue that this early work has been guilty of canonizing certain women rhetors (admittedly, to establish ethos) at the expense of ignoring other important ones. The problem is that those canonized “become deeply imbedded in our cultural narratives,” initially chosen from rhetorical criteria “established in the masculine tradition.”
  • By reading a wide range of primary sources, Mattingly discovered that more women were more publicly active as rhetors in the 19th century than scholars initially thought. A resistance to study women outside of the suffrage movement (i.e. women in the temperance movement) prevented scholars from coming to this understanding sooner and is the result of not reading locally (contextually) enough – an argument made by several of Mattingly’s contemporaries (so-called second wave revisionists) – since contemporary scholars have equated temperance with conservativism. More focused study, she argues, opens up possibilities for more interpretations. Without this additional work, she implies, she would have never discovered that Amelia Bloomer was more influential than Anthony or Cady Stanton or that the temperance movement was really a call for better conditions for women.
  • In arguing for a more accurate understanding of rhetorical traditions Mattingly ultimately wants scholars to rethink the ways they measure rhetoric by redefining evidence. “Since traditional definition of rhetoric have been constructed around notions of masculine rhetoric,” she argues, “many rhetorically sophisticated women simply do not fit neatly into the rhetorical tradition. What has counted for evidence fails to recognize women’s excellence.” Mattingly’s example is women’s clothing in the 19th century played an essential role in establishing ethos, though we wouldn’t consider that if we went with the traditional measures of rhetoric.

Karlyn Kohrs Campbell’s “Consciousness-Raising: Linking Theory, Criticism, and Practice” (2002)

  • Campbell’s overarching argument can be captured in her pithy quote in the intro: “as a form of discursive practice, consciousness-raising is the thread that links the recovery of texts, their recuperation through criticism, and the extraction of theoretical principles that underlie women’s ways of persuading.”
  • She begins by tracing a few ways women’s histories have been recovered, even before the U.S. woman’s rights movement, from speeches in the 19th century to dissertations in the 1930s through the 1950s to the emergence of women’s studies programs to new anthologies of women’s histories. She acknowledges, however, that no matter what historians try to do, “the historical record will remain profoundly distorted, skewed toward those lucky enough to be literate, educated, and middle or upper class and whose works appeared in mainstream outlets with wider circulation.”
  • In the spirit of recovery, Campbell then analyzes how women’s rhetoric and its history have been “lost” in the first place – or how certain obstacles and criticisms (“formal prohibitions,” “denial of agency,” “unsexing,” “attacks on character,” “aesthetic”) are fixed by traditional rhetoric to make it impossible to analyze justly.
  • In order to overcome these obstacles – and to protest them – women spoke or wrote in ways that both met traditional expectations of the rhetor “while incorporating stylistic elements that projected femininity” such as inductive structures, narrating personal experience, dialogism, etc. According to Campbell, these alternative rhetorics can only be recuperated through critical analysis.
  • Barrowing from Krista Radcliff’s efforts to theorize from analyses, Campbell argues that feminist critical analysis of the discursive practices that are recovered should be used to extract larger rhetorical theories: “the task of recovery is unending; recuperation, however, requires the analytical and interpretive work of critics.” It’s not clear to me, though, how these all link together. What would these new theories do? How might they help with current issues facing feminism? How might they help historiography of rhetoric?

Christine Mason Sutherland’s “Feminist Historiography: Research Methods in Rhetoric” (2002)

  • She starts by comparing how she learned to conduct historical research to how she learned to write – it just became second nature – which doesn’t seem to be very self-reflective. Her privileged background reinforces this for me.
  • The article is feminist in that it’s autobiographical – the most personal we’ve read so far – yet sometimes I can’t help but feel she abuses the notion by not discussing evidence enough. She brings up multiple issues but tends to dismisses them and move on (postmodernism being one of the biggies).
  • Agrees with Enos that more attention needs to be paid to primary texts since interpreting them makes her “feel more like a benefactor” than “taking the adversarial stance typical of so much secondary research.” This really provoked me – I never thought of this distinction and the idea that primary research could be considered a “feminist” move is powerful. I’m surprised more attention wasn’t paid to it. Instead she makes grander claims about the trouble with argumentive discourse.
  • Notes that she sides with “the authority of the writer, and the importance of seeing the text in the historical context,” which, she argues, characterizes traditional scholarship. But many feminists and scholars (who’d probably be calssified as po-mo) agree that all historical scholarship needs to be localized. I thought Campbell made a more nuanced argument in this regard and that Sutherland gets confused because she tries to claim too much.

