Octologs I&III

Class Discussion Questions

Why has rhetorical history been so focused on specific geographical regions, types of texts and theories, and figures?

What place can the traditional rhetorical tradition and canon hold as the field recognizes the problems that have been created by the rigid construction of that tradition and canon?

How can we expand our study of rhetorical history in order to include alternative visions of what rhetoric might be, even as we learn about what has evolved as the rhetorical canon?

Where is the balance between an expansive vision of the field and a potentially problematic dissolution of rhetoric into “discourse,” “language practices,” or “everything”?

What purposes do we have in studying the history of rhetoric?  How can an awareness of those purposes guide our approach to rhetorical history—and how might our encounters with history affect our view of our own teaching and scholarship?

Where do you see connections between Octalog I and Octalog III?  How would you describe the differences between the two? To what extent do these shifts help you understand how the field has changed during the period that spans the two?

Reading Notes

A first reading and sense making through notable notes and quotable quotes of the Octalogs for Ancient Rhetorics.

Octalog I: The Politics of Historiography, CCCC 1988

Rhetoric Review, 7:1, 5-49

James Berlin, Robert Connors, Sharon Crowley, Richard Enos, Victor Vitanza, Susan Jarett, Nan Johnson, Jan Swearingen; Moderator: James Murphy


  • In Aristotelian terms “an historian’s reason for writing his or her account of things will shape the way in which the task is undertaken” (5)
  • differences in why lead to disagreements about ways and means
  • history as public enterprise “The writer of history is a grapher of the polis” (5)

James Berlin: Dialectical Histories of Rhetoric

  • “historians must become aware of the rhetoricity of their own enterprise, rhetoric here being designated the uses of language in the play of power” (6)
  • production of history is a dialectical interaction between the set of conceptions brought to the materials of history and the materials themselves

Robert J. Connors: English Composition as a Social Problem

  • “our discipline has a unique genesis—having been create to solve a social problem and not by the evolution of a body of knowledge—we are forced to make judgments and take sides in everything we write” (6-7)
  • discourse as polemical – either implicit or explicit commentary on what is going on in the teaching of writing and its meaning in “our culture today” (7)

Sharon Crowley: Pedagogical Goals

  • “we write history because we still live in a professional world which is directly shaped by our intellectual and our institutional histories” (7)
  • history is undertaken with pedagogical goals in mind—to guide composition teachers in making pedagogical choices based on acquaintances with those that have been made in the past (7)

Richard Leo Enos: Lurching Toward Mt. Olympus: The Polis and Politics of Historiography in Classical Rhetoric

  • “akin to the notion of polis, a community of scholars exist who regulate, adjudicate and establish standards and methods of analysis…sources of proof tend to be linked to the exegesis of literary texts as the dominant if not sole source for evidence” (8)
  • openness and attention toward new sources of evidence and methodologies for analysis are necessary for a more “sensitive” understanding of the history of rhetoric instead of one rooted in conformity and tradition

Victor J. Vitanza: Politics and Historiography

  • (quoting Hegel) “There is no History of Rhetorik”; there is no consciousness without self-concsiousness. “It follows then: If there is no consciousness without self-consciousness, there can be no Histories/Hysteries of Rhetorics without historiographies/hysteriographies” (8)
  • ?: a resistance to history as meaning, “we are no longer—as you have lied to us with the ‘clarity’ of your metaphors—political ‘amphibians’, but political ‘amphiboles’, that is, many contra/dictary, ka(e)rotic voices in laughter…let’s get out of here! (16)

Susan C. Jarratt: The Politics of Text Selection in History of Rhetoric

  • “the primary historiographical trope at work here is the rediscovery and possession of forgotten treasures. An alternative position would entail the appropriation and redefinition of texts currently ‘held’ by other disciplines, which despite their names, concern rhetorical issues” (9)
  • rhetoric is a meta-discipline for dialogue across disciplines among historians, critics and theorists

Nan Johnson: My Ideological Stance

  • “I proceed on the assumption that historical research and writing are archeological and rhetorical activities” (9)
  • as a historian, research is responsible to claims of historical evidence and proclamations of enterprise in attempting to tell “true stories”

Jan Swearingen: The Institutionalization of Rhetoric and The Inscription of Gender

  • “why were women included in Plato’s Academy but barred from Aristotle’s Lyceum?” (10)
  • questioning of the agnostic patterns in rhetorical argument and dialectical exchange as an inscription of gender and the implication on literacy on rhetoric and rhetoric on literacy

James Murphy: Response

  • “these people are interested in bringing whatever has already been done by other people into the presence of us, to see whether we’re doing new things, old things, bad things, good things” (11)

