St. Cloud State University
I begin with two quotations. The first is from Stephen Spender, written in 1951 and recalling an observation from the 30s:
To divide humanity into irreconcilable groups with irreconcilable attitudes, having no common language of truth and morality, is, ultimately, to rob both groups of their humanity. They will be inhuman first to one another, and lastly to their own followers. (136)
The second quotation from Todd Gitlin The Twilight of Common Dreams was written last year. After considering the difference between what he calls "the late New Left politics of separatist rage . . . [and] the early New Left politics of universalist hope" (146), Gitlin argues that
Identity politics confronts a world in flux and commands it to stop. . . . Today, some cultural fundamentalists defend the formulas of "multiculturalism.". . . Other fundamentalists . . . claim that multiculturalism, racial preferences, and the like are instruments of an elite. . . . What frightens both is the flimsiness of a culture where everything is in motion. . . . In the minds of all fundamentalists, porousness makes for corrosiveness. A porous society is an impure society. The impulse is to purge impurities, to wall off the strange (223)
Spender's reflection and Gitlin's urgency reflect a concern that has been around for sixty years and more -- a concern for communicating across huge gaps of identity, huge chasms of difference.
While neither Spender nor Gitlin was concerned directly or explicitly as a rhetorician surveying the prospect of rhetoric, a similar concern by rhetoricians was present twenty-five years ago in The Prospect of Rhetoric, situated chronologically half way between Spender's then and Gitlin's now. Baskerville, for example, raised the specter of communication failed in a violent New-Left noise (152), and Wayne Booth, to cite another example, reflected on a crisis in