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

By Theresa Enos; Richard McNabb et al. | Go to book overview

CAROLYN R. MILLER North Carolina State University


Epilogue: On Divisions and Diversity in Rhetoric

When Richard Enos suggested that the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1971 publication of The Prospect of Rhetoric would make an interesting program theme for the 1996 Rhetoric Society of America conference, I seized on the idea with gratitude. Not only did it answer a huge question for me as program planner, but it was exactly the kind of answer I wanted. For that book raised fundamental questions about rhetoric that I thought should be raised again, and it raised them in a way that I thought would be particularly beneficial for RSA.

As we discovered at the conference, The Prospect of Rhetoric serves as a generational marker. For those of the generation that participated in the two conferences leading to the book, it was a disciplinary coming-of-age: It put rhetoric on the national academic map. For the generation that came of age immediately afterwards, it marked the division of the old from the new. And for those in subsequent academic generations, it became an increasingly dusty library volume, now out of print.

Nevertheless, the aims addressed by the essays in the volume are again timely ones for rhetoric and rhetoricians: "to outline and amplify a theory of rhetoric suitable to twentieth-century concepts and needs." It's a goal worth taking up twenty-five years later as we contemplate the twenty-first century. For one thing, so much about rhetorical practice and available conceptual resources have changed since 1971 that the same outlines and amplifications of theory do not satisfy now. For another, our exigence for theorizing is quite different: Rhetoric is a prominent player on the national intellectual scene, as it wasn't twenty-five years ago. In part because of the reorientation and rethinking represented by Prospect, rhetoric is of interest to historians, anthropologists, political theorists, sociologists, literary scholars, and philosophers -- intellectuals engaged in understanding the constructed nature of human thought and society. This broad and lively interest in rhetoric makes the aims of Prospect relevant again.

But rhetoric today is a house divided. Perhaps the most salient fact of rhetoric's academic existence in the United States is its division by institutional and educational history into two departmental homes, communication and English. There are lively and active communities of inquiry and criticism in both departmental locations, and too few scholars who are familiar with both. To be sure, both communities draw on common intellectual resources: the

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