age a Third Sophistic. 1 In this "Third Sophistic," much critical work agrees with Edward Schiappa and Thomas Cole that rhetoric and philosophy, the use of language and the search for truth, are not separate enterprises, that we are with the Older Greek Sophists who taught the two together under the study of logos prior to Plato's invention of the term rhêtorikê. But whether you buy this claim or not, I am also hopeful because much of the most interesting scholarship in cultural studies is rhetorical through and through even when the term rhetoric is never used. Here I am thinking of not only new historicisms, feminisms, and neo- and postmarxisms but also various versions of what calls identity studies, even and especially when the very concept of identity is called into question: critical race theory, gender and sexuality studies, multicultural and postcolonial inquiries. In their critical work, these sociopolitical analyses could very easily adopt such definitions of rhetoric as "the political effectivity of trope and argument in culture" and become part of a new rhetorical studies attempting to reconceptualize and reorganize the human sciences within the future university. 2
It is to its great credit that The Prospect of Rhetoric advocated several points-the promotion of theory, the rhetorical analysis of social movements, an interpretive focus on the contemporary scene -- -all directly related to these new propects for Rhetoric 2000. At the present moment, we should respond vigorously to calls for critical rhetorics and "radical rhetorical studies" ( Reed 174, n.5). But the examination of the political effectivity of trope and argument in culture must also look closer to home (and at the trope of "home"). The academic humanities today struggle with their critical relation to the society in which they reside. The culture wars are with us still, and rhetorical studies have a crucial function to play in those wars. While continuing debate over the future role of public intellectuals in North America, cultural rhetoricians should analyze, discuss, and respond forcefully to the political challenges now facing the professionalized humanities: diminished job prospects for graduate students, radical restructuring of higher education, attacks on the NEA and NEH, and threats to affirmative action programs.
These, then, are today's challenges; these are the new prospects of rhetoric.
Cole Thomas. The Origins of Rhetoric in Ancient Greece. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1991.
Ehninger Douglas,et al. "Report of the Committee on the Scope of Rhetoric and the Place of Rhetorical Studies in Higher Education". The Prospect of Rhetoric: Report of the National Development Project. Ed. Lloyd F. Bitzer and Edwin Black. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice, 1971. 208-19.