Scholarly self-portrait

My scholarly trajectory has mostly been guided by my pedagogical circumstances. When I left my position as a high school English teacher and department chair in 2003 to pursue my MA at the University of Nevada, I took with me many of the questions that plagued me during those three years at Maple Grove High – from teaching the research paper to 11th and 12th graders, to leading (seemingly) successful classroom discussions about literature. While taking a linguistics course, for example, I barrowed methodologies from discourse analyses to patch together my own analysis of one group of tenth graders’ classroom discussion to see how certain discussion strategies might provoke more authentic dialogue. In my final professional paper to complete the MA, I used work by Freire, Dewy, and John Bean to argue for embedding Ken Macrorie’s I-Search Paper within a larger curriculum of inquiry at the high school level. NCTE published a condensed version of that manuscript last March in the English Journal.

Of course I also spent those two years seizing opportunities to branch out, studying cross-curricular writing theories, building a stronger foundation in modern and post-modern critical theory, experimenting with subgenres of creative nonfiction, and examining socio-cultural concerns in education. But when I completed my degree in the spring of 2005, my intent was to return to New York and teach high school again in order to support my wife’s graduate work here. I was looking forward to taking many of the ideas I read and studied and applying them to the secondary setting.

Coming to S.U., then, was a pivotal moment for me. Accepting my current position as Writing Center Administrator meant having to become acquainted with writing center scholarship mostly on my own. I had worked part time in a writing center during the two years I was at Nevada, but the only related scholarship I studied was some WAC theory. I knew very little about writing program administration, tutor training, second language acquisition, grammar instruction, collaborative theories of writing, or the history of writing centers. While I’ve made attempts to familiarize myself with some of those topics throughout these last two years, much of my supposed area of expertise remains gray. I’ve read, assigned, and discussed several articles with consultants in the writing center and with students in WRT 331, the peer consultant practicum, but – ironically – I haven’t had much of a chance to synthesize those sources though my ow writing.

So in terms of next steps, I’d like to become more knowledgeable about writing centers in general and try to do something with that knowledge. Specifically, I’d like to study practices of consulting and tutor/teacher training – some of which will no doubt go beyond the writing center setting. In fact, I wonder how those practices could be expanded from the realm of writing centers and used in the composition classroom. Could some tutor-training methods, for example, be used with freshmen in WRT 105? How do dialogic settings – large group discussions, one-to-one conferences – affect the ways students approach their writing? Should different collaborative methods be used at different stages of a students’ process?

Part of becoming more proficient in this area of comp/rhet means knowing how the idea of writing centers was formed in the first place. I’m hoping I’ll be able to look into the histories of writing clinics/labs/centers by asking: How have they been defined? How have scholars shaped writing center history and why has it been shaped as such? How has the concept of the center evolved through time? How has that evolution been linked to larger movements in the discipline? If these questions are too broad for now (and I’m afraid they are), it might be worthwhile to focus in on certain aspects of centers. For example, how have championed methods of tutoring changed through time? Specifically, when and why did the predominant method change from directive to nondirective to something more nuanced? (What might be difficult about generalizing answers from these questions are the variables. On one campus a “writing center” might operate out of an English department while on another, a “learning center” might work out of student services. The disciplinary difference will probably be noteworthy as the former is usually borne out of comp/rhet while the latter out of schools of ed.)

Outside of the world of writing centers, but still closely related, are issues regarding cross-curricular writing theory. Specifically, I wonder what kinds of curricula can be designed to best match the diverse needs of our students? What characteristics of writing and thinking are shared across the curriculum? (Has educational psychology been helpful in answering this question?) As teachers and consultants, how can we tap into those similarities? I’m ultimately curious about how different writing programs account for disciplinary difference. Would writing instructors be more effective if they came from the same discourse communities as their students (likewise, I wonder if consultants might be more effective if operated under the same disciplines)?

Further still, I’m interested in returning to issues of teaching writing at the high school level. I don’t know what kind of scholarship exists on understanding the gaps between high school writers and those in college, but I’d be interested exploring it. I’d like to know if writing center scholarship might propose some solutions for the achievement gaps that currently exist. For example, there are community writing centers for kids in cities across the US. Are those centers working to help produce more college-bound students?

I know scholarship on most of these issues is out there to build upon – I’ve skimmed some books, seen articles anthologized, etc. – but I’m hoping this course will not only give me the opportunity to plow through some of that work, but that it will also suggest tools or methodologies for picking out what’s significant, what’s missing, and analyze it all to answer the toughest question – so what?

