Tag Archives: rhetoric

Public morality & the darkside of DIY

A few months ago I came across a retweet by Henry Jenkins about a blog theme (dubbed a “Hotspot”) by Civic Paths focused on the Dark Side(s) of DIY. I was planning my DIY Publishing course at the time and was intrigued that someone was trying undo some of the romanticism the term professes even in the most critical research. Civic Paths includes a group of scholars and activists at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism invested in the effects of participatory culture; the group was started in part by Jenkins whose books and white papers on digital media’s effects on participatory culture are foundational.

The range of issues covered in this Hotspot included some of DIY’s more obvious problems –the creation of audience/community, struggling to fund projects, and sorting through the various stacks of aesthetic failures — but a few of the pieces looked at how a DIY framework can harm what’s defined as legitimate political knowledge. Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, for example, looked at Kony 2012 and the internet memes that made fun of the people (i.e. youth culture) for not understanding the full implications of their support of Invisible Children — and inadvertently propagating its misleading campaign in the process. Such memes painted them as gullible, hypocritical, or simply ignorant. Kligler-Vilenchi’s concern is that although we want knowledgeable citizens, the Kony memes served to discourage political participation by setting up a standard for the “informed citizen ideal” instead of striving for a more “collective intelligence model,” where the cumulative affect of Kony was more knowledge about Uganda. Don’t participate, the memes imply, unless you are willing to understand the full capacity of your participation.

In another brief-but-insightful post, Kjerstin Thorson compares the slogans of news programs of today and yesterday. Contemporary news taglines, which boast of reporting facts and letting viewers decide, significantly differ from Walter Cronkite’s “And that’s the way it is.” Cronkite’s slogan is obviously problematic because it “cuts off debate about alternative interpretations of the news, and closes down the possibility that the news agenda is larger than the artificial container of a TV show.” But Thorson’s essential point in the piece is that the we-report-you-decide rhetoric of contemporary broadcast news interpellates audiences as wholly responsible for the formation of their opinions (or in the context of this week’s readings, their morality). Thorson’s problem with such interpellation is similar to Kligler-Vilenchi’s: it leads to an informed citizen ideal that positions the audience as timeless, endless researchers:

“DIY-powered notions of informed citizenship imply that this kind of information consumption—across multiple sources, always seeking out the story behind the story, never trusting, getting there first, doing it not only yourself but by yourself, on your own is the only right way to arrive at a “real” opinion, one that qualifies citizens to vote or to take other political action.”

In terms of rhetoric, this leads to an endless rabbit hole of inquiry in search of a nebulous truth. An honest example: I am perhaps as guilty as the next citizen of engaging in a political debate online and using a recently-googled source — usually from Pew, the government, or something from a hazy memory — to establish a fact that provides some public capital but faithfully attests to my lived experience. For example, in a recent gun control debate with my cousin on Facebook, I was invited to research gun-related crimes in states with strict gun regulations. Instead, I pointed him to the AAP’s statement on guns in the home to explain, statistically and rationally, why I don’t have one in my house. Later, in a separate post, another family member pointed me to this. From what I observed after Newtown, this kind of discussion — where “rational” arguments and data fly past users at record speeds — went on in several online discussions on FB. While there are plenty of disadvantages of this kind of civic discourse, the benefit is that users — whether they admit it or not — have a better understanding of how gun control debates generally flow (providing they are actually reading each other’s “proof”). Nevertheless, as I mentioned to my cousin, I would rather have the discussion at a bar — what Goodnight calls the private sphere — instead of FB. Because the truth is, I often run out of time in the endless forum of social media. This is a variation of Thorsen’s point: who has time to be an ideally informed citizen? Moreover, can we embrace Kligler-Vilenchi’s collective intelligence model if the 21st century expectation of an informed citizen overwhelms us to the point of disengaging from the political process entirely (or at least discursively).

Of the four articles we read this week in 631, all but one were published before the social web. G Thomas Goodnight’s “The Personal, Technical and Public Sphere of Argument” is the exception (1999); it circulated era where two-way website communication was increasing, but blogs were still in their infancy. That said, because of her insistence on a model of public morality centered on active craft by humans — “daily and locally” — Celeste Michelle Condit’s “Crafting Virtue” (1987) initially feels most compatible with contemporary, networked public discourse. My larger question this week is how networks have impacted this set of readings and if it is ever possible to participate in the crafting of public morality given some of the limitations raised by the Civic Paths bloggers. Do these networks and ecologies simply overwhelm us and, thus, our responsibilities to a public morality?

