The text distills the drama of human condition into an image of a naked, newborn body about to be captured by words. On stage are the midwives, hands bloodied and minds occupied with the medical necessities and cultural imperatives associated with childbirth; off stage and narrating are the voyeuristic and education- minded friars documenting and analyzing the failure of language and the failure of education. The child is delivered; the placenta is delivered; the word project aborts. (Romano 77)
This very visceral description of the intersection between the discursive and the body provides a powerful narrative/analytic backdrop for this interpretation by Romano of the clashing of ideological and biologic imperatives between the colonial friars and indigenous midwives in the early eighteenth-century post-colonial period in Latin America. Romano shows how this imposition of ideology upon the rhetorical performances of the midwives was resisted in their refusal to comply to the demand of baptism as coming before the health or life of the mother delivering the baby. By further describing the rhetorical performances of these midwives where they were expected to speak to and about the process of birth in particular ways, it is significant to note that their refusal to comply with a divergent set of priorities (i.e. the importance of “salvation” in the Catholic sense over the life of the mother or baby) by their refusal to comply with the training of the friars. This refusal demonstrates an act of resistance where Latina women used their role within their communities to reject, albeit silently, the imposed rhetorical practices of a colonizing force.
I am always fascinated by the complex methodology that Romano employs, and particularly enjoyed the combination of the Burkean anecdote with New Historicist methods to highlight a rhetorical moment that can then be used as a lens through which to view the clashing ideologies and rhetorics of the male, Spanish colonizers and the female indigenous people living at this place and time. Using “baptism…as a live topos in colonizing rhetorics,” Romano shows how this topic and this anecdote can speak to “the process of establishing relations between raced and gendered human beings and their language activities” (76). Methodologically, the idea of utilizing particular topoi as organizing ideas or principles is one that Romano has employed before, as in her work “The Historical Catalina Hernadez: Inhabiting the Topoi of Feminist Historiography” (RSQ 2007). I am always struck by the narrative nature of Romano’s work, where scholarship is both academically-minded and human-based, where the women whose writing she examines are given voice, where these “performances are not sidelined, not positioned as supplements, not rendered as afterthoughts” (76). This past summer at the RSA Seminar, she was one of the four facilitators who oversaw the archive seminar I attended. It was really interesting to speak with her about her methodological choices, about how and why she utilizes the particular analytic lenses she employs in order to tell the stories she wants to tell. The complexity of these frameworks is always fascinating to me, as is the way that the women whose rhetorical practices she examines “come to life” even when all that is known of them are fragments that have otherwise gone overlooked.
Rather, enacting the art of recontextualization in today’s world means negotiating between developing a localized narrative and searching for its new and broader significance within and outside its own tradition, between looking for rhetoric where it has been categorically rules nonexistent and rejecting a concomitant temptation to reduce rhetorical experiences into facts of essence and equate heterogeneous resonance with either sameness or difference, and between using the other for transformative agendas and resisting methods and logic that continue to silence or make invisible the same other. (Mao 220)
In this article, Mao also discusses Burkean “representative anecdotes,” showing how they can highlight “incongruities…[that]… further expose the increasingly blurred boundaries between, for example, the indigenous and the exogenous, the past and the present, and the local and the global” (211). Mao urges scholars in the field of comparative rhetoric to move beyond the etic/emic approach, to move away from facts of essence to “address both facts of usage and facts of ‘non’-usage,” advocating for “practicing the art of recontextualization as a discursive third” (213-17). Recontextualization calls for “scholars to bring both their own contexts and those of the other into simultaneous view” where these shifts if context require a recursive recontextualization of both the work/culture under study as well as one’s own position to it (218-19). Second, this approach is founded in a dialogic stance that “insists on developing terms of interdependence and interconnectivity, aiming not merely to revers our evaluation of the self/other binary or any other binary for that matter, but to recalibrate it or to replace it,” or “what may be called ‘togetherness-in-difference’” (219-20). Third, recontextualization demands ongoing negotiation and awareness of differences, while at the same time connecting these to a larger context (see quote above). This art of recontextualization may help to more effectively and ethically navigate incongruities and specifics as a “cross-cultural dialogue with an abiding sense of self-reflection, interdependence, and accountability” (222).
This approach to comparative rhetoric offers a meta-stance from which to examine or enact comparative work that focuses on both the specific and the general, the small and the large, the exceptions and the rules, while simultaneously and recursively noting one’s “loci of enunciation” that encourages accountability while fostering a sense of interdependence and respect of difference. I find this approach to be very ethically resonant and appreciate the focus on examining simultaneous sites as a way of holding or approaching binaries that is neither reductive nor hierarchical. Rather than “choosing” one binary or/over the other, recontextualization asks us to choose both/and, seeing the relationships between the general and specific, self and other, here and there, then and now, etc., as simultaneously legitimate. I am curious how this approach would/will/does look in particular scholarship and wonder if this is an attainable goal, or rather a stance to take but which perhaps cannot be wholly realized within any one (limited) project.
I found the other three articles (Schoen, Campbell, Hallden) interesting studies in particular rhetorical practices that are not centered upon EuroAmerican cultural traditions. While each of these had their merits, and certainly contained scholarship that is important to the field, I found myself less interested in the particulars – or rather if I write about them I will largely be summarizing their findings rather than extending their thinking, methodologies, or practices. These articles offered perspectives and analyses of heretofore unstudied sites, showing both the similarities and differences between Western rhetorical practices and those found in various parts of Africa and Islamic cultures. Each of these attempted to examine the rhetorical practices of non-EuroAmerican cultures on their own terms, showing how some practices and prerogatives were similar to, and yet different