Tradition(s) and History(s) of Rhetoric Reading Notes

This week for Ancient Rhetorics, we read several pieces that continue to discuss how (method/ology) to do historiography. These pieces discussed the matter of time/distance as influential to how we can conceive and account for events.

Ballif, Michelle. “Writing the Event: The Impossible Possibility for Historiography.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly. Vol. 44. No.3. (Jun. 2014). pp. 243-255.

  • “‘normative historical thinking’ elides the radical singularity of the event by subjecting the event meaning by way of categories of knowledge that cannot—by definition—include the radical singularity of ‘what happened'” (243)
  • events are only significant if they satisfy a chronological narrative of beginning, middle, and end (traditional historical thinking)
  • normative historical thought imposes temporal constraints on the happening/event and impose violence to “what was” by coopting past events as evidentiary to the guiding paradigm, argument, or hypothesis that prompted the historical work (244)
  • questioning the possibility of impossibility in historiography – to not submit it to a state of being by way of making ontological claims about the event, but merely to foreground its various appearances (245)
  • invoking Derrida and post-structuralist thought: “A Certain Impossible Impossibility of Saying the Event”, “Structure, Sign, and Play”
  • need to view events as exceptional or singular so that it is not reducible to norms or rules; events are arrivant – a radically other, a future that cannot be forseen (246)
  • shifts future from horizontal expectations of temporality to vertical—”it is always already repeatable…in that it will reappear” (246)
  • the event happens or arrives all the time but is not reducible to phenomenology; there is no grammar to it; it is beyond categorical systems of knowledge and programmatical systems of agency
  • method or considerations in writing historiography to come: reorientation of time; understand time as event  (247)—a different order, as open, as possibility, as intensity
  • break from “temporal logic of belatedness” (246) that comes from narration after the event
  • constative vs. performative instantiations of language (248-49)
    • constative: presume to state instances of fact about a referent|most histories are a narrativation of these utterances
    • performative: does not have a referent outside of itself|doesn’t say an event, but produces it in and through the utterance
    • but performative eventalness of an event as a radical singularity relies on repetition—a redoubling or reiteration (Derrida) as an act of creation
  • regard an event’s vertical nature through symptomology: something that falls; befalls us (252)
  • writing is of chance – don’t know where it’s going – destiner au hasard (Derrida)
  • ultimately, what does this look like? the text is hospitality: it sets the table but leaves an empty place setting for what will have arrived, what has not yet arrived, and for what could not be recognized as having arrived (254)
  • what does these mean for how historical texts are constructed? are they less version and re-versions and more collecting of materials for close looking/conversation? does this destabilize how we read/react to histories?

Kellner, Hans. “Is History Ever Timely?” Rhetoric Society Quarterly. Vol. 44 No. 3 pp. 234-242.

  • practical past: versions of the past used daily to tell stories about what human experience means
  • historical past: reports what happened
  • invokes Friedrich Nietzsche’s untimely to illustrate that historians untimely come to believe backwards
  • figuralism: reversed logic to retroactively convert the past into a figure of the future (236)
  • integrates past and present in untimely way; distance between then and now is mediated by a higher order of things because this fulfillment must occur if the figure can exist as a figure or events may be stranded in time without historical meaning (236)
  • distance ascribes historical meaning
  • connection to investigate further—theoria: contemplation through spectating as a spectator/from a distance
  • how do we view untimeliness? as “catastrophic loss or as an enabling treasure”? (237)
  • chronoschism: split in time that creates distance used to make a case
  • “Between the extremes of causal verbal time markers and grand historical distances lie an innumerable variety of historical and historiographic chronoschisms, which erupt continually and disruptively. No moment of time stands or speaks for itself; it is always a figure without meaning or place until fulfilled by a later moment, itself without its own meaning since the present is never present” (240)
  • our medium of historiography is language—a disruptive medium full of chronoschisms that make any history untimely
  • all histories are untimely
  • while not explicitly stated, is this a suggestion for less narrative (language/voice) emphasis and more material focus in historical accounts? 
  • regarding a connection to theoria, are histories/historical texts meant to serve as a medium for disruption in order to see sat a different distance/scale/perspective? how does this keep its form as distance or space and not become lens (of focus or exclusion as blinder)?

Graff, Richard and Michael Leff. “Revisionist Historiography and Rhetorical Tradition(s)”. The Viability of the Rhetorical Tradition. State University of New York Press.

  • “rhetorical tradition” as resonance for what was studied but also establishment in the academy: “The history was our history” (11)
  • revisionist moves have prompted traditions under pluralism and have sought to replay history with theory or system
  • explain that these revisionist moves are not always well considered because older scholarship is hardly as monolithic as it is sometimes represented (12)
  • much to commend in the study of rhetoric’s history/ies, but they also threat to destroy a sense of tradition. “The almost infinite sprawl of rhetorical practices encourages a splintering of interests, and without a tradition against which we can measure our innovations, we may lose the minimum level of coherence necessary to sustain an academic community” (12)
  • our received sense of tradition is no longer possible, but lacking a sense of tradition risks dismemberment
  • working to create a concept of tradition that serves as a via media between seamless uniformity and scattered situated cases (12)

waves of revisionism:

  • first: theory and system in the history of rhetoric
    • systems: metaphysical (Protagoras and Plato); social (Isocrates and Cicero); epistemological (Descartes, Locke, Campbell); educational-ethical (Quintilian); theological (Augustine); esthetic (Blair); logical (Whately); psychological (Winans)
    • rhetoric is a dynamic and evolving entity; tradition is not inert and reactionary, but can facilitate change by connecting “theoretical” resources to tasks (19)
    • the teaching of rhetoric offers an important site of practice where mediation can occur over time
  • second: critical historiography and rhetorical histories
    • interpretation of the cultural exigencies that encourage multiple modes of rhetorical response (23)
  • rhetorical pedagogy as the tradition of rhetoric
    • “the teaching of rhetoric as a practice offers a stable referent for a historical tradition, but it does not lock us into grand narratives or perspectives that move us outside a local context” (27)
  • the move for revision destabilizes the notion of a singular tradition (if that was ever possible – even before revisions); I found myself wondering about the minimum boundedness of disciplinarity in our dynamic discipline.

Stroud, Scott R. “Pragmatism and the Methodology of Comparative Rhetoric.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly. Vol.39. No.4 (Oct. 2009). pp. 353-379.

  • comparative rhetoric often conceived of as studying and arguing that postulates  fact of matter that analysis is to uncover, reflect, and get right (354)—to correctly describe a practice or text
  • pragmatism (in a Deweian sense) allows for a re-envisioning of comparative rhetoric in that it naturalizes criticism and positions criticism as subservient to an agent’s purpose in an environment. This allows for a describing of some phenomenon so that one might reconstruct some phenomenon instead of using the standards of one a priori.
  • comparative rhetoric ought to be informed by pragmatist approach, which shares a long history with psychology and social psychology, because it unites readings of habit and psychological functioning with rhetorical and critical concerns (362)
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