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

Now that I have traced the aesthetic, political, and epistemic ends of rhetoric in ancient and contemporary scholarship, I would like to argue briefly that there is value in doing so. By using this schema, we do more than develop another convenient way to categorize work in our field. Recognizing the purposes that drive scholars helps us to better appreciate their scholarship. It also allows us more adequately to engage in the controversies that arise from that scholarship and more fully understand the assumptions that keep us from resolving those conflicts.

One interesting aspect of this conceptual schema is that its lines of demarcation do not parallel the most contentious division that has polarized our field of late. There are both modernist and postmodernist thinkers who believe scholarship should pursue one of these ends to the exclusion of all others. Rhetorical critics driven by the aesthetic end may be close readers who help us appreciate the formal intricacy of an historical masterpiece, or they may be deconstructive wizards who help us unravel a contemporary music video. Rhetorical critics who believe their work supports the political health of our social body might rail against the postmodern loss of a shared public life, or they might find hope in the postmodern attack on the hegemonic practices of patriarchy. Rhetorical critics who believe their work adds to the conceptual record may think of what they do as a part of the larger scientific enterprise, or they may believe that they are offering a postmodern alternative to realist conceptions of truth and knowledge. By viewing our scholarship through the "ends" that typically lie beneath the surface of awareness (and yet do so much to drive our work), we will be able to recognize affinities and understand conflicts that may not have make sense before. For example, a modernist and a postmodernist who share an aesthetic end may find that they are more able to communicate with one another than two postmodernists who hold different conceptions of the proper purpose of rhetoric. In short, I think that this lens may help us to better appreciate, use, and understand each other's scholarship. And no matter what you think the end of rhetoric is, this would be a positive change.


Works Cited

Anne James Arnt. "Public Address and Rhetorical Theory". Texts in Context: Critical Dialogues on Significant Episodes in American Political Rhetoric. Ed. Michael C. Leff and Fred J. Kauffeld. Davis, CA: Hermagoras, 1989. 43-51.

Becker Samuel L. "Rhetorical Studies for the Contemporary World". The Prospect of Rhetoric: Report of the National Developmental Project. Ed. Lloyd F. Bitzer and Edwin Black. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice, 1971. 21-43.

Benson Thomas. "The Rhetorical Structure of Frederick Wiseman's High School". Communication Monographs 47 ( 1980): 233-61.

Bokeno Michael. "The Rhetorical Understanding of Science: An Explication and Critical Commentary". Southern Journal of Speech Communication 52 ( 1987): 285-311.

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