In that case, perhaps some of the other authors in this set — Goognight, Thomas Frentz, or Walter Fisher — have significant points, and public morality is now more than ever necessarily “privatized,” to borrow from Condit’s characterization. That is, Condit posits Fisher and Frentz especially as making a case for the privatization of morality through three assumptions: (1) a generally pessimistic view of the state of public morality and (2) employing a “conversational” model of moral discourse, which (3) emphasizing individual moral growth over the collective. These assumptions, according to Condit, subvert the fundamental functions of public discourse where “[p]ublic advocates rarely convince each other, but given a rhetorical model, they do not have to do so.” Instead she argues, “[c]ompeting rhetors persuade third parties–audiences–and create a ‘public consensus’ that does not require the approval of every individual on every point–although it requires a general minimal satisfaction” (308). Condit, in effect, supports the sort of collective intelligence model touched upon by Kligler-Vilenchi where public participation in moral argumentation can be limited so long as people — many people — do it. Though our participation is imperfect, in other words, we are morally obligated to do it.

Although Condit positions herself as incompatible with Frentz, I wonder if what Frentz is advocating, the practice of rhetorical conversation, can add up to Condit’s view of public morality as collective craft. That is, the millions of FB conversations about gun control add up to a collective clarification of our moral imperatives. For Frentz, a rhetorical conversation is “a narrative episode in which a conflict over opposing moral viewpoint re-unites the agents with their own moral histories, with the moral traditions of which they are a part, and–perhaps mod important–with an awareness of the virtues” (291-92). Rhetorical conversation, then, requires participants to evaluate their own moral histories which (perhaps) leads to a stronger awareness of their individual telos. In a social system, of course, such telos are not unique. Perhaps for me it is a pacific existence (or at least a resistance to rhetorical fear), but for others it might be the rights of the individual (and I’m trying to be generous here).

Finally, I think Goodnight’s various spheres are useful in understanding the difficulty Thorton is trying to describe in her blog post. Goodnight argues that as social(ized) rhetors, we participate in various superstructures called spheres, constructed by discourse practices, in order to deal with uncertainty. According to Goodnight, within the personal sphere rhetors make unpreserved oral, impromptu, time-bound arguments using evidence from memory or whatever is immediately available. The technical sphere on the other hand consists of a requisite, professional community that communicates discursively through refereed platforms. This is, of course, the court of law, the world of academia, etc. The public sphere transcends both the personal and technical spheres to apply to the entire community or citizenry. The problem for Goodnight, and for Fisher as well, is that the public sphere has been diminished by two forces: a dominant technical sphere (Fisher might call this the rational paradigm) where “specialization is necessary to make knowledgeable decisions” (258-259) and a narcissistic private sphere, where the “celebration of personal lifestyle” which inspires politicians to offer only “personalities” and “false intimacy” (259). This “decline of deliberative practice” is only more depressing to Goodnight with the advent of the web technologies where said deliberation if “replaced by consumption” (260). Goodnight ends his piece suggesting that “[i]f the public sphere is to be revitalized, then those practices which replace deliberative rhetoric by substituting alternative modes of invention and restricting subject matter need to be uncovered and critiqued.” By whom? By none other than “the theorist of argument” — the professor — who “could contribute significantly to the perfection of pubic forms and forums of argument” (261).

As elitist as Goodnight’s conclusion sounds, I actually agree that one of the most promising solutions for a reassertion of deliberative practice would be schooling (and the humanities more specifically); however, his goal of perfection is what reminds me that the informed ideal citizen often comes from academia in the first place, whether its from arrogance or complex self-righteousness. So what responsibility do we as teachers and scholars have for suggesting to students (and even ourselves) manageable ways to think critically without asking for an endless pursuit to truth? When is closure necessary and productive? Finally, what responsibility do we have as theorists and teachers of argument to empower students to become more than consumers without being consumed by the responsibility of that pursuit?

