The Blogora: The Rhetoric Society of America


Rhetoric stories

Submitted by Jim Aune on September 11, 2005 - 10:06am

The topic for tomorrow night's class in my "Rhetoric up to 1900" class is the historiography of rhetoric. It hit me the other day that in literary studies one does not: a. normally teach the whole Western tradition from Homer to Judith Krantz, b. search for a grand recit to cover that history. Is the history of rhetoric just ODTAA (One Damn Thing After Another) or is there some explanatory framework that helps us make sense of it? Here are some candidates (any others you can think of?): 1. Birth-death-resurrection (with various culprits listed as the murderers, e.g. Descartes for Perelman) 2. No overall pattern; each era creates its own rhetoric (Ehninger's argument that we moved from grammatical to psychological to sociological rhetorics by the 20th c.). 3. Rhetoric as dinosaur or pre-scientific bricolage: what those of us in Communication recognize as the High Michigan State Positivist view. 4. Rhetoric as the history of liberty (see Deirdre McCloskey's classic essay in RSQ); but note Jeffrey Walker's implicit critique of this view by identifying the roots of rhetoric in poetic/epideictic. 5. The technological determinist argument: Changes in communication technology account for shifts of attention in rhetorical theory: writing, print, broadcasting, and the WWW. (Each new technology reduces information and transaction costs, I would argue.) 6. The mode of production argument (add relations of production to the forces argument in 5). 7. The shifting epistemes argument a la Foucault. 8. No coherent narrative is possible; every interpretation of the past is "political" (Carole Blair's argument in her Foucauldian essay on historiography). Am I missing any? Am I naive to think we need a history that maps these broad changes?


Terry Eagleton on Terrorism

Submitted by Jim Aune on September 11, 2005 - 1:38am

An excerpt: "Socialism is not about reaching for the stars, but reminding us of our frailty and mortality, and so of our need for one another. In contrast, absolute freedom regards the world as just so much pliable stuff to be manipulated in whatever way takes its fancy. This is why postmodernism, or some aspects of it, is one of its latest inheritors. For all its consumerist greed, this uncompromising freedom is a virulently anti-materialist force; for matter is what resists you, and absolute freedom is as impatient with such resistance as the US is with the resistance in Iraq. The world becomes just raw material to cuff into shape. Michael Jackson’s nose is its icon. It is only when such raw materials begin to include whole people and nations that it becomes a form of deadly terror." The whole article is here:


Top Five Dissertation Topics

Submitted by Jim Aune on September 10, 2005 - 11:15pm

Here's another Top Five game. What are five dissertation topics you'd love to see someone work on? Here's mine, all in "public address/social movement studies": 1. A comparative study of the rhetoric of violent political outbreaks in the antebellum period in the US: The Whiskey Rebellion, Fries' Rebellion (1798, Pennsylvania), the Nullification Crisis (1832, South Carolina), the Buckshot War (1836, Pa.), and the Dorr Rebellion (1842, Rhode Island). In all these rebellions the meaning of the "Guarantee Clause" (Article IV, sec. 4) was disputed (what was a "republican government?). 2. A systematic study of oral argument before the US Supreme Court, perhaps including studies of particular advocates, e.g. Daniel Webster. 3. Rhetorical biographies, based on a systematic analysis of judicial opinions, of Supreme Court justices, e.g. Hugo Black, Scalia (see Katie Langford's 2005 dissertation at Penn State), and other controversial justices. 4. A rhetorical history of the "money question" in the late 19th century/early 20th century, up to the formation of the Federal Reserve. 5. A rhetorical analysis of the current case for a return to the Gold Standard, as advocated by Ron Paul (R-TX), Murray Rothbard, and others. What are your top five, dear reader? Or, what topics are your students currently working on? My students right now are working on: the debate over legislative redistricting in the US from the original "gerrymandering" to Baker v. Carr to Tom DeLay (Jeremiah Hickey); the formation of women's public sphere in India (Yogita Sharma); a rhetorical biography of Clarence Thomas (Jay Judkins); a history of the "right to petition" in England and the US, explaining the demise of what was once a central part of the First Amendment (Marisa Hill).



