Philosophy, Rhetoric, Literary Criticism: (Inter)Views

Philosophy, Rhetoric, Literary Criticism: (Inter)Views

Philosophy, Rhetoric, Literary Criticism: (Inter)Views

Philosophy, Rhetoric, Literary Criticism: (Inter)Views


Gary A. Olson presents six in-depth interviews with internationally prominent scholars outside of the discipline and twelve response essays written by noted rhetoric and composition scholars on subjects related to language, rhetoric, writing, philosophy, feminism, and literary criticism. The interviews are with philosopher of language Donald Davidson, literary critic and critical legal studies scholar Stanley Fish, cultural studies and African American studies scholar bell hooks, internationally renowned deconstructionist J. Hillis Miller, feminist literary critic Jane Tompkins, and British logician and philosopher of science Stephen Toulmin.

Susan Wells and Reed Way Dasenbrock provide distinctly divergent assessments of the application of Donald Davidson's language theory to rhetoric and composition, and especially to writing pedagogy. Patricia Bizzell and John Trimbur explore how Stanley Fish's neopragmatism might be useful both to composition theory and to literacy education. And Joyce Irene Middleton and Tom Fox discuss bell hooks's notions of how race and gender affect pedagogy. In two frank and sometimes angry responses, Patricia Harkin and Jasper Neel take J. Hillis Miller to task for seeming to support rhetoric and composition while continuing to maintain the political status quo. Similarly, Susan C. Jarratt and Elizabeth A. Flynn express skepticism about Jane Tompkins's vocal support of composition and of radical pedagogy particularly. And Arabella Lyon and C. Jan Swearingen analyze Stephen Toulmin's thoughts on argumentation and postmodernism.

Internationally respected anthropologist Clifford Geertz provides a foreword; literacy expert Patricia Bizzell contributes an introduction to the text; and noted reader-response critic David Bleich supplies critical commentary.

This book is a follow-up to the editor's (Inter)views: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Rhetoric and Literacy, already a major work of scholarship in the field.


It would be risky to claim to identify any common theme in the six interviews in Philosophy, Rhetoric, Literary Criticism: (Inter) views, other than that all six are indeed interesting to scholars in composition and rhetoric. But I will offer a few remarks here about a common theme, drawn from my own preoccupations, that I read into the interviews as I paged through them. I would call this the theme of democratization of literacy and interpretation. I see recurring issues here related to who gets access to literacy education, what "taxes" are levied against entrants, what this education is used for, and more. I see recurring issues of who gets to determine what important cultural texts mean--or what cultural texts are important, what conventions need to be followed for communication to take place across cultural groups, if any, and more. Bound up in these issues is another concern, too, that of the social mission or purpose, if any, of professional educators, particularly in English studies.

Donald Davidson's strictures against the concept of discourse community, for example, can be seen as a move against the supposedly closed and elitist world of discourse communities such as the academic community. He offers ways for people to communicate effectively even if they don't share the conventions of a discourse community. Such sharing is not necessary, he suggests. Instead, all we need is for his "principle of charity" to operate, such that we simply acknowledge that our interlocutors are indeed "sharing a world with" us and are "logical in the way that [we] are." With these assumptions in place, we can form "passing theories" about what other people mean, enlightening enough to allow communication and not so rigid as to bar new interlocutors with new perspectives. Whereas looking at human communication in terms of discourse communities can tend to emphasize the barriers between groups, Davidson's approach can be seen as minimizing the barriers, especially barriers that are group-related or culturally constructed, and as suggesting that it really isn't that difficult for any two mentally normal humans to communicate. This would appear to make the democratization of interpretation easier.

Stanley Fish is often cast as the opponent of democratizing interpretation, due to his praise for professionalism in English studies and his apparent comfort at operating within its interpretive discourse communities without . . .

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