What Can Rhetoric Be?

As I read the first section of Contemporary Rhetorical Theory, What Can Rhetoric Be?, it seems to me that the anthologized works from the late 80s and 90s were still coming to terms with the influence of Aristotle and neo-Aristotelianism’s propagation of objective constructions of rhetoric. Although I’d like to hear more about how the authors define neo-Aristotelianism, it seems epitomized as worshipping singular texts and their intrinsic, constricted, monocultural features. In some cases, the theorists in this section used other eras of classical rhetoric to respond to said tradition (Poulakos), while others took more experimental, feminist, postmodern approaches to rhetoric, deconstructing the term via various historical tropes for women (Sutton). As the intro to this section points out, what these essays share is their approach to rhetoric as praxis; that is, as concurrently performed or embodied “theory and action” (<– tentative definition). Related to that, what I noticed in at least four of the six was a definition of rhetoric that had to similarly comes to terms with shifting contexts, an idea I explored while reading the introduction last week. While I don’t intend to anchor my definition of rhetoric to context this entire semester, I do think it’s appropriate to examine how these articles engage the idea of context.

For instance in three of the articles — John Poulakos’s “Toward a Sophistic Definition of Rhetoric,” Michael Leff’s “The Habitation of Rhetoric,” and Thomas Farrell’s “Knowledge, Consensus, and Rhetorical Theory” — appropriateness plays a significant role in their definitions. For Poulakos an examination of doers (Sophists) over thinkers (philosophers) leads us to understand rhetoric as an art (techne) “which seeks to capture in opportune moments that which is appropriate and attempts to suggest that which is possible” (26). Key to this understanding are the Sophists’ concepts of kairos and to prepon so that the rhetorician says the right thing at the right time. How do we know if s/he succeeds? If the audience can imagine themselves as other — if they can consider what’s possible, moving away from actuality — or if they don’t (and I’m a little confused by this), they at least critically understand their stasis as more authentic than the possibility of something else (this would describe a hipster watching American Idol, I suspect).

In seeking to negotiate the restrained rhetoric of neo-aristotelianism and the liberated rhetoric of neo-sophism that Poulakos advocated, Leff settles on a definition of rhetoric that accepts it as a form of action, but requires some kind of substance for analysis. In this way, then, decorum works as the rubric for rhetoric since it essentially requires a understanding of the context and process, but uses the product as the test: “It is the principle of decorum that allows us to comprehend a situation as a whole, to locate its meaning within a context, and to translate this understanding into a discursive form that becomes an incentive to action” (62). Using decorum to understand rhetoric is useful thanks to its flexibility.

Thomas Farrell seeks a similar flexibility to deal with what he calls a “widening circle of acquaintance”; he thus sketches the idea of a rhetorical forum, a specific location “where types of reasoning and argument are practiced” (88) and to some extent ordered. Rhetorical practice in the forum are regulated in some way. Similar to Leff, Farrell believes that rhetoric can be understood in the context of the forum so that “rhetorical practice enacts the norms of propriety collaboratively with interested collective others” (91). These norms, he notes, are always changing and difficult to pin down.

Of all the writers in the first section Michael Calvin McGee’s has been cited far more than the others — and probably for good reason. Although written in 1990, “Text, Context, and the Fragmentation of Contemporary Culture” attempts to get at the essence of the 90s and the end of the 20th century by calling out speech discourse as existing as fragments where “rhetors make discourses from scraps and pieces of evidence” (70). He lays out three structural elements — sources, culture and influence — and requires all three to be present in rhetoric in order for critics claim they understand its meaning. Such an approach to context is necessary because we now live in a heterogeneous culture. In this way, the structural elements are necessary just as Farrell’s forum is necessary to his theory. Evidence of such homogeneity is contrived, however, as one wonders that although the suffrage gave women a voice and Brown v BOE mixed the races, it’s not like women or African Americans didn’t develop their own discourse systems. In others words, McGee’s call for such a new theory is suspiciously WASPy. That said, he does acknowledge more instantaneous media and the “knowledge explosion” it engendered (this sounds similar to Farrell’s “widening circle”). This line, in particular, got my attention: “text construction is now something done more by the consumers than by the producers of discourse” (76). In other words, as readers or listeners we need to be prepared (or prepare our students) to be critical enough to fill in the blanks, to know how to find good information, and to understand the fragments of texts, especially their sources. The problem with McGee, however, is that he seeks to limit rhetorical criticism to speech — and increasing problem in the digital age.