Submitted by Jim Aune on September 10, 2005 - 11:02pm

As I blogged earlier this summer, my scholarly reading for the last 6 months has mostly been about the French Revolution, focusing on the debate over social/economic explanations of the Revolution versus the revisionist cultural (rhetorical, even) explanations. I wish we had more comparative studies of rhetoric and social movements. Here's something I'd like to wor k on in the next few years, and I invite comments and suggestions. For most of the 1790's, there was a counterrevolutionary war in the west of France (part of which was the Vendee, which has given its name to the general reaction against the Revolution); Balzac's Les Chouans and Victor Hugo's best novel, '93, are good introductions to the period. Charles Tilly's The Vendee is still a good social-economic explanation of the Royalist and pro-Catholic counterrevolutionaries. The explanandum is "why did this area reject the Revolution?" The Vendee has a number of characteristics similar to the southern US--an unstable economy, ambivalence toward urbanization, a cultural reaction agains the urban bourgeoisie, strong religious commitments and politically active clergy, and so on. If one goal of rhetorical studies of political discourse is explanation of the persuasiveness of specific rhetorical strategies, to what extent should we explain the persuasiveness of royalist/Catholic discourse in its own terms or as the projection of deeper socioeconomic conflicts? Same with the red-state rhetoric of the Bushies; what accounts for the Bush Cult of Personality? Again, it seems to me that "audience" is the most undertheorized, understudied aspect of rhetoric; we have been immersed in the "text" so long that we've given on the text-audience relationship that is constitutive of "the rhetorical" as a social phenomenon. Any thoughts, dear readers?


The Tipping Point

Submitted by Jim Aune on September 10, 2005 - 10:22pm

I used to live in New Orleans. My first teaching job was at Tulane; I didn't stay very long, partly for professional reasons, but by the time I left I finally had gotten used to the climate and the culture, even though New Orleans was to my home state of Minnesota a kind of "antitype," like Sparta and Athens, to use a wildly inappropriate analogy. This past week was the hardest week I have spent teaching at Texas A&M. In my honors class on Tuesday, the vast majority of the students appeared to believe that the events after the hurricane were the residents' fault, and were very close to saying "those people" during the discussion. No one spoke up to criticize the Supreme Leader or his crony "Brownie." Everyone seemed to seize on the rapper's comment that "Bush doesn't care about black people." An African-American colleague of mine was about ready to resign last week or at least give up trying to teach Aggies anything. Once again, we not only live in "two nations," in terms of values, but also in terms of facts. Global warming (the Gulf is 2 degrees warmer than normal, so expect more hurricanes); the lack of experience (and lies on his resume) of Brownie; the outright lies by the Bushies about the levees and about requests from the state and local government; the statement by the Baton Rouge legislator that "We've been trying to do something about public housing in New Orleans for years--now God has done it for us"; the list goes on. One bit of news that hasn't gotten covered has been the origins of the SuperDome itself. It once had been a vibrant working-class neighorhood that was torn down to built the stadium. The "natives" were herded into the public housing projects that have been become so dangerous. Here's a good article from Monthly Review's new "zine": Just as the storm hit, I had finished reading the first novel of a new trilogy on global warming by my favorite sci-fi novelist Kim Stanley Robinson--Forty Signs of Rain. The book explains the science behind the New Orleans events (and more to come) very well. Texas A&M has taken about 200 "refugees" into Reed Arena, our basketball stadium. The email our (former head of the CIA) president sent out is a masterpiece of bureaucratic language, emphasizing to his Aggie audience the security conditions under which the refugees will be held. Yesterday a transgendered person was arrested in Reed Arena for using the "wrong" bathroom. It's hard to frame the fitting (to prepon) rhetorical response; I again feel like I don't live in America anymore. 36% of the public would still love Bush even if he ate their children. What will the rest do? This photo, captured from TV, says a lot:


Nutjobs run amok

Submitted by ddd on August 31, 2005 - 7:32am

I read in my NCTE Inbox newsletter today that some mother who rigorously opposes her daughter reading Nightjohn in school also has yet to agree on any of the school's alternative book options or on having an edited version of Nightjohn read aloud. This case, says my Inbox Newsletter, "is at the center of a growing conflict: More schools are adopting stricter requirements for how books are approved, including creating advisory boards and review committees that include parents." Ack. Deep breaths. More tea. picture of storm and fetus But then in my newsletter i read that Columbia Christians for Life are proposing that "a satellite image of Hurricane Katrina as it hit the Gulf Coast Monday looks just like a six-week-old fetus," and that the storm is no doubt punishment for Louisiana's abortion clinics:
"Louisiana has 10 child-murder-by-abortion centers," the groups says, and "five are in New Orleans." But why would God single out Louisiana? Other states have many more abortion clinics, and Louisiana and the other states hit hardest by Katrina all voted for the pro-life president of the United States. It didn't add up for us at first, but the Columbia Christians for Life have an answer for everything. God has already punished California with earthquakes, forest fires and mudslides; New York with 9/11; and Florida with Hurricanes Bonnie, Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne and the early version of Katrina.
Holy wingnuts, Batman.
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Birds do it, Blogs do it

Submitted by Anonymous on August 25, 2005 - 8:25pm

The Blogora is soon to migrate. And comments shall once again be welcomed! Thanks to Clay Spinuzzi and Hampton Finger of the Computer Writing and Research Lab in the Division of Rhetoric and Composition at UT-Austin, The Blogora will be moving to a new blogging platform. More news soon on the migration. We're very grateful for their work in helping to make the Blogora a clean, well-lighted place. Text of "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," if you haven't read it in a while: .