Rhetoric CFPs & TOCs

Rhetoric CFPs & TOCs
Photo: Kristoffer Trolle (creative commons)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Rex Veeder, Retired and Still Awesome, III

Rex Veeder, former editor of RSQ, intense advocate for Coleridge, Richards, and Berthoff in Composition and Rhetoric -- for imagination in rhetoric, really, has retired.

Over the next few days, I will post some of his art as a reminder of his ongoing genius.



Thursday, October 24, 2019

Rex Veeder, Retired and Still Awesome, II

Rex Veeder, former editor of RSQ, intense advocate for Coleridge, Richards, and Berthoff in Composition and Rhetoric -- for imagination in rhetoric, really, has retired.

Over the next few days, I will post some of his art as a reminder of his ongoing genius.



Thursday, October 17, 2019

Rex Veeder, Retired and Still Awesome, I

Rex Veeder, former editor of RSQ, intense advocate for Coleridge, Richards, and Berthoff in Composition and Rhetoric -- for imagination in rhetoric, really, has retired.

Over the next few days, I will post some of his art as a reminder of his ongoing genius.




Self-Publishing: Have I made a mistake?

Cleaning out my hard drive and decided to pop my dissertation up as a self-published ebook on Amazon. I will never update its arguments enough to publish it in peer-reviewed places, but I do think it's useful, and ILL'ing old dissertations may be less likely, among the youth, than snagging a cheap book on Amazon. So maybe it will find a reader who wants an argument about arguments about Black Athena, rhetorike, and informal logic as background for their own, better work. It's very clearly not a book -- I have intentionally chosen the ugliest cover, and marked it as a self-published dissertation. No fraud here, no implications that this is anything other than what it is. Have I made a mistake? Have I made a neutral decision, without ethical weight, because no one will read it this way, either? Thoughts are welcome.

James Aune in Minneapolis, 2009: Theses on Modernity, Modernism, and Rhetorical Theory

Theses on Modernity, Modernism, and Rhetorical Theory

James Arnt Aune
Texas A&M University

All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.--Karl Marx, "Theses on Feuerbach," Thesis VIII

Il faut être absolument moderne. --Rimbaud

1.  We need more histories of rhetoric, and we need to continue our (relatively new) historiographical discussions.  Much of my reflection on this topic has been driven by my teaching of undergraduate and graduate survey courses on the history of rhetoric--mostly of the "Plato to NATO" variety, occasionally on classical rhetoric, and now more frequently on 20th-century rhetorical theory.  Perhaps the closest thing to such courses in other disciplines is the survey or period course in history of political thought, which, like us, has a more-or-less clearly defined canon of texts and also, like us, has a largely untheorized relationship to political practice itself (although the Cambridge School, notably J.G.A. Pocock and Quentin Skinner, has made an important effort to bridge the history of political thought and the history of political "languages " and even rhetorical theory (see Skinner on Hobbes). 

1a. A political corollary:  We also need more study in comparative rhetorics, especially of the cultural role of oratory and other forms of performance in non-European contexts (a case for which I make later on), but if one has a political commitment to recovering marginalized voices from E.P. Thompson's "enormous condescension of posterity," it only makes sense to pay attention to the voices that did that marginalizing and to recognize that they did, in fact, do other things.  

1b.  For better or for worse, we cannot discuss rhetorical theory without discussing "classical rhetoric," no matter how much we problematize that term.  As with my point in Thesis 1a., I am arguing for a pragmatic more than a normative canon.  There are a host of humanities topics, from the New Testament through Locke and Kant, that require an understanding of the classical tradition in order to interpret them fully.  If you wish to make sense of U.S. politics, consider the example of the name of the main newspaper in Minneapolis. What does it mean that the Roman office of the "tribune of the people" was once part of our common political language but now no longer is?  But there is also a normative dimension to classical rhetoric. There is a civic republican set of core beliefs that goes from the Sophists to Isocrates to Aristotle to Cicero and Quintilian and from the Renaissance Humanists to Hegel, Marx, and the American Pragmatists, stressing the importance of political action and self-government to the very definition of the "human."  This civic republicanism, or neo-Romanism, as Skinner now prefers to call it, represents what at least once was an alternative to modern liberalism as well as to traditional Christianity. Despite the current, to my mind incoherent, vogue for anti-humanism, I think that much of the fruitful tension in our research stems from the ongoing conflict between our commitment to the autonomous liberal self and our civic republican ideals.  

