STEVEN MAILLOUX University of California, Irvine
I want to begin this otherwise theoretical paper with an example, a concrete rhetorical performance to which I can refer. Indeed, most of my paper is simply a gloss on this example:
RHETORICIANS OF THE WORLD UNITE! THE MOMENT OF OUR TRIUMPH IS AT HAND!
This is an example of what the 1971 "Report of the Committee on the Scope of Rhetoric" called "revolutionary rhetoric." The Report had this to say as an engaged description, not a negative evaluation, of such language use: "The rhetoric of revolution is based on an intuition, apprehension, or assumption of a true belief, a cause, a faith. Revolutionary rhetoric is meant to induce religious conversion; its expression may be fanatical -- certainly in many instances, it is frenetic" ( Ehninger210).
I believe that it was not a mistake that The Prospect of Rhetoric, which included this Report, focused so intensely on its contemporary scene of late sixties protest. It was acting responsibly to examine the political effectivity of trope and argument in the establishment- and counterculture of its day. In the words again of the Report: "Rhetorical studies are not in themselves the solution to social, political, or personal problems. They are, however, by their nature and functions relevant to the tasks of social betterment. Rhetorical studies are humanistic studies" ( Ehninger210).
I will return at the end of my paper to the present scene of a larger rhetorical politics extending beyond the academy, but now I want to concentrate on the present disciplinary meaning and possible institutional effects of a call, frenetic or otherwise, that rhetoricians of the world unite. Rhetorical study today offers us a unique opportunity; it has the potential to lead scholars and teachers into a new interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, or even postdisciplinary future. What exactly are these new prospects of rhetoric? I'll begin an answer with some general claims about universities and the role of the humanities.
As producer and conduit of knowledge, the university has often had an ambivalent relationship to the society that supports it. While supplying the basic intellectual tools for carrying out established cultural functions, the university has also been among those institutions providing a space for