While all of these manifestations of rhetoric and context seem more accurate in the 21st century, one still wonders how to develop the tools to gauge these various and shifting contexts in order to better understand them. What happens, for instance, when the context shifts but the people do not? I’m thinking here of how zine communities move from various print and digital platforms, or how someone who produced print-only publications in the 1990s explains print subcultures to students raised on Facebook. Speaking of which, can rhetoric theory anticipate contexts? Is part of their job to predict? In McGee’s case, the answer seems obvious.

I also wonder about some of the terminology in these pieces. What is the difference, for instance, between decorum and propriety? Forum and context?

And what elements of formalist study do we need to retain so that everything does not seem so relative, as one of my peers pointed out. Or is relativism and theory and rhetoric compatible?

Intro to Lucaites, Condit, and Caudill

In the first meeting of my contemporary rhetorics class this week, Kevin asked us to (1) describe rhetoric and illustrate our definition (as in literally draw it), and (2) describe our major limitations as rhetorical theorists and how we imagine negotiating them. For the first prompt I concluded (rather simply) that rhetoric is discourse in context. While unsure about the term “discourse” (fearing that a term like “knowledge,” “language” or even “literacy” might serve equally) I wanted to hang my definition especially on context because, as I put it, “it’s about who says what, where, when and why. Context is important for us if we want to respect the ability of knowledge to escape us, to shift, to reflect and awe.”

More on this drawing below.

More on this drawing below.

This was an ok start without having any foundation or reading to lean on, I thought, but as I mentioned in my response to the second prompt, I tend to be reductive in both my understanding and application of theory, feeling as though I sometimes selectively or deterministically use ideas for whatever agenda I’m pursuing. I tend to negotiate my misunderstanding by reading lots of head notes and secondary sources (which sometimes is the symptom and not the cause of such reduction). I attribute part of the problem to exposure — not actively reaching for theory in my own time and having a difficult time sustaining my attention as I slog through it.

It was comforting, then, to read the introduction to our course text — Lucaites, Condit and Caudill’s Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader — and know that perhaps I’ve retained more about rhetorical theory over the years than I realize. The introduction suggests that the most basic meaning of rhetoric would include “problems and possibilities of human communication” (1), a persecutive compatible with the volume’s disciplinary perspective, which comes from communication studies. Here’s a basic summary of the intro:

  • The intro starts at the beginning — with a discussion of the role classical rhetoric has played in shaping contemporary theory, arguing that “rhetoric typically emphasized the public, persuasive, and contextual characteristics of human discourse in situations governed by the problems of contingency” (2; emphasis in original). This aligns with the theories and histories we read in the fall for Ancient Rhetorics, especially the idea of contingency, that rhetoric helps us understand reality in terms of probabilities and not certainties. As the authors point out, however, classical rhetoric’s focus on public communication has meant the most to contemporary theory since “once a public or the citizenry is persuaded to endorse and act upon communally shared goals that history moves forward (or backward) in significant ways” (4). After discussing context and persuasiveness further and applying it (in typical comm studies fashion) to a famous speech (Churchill’s “War Situation I”), the introduction summarizes post-antiquity rhetorical study as having been replaced by more positivist approaches. While rhetoric still existed as “the Harlot of the Arts,” dominant thinkers did not consider rhetoric’s role on the thinking they were doing; in other words, rhetoric was as Plato had originally defined it, as dressing. In other words, rhetoric was too complex for the kinds of thinking that valued universal, grand narratives.
  • By the time the 1960s arrived, the authors argue, two events began to move rhetorical theory from its historical and pedagogical restrictions to accommodate more disruptive, refractive publics: television and grassroots social movements. This new focus became interested in “understanding the relationships between rhetoric and social theory” (8). A more social view of rhetoric helped question the knowledge/language problem in the field. For example, Robert Scott’s essay, “On Viewing Rhetoric as Epistemic” argued that rhetoric is not simply a means of making the truth effective, but it is quite literally a way of knowing, a means of production of truth and knowledge in a world where certainty is rare and yet action must be taken” (9). We’ll read this essay in a few weeks. His work and others in the late 60s helped pave the way for additional social perspectives, such as Lloyd Bitzer’s concept of the rhetorical situation (which has more recently been updated with rhetorical ecologies) and arguably rhetoric’s larger place in the humanities where “to be to rhetorical was a central and substantial dimension of many facets of the human social experience” (10).
  • Following this rhetorical turn in the 70s, our introduction notes, a debate between modernist and postmodernist perspectives ensued. Modernists were essentially neoclassicists who believed in knowable truths, while postmodernists believed that “struggle, not consensus is the defining characteristic of social life” (11). Rhetorical theory at this point was still concrete, not performative and thus, applied neo-Aristotelianism principles to rhetorical situations instead of calling into question the reliability of the reality being studied. Interestingly, however, the book notes that one of contemporary rhetorical theory’s major projects is to figure out what replaces modernist perspectives of rhetoric. Thus, theorists in the late 70s aimed at constructing more reflexive approaches to rhetoric, seeing, for example, audiences as “rhetorically material.” In short, postmodernity made rhetorical study theoretical by default.