2.  Our topic is the Modern, and one starting point for the discussion is to consider what it felt like to be Modern.  I believe we are still Modern and that the Post-Modern is simply a kind of "going to the end of the line" (as Kenneth Burke would say) with modernity itself.  I say "what it felt like" to evoke Raymond Williams's great notion of a "structure of feeling." As Williams carefully argued in his later work, especially The Country and the City and the posthumously-assembled The Politics of Modernism, the feeling of the Modern as well as Modernism grew out of the experience of the 19th-century cosmopolitan City--London, Paris, Berlin, New York.  If, like me, you grew up in the country, perhaps you remember what it was like to go from a farm or small town to, say, Minneapolis or Winnipeg (the metropolises of my youth).  I felt intensely--especially watching my father trying to drive on I-35--what I later learned to call Walter Benjamin's "shock-effect" of urban life, an effect that modern art and literature tried to represent.    
London became Modern earlier than other European cities.  Wordsworth describes the feeling in the Prelude, Book VII

O Friend!  One feeling was there which belonged
To this great city, by exclusive right;
How often, in the overflowing streets,
Have I gone forward with the crowd and said
Unto myself:  "The face of every one
That passes by me is a mystery!"

Thus have I looked, nor ceased to look, oppressed
By thoughts of what and whither, when and how,
Until the shapes before my eyes became
A second-sigh procession, such as glides
Over still mountains, or appears in dreams.
And all the ballast of familiar life,
The present, and the past;  hope, fear; all stays,
All laws of acting, thinking, speaking man
Went from me, neither knowing me, nor known.

Or, as Williams put it, emphasizing the experience of the immigrant in the new cosmopolitan city:

The experience of visual and linguistic strangeness, the broken narrative of the journey and its inevitable accompaniment of transient encounters with characters who self-presentation was bafflingly unfamiliar, raised to the level of universal myth this intense, singular narrative of unsettlement, homelessness, solitude and impoverished independence:  the lonely writer gazing down on the unknowable city from his shabby apartment. The whole commotion is finally and crucially interpreted by the City of Emigres and Exiles itself, New York.

The term "modern" gained its greatest currency in German-language writing in the 1880's, with Danish critic Georg Brandes' series, Men of the Modern Breakthrough.  But was women, perhaps, who became most startlingly modern in the new urban environment.  Eugen Wolff wrote in 1888: 

As a woman, a modern woman, filled with the modern spirit, and at the same time a typical figure, a working woman, who is nevertheless saturated with beauty, and full of ideals, returning from her material work to the service of goodness and nobility, as though returning home to her beloved child--for she is no young virgin, silly and ignorant of her destiny; she is an experienced but pure woman, in rapid movement like the spirit of the age, with fluttering garments and streaming hair, striding forward. . . . That is our new divine image:  the Modern.  

It was and still is for many women and men, straight or gay, that the City opens up a new possibility of autonomy just as it creates a new form of loneliness.  All hitherto existing theories of rhetoric presumed that audiences lived in a community, not an urban society. How then does go about persuading the autonomous, lonely self?

