MARY GARRETT Ohio State University
Most of my research has been on the Chinese rhetorical tradition, and I assume I was asked to be on part of the RSA conference plenary for that reason. When I received the invitation, I was reminded of a cartoon I saw long ago, in which a dragon is standing at a podium, facing an audience of knights in shining armor. The dragon says, "First, let me say that the very fact that I'm speaking to you here today shows how far we've come." This dragon's observation will be my theme for these remarks: how far we've come, and how far we have to go.
As I reread The Prospect of Rhetoric in preparation for the plenary, and then considered the kind of work rhetoricians -- and RSA rhetoricians in particular -- have been accomplishing, it struck me that the original conferees would be surprised, and then proud, to see how far we've come. If you read through the final committee reports and lists of recommendations from the Wingspread conference and the National Conference on Rhetoric and then skim through the programs for recent Rhetoric Society of America conferences, or browse through the titles at the publishers' table here, you'll notice that many of the recommendations are being realized, and probably far beyond anyone's expectations twenty-five years ago.
Let me just remind you of a few of the committees' conclusions and recommendations as they appeared in The Prospect of Rhetoric. The conferees agreed to define rhetorical studies as "any human transaction in which symbols and/or systems of symbols influence values, attitudes, beliefs, and actions" (214). They expanded rhetorical criticism to include
subjects which have not traditionally fallen within the critic's purview: the non-discursive as well as the discursive, the nonverbal as well as the verbal, the event or transaction which is unintentionally as well as intentionally suasive. The rhetorical critic has the freedom to pursue his study of subjects with suasory potential or persuasive effects in whatever setting he may find them, ranging from rock music and put-ons, to architecture and public forums, to ballet and international politics. (221).