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Why a History of Rhetoric Wiki

Page history last edited by Robert Manfredi 12 years, 3 months ago

Why a History of Rhetoric Wiki?: A Brief Look at the Octalog Statements

By Robert William Manfredi

            Dr. Lynée Lewis Gaillet writes that “traditional conceptions of the landscape of ‘the’ history of rhetoric have been transformed in the wake of scholars’ examinations …” (Present State ix).  Contemporary scholars should approach history through the prismatic lens of transformation.  Rhetoric and Composition’s history formulates its identity, yet it also contains, within its deep caverns, a “part in the growth of consciousness that marks human psychic and cultural history” (Ong 3, Present State).  Agnew, a recognized expert on the history of rhetoric, points to the Octalog as the point that rhetoric begins to “re-vise” itself (Agnew 8, Present State).

            Vitalized revisionary history method in rhetoric comes from the CCCC panel, the Octalog, and it is chronicled in the 1988 Rhetoric Review.  Within the article, titled “The Politics of Historiography,” eight of the fields most revered figures sound off on why history is important and what a scholar might consider when exploring it.

            James Berlin provides the title, “Dialectical Histories of Rhetoric.”  He states that “the historian of rhetoric must deny pretensions to objectivity” (6).  To Berlin, history is this: the subject looks upon the materials of history and records them in some manner.  All the while, there is a “Governing Framework” within the subject’s mind (6).  These are subjective ideas, concepts, and theories that go to work on the perception of the material.  The framework decides the act of recording-what “data” will be included?  How will it be presented?  Etc. 

            The process folds in on itself, though, for the data can act dialectically with the framework, so that the subject, as she/he is in the act of recording the data, is assimilating the concept of recording the data into his/her framework (6).

            Furthermore, the process negates the concept of a “Definitive History” because a framework can neither fully comprehend history as a whole nor can it comprehend a single event in history as a whole event, per se (6). 

            Thus, Berlin posits Multiple Histories of Rhetoric (6).  These describe the governing framework ruling the particular subject engaged in the act of recording history and how the object of study appears from that view (6).  Berlin says every history “endorses an ideology, a conception of economic, social, political, and cultural arrangements that is privileged in its interpretation” (6).

            When studying history, it is one thing to locate the ideology in the first object, the material event.  It is another to locate the ideology in the historian and his/her recording, and it is penultimate to locate the ideology in the head and world of the final user (you!).  It is dynamic historiography when this dialectical matrix of ideologies interacts and creates.

            Robert J. Connors comes after Berlin.  He provides the title, “English Composition as a Social Problem” (7).  He writes that Composition History exists inside of a “Polemical Universe of Discourse” (7).  As such, it is an art “created to solve a social problem” rather than one that has “evolve[ed] [from] a body of knowledge” per se.  Thus, composition is not looking at a linear description of an evolution of ideas!  Rather, it is looking at “how … the culture has created rhetoric and how … rhetoric then created culture” (7).

            Focusing on history must relate why people in the past wanted literacy- how was it defined?  How was it acquired, and what did it do?  The answers might help answer those questions today: what is literacy?  Why do we want it?  What does it do?

            After Connors, Sharon Crowley discusses, “Pedagogical Goals” (7).  She points to a problem of method in rhetoric and composition’s approach to its history.  Since historians of rhetoric have pedagogy in mind, they create “intellectual categories” for praxis’ sake (7).  The inherent, postmodern problem is that there is no such thing as “Objective History” (7).  There are only “narratives” (7).  This problem is exacerbated in the realm of pedagogy.  The intellectual categories are “reified” to “quasi-metaphysical status” (7).  Thus, a scholar of history must seek to deconstruct the narrative and its categories in order to disembody the dominant, errant status.

            After Crowley, comes Richard Leo Enos’ “Lurching Toward Mt. Olympus: The Polis and Politics of Historiography in Classical Rhetoric” (8).  He asks, “What constitutes ‘proof’” in history (8)?  Thus far, he says, it has been “exegesis” of “literary texts” based in a process of reinforcing an old tradition, one whose impetus is thin to nonexistent.  Thus, Enos says, new “sources of evidence” must be found, and new methodologies must be created in an attempt to create a “more sensitive understanding of rhetoric” (8).

            Victor J. Vitanza follows Enos with his “Politics and Historiography” (8).  Vitanza conjures Hegel in his ideas on historiography.  He takes what he calls “political/rhetorical/hysteriographical positions” (8).  He says that “‘there is no history of Rhetorik’” if the Hegelian concept that consciousness does not exist without consciousness is true, because, then, there can be no “Histories/Hysteries without “historiographies/hysteriographies” (8).

            But, Vitanza says, there is a “History of Rhetorik,” equating to a paradox.   This history, he adds, does little focusing on itself (up to 1988) (8).  Furthermore, this history does not consider itself “political” or “ideological” (8).

            Therefore, the “‘History of Rhetorik’ is a ‘philosophical’ History of Rhetorik,’” and this philosophical history, Vitanza claims, positions itself in opposition to its adversarial others, the “Hysteries of Desire”-“aphoristic mis/representative political antidotes which are based on Lacan’’s ‘lalangue,’ Lacerle’s ‘délíre,’ Kristeva’s ‘semiotic,’ or Cixous’ “laugh of the medusa …” (9).  These oppositional/adversarial others operate to counter the “false theatre of phallogocentric representationalism” (9).  The scholar seeks to locate or create these others in opposition to traditional readings.              

            After Vitanza, Susan C. Jarrat provides “The Politics of Text Selection in History of Rhetoric” (9).  She posits that the history of rhetoric, thus far, has merely utilized “rediscovery” and “possession” as historiographical methods (9).  She says rhetoric ought to utilize “appropriation” and “redefinition” of other texts traditionally understood to belong to the “classics, philosophy, and literary theory” because these texts “concern rhetorical issues” (9).

            Jarrat says rhetoric is, by rights, a “meta-discipline” and should act as such.  If it were to do so, then it would change the way it views itself as well as create vital interdisciplinary dialogue (9).

            Nan Johnson, appearing after Jarrat, gives the reader her “Ideological Stance” (9).  She blends the classical, fundamentalist approach with a postmodern approach and notes that the history of rhetoric is both archeological and rhetorical.  Her nod to archeology is justified in the vivacity of archival research today.

            Last is Jan Swearingen’s “The Institutionalization of Rhetoric and The Inscription of Gender” (10).  She says that “the institutionalization of rhetoric in Greek and Roman schools” (up to 1988) has been looked as an oral sphere which deemphasizes the historical relationship between “literacy and rhetoric” and “rhetoric and literacy” (10).  She also asks, “What alternative patterns of discourse will we find in retrieving the women philosophers of the classical period” (10)?

            The original Octalog illumines the possibilities that the multifaceted diamond of history and its study present.  The dynamics of classical scholarship go way past reading the traditional texts.  Historiography demands sociopolitical contextualization: how did politics, culture, and economics affect the writer?  What goals did he/she have in advocating this form of literacy?  Who was this rhetorician lifting up, and whose head was underfoot? How do current sociopolitical forces affect a reading of this text?  Can or should the reader make assumptions?  What does history mean to rhetoric and composition today?  How can this particular matrix of dialectics inform the field today? 

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