3.    The very philosophy of liberal democracy itself was based on a fundamental distrust of persuasion.  Once the autonomous individual rather than the family or community became the fundamental building block of politics, any effort to subvert that autonomy, whether through rhetoric or violence, came to be viewed as a "heteronomous imposition," as Immanuel Kant put it.  For Kant, perhaps the most influential theorist of liberalism in the Western democracies, a normal adult is capable of full self-government in moral matters:  "No authority external to ourselves is needed to constitute or inform us of the demands of morality. We can each know without being told what we ought to do because moral requirements are requirements we impose on ourselves" (Schneewind, 1992, p. 309).  "The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me" are fundamental anchors for the liberal self (Kant, 1956, pp. 161-163). Any effort to persuade another to adopt a different moral path is likely to appeal to the human capacity for rationalization—exempting oneself from the plain, internally revealed universal law.  
The rejection of rhetoric is implicit in Kant's ethical writings, but it becomes explicit in his work on aesthetics.  In his Critique of Judgment (1987), a major influence on the developing Romantic view of language and literature, Kant had condemned oratory for treating intellectual understanding as a kind of mere play (p. 190), and, even a "dialectic that borrows from poetry only as much as the speaker needs in order to win over people's minds for his own advantage before they judge for themselves, and so make their judgment unfree" (p. 197).  Kant's view of oratory was thus inextricably linked with his creation of a new idea of the liberal self as European societies were emerging from both stifling religious orthodoxy and absolutist political regimes.  Kant put freedom at the heart of his theory of knowledge (Critique of Pure Reason), of ethics (Critique of Practical Reason, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals), and of aesthetics (Critique of Judgment).  Freedom, for Kant, above all means being free from outside influences—avoiding "heteronomy," the nomos or rule of the "other."  The free autonomous subject must rationally choose the universal moral laws he gives to himself, carefully avoiding any rationalizations that might lead him to create exceptions or treat the other person as a means rather than an end.  From Kant's universalizing deontological (emphasizing "duty," deon) ethics, then, the art of rhetoric was not only immoral but politically dangerous.  As Bryan Garsten (2006) has argued recently, Kant, like Rousseau and Hobbes, crafted modern liberalism as a response to the rhetorical power of religious demagogues and revolutionary orators, seeking institutional means to contain the most dangerous political vice:  "enthusiasm."
After the Enlightenment, intellectuals began to speak in a new, universalizing sociolinguistic code (a code which we all use in academe). we can see the emergence of a new sociolinguistic "code," as Alvin Gouldner puts it, adopted first by technical intelligentsia and humanistic intellectuals yet eventually spreading to higher education and cultural attitudes about communication (1979, pp. 28-37).  The new code, which Gouldner calls CCD (the "culture of critical discourse") can be understood more clearly by contrast with the traditional precepts of humanist rhetoric. Hans-Georg Gadamer describes these precepts as Bildung (the embodiment of a culture's values in the speaker's character), sensus communis (the importance of adapting one's message to the common sense of one's listeners), judgment (the cultivation of the virtue of prudence), and taste (a sense of aesthetic politics, based on the study of the community's public expression in the arts, literature, and oratory) (1975, pp. 10-39).  The communicative rules of CCD are diametrically opposed to those of humanistic rhetoric. Note how they also correspond to implicit rules governing scholarly communication in the academic disciplines.  First, make your own speech problematic and try to account for its origins—be self-reflexive and self-monitoring. Second, submit all truth-claims to a process of examination, regardless of the speaker's social position or authority.  Third, distance yourself from the mere "common sense" of your culture, since common sense always rationalizes existing patterns of domination. Finally, in order to escape cultural prejudice, privilege theoretical discourse—speech that is context-free.  
Scientific progress, in both the natural and human sciences, could not have occurred without a commitment to a culture of critical discourse, yet when CCD was joined with the liberal values of autonomy and self-government it was inevitable that the rhetorical tradition would decline.  It is not surprising, then, that within the social and philosophical context of autonomous liberal self, 20th century rhetorical theory came to emphasize careful attention to language (I.A. Richards, General Semantics) and ideologies (Burke) in order to inoculate the student and citizen against heteronomous political and ethical impositions.  Richards's definition of rhetoric as "the study of misunderstanding and its remedies" is perhaps the modernist gesture in rhetorical theory.  [Note to David Beard:  see, you've persuaded me.]  By tossing out the classical distinction between dialectic and rhetoric, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca continued the modernist strategy by emphasizing the constructed character of all public language, down even to their fundamental dissociative logics.  