When Kevin asked us to illustrate our definition of rhetoric I came up with that flow chart of sorts, which placed a generic subject in the center with arrows coming in and moving out, which represented rhetoric. Part of what’s valuable about this intro for me, then, is seeing just how my definition and perspective has been shaped by contemporary theory (regardless of how crude or reductive that perspective might be). Although I was trying to illustrate the role context plays in meaning by placing a generic subject at the center and placing basic influences on one side (parents, school, media) and tools, channels and audiences on the other (computer, friends, clothes), I was trying to get at the chaos of rhetoric. And in reflecting on my definition further here, I wonder what contemporary rhetorical theory offers us for dealing with that chaos, whether our goals are to foster social change, or to help our students understand when to talk and when to listen. More than anything, I’m looking forward to continuing to better understand a discipline I still feel outside of.

Invention and Rhetorica ad Herenium

I’m resurrecting the blog this Halloween to think through some ideas on invention — and because having two kids means that I only have time to blog when I’m required to write short papers for my Ancient Rhetoric class (Hey guys!).

This week we’re pushing along, moving away from the Greeks and into the Romans by reading Rhetorica ad Herenium, which I’ve enthusiastically shorted to “RAH!” (exclamation point optional). RAH is essentially a handbook from 100 BC (late Antiquity, roughly 250-300 years after Isocrates and Aristotle). Along with Cicero’s De inventione (which contains several identical passages as RAH), it’s considered the first text from Rome on rhetoric. Despite this status, the book’s introduction in the Caplan translation characterizes the book as “a Greek art in Latin dress, combining a Roman spirit with Greek doctrine” (vii). I’m not entirely sure what this means since we’re only just beginning to learn about the cultural and geopolitical context for Roman rhetoric; however, it’s worth noting that the entire educational approach (enkyklios paideia, or “the rounded education”), and its formalist exercises in declamation (progymnasmata), emerged from the colonization and subsequent hellenization of Rome. According to Thomas Conley in Rhetoric in the European Tradition, ancient Roman rhetoric was learned from the Sophists and emulated Isoctates most of all, but standardized a curriculum for civic participation using enkyklios paideia and progymnasmata, essentially ancient skill-and-drill-style exercises.

The standardization of a curriculum especially in times of colonization is likely to lead any comp/rhet scholar, let alone anyone who took as few humanities classes in the last 20 years, to endless examples where language was used to limit, shape, control or contain groups based on race, class, or any other sociological category. Perhaps it was for this reason that Roman leaders initially resisted the enkyklios paideia, as it was meant to meet the “bureaucratic needs of Hellenistic governments” (Conley 31). However, learning rhetoric must have been seen as influencing cultural power as Latin speakers quickly learned that speech is what separated the Greeks from uncivilized barbarians in the hellenized world (Conley 32). In fact, RAH states from the outset that “[t]he task of the public speaker is to discuss capably those matters which law and custom have fixed for the uses of citizenship…” (5). In short, the eloquent orator — the good man speaking well — lives on via Cicero and RAH and invites citizens of Rome to join the ranks.

