Monday, November 16, 2009

130. On Historicizing of Rhetoric

I was on two panels and a "wandering scholar" session at NCA this year, panels that make clear to me the need for an increased historicizing of work in rhetorical theory.

It seems clear to me that there are two modes of historical work in rhetoric at NCA: the historicizing of the object of rhetorical criticism, such that rhetorical theory can be applied to it for purposes of generating insight into the text/performance (and only occasionally insight into the theory). This is the work that fills the public address work, the rhetoric of science work, the popular culture work, and much of the Burkean work.

At the same time, there is work which historicizes theory. This is the work typically done in the ASHR division (see previous post). But Bill Keith pulled together Darrin Hicks and Ron Greene (and me) a panel for the RCT division on "the therapeutic turn" in midcentury rhetorical theory. It was a prime example of historicizing rhetorical theory done for an audience of non-historians (except, bless him, Steve Mailloux in the background).

One of the audience members asked the "so what" question -- and Bill had an excellent answer. Dr. Greene asked me whether I'd like to take a stab, and I didn't. I was gunshy about the volume of people in the audience and dazzled by the work of my panelmates and Joshua Gunn's response. Who would have thought that I would someday think of my drinking buddy with the intellectual awe I do?

I agree with Bill's answer (about the valuation of pedagogy and the recognition that every pedagogy has a politics), I want to add this: the recognition that every pedagogy has a politics is one of the key insights of the process of historicizing pedagogy, theory, and practice.

In short, the work of the RCT division, the Burke division, and so on cannot be divorced from the process of historicizing that typically goes on in other divisions and the ASHR affiliate. The most contemporary of theories can be subjected to the processes of analysis that we apply to Aristotle, and that work must be done.

Some questions of historicizing that still need to be done, the way Bill's panel worked through midcentury theory: How do we historicize:
Bitzer, Vatz, Biesecker and the Rhetorical Situation
The Idiograph
The Critical Rhetoric project (Josh and I started that work)
The turn to the visual and to the material since, say 1985
...and so on.

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