4.  We may classify rhetorical theories at the present time as modernist, antimodernist, or postmodernist, depending on their view of the autonomous liberal self.  The differing projects of twentieth-century theory can be categorized in terms of their reaction to the problem of rhetoric and autonomy identified by Kant, projects which I will identify as modernist, antimodernist, and postmodernist.  One possible reaction to Kant's argument is to reject the notion of the self as autonomous and thus return to a communitarian view of ethics and politics, as advocated by Alasdair MacIntyre, Michael Sandel, and Charles Taylor in political philosophy, and most prominently in rhetorical studies by Richard Weaver.  The antimodernist temptation is inherent in present-day theory, given the continuity of the rhetorical "tradition" between Athens and the present.  Despite its nods to modernism, the late Tom Farrell's Norms of Rhetorical Culture is the most important work in rhetoric within this antimodernist strategy.  The effort to construct a coherent narrative of rhetoric's birth, death, and resurrection is central to the antimodernist view.  Preeminent modernists in the twentieth-century tradition include Kenneth Burke, I.A. Richards, Chaim Perelman, and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, all of whom sought a "new rhetoric" adapted to modernity and its economic, cultural, and political institutions.  For these writers, the study of rhetoric furthers the goal of personal autonomy by freeing citizens from the bewitchments of language and ideology (Richards and Burke) and by enabling practical reasoning under conditions of uncertainty (Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca).   
The Modernist intellectual revolution, then,  had cast permanent suspicion on orators' "heteronomous impositions" on audiences' minds.  But the Modernist revolution, as Robert Pippin (1999) has argued in his path-breaking Modernism as a Philosophical Problem, generated its own reaction in the form of the unease of European intellectuals with scientific development, the new mass culture, and the autonomous self.  Four "Masters of Suspicion"—Freud, Marx, Nietzsche, and  Darwin—apparently dismantled the ego boundaries and rationality of the self, contending that the libido, the mode of production, the will to power, or the relentlessly selfish desire of genes to reproduce themselves were doing their work beneath the surface of the self-satisfied bourgeois consciousness.  If Freud, Marx, and Darwin were committed to the development of rational, naturalistic morality, Nietzsche undercut the very prospect of rationality itself, with his view of knowledge as inevitably perspectival and driven by power (Ricoeur 1970, p. 20).   Kenneth Burke certainly took Marx and Freud seriously (and sparred with Darwinians on the full extent of our "motion"-based, animal natures), but by the century's end it was Nietzsche who had emerged as the patron saint of a new postmodernist view of rhetoric energized by new technologies that promised not only new forms of argument and persuasion but also the end of the autonomous "humanist" self, as the human-machine interface promises to yield multiple species or multiple selves.  As you might expect, I remain skeptical of this postmodernist strategy, largely because it still works within the Kantian and modernist problematic by defining itself against liberalism and the Enlightenment and by providing no clear alternatives to liberalism or social democracy other than a nebulous, ultimately anarchist rhizomatic politics.  

5.  In order to improve our historiography as well as our criticism and our pedagogy, it may help to use the resources of historical sociology to frame the differences between classical and modern rhetoric. First, rhetorical meaning is very different in a social system in which individual autonomy takes precedence over communal solidarity as a fundamental value (Pippin 1999).  Second, rhetorical forms function differently in a social system in which those forms can be commodified (Aune 1994, 2001). Third, rhetorical forums are also far more complex, especially in an extended republic like Canada or the United States, requiring greater attention to the way in which constitutions literally create persons who speak (such as the President or Prime Minister) and spaces for speaking (Congress, the state or provincial houses) (White 1984).  The need to raise massive sums of money to obtain media access for common rhetorical deliberation, as is especially the case in the United States, complicates the notion of a rhetorical forum immensely. Even without adopting a broadly Marxian framework, it is clear that the rise and development of capitalism have permanently altered rhetorical deliberation and its forms and forums.
The dialogue with sociology is especially important in our context, because sociology itself developed as an effort to make sense of modernity. The themes of historical sociology  (Philip Abrams, 1982), of particular interest to rhetorical studies are the following, each of which deserves a study in itself, but which also serve as a resource for much modernist theory, especially Kenneth Burke:

--the role of anomie as a cultural response to industrialism (Durkheim)
--the nature of class formation and class struggle in capitalist  society (Marx)
--rationalization and the “disenchantment of the world” in modernity, especially in the new organizational form of bureaucracy (Weber)
--functional historical sociology and the process of social system maintenance and preservation against social strain (Parsons and Merton)
-- the process of state formation (Perry Anderson). 
--the theory of revolution, as developed by Barrington Moore, Jr., Theda Skocpol, and Jack Goldstone
-- the theory of mass media, as developed by Harold Innis, Raymond Williams, Marshall McLuhan and others, but continuing within cultural and media studies  
My ongoing reflection on rhetorical historiography within a sociological paradigm leads me to propose the following model for describing "the rhetorical" at any given point in time (even in non-European societies):

