The Blogora: The Rhetoric Society of America


Bushisms + Roberts

Submitted by ddd on September 15, 2005 - 7:12am

The Progressive Review blog is up and running now, offering a fabulous video clip of what it considers the top 10 moments in presidential illiteracy--or "Bushisms." That's the funny part. Now for the shitty part: the story below the video, written by Los Angeles Times reporters Stephen Gillers, David Luban, and Steven Lubet, details one reason we ought to be worried about John G. Roberts:
Just four days before the Bush administration named John G. Roberts Jr. to fill retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court, the District of Columbia federal appeals court decided a case called Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld. In a crucial victory for the administration, the court upheld President Bush's creation of special military tribunals for trials of alleged terrorists and denied them the protection of the Geneva Convention. Roberts was one of the judges who decided that case, but he should have recused himself.
Read on...


Balance of Powers

Submitted by Anonymous on September 15, 2005 - 12:31am

I haven't had a lot of time to listen to Roberts' confirmation hearings -- heard Specter, Leahy and a few others from the first day and parts of Graham, Dewine, and Feinstein today. And dammit I've enjoyed what I've heard bc a) it's not classical music and b) the issues raised are great for conversations and rhetoric classrooms -- whether stare decisis as re Casey and Roe or questions about shifting imbalances of power among the branches. Full transcripts on here (though is soon going to charge non-print subscribers $$ for op-eds and other "services"); and a surprisingly decent news analysis by Linda Greenhouse here. Looks like epideicticland: they're going to confirm by a wide margin yet meanwhile try to school him -- and the multitude -- about how Things Have Changed.... Well worth paying attention to and offering as teaching-texts ... particularly in audio.


Discourse inscribed on the walls

Submitted by jenny on September 12, 2005 - 8:47pm

I wish we'd walk more often. I wish "we," those of us interested in rhetoric for various reasons, would get out and start doing some amateur fieldwork around the places you happen to be at any given moment. Amazing what it's possible to find. Rarely have I encountered a place that has literally inscribed its story onto its walls, but here is State College with its mural projects. The murals, running the length of several buildings downtown, tell the story of this region since--well, heck, since the beginning of time! You've even got an image of the Indian Princess Nita-Nee who, as the mural makes the connection clear for you, is the namesake of our own Mount Nittany and Penn State's Nittany lions. (Of course, never mind that this was a myth circulated to help boost tourism at the turn of the 20th century. The mural isn't here to bum you out. It's a rhetoric of Good Times.) Walking along streets and noticing these things, I start to wonder about theories of rhetoric and publics. Where does place fit in? And, more importantly, where does specific place--this place right here, and your place right there--fit in?


Confirmation Hearings

Submitted by Jim Aune on September 12, 2005 - 10:13am

I'd almost forgotten that confirmation hearings for Roberts start today. Jeffrey Rosen, the New Republic's legal affairs columnist, makes a good case today why liberals shouldn't oppose his nomination. He contends that Roberts is actually better than O'Connor on issues related to economic regulation and federalism:


Free Speech for State Employees in Texas?

Submitted by Jim Aune on September 11, 2005 - 7:18pm

This is disturbing. . . Turd Blossom has a very long reach: I hasten to add that Gov. Rick Perry gave a speech at the Texas A&M football banquet (for big givers) last fall in which he told the audience to vote for George Bush, because "This is a Republican university." No consequences there, and our spineless president has yet to issue a public statement, despite a behind-the-scenes promise.


Mercenaries in the Streets of New Orleans?

Submitted by Jim Aune on September 11, 2005 - 5:59pm

For some reason, this story is one of the most disturbing I've read thus far. It seems that the Blackwater Mercenaries, used thus far in Iraq (remember Fallujah?) have been deputized to shoot to kill in New Orleans: And, from Monthly Review, a reprint (requires Adobe Acrobat) of Ernest Hemingway's article from the New Masses in 1935 about a Florida hurricane with eerie political echoes of Katrina:


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?