Thursday, December 25, 2008

51.1 More on K

Mr. Kugelmass,

In your replies, you quote Eyman:

--Douglas Eyman: “That he doesn’t recognize that literary analysis is a rhetorical act serves to completely undermine his ethos.”--

To which you reply:

--Sure, publishing a work of literary criticism means writing within certain conventions related to academic audiences, but that does not exhaust the ways in which literary analysis differs from the analysis of “appeals to an audience.”--

Clearly, there are arhetorical literary pedagogies. Some are successful; some are not (no one is rushing to reproduce Richards' protocols). Some are consonant with, but different from, rhetorical analysis.

But after three posts of this argument and multiple responses, all repeatedly stating that the reduction of rhetorically-based writing instruction is a misrepresentation of the field and of the pedagogy that derives from it, I have to ask:

1. What is the basis for your claim that rhetorically-based pedagogy is reducible to appeal to the audience? Half-credit for reference to a textbook written by someone with a professional profile in rhetoric. Full credit for an article or scholarly book written by someone with a professional profile in rhetoric.


You offer us this argument for the reduction of your scope:

--“Rhetoric and Composition” cannot muster, in its defense, millennia of scholarship on the subject of rhetoric. College freshmen are not taking a graduate seminar on debates that have lasted since Greece and Rome within the diversely constituted field of “rhetoric.” I did not mention writers like Burke, or Cicero, or the Sophists, or Hélène Cixous, or others from other centuries, because it is sheer fantasy to imagine the students in question have access to this sort of specialized scholarly knowledge about rhetoric.--

There is an internal contradiction in your claims, in that you earlier call upon us to cite texts that could counter your arguments (you say: "if some text has given you a good argument to oppose to mine, do us the kindness of summarizing it"), but you deny access to the professional literature or the historical tradition in this debate.

I ask a follow up:

The implication appears to be that professional teachers of rhetoric and composition must use only the resources of the undergraduate textbook to design and teach their courses. The knowledge they mastered in their graduate training and the knowledge they produce in their scholarship is "out of bounds" for defining or inflecting their courses?

Is this true of literature? Does the Norton Anthology circumscribe pedagogy in the literature classroom? I would hope not.


You are anxious about the globalization of rhetorical theory, a topic of much discussion in the field that could inform your arguments. You note that "attempts to make rhetoric so enormous that it simply swallows up all communication" -- a position discussed, for example, by Schiappa (Phil & Rhet), Schiappa, Scott, Gross & McKerrow, and Gross & Keith (Rhetorical Hermeneutics), and in the aforementioned SAGE Handbook (look for references to "Big Rhetoric."

We have encountered these questions before, and we have developed answers to them. Insofar as we have embraced Booth and he embraced us (feeding the dialogue between literary and rhetorical studies), they are debates perhaps older than you are.

Take a gander at these sources and see whether your arguments can be strengthened by a knowledge of the professional literature in the field.


You note that the flattening of rhetoric effaces the fact that "rhetoric continues to carry all sorts of ideological and epistemological assumptions in its train, including assumptions about the knowability of an audience and the nature of truth."

You are right! James Berlin said as much in defining rhetoric as a field that also defines "what can, and cannot, be known; the nature of the knower; the nature of the relationship between the knower, the known, and the audience; and the nature of language." Different rhetorics function differently in defining these terms.

This question has been on our plate for years, and we have been working to answer it. Your position, for example, about the relative unknowability of the audience, has been explored theoretically and pedagogically by Thomas Kent (Paralogic Rhetoric). Questions about the circulation of texts beyond their intended, knowable audiences have been explored by scholars interested in actor-network theory and ethnographic practices in professional communication.

It is true, we have left questions of Conrad and Achebe to literary scholars (on the one hand) and historians of print culture (on the other hand). But this is because, despite your claims to the otherwise, we don't believe that all phenomena in writing is rhetorical phenomena.


I think we go back to the post from an earlier blog iteration of this essay: the problem is not that we teach writing informed by rhetorical theory. The problem is that we ask people without background in rhetoric to teach rhetoric and composition.

I believe that you are earnest in wanting your students to succeed. I also believe that you are unaware of the massive literature that could help you help them succeed. I don't know whether this is your fault or Irvine's.

This leads us to the final questions:

1. Is it unethical to ask graduate students trained in literary studies to teach rhetoric & composition courses?

2. Is it unethical for graduate students with no interest in rhetoric and composition as a professional body of literature to accept these teaching assistantships?

3. If the answer is "yes" to either of the above, what would happen to literary studies enrollments if we acted ethically?

4. If the answer is yes to 1 & 2 above, what would happen to the job market if we acted ethically? Right now, one in three PhDs in English (lit & rhet comp & linguistics) grabs a TT job in their first year out. Many take jobs they would not have preferred.

The questions appear loaded, but they are not. So much would be reconfigured, I am guessing at impacts I cannot know.

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