On one hand if the goal of the Greeks were to colonize, then the style of RAH makes perfect sense. Its didactic approach proceeds as an outline (i.e. “First, I will talk about X and Y. Of X there are three features, A, B, C. Of A, there are four subfeatures: 1, 2, and 3…”); reading it persistently requires rote recursive maneuvers and echoes some of my least favorite, domesticating moments from school. At times, it was more prudent to study my edition’s Analysis section which simply summarized these points and frequently employed tree diagrams, like the one below, to do so.

From the Analysis section of RAH

One can imagine an ancient reader studying RAH and knowing it as the only way to speak and, therefore, think. In fact, we inherit from Aristotle that invention (which RAH dedicates more than half of its space to outlining) is thought.

On the other hand, a large portion of the book covers invention for judicial causes (as opposed to epideictic or deliberative which are briefly discussed in Book III) and should be read in that context. That is, RAH acknowledges other occasions for speaking, but privileges the judicial because it argues it is the most difficult (read: bureaucratic?) of the three causes. One could imagine that the power of RAH as a handbook might empower aspiring orators (sponsored or self taught, I’m not really certain) if they could only learn how the more advanced speakers of the colony (e.g. the Sophists) wielded their oratorical power.

Of course, I realize I’m reading as what Edward Schiappa might call a “rational reconstructionist,” looking at RAH too closely “within [my] own philosophical framework” (194). But, frankly, as an introduction to ancient Roman rhetoric, how else am I to read it? If we can’t read it as rational reconstructionists, of what use is the treatise to contemporary audiences? I’m finding this to be a pattern in my ancient rhetoric course, as it is my one and only primer for ancient rhetoric.

My sense, though, is that while using postcolonial theory or even simply good-old-fashioned historical reconstruction to unravel the complex relationship between the Greeks and Romans would be fruitful, it’s beyond the scope of this post. Rather, because RAH reminds me so vividly of prescriptive pedagogies, I think it’s an interesting challenge to consider the degree to which it is actually still like contemporary writing pedagogies. As RAH tells us more than once, invention is “the most important and the most difficult” of the canons (59). I agree — and I’d argue so does the field. We still have hundreds of contemporary composition handbooks to help students invent (They Say/I Say, for example) and many of our writing programs still prescribe, even when we obscure the prescription as “heuristic.” And, of course, we have multiple debates from our scholarship that posit prescriptive approaches against more subjective ones (Bartholomae v Elbow, Connors v Berlin, Flower v Bizzell, and more recently, Miller v Sirc). For the remainder of this post, then, I’d like to briefly consider the degree to which RAH’s methods of invention are compatible with contemporary perspectives.

Although RAH is laid out linearly, I imagine aspects of its use weren’t all that different from contemporary handbooks, in didactic and autodidactic situations alike. By didactic I mean a teacher probably helped explain certain theories and structures, modeled them frequently, and led the student through the exercises, with frequent guided practice (as with the traditional 14 progymnasmata). By autodidactic, I mean a learner maybe memorized the book’s precepts and perhaps practiced sections alone or with a peer (this probably more true in later periods when texts circulated more readily). In fact, Book I states that its canons are best learned through “three means: Theory, Imitation, and Practice” (7-9) — an approach inherited from Protagoras. What separates RAH from contemporary handbooks, however is the former’s centrality to the curriculum. That is, implicit in RAH’s three means is the notion that learners will imitate and practice the structures though constant speaking and listening. How many of us who require handbooks put them at the center of our courses (assuming we even use them)?

While RAH is arranged linearly, the approach obscures the sophistic influence that many feminist scholars (Crowley, Vitanza, Jarrett, etc.) have embraced so far in our ancient rhetoric course. That is, RAH actually reinforces a core value of composition: the idea that truth is slippery. We require a discourse that avoids “confus[ing] language with reality” (Crowley 328) — even if that discourse must be rigid, as is the case with something like legalese. We need such rhetoric, as Berlin argued in the first Octolog, because we frequently disagree on reality. Whether the speaker is a lawyer or historian, rhetoric leads to closure, as a “stay against chaos” (33). This is why arguments require disagreeing parties to enter into a structure that provides a stasis — “the basic issue in dispute resulting from the positions taken by adversaries in a debate” (Conley 32). Stasis is the starting point in argumentation and RAH’s treatment of invention is essentially a theory of stasis in such discourse. Speakers sort this out via the Division, Proof, and Refutation stages of invention and come to some kind of closure, “for when we have submitted our arguments and destroyed those of the opposition, we have, of course, completely fulfilled the speaker’s function” (33).