Figure 1: The Rhetorical Rectangle
Places/Institutions             material        normative            Rhet. practices









Communication media                                          Cultural/implicit rhet's
Material     normative

In any given slice of historical time a nation-state or social formation has a conceptual space we can denote as “the rhetorical.”  In Figure 1, rhetorical space is constituted materially on the left side by emerging or designed institutions for rhetorical action and by the communicative media that constrain and transport rhetorical messages to audiences.  The rhetorical appears normatively—that is, within a framework of ethical and political choices by rhetorical agents—in specific performances that in turn have for their educational and cultural background assumptions ideas and ideals of how rhetorical action should best occur.  The arrows in the diagram denote the fact that all four points continually influence all the other points in conceptual space. For example, it is impossible to separate a presidential campaign speech from the medium of its transmission (usually via an electronic medium), the institutional design that makes possible that speech (the constitutionally established place for speaking we call the presidency, the two-party system, and the American way of financing elections), and the cultural assumptions about speaking that inform rhetorical practice and audience.  This rhetorical rectangle is obviously isolated from larger economic, political, and cultural forces for purposes of argument and illustration, but the diagram has the advantage of uniting separate aspects of communication studies usually kept separate: the media, public address, rhetorical pedagogy, and rhetorical theory. The diagram also makes it possible to identify under-theorized aspects of a given systematic account of rhetorical or public communicative practices.  
I have discussed the diagram more extensively in the Philosophy & Rhetoric memorial issue for Tom Farrell.  Here are, in brief summary, what I see as the primary implications of my model. A renewed attention to culture AND society (we tend to forget that culture and society are not exactly the same thing) might give us the following topoi for research:
1.  Institutional design.  What types of reform of constitutional and other institutional designs might facilitate a more robust rhetorical democratic culture, at local, state, national, and international levels?  In the U.S., for example, has what Sanford Levinson (2006) calls "Our Undemocratic Constitution" outlived its usefulness?  Does what Habermas (2006a) calls the Kantian project of the internationalization of constitutional law have a chance (115-193)? 
2.  Communicative media.  What kinds of media reform do we need to improve civic participation and the quality of public argument? (see McChesney 1999)
3.  Rhetorical practice. Without rejecting the rhetorical tradition's valorization of the well-made oration, debate, or essay, what new forms of persuasive expression should be taught and practiced in our academic institutions? How might we rethink the rhetoric/poetic relationship important to the ancients?  
4.  Cultural rhetorics.  How might we metacommunicate across cultural divides about ideal forms of communication and persuasion, without foregoing the modernist commitment to freedom of speech and moral autonomy? 

Even from this brief sketch, it is obvious that, like Talcott Parsons's model of the social system, it remains unclear how rhetorics (in the broadest possible sense) change.  How relatively autonomous is "culture" as opposed to changes in communicative technology or modes of production? What comes after modernism or postmodernism? Nietzsche's Last Man?  Kojève and Fukayama's End of History? I'm not quite sure. But I offer up these theses by an autonomous self to an audience of autonomous selves who wish to preseve the autonomy of others with the tools of democratic rhetoric, discussion, and debate.  Sometimes scholarship is not such a lonely enterprise, as I am reminded here, in this setting, with gratitude.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Peer Review as Genre Instruction

