RSA at MLA

2014 Session

Untimely Historiographies

A special roundtable presentation featuring contributors to the 2014 special issue of Rhetoric Society Quarterly. 

Writing the Event: The Impossibility for Historiography–Michelle Ballif, University of Georgia

Sande Cohen criticizes Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx as advancing a “historiography without history” (172).  Intended as a death blow, the criticism rather inspires a historiography that dispenses with traditional historical thinking, which Cohen himself describes as “the successivity of events, no matter how ambiguous, gathered together as proper names (French Revolution), which at once serve as periodization and event-markers” (173). This essay argues that such “normative historical thinking” elides the radical singularity of the event by subjecting the event to meaning by way of categorical norms that cannot—by definition—include the radical singularity of “what happened,” and that such “normative historical thinking” renders every event significant only insofar as it becomes evidentiary to and subservient to a satisfying narrative with a proper beginning, middle, and end—all of which follow, chronologically, in a logic of time. So, how might the event—inappropriable–be written to counter this representational demand and appropriative impulse? In Derrida’s “A Certain Impossible Possibility of Saying the Event,” on which this proposed essay relies, Derrida notes that “[o]ne of the characteristics of the event is that not only does it come about as something unforeseeable, not only does it disrupt the ordinary course of history, but it is also absolutely singular” (446). Yet, he insists, it is always already repeatable, in that it will reappear—from the future, and that one must ethically receive it.  As such, the event has everything to do with hospitality:  one does not say, he notes, in a spirit of hospitality, I will receive you this once, but never again; one must be prepared to host the event now—and forever (453).  And how to do so—how to write a hospitable history of/for the event?  One beyond the regimes of knowledge?  That is what this essay will attempt to theorize.

Time Splits–Hans Kellner, North Carolina State University

The chronoschism, a split in time found at all levels of discourse, complicates and disrupts the understanding of any narrative form, and especially of historical  writing.  The simplest  words like “yet” or “still” contain within them a usually unnoticed division between the moment represented and the expectations of either a narrator or the reader (who is being thus manipulated by a narrator).  At the grandest level, we encounter “historical distance” proper, the temporal distance between historian and event which is sometimes thought to undermine the value of historical study (we are  too far from Caesar’s Rome to get things right) or to ensure its vale (the chronochasm places us in a position to oversee the outcomes of events and thus understand their meaning).  Between the extremes of  casual verbal time markers, and grand historical distances are an innumerable variety of historical and historiographic chronoschisms, which erupt continually and disruptively.  No moment of time stands or speaks for itself; it is always a figure without meaning or place until fulfilled by a later moment, itself without its own meaning since the present is never present.  The figuralism described by Erich Auerbach and Hayden White can be shown to be the epistemology of all historical reflection (a word which captures figuralism very well).  Reading and writing in time become a hall of mirrors, as the arrow of time proves to move in many directions at once as a reading of examples will show.

Haunted by a Peacock–Jane S. Sutton, Penn State University, York

This essay considers Antiphon’s fragment On the Peacocks as a double-sided experiment in rhetoric, its history, and historiographical methods. To set up the experiment, it first configures the fragment in the form of a narrative. Drawing from T. Todorov’s narrative detailed in Genres in Discourse, the essay organizes the experience of a peacock in terms of  having its wings clipped thus causing it to stay put or of not having them clipped thus preserving the bird’s physical ability to fly. Arguably, the peacock’s experience of either staying put or flying is the transformative biography of rhetoric. As such, the art has both the status of fixity or of refusing it. A fixed rhetoric offers through the ancient Greek metaphor of rhetoric as a house, the idea that the art’s evolution, including its relation with the accidental, is conceived and contained within a defined temporal structure. But at the same time, the experience of rhetoric, insofar as it refuses to be cooped up and assimilated by metaphysical forces in which the art was built, retains an ability to fly. Rhetoric contains within its house an uncanny dimension where questions of its functionality share a realm of questions concerning the accidental, the contingent, and the random. The essay, in its second move, uses the wings to perform a double-sided experiment on rhetoric. What if rhetoric, as a winged art, lands on the roof of its house, its fixity, as it were, and haunts it with uncertainty? What does it mean to open up rhetoric simultaneously to its temporal structure to untimely forces, to winged speech, to birds on the outside? This essay is not the abolition of history, rhetoric, or its methods; the essay is the abolition of (re)producing rhetoric by clipping its wings. Haunted by a peacock is to revel in the unexpected in rhetoric designed to be the art of contingency.

