Making and Unmaking the Prospects for Rhetoric: Selected Papers from the 1996 Rhetoric Society of America Conference

By Roxanne Mountford; Carolyn Miller et al. | Go to book overview

JANICE NORTON University of Tennessee


Luce Irigaray and the Ethics of Sexual Difference: Toward a Twenty-First-Century Rhetoric

In practice feminist rhetorical studies scholars are still likely to engage in the same scholarly projects that nonfeminists do, that is, criticism and critical studies. They may focus on texts of or about women as their content, but their assumptions about what to do as scholars are usually no different. In fact, perhaps the most prominent feminist in rhetorical studies, Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, has advised young women entering the field to focus on criticism in the interest of their being "taken seriously" by the male scholars who dominate rhetorical studies. That is, if feminists hope to be successful scholars, they must "walk the walk," "talk the talk," "be a man" about their work. Practically, Campbell accurately if dismayingly describes "the prospect of rhetoric" for women.

But a difficulty arises here directly out of rhetoric's traditional commitments to the timely and the appropriate: It is not necessarily a straight line from taking oneself to be "equal" to it being appropriate to act as if it were so. Indeed, I argue that it may be neither timely for all women-scholars to pursue the same scholarly projects nor appropriate for them to act as if they have the same status -- the same access to culture -- as do men in rhetorical studies.

The best brief elaboration I can make of this claim starts with a confluence of absences. First, while "the body" ranks among the more hotly contested issues in the larger academy, rhetoric has hardly noticed that it continues to theorize without reference to bodies marked by sexual difference. Second, while other disciplines have been investigating the operations of binary logic -- nature/culture, masculine/feminine, reason/emotion, etc. -- for two decades and more, rhetorical studies remains conspicuously absent at those forums. Third, while ever-increasing numbers of scholars are preoccupied by what the French philosopher and psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray calls "the burning question of our age," sexual difference, rhetoric has yet to notice either this development or its significance ( Whitford, Reader165).

These absences foreground a peculiarity: While the level of scholarly production in the larger academy suggests that what constitutes the speaking subject is perhaps the single most disputed contemporary intellectual issue, the topic barely has been broached in a discipline still claiming to "know" how the speaking subject persuades other speaking subjects. Indeed, not only does

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