Saying and Silence: Listening to Composition with Bakhtin

Saying and Silence: Listening to Composition with Bakhtin

Saying and Silence: Listening to Composition with Bakhtin

Saying and Silence: Listening to Composition with Bakhtin

Excerpt

One development in recent scholarship centers upon what is often referred to as a rhetoric of silence. Not that we have just discovered such a rhetoric, for it is clear from even a cursory look at Richard Lanham’s Handlist of Rhetorical Terms that our predecessors long ago established a whole family of words to describe the power that silence could effect in situations that were clearly rhetorical. Indeed, within this family of ancient terms, we find not only the obvious, silence, used in a rather specialized way, but also the far less familiar obticentia, praecisio, reticentia, interpellatio—all of which fall under the umbrella term, aposiopesis, a rhetorical figure that attempts to capture the persuasive effects of sudden silence. Classical rhetoricians apparently understood the strategic and dramatic purposes for which a refusal either to speak or to cease speaking might be appropriate, as evidenced in their constellation of terms for this one particular genre of silence.

But contemporary investigations of a rhetoric of silence have been largely (though by no means exclusively) tied to the project of recovering women’s contributions to the history of rhetoric and rhetorical theory. This ought not to be especially surprising, given the status of women’s discourse throughout much of Western history and women’s long familiarity with silence as an ascribed quality of patriarchically-defined feminity. But of late, some feminist scholars have sought to reveal the communicative realities of silence, detailing, in particular, the ways silence has been creatively deployed by women rhetors and rhetoricians through the ages.

Cheryl Glenn’s investigation of Anne Askew makes exactly this point. Tortured for her radical beliefs, the sixteenth-century Protestant reformist Askew developed a host of ways not to answer her brutal and cruel inquisitors. In Rhetoric Retold, Glenn argues that . . .

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