Making and Unmaking the Prospects for Rhetoric: Selected Papers from the 1996 Rhetoric Society of America Conference

By Theresa Enos; Richard McNabb et al. | Go to book overview

CAROLE BLAIR

University of Califomia, Davis


"We Are All Just Prisoners Here of Our Own Device": Rhetoric in Speech Communication after Wingspread

This rumination on post-Wingspread rhetoric begins with an understanding of theory as discursive -- not as a genre, but as a specific kind of use to which languages of various kinds may be put. That is, language practice becomes theory when it is used as such, as an interpretive, authorizing, or validating instrument of other discourses or practices. Ordinarily, we limit "theory" to particular kinds of statements that purport to be, or are judged by their capacity as, accurate or empirically verifiable accounts of objects. My invitation to hold such ordinary views in abeyance and to treat theory as use facilitates my goal of using a popular song -- the Eagles' l976 megahit "Hotel California" -- as a heuristic, hermeneutic vehicle for understanding postWingspread rhetoric in speech communication.

"Hotel California" tells the tale of a traveler in the desert, who grows weary and stops at a place he has glimpsed as a "shimmering light" in the distance -- the Hotel California. He is greeted by voices declaring the hotel a lovely place with plenty of room. But not everything is as it appears. The traveler calls for the Captain to bring wine but is informed that "We haven't had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine." The distant voices now suggest bringing "your alibis." A mysterious woman tells the traveler that "We are all just prisoners here of our own device." The most unsettling scene is in the master's chambers where those gathered for a feast "stab it with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast." At that point the traveler seeks a way out: "Last thing I remember, I was running for the door. I had to find a passage back to the place I was before." But the night man tells him, "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave" ( Felder, Henley, and Frey). We are left uncertain about the traveler's fate; although the final lyric suggests that he is trapped in this hauntingly appealing but disturbing retreat, the mysterious woman hints that escape may be volitional.

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