A Re-thinking of Historiographies (of Rhetorics) as Atemporal, Anachronistic Post-cinematic Practices–Victor J. Vitanza

My in.tensions: My task is to negate the negation of the so-called science of philology. Following Werner Hamicher’s recent publication of “95 Theses on Philology,” I agree that philology is not a science in any sense of modernity’s object of study. I will, therefore, challenge the writing of history, historiography, as the dominant discourse. Specifically, I will challenge chronology over anachronology. Furthermore, I will challenge historiography based on words over images. I will continue to work under the rubric of yet another “return to philology.” Specifically, I’m going after the would-be traditional philologists and their c(h)ronies who de/base histories exclusively on the presumed law of chronological time (periodixation, origins), and deflect virtually all that they see otherwise as anachronistic. With philology in mind, my concern is THE history of rhetoric, historiography, and the law of chronology. My approach, which I can only suggest here, will be to develop a dis/array of both negative and non-positive affirmative deconstructions as well as representative anecdotes checked with misrepresentative antidotes on THE chronic CHRONO-LOGICAL history of rhetoric with some help from Vilém Flusser as well as Jean-Luc Godard. My attempt here, then, is a series of re-beginnings. To decolonize chrono-time! So as to radically rethink writing histories of sophis.tic ! rhetorics by way of atemporal post-cinematics. In dis/order to dis/rupt chronology I will exploit a diminishing of negation that gives us chronological, temporal narratives. My contribution will be a set of notes on shooting and editing a film of histories of rhetorics.

 Inventing the Language of Historical Beginning–Bradford Vivian, Syracuse University

This essay generates a rhetorical theory of how social and political actors shape public perceptions of historical time for potentially transformative ends.  It does so by delineating common tropes that agents for change may use in order to convince followers that a profoundly altered time of liberation, requiring new forms of belief and conduct, is imminent.  Such tropes symbolically turn (tropos) those in the present away from a familiar past in order to embrace a moment of historical natality, a newly born era of inauguration, revolution, or termination.  Persuasive enunciations of these tropes institute radical ruptures with the past that has hitherto defined the historical identity and future destiny of an entire people.  The essay draws from the historical reflections of Thomas Paine, Friedrich Nietzsche, Hannah Arendt, and early twentieth-century political manifestoes in order to trace how social and political figures invent such irruptive forms of historical narrative.  The historical language of continuity, perdurance, and preservation can be used to perpetuate the authority of a particular political order.  This essays shows, conversely, that rhetorically crafted idioms of historical beginning constitute potentially potent inventional resources for rewriting the historical record so as to justify radical political upheavals.

2013 Session

Beyond Bias, Binary, and Border: Mapping out the Future of Comparative Rhetorics

A special roundtable presentation featuring contributors to the 2014 special issue of Rhetoric Society Quarterly. 

Developing a Discursive Third for Comparative Rhetorical Studies–LuMing Mao

Building on my own work and others’ on comparative methodology, and taking into account the age of globalization as a defining paradigm for many disciplines, I use this introduction to develop a more comprehensive framework to address the major challenges confronting comparatists as well as scholars studying non-euroamerican, indigenous rhetorical practices. Specifically, I propose developing a discursive third to help actualize the dialectical process of moving between the internal and the external, between the familiar and the unfamiliar. A discursive third represents a self-reflexive, historically-inflected stance that grows out of critically evaluating both “self” and “other,” out of interrogating the researcher’s own subject position(s)/legacies and unpacking how political, economic, and socio-cultural exigencies help determine local contexts and complicate the role of agency. I want to suggest that such a stance better enables us to move away from formulating structures of sameness or difference based on facts or things along the borders of the nation-state to developing relations of interdependence based on lived, holistic experiences beyond such borders. I argue that taking this third stance amounts to performing a meta-discursive narrative, traversing the traditional binaries that separate the self from the other or the past from the present and enacting a dialectic process that recasts them as coterminous and interconnected.