Intro to histories of rhetoric: readings

Predictably enough, I approached the six readings for 5/24 in the order they were listed in the syllabus. As I was reading each piece, I kept wondering how the ordering of these texts would influence my initial understandings of rhetoric’s history — how they would add up to my initial metahistory – especially since I know next to nothing about classical rhetoric or historiography. And now that I’m done with the set, there’s no doubt that a rereading of all would shift my “horizon of expectation” (to borrow from Jauss). As I reflected on each piece, it seemed a bit strange to me that the first four readings – Kellner, Atwill, Berlin, and Schlib – seemed less accessible than Enos and White. But after finishing White, I think I’m starting to understand why.

In White’s 1978 seminal essay, he argues that histories are “verbal fictions” that use a process he calls “emplotment” to string together stories from individual facts (that I assume are less contestable or at least already subsumed into the collective consciousness of the culture to which it speaks). These stories (or “chronicles”) conform, however, to “specific kinds of plot structures,” akin to archetypes through the use of narrative tropes – metaphor, irony, metonymy, and synecdoche – in order to refamiliarize history for its readers so that they might understand traumatic events and, in turn, “make sense of [their] own life-histories.”

[If I can accurately relate this to my own experience with these readings, it would mean that since I did not have a strong history (narrative) from which to build (to refamiliarize), it would make sense why I would be frustrated by these other theorists. Without some device (call it schema, metonymy, etc.) to recall some kind of history, it’s awfully difficult to incorporate it into your own perspective. OR maybe that’s what makes the others strong – they avoid narrative through theory and therefore rewrite history through that genre? I don’t know…]

While it seems that although Enos and White are both dissatisfied with the quality of contemporary historical scholarship, they disagree on the reasons. Whereas White argues that it is not literary enough, Enos believes that it’s too literary, basing most its data on secondary texts. According to Enos scholars should be more concerned with basic/primary research – archival and field work, translations, actual digs in Greece, etc. – rather than “eliciting a reaction to secondary sources.” While Enos makes it clear that he’s not against criticism, he’s concerned about those texts working “independently from basic research and existing as ends in themselves.” At stake, he believes, is the history of rhetoric, which is dramatically captured in the last few lines of his article. Of course, the problem with the argument is one of traditional definitions – an issue indirectly called out by the texts five years earlier (I think?) in Writing Histories of Rhetorics. Specifically, what does “history” and “rhetoric” even mean? (Sigh.)

The weakness with Enos, however, is also his strength. And what I found strong (and personally relieving) about both the White and Enos texts is that they were more accessible because they offered an explicit methodology on how to approach histories. Though their ideas seemed incompatible, I at least felt that if I were to undertake a research project under their supervision, they’d tell me what I’d need to do. On the other hand, with Kellner, Atwill, Berlin, and Schlib, I felt lost in the postmodern slipperiness. Anyway, here’s a quick breakdown of those:

Kellner raises essential questions about the difference between history and rhetoric, admitting both terms “exhibit an endlessly bewildering double nature.” He goes on to argue that the textbook in which his article is being anthologized – and the textbook for many of these texts (Writing Histories of Rhetorics) – is actually “a struggle for power over the discourse.” He then characterizes some of the authors and the editor through a parable centered on a mother’s death. In the end, however, his point is to privilege rhetoric since its tradition is the “strand of meaning” formed by the historian. As he says in the last paragraph, “you are rhetoricians first.”

Berlin seems to agree with Kellner’s view when he argues, “the formulation of rhetoric is a product of the economic, social, and political conditions of a specific historical moment” and therefore histories will change as rhetorics change. Rhetoric is never unified and that we always already have a plurality of rhetorics. Berlin then offers a vague historiographic method that challenges all totalistic, grand historical narratives that builds off of Lyotard. I had trouble figuring out how his call for self-reflection would be used.

Both Atwill and Schilb take a more taxonomic approach to the history of rhetoric. Atwill uses Lyotard and Barbara Smith to sketch what she sees as three genres of history writing: semantic, pragmatic, and syntactic. Her purpose is to generate more terms that will help explain the “signifying functions” of history that take place in the present. Schilb, on the other hand, categorizes different anxieties historians face whenever they are charged to write a history of rhetoric. Each of the five anxieties evoked – taxomania (ironically?), espistemologia, canonia, Brumairism, and heterophobia – “reduces the complexity … we should pursue” as historiographers and we should, therefore, call them out.