I peer review a lot, in both comp and comm. The review I just submitted does what a lot of my reviews do lately: genre instruction.
Abstracts. Academics in the humanities and social sciences do not know how to write abstracts, typically, I think, because instruction in how to write abstracts at the graduate level is in the "conference paper abstract," which is, let's be honest, most of the time a paper proposal for a project that has not been completed yet. It's the teaser-trailer for the movie that is your paper.
The abstract at the top of your journal article is not a teaser; it is a summary of your piece.
Literature Review. I am worried that I am arcanely old fashioned in this. I want a literature review to reflect the literature in the journal to which the essay has been submitted. Pressures to publish means, I think, that essays are being sent to journals without that kind of lit review customization.
But listen -- the lit review is where you show me that I care about your work.
The assessment of a journal submission is not about quality, or at least for me, not primarily about quality. It's about assessing, before quality even becomes an issue, whether I, as a reader of a journal, even care about the same things you do.
If I don't care about the same questions, problems, topics, hypotheses that you do, I don't care whether you can construct the most elegant, perfect article addressing those questions, problems, topics, hypotheses about which I am indifferent.
Am I fighting some old battle here? Am I reading lit reviews the wrong way in the 21st century? Because my peer reviews are saying this, a lot.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Dialectical Notebooks

Kudos to Avesa Rockwell, Writing Program Administrator, for introducing instructors in my writing program to the Dialectical Notebook. The Dialectical Notebook is maybe an invention, maybe a tool popularized and theorized, by Ann Berthoff. It is discussed in many places, including the link below to a classic essay comparing the writing habits of basic writers and of graduate students. I love the way that she opens by creating an analogy between what we think of as advanced students and remedial students.
"One rainy afternoon last fall I stopped by to browse among some miscellaneous journals in the gaudy reading room ot a graduate school library where, as it turned out, I witnessed a basic writer at work. He sat in a low-slung, purple velour settee, a pad of lined paper on his knee, a nice new yellow pencil and a pack of cigarettes at the ready, and a Dixie Cup of coffee to hand. He seemed prepared for the labors of composition. He would write a sentence or two, light a cigarette, read what he had written, sip his coffee, extinguish the cigarette-and the two sentences. He had pretty much worn out the eraser by the time I left...
"I think it is instructive to consider how the "writing behaviors" of this graduate student resemble those of our basic writers. There is, of course, a difference: whereas the graduate cannot get beyond the compulsive readjustment of the (doubtless) insubstantial and formless generalization he has begun with, our students hate even to start- for a dozen reasons which have been carefully formulated and studied in recent years- and once they do have something down, they are loath to touch it: those few words are hard-won and therefore precious, not to be tampered with. The graduate destroys by re-statement because he does not know how to get the dialectic going; the undergraduate cannot conceive of adjustment or development because his fragile construct might collapse. But insofar as neither knows how to make language serve the active mind, they both are basic writers: they do not understand rewriting because they do not understand how writing gets written in the first place."
This is true. It's also painful to explain to MA students. I have taught a graduate seminar in writing pedagogy twice, once with great success and once with [perhaps] my greatest professional failure. One of the reasons the first iteration was such a success was the same reason that the second iteration was such a failure: I presume that graduate students assume the same position relative to the university that first-year students do: they are in a strange land, discovering norms and values in their new context, learning the limitations of their old practices in this new context, and experimenting with new practices. The dialectical notebook helps to explore those new practices. As Berthoff says,
"The dialectical notebook teaches the value of keeping things tentative. Without that sense, the atonceness of composing is dangerous knowledge that can cause a severe case of writer's block. Unless students prove to themselves the usefulness of tentativeness, no amount of exhortation will persuade them to forego "closure," in the current jargon. The willingness to generate chaos; patience in testing a formulation against the record; careful comparing of proto-statements and half-statements, completed statements and re-statements: these are all expressions of what Keats famously called "negative capability," the capacity to remain in doubt. The story is told of a professor of internal medicine who brought home to his students the value of this attitude in diagnosis with the slogan: "Don't just DO something: Stand there!"
"Along with the value of tentativeness, practice in observation teaches the importance of perspective and context, which become ideas to think with as students practice observing natural objects, for instance, and observing their observations. A shell or pebble on the beach has one kind of appearance; if you bring it home, it has another. Such facts call for recognition, formulation, and articulation. In the practice of looking and looking again, of writing and writing again, as students learn to compare kinds of appearances, they are also learning that perception depends on presuppositions, remembrances, anticipations, purposes, and so on."
For Berthoff, writing was always about a struggle to discover meaning -- what can I say that is meaningful to me and meaningful in my context, my community. We could stand more of that struggle today, in the classroom and in the world.