I use Chinese and Asian American rhetorics as examples to illustrate this framework, further urging comparatists to deploy the lens of this discursive third to critically engage the euroamerican paradigm and to cultivate other modes of representation within and across culture

Uchi/Soto in Japan: A Global Turn–Dominic Ashby

Studies in comparative rhetoric often define themselves along national lines. Many historical studies in particular are bound by a perspective that each culture has its “own” history, an outlook disciplinary categories reinforce. While such studies remain important for countering narratives of the euroamerican tradition as the pinnacle of rhetorical development, comparative rhetoric needs to go further by replacing nation-bound identities and methodologies, and studying “transnational rhetorical practices.” A number of scholars have responded to this need, studying the inter-reliance of rhetorical traditions across national boundaries; however, more work is needed to illuminate networks and relations between cultural, linguistic, and national groups.

My study of uchi/soto (inside/outside) in Japanese rhetoric, while centering on a nationally-identified tradition, focuses on negotiation between incoming and indigenous cultural forces. Uchi/soto, a dialectic of shifting, contextual relationships, functions as a “safety valve” to control outside cultural influences, domesticating the foreign by giving it a role as foreign within Japanese culture, while selectively and gradually integrating outside elements as “essentially” Japanese. I provide some brief examples of the uchi/soto dynamic in Japan’s interaction with

Tang-dynasty China and with European powers following 1853, forefronting the intercultural elements of a “national,” “indigenous” tradition. Though practiced in an island nation often characterized as isolated, uchi/soto shows Japanese rhetoric as aware of its relationship with outside cultures, an “always already” globalized tradition. Applied broadly, such a perspective challenges notions of “indigenous” traditions as isolated trajectories and makes all strands of comparative rhetoric, whether historical or contemporary, part of the global turn.

Forging New Paths: Comparative Rhetoric, Postcolonial Studies, and Transnational Feminisms–Bo Wang

In the last few decades, comparative rhetoric has made significant progress and shown for the first time various practices and conceptions of speaking and writing in ancient China, Egypt, India, Japan, and other areas in the East. Despite these advances, most studies have focused on canonical texts written by men. Existing research on women’s rhetoric in other traditions reveals scant attention to new theoretical developments in postcolonial and transnational studies (e.g., Swearingen 2004, Wang, Wu 2005). To do comparative rhetoric responsibly, comparatists need to rethink how they are positioned, how their identities and subjectivities are constituted in various geopolitical and historical contexts, and how these conditions affect the production and transmission of knowledge of the other.

Such a paradigmatic shift to an approach based on multiple interwoven modes of analysis, I argue, would help set the stage for more sophisticated studies of particular rhetorics and complicate our understanding of these traditions. Examining the cultural debate in modern China over what and how women should write, I explore how early twentieth-century Chinese women employed hybrid vernacular genres such as epistolary fiction and lyrical essays to redefine two indigenous concepts de (virtue) and cai (talent in writing) that had codified writing as a male domain and to appropriate the Western notion of women’s rights. These women’s work illustrates how gender, postcolonial, and transnational studies can lead to new insights into a particular tradition and invigorate comparative rhetoric as the discipline continues to forge new paths in the twenty-first century.

Rhetoric and India’s Nyāya Argumentation: a Case for a Polymorphic Rhetoric–Keith Lloyd

While both the West and India’s Nyāya method developed the two-part claim and reason formula, in Nyāya, an enthymatic because-type argument always illustrates a relevant analogy (Lloyd), sparking immediate understanding in the hearer. For example, in the Medival Simhasana Dvatrimsika, the people speak to their king after a beneficent act: Unmindful of your own ease, you endure pains every day for the sake of your people [Because] It is your nature. Like the tree taking the sun to provide shade. (Simhasana Dvatrimsika 161-2) This dual-functional rhetoric both compliments and admonishes. Nyāya is immediately understandable and used to argue across caste and power boundaries. This approach was perfectly adapted to the multi-ethnic and multi-religious context of India. Rulers like Emperor Ashoka (269 BC to 232 BC) and Muslim Emporer Akbar (1542-1605), affected policies of free debate recognized by even less-tolerant rulers which continue in Indian society today. This paper traces examples of Nyāya argumentation and debate from is emergence in oral tradition (Brihadaranyaka Upaniṣad, mid first millennium BCE), through first century and medieval, eighteenth and nineteenth century, to contemporary Indian arguments. It also reveals the unique development of Nyāyasutra, as it became a way for kings, merchants, and Brahmin alike to debate “without fear” (Debate of King Milinda 35). This paper suggests, based in this case study of Nyāya’s development and importance, a polymorphic approach to comparative rhetoric. Rhetorical practices, though sharing the elements of dialogue, debate, and persuasion, develop unique adaptations to their environments lost in simple “comparative” rhetoric.