Octalog III: The Politics of Historiography, CCCC 2010

Rhetoric Review, 30:2, 109-134

Vicki Tolar Burton, Jay Dolmage, Jessica Enoch, Ronald L. Jackson II, LuMing Mao, Malea Powell, Arthur Walzer, Ralph Cintron; Responder: Victor Vitanza; Intro: Lois, Zosha, and Laurie Gries


  • builds on earlier conversations of I
  • “still negotiating what constitutes the history of rhetoric, how to study it, and rhetoric’s role in forming and promoting the common good”
  • furthers work on rhetorical history in relation to bodies, space, and rhetorics of the other

Vicki Tolar Burton: Ethos in the Archives

  • “We enact good will by observing the etiquette of the host archive. We enact a deeper ethos of knowledge and character by a willingness to dwell within the documents, to practice slow reading as we lift the rhetors from their musty folders, seeking clues to their rhetorical situations and literacy practices” (112)
  • through what lenses are texts and practices encountered examined?

Jay Dolmage: The Circulation of Discourse through the Body

  • “Rhetoric is always embodied” (114); “a differently embodied historiography does not just find new stories; it is a new way to circulate these stories in order to generate a new ontology, a new epistemology, a new rhetoric” (114)
  • the body has traditionally been a rhetorical instrument and a rhetorical experiment; the corpus of history has most often been shaped to look like an “ideal body”; to care about the body is to care about how meaning is made

Jessica Enoch: Finding New Spaces for Feminist Research

  • “spatial rhetorics: the discursive and material means used to engender spaces with value”…”the ultimate goal is to investigate how the composition of space creates, maintains, or renovates gendered differences and understandings” (116)
  • historicizing the rhetorical processes that engender spaces provides insight to ways in which appropriation and empowerment have occurred

Ronald L. Jackson II: When Will We All Matter: A Frank Discussion of Progressive Pedagogy

  • “I am most concerned with discussing the nature, function, and usefulness of rhetorical studies” (117); “We must also remember that identity and difference are predicated on subjectivity, and it is our responsibility to critically interrogate how we consume messages that affect our consumption of difference” (118)
  • the principal question each year must be: what counts as rhetorical scholarship? power has influenced epistemological singularity that recognizes a mainstream rhetoric that is constructed only in partiality and exclusion

LuMing Mao: The Rhetoric of Responsibility: Practicing the Art of Recontextualization

  • the art of recontextualization: “a critical reevaluation of both the self and the other, interrogating who we are and where we have been and unpacking how local political, economic, and sociocultural exigencies help determine particular contexts and individual performances” (119)
  • a productive troubling of modes of thinking that seeks to privilege experiences over facts and relationships of interdependence over sameness/difference

Malea Powell: This is a Story about a Belief…

  • “Our discipline’s inclination to fetishsize the text above the body, combined with a narrowness of vision that insists on connecting every rhetorical practice on the planet to Big Daddy A and the one true Greco-Roman way does not exactly build a sustainable platform for the continued vibrance of our disciplinary community” (121)
  • a call to move conversations and practices toward “things”—a wider understanding of how all things are made rhetorical, and of how cultures made and are made by the rhetoricity of things

Arthur E. Walzer: Rhetoric as a History of Education and Acculturation

  • “The traditional rhetorical tradition was modeled after philosophy and literature: from philosophy, a narrative of great men, great ideas; from literature, critical reading of ‘great speeches that transcend their age'”…”I propose that we conceptualize the tradition in a different way…how instruction in rhetoric has created historically appropriate subjectivities” (124)
  • an inquiry into the revitalization of the traditional tradition, paideia of Ancient Greece—the education of ideal polis members, without the evangelism and elitism, but in the spirit of Pierre Bourdieu

Ralph Cintron: Neoliberalism, Higher Education, and the Rhetorical/Material Relation

  • “a call here for rhetoric to move out of any disciplinary location” (127); “The progressive left, including the panelists and me as well, have simply followed the logic of incitement rooted in the democratic rhetorics, which have historically enabled the disadvantaged to advance their material conditions in the face of otherwise hierarchical and sedimented power relations. But I am impatient with this work when its focus is limited to rhetorical dimensions of identity formation and does not include material analyses of political economy” (127)
  • the field is too much about words; uses Kenneth Burke’s poetics in which the whole of daily life—thoughts, actions, objects—become enactments of the rhetorical in order to unearth the conceptual grounds and material conditions upon which the discipline’s beliefs and actions rest

Victor Vitanza: Response (128-129)

  • “reclaim your ethea, that is, your wildness”: address the other that is indefinite, especially in logoi
  • “follow what wants, desires, to be said”: be wilder and bewilder
  • “beware of chrono-logic”: obstain from rooting in a past coming from the future

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