Violence aside, the contemporary pressure to invent is a similar pressure: to produce a text under a particular timeline, to win, and to move on. A rhetorical occasion, especially when it comes to the composition classroom, has a start and an end that is dictated largely by the exigence (and ghosts) of print genres. I am most comfortable with RAH when I reflect on my own teaching of business writing (WRT 307), for example. Although the course is rooted in rhetoric via audience, it’s accountable for a genre-based pedagogy. Students need to leave the class having learned short forms (memos, letters) and longer forms (instructions and reports). Although I try not to teach the class in this way, those genres lend themselves to more objective structures than, say, the academic essay. In other words, RAH is not altogether different from the superstructures listed in Anderson’s Technical Communication. In fact, its suggestions for deliberative causes echo the kinds of guidelines my students follow when writing a feasibility report. That said, more experienced, practiced writers invent by being immersed in what Collin Brooke calls (via LeFevre and Bawarshi) ecologies.

As Brooke argues in Lingua Fracta, “The question ‘how do I start?’ that dominates pedagogical considerations of invention is more precisely a question of getting to the right answer (“How do I write something that will meet with the approval of my evaluator?”)” (85). For this reason he envisions a “proairetic invention,” which is a more generative approach to invention that respects endless renewal of new media because it resists closure. This blog, as an example of new media, is endless by definition. And with it I am drawing from whatever is available in my current ecology, which, as a maturing graduate student will change significantly from now until, well, forever. Having just read Brooke last week, I use my current ecology to make meaning of RAH, which I also read last week. If I read Bartholomae, I would be writing a different blog post.

Another example of a different approach to invention can be found in Jeff Rice’s “The 1963 Hip-Hop Machine: Hip-Hop Pedagogy As Composition,” where Rice brings juxtaposition to bear on sonic and alphabetic texts. Experimental arrangements of samples from more or less arbitrary texts can still yield interesting and productive meaning by way of syntheses. By reaching into whatever is available, composers can place these texts up against each other in order to look at patterns and relationships. This method helps address the common problem of invention for the novice and professional writer alike — just to get something to talk about and mess with. I’m paraphrasing Rice liberally here, but the point is that these more experimental, open approaches can be quite useful when writers can’t seem to get more prescriptive, dominant voices out of their heads.

Personally, when it comes to academic writing, I find Rice and Brooke’s approach to invention more in line with my own practices than I do RAH’s. Part of the reason for this is that invention is different in the 21st century not so much because we no longer require stasis or structures for our civic discourse (clearly we do!), but that the available means (information and modes/media) has grown and continues to grow exponentially. At the same time, I don’t fully discount the value of its approach in particular and specific scenarios. Stasis theory is important to civic discourse and argumentation. We need a stay against chaos. The question RAH reminds me of is not only when, but how to use more prescriptive, genre-based approaches to composition over the more experimental, open, endless maneuvers suggested by Brooke and Rice.

Questions for discussion:

  • How might we use elements of RAH in our classrooms? When is it appropriate to provide linear, didactic approaches versus more experimental ones?
  • RAH argues that invention is the most important canon and the most difficult part of rhetoric.” Why could we imagine this to be true in 100 BC and is it still the case today?
  • How is RAH relevant? Why should contemporary scholars and writing instructors read it beyond simply history for its own sake? If we were to image updating the arrangement of the treatise from a print text to a hypertext, how might that help us see its affordances?
  • Handbooks are central to an autodidactic pedagogy. But how do its users interpret, practice, and otherwise engage them effectively? How do our own students use handbooks, other than to copy and apply formatting (like MLA)? Can we embrace proairetic invention and hip-hop pedagogy as long as we have handbooks? How might we use them in the classroom in ways the Romans used RAH?

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.

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.