A Response: China: Another Other–C. Jan Swearingen

While comparative studies in literature is a well-established discipline, comparative rhetorical studies are only now beginning to define aims and objectives: moving beyond a Greco- Roman or euroamerican basis for comparison with the practices and theories of other cultures; revising the orientalist bias that has often shaped comparative rhetorical studies of past and present cultures; and advancing scholarly methods that can foster improved communication across cultures inside and outside of academia. Comparative literature was an important home base for revisionist orientalists such as Edward Said. Comparative ethnography and anthropological linguistics have contributed the ideas of contact zones, first defined by Mary Louise Pratt, and Kenneth Pike’s distinction between emic and etic approaches to language and culture. Because rhetoric, as a discipline, has for over thirty years itself been a contact zone, bridging gaps between literary, linguistic, ethnographic, and communication studies, scholars in rhetorical studies are particularly adept in utilizing the methods and objectives of comparative studies. The papers drawn together here provide case studies in several related areas: the problems built into orientalist and postcolonialist assumptions about comparative rhetorical studies; revisionist practices of rhetorical studies in contemporary non-western settings; and revisionist appraisals of traditional eastern rhetorical genres. They provide new ways of fostering transnational and global communication alongside the scholarly purpose of defining improved methods for comparative rhetorical studies. Perhaps of most interest to the MLA constituency, they mark new directions in postcolonial studies by clarifying China’s distinctiveness; never colonized by the west, possessing its own ancient literary and rhetorical cultures, it provides a unique object for comparative rhetorical studies in the past, as well as a more vexed relationship to western culture and economics in the present.

2012 Sessions

Regional Rhetorics

A special MLA session featuring authors from the 2012 Rhetoric Society Quarterly special issue on Regional Rhetorics.

(1)  Capote in Kansas: The Making of a Region–Dave Tell, University of Kansas

Truman Capote’s 1966 international bestseller, In Cold Blood, tells the inside story of the seemingly unmotivated 1959 murder of an upstanding Kansas farmer and his family. It is also an exercise in what Douglas Reichert Powell has called “region making.” Indeed, in this essay I argue that Capote did not simply describe Holcomb—and western Kansas more generally—as “out there.” He placed it out there. In this sense, the writing of In Cold Blood needs to be understood as an exemplary instance of cultural politics, an opportunity to examine the rhetorical dynamics of region making.

Central to this region making is the compositional history of In Cold Blood. To Capote, western Kansas was nothing more than a lucrative job opportunity; in aesthetics, conventions, and social mores, it was the antithesis of everything he valued. For these reasons, In Cold Blood has often been read as a product of Capote’s disdain for the region. Locals derided him as an “absolute flake,” “real foreign-like,” and “queero”—“like someone coming off the moon.” Indeed, had Capote not brought along his childhood friend Harper Lee, his trip to Kansas would have been brief and unproductive. Lee used her “downhome style” to earn Capote access to the citizens of Holcomb. In Cold Blood may be read as the record of a vibrant debate among Capote, Lee, and the citizens of western Kansas over the meaning of a region and its relative insularity.

“Raices Americanas”: Indigenist Art, América, and Arguments for Ecuadorian Nationalism–Christa Olson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

In 1945, a Mexican journalist posed the following question to young Ecuadorian artists: “Some say that it’s not that Mexican painting has influenced its neighboring countries, but that all those nations are fed by the same American roots; could we say the same with respect to Ecuador?” The Ecuadorians agreed, noting that Mexico had made important social transformations that allowed its artists to draw from those shared roots and actualize tendencies shared across America. Implicit in that interview, was an assumption that shared American roots necessarily dug deep into pre-Colombian soil. To be American was to claim indigeneity, and it located American identity decidedly south of the Rio Grande.

When Latin American artists invented América in this sense, they did so with political and cultural purposes that were often, perhaps paradoxically, deeply nationalist. Indigenismo, the social realist genre to which the interview refers, developed in many Latin American countries in the 1920s and 30s and, in each, came to define a national and nationalist scene. The indigenista idea of América provided a flexible and contingent moral geography, what geographer John Opie describes as “a geographical condition, [and] a physical reality that contains identifiable people and their environment, as defined by time and place” and which also represents “an ethical choice” and “an internal logic” constructed around that people and place (242). Ecuadorian artists who made nationalist arguments via American moral geography drew on a racialized history and landscape to re-imagine their relationship with their Spanish ex-colonizer and to distinguish an autochthonous American Ecuador from its diluted American neighbors. These arguments from América gave their small country greater cultural weight through regional identification and facilitated political claims for social transformation. Pairing Opie’s notion of moral geography with Douglas Reichert Powell’s assertion that “region making [is] a practice of cultural politics” (8), this article examines the use made of American arguments in Ecuadorian artistic nationalism. It suggests that such arguments bound national, regional, and transnational concerns together, using indigenous roots as an anchor. By tracing the cultural politics of América as they played out within Ecuadorian art and across its regional commitments, we can better understand the rhetorical force of place, seeing how the cultural and political vicissitudes of a particular landscape invoke larger complexes of meaning and argument.

Delinking and De-Coloniality: A Regional Rhetoric Against Global Capitalism–Ronald Walter Greene:

Regions express the problematic of spatial governance. In international relations, regionalism describes a perspective for managing and monitoring security dynamics below and above the level of the nation-state (Perez-Linan).  In development circles, “the new regionalism” often describes the establishment of free trade and preferential trade agreements between developed and developing countries (UNCTAD).  Moreover, for some, critical regionalism (Frampton) mediates abstract, universal and global dynamics with the particularities and histories of place.  It is with an eye toward alternative models of spatial governance that the paper isolates Samir Amin’s strategy of delinking.

For Amin, delinking refers to an exodus from the rules of the global game that enforce the laws of market value as the price for integrating national economies into the world capitalist system.  As such, delinking does not so much mediate the local and the global, but attempts to harness the critical potential of regionalization toward a radical act of replacing the current capitalist globalization process. The guiding rationale for delinking is the need to remedy the growing polarization between rich and poor countries.  However, the rhetorical challenge of delinking is to avoid modern assumptions of spatial governance that risks the “replacement of the center with the center.” Put differently, delinking must avoid situating the region as a mode of spatial governance that enforces new forms of polarization.  To explore how delinking might avoid a regionalism as a  “new center,” the paper will conclude with an assessment of Mignolo’s call for an epistemic de-linking from the rhetoric of modernity.

Adjacent Identity and the Regional Appeal–Jenny Rice

This essay examines the question of whether or not a “regional appeal” actually exists in public discourse. On one hand, we know that public talk about regions certainly exists, and we also know that regions are rhetorical constructions. Regional scholar Katherine G. Morrissey had shown how images of region are shaped by such complex factors as gender, race, and class. After examining the words of many different people writing within the Pacific Northwest, for example, Morrissey found that the idea of a region—including who and what belongs and who does not—is highly contested. But, on the other hand, we might also question whether there is anything unique about an appeal to regions or regionalism that distinguishes it from appeals to nationalism or any other group identity.

I argue that appeals to regionalism do indeed constitute distinct rhetorical strategies. Regional appeals are often performatively embodied through a rhetor’s voice and mannerisms. These embodied performances are broad enough that the rhetor can deploy them without necessarily drawing upon specific local knowledge in her discourse. However, they are narrow enough that they stand apart from a less embodied sense of identity inherent in appeals to nationalism. For this reason, I call rhetorical appeals an adjacent sense of identity discourse. Speakers and writers position themselves adjacent to their audience, rather than as a member of the group with a shared identity. The strategic use of regionalism is thus markedly different from rhetorical strategies that aim to reveal a rhetor as “one of us.” I illustrate how adjacent identities and regional appeals have played out in recent scenes of public discourse, such as the use of regional appeals by John Kerry and Sarah Palin, two figures who have deployed regional rhetoric with very different results.

2011 Sessions

Rethinking Style: Reinvigorating Writing Instruction with Rhetorical Stylistics

Rethinking Stylistic Pedagogy: Imitation, Sentence-Combining, and Generative Rhetoric for the Twenty First Century–Paul Butler, University of Houston

While the resurgence of interest in style in rhetoric and composition studies has been clear for approximately a decade now, few scholars have theorized the pedagogical implications of the recent renaissance in stylistic study. I contend that the recuperation can be extended and enriched, at least in part, by updating our thinking about imitation, sentence-combining, and generative rhetoric, pedagogical strategies deployed in various forms in ancient and modern times.  Despite arguments in favor of these stylistic strategies in some rhetorically based textbooks (see, for example, Crowley and Hawhee; Corbett and Connors), I argue that these practices are often presented as mere “exercises” and therefore suffer from the instructor’s inability to translate or “update” their underlying pedagogies for twenty-first century classrooms. Drawing upon Quintilian, Cicero, and Aristotle, as well as modern rhetorical theorists (e.g., Richard Coe, Richard Lanham), I synthesize the salient elements of these strategies and develop a set of pedagogical heuristics for teaching style, specifically focused on these three syntactic and rhetorical practices. Using some parallels from the ancient set of graded exercises known as the progymnasmata, I propose a set of dialogic heuristics that respond to each other antiphonally and complicate the writing process in new and stylistically challenging ways.

Speaking Figures: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the “Voiced Style”–Richard Graff, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Throughout antiquity spontaneity, or apparent spontaneity, was held out as an ideal for oratorical prose. Spontaneity suggested sincerity; signs of premeditation raised suspicion of the orator’s intent to deceive. Thus, in the forensic and deliberative modes of rhetoric, one of the orator’s chief objectives would be to conceal the care he had taken in the preparation of his speech. Naturally, then, the orator whose preparation included the composition of a written text was enjoined to style it in a manner that, when delivered orally, would not betray its writtenness. He was instead urged to employ a style that would invest the discourse with a “living voice” (Longinus, On Sublimity 40.1). This, the earliest version of the doctrine of ars est celare artem, undergirds the Classical precepts on oratorical elocutio, but it has also proven remarkably durable as a basic principle of style in the teaching of speaking and writing. This paper investigates the historical origins of the demand for an unprepared, “voiced” style in early treatises on rhetoric and then considers some of its manifestations in current composition pedagogy. After identifying a group of verbal figures commended by early rhetoricians for their naturalism and apparent artlessness, I direct attention to the treatment of figurative language in the work of composition scholars who advocate drawing on students’ untrained speech skills in the service of writing instruction and the teaching of style. Viewing this work against the background long tradition of style instruction reveals some notable continuities as well as avenues for possible extension, even as it indicates a fairly radical, and in some ways paradoxical, reversal of ancient pedagogical motives and methods.

Teaching the Art of Amplifying, Jeanne Fahnestock, University of Maryland

In the sixteenth-century, Philip Melanchthon summed up the art of rhetoric as follows: the orator should select whatever was good in a case and “overwhelm with amplification of the good things.” The skill of amplifying has two dimensions: it is the art of making a point important and it is preeminently the stylistic skill of simply staying on that element, and, as a result, keeping the reader’s attention fixed so that the material achieves both psychological salience and conceptual importance. Amplification is precisely the opposite of the typical textbook advice recommending brevity and concision, the hallmarks of a bureaucratic style.  It is arguably an important art for student writers to learn, and the basis for a pedagogy of amplification can be found in Quintilian who provided five tactics for amplifying in the eighth book of the Institutio Oratoria. To heighten an element, Quintilian recommends synonym substitutions, series formation, tendentious comparisons and directed inferences; these devices are often deployed in the five-part argumentative unit known as the epicheireme. As his final tactic, he recommends restatement with variety, the tactic that in itself became the anchor of Erasmus’s pedagogy of copia. Students can practice these strategies as a tactic of revision, selecting points in a draft that should be deliberately heightened or lengthened according to Quintilian’s advice. They can learn to simply open up an argument at a strategic point and develop its important, prolonging the reader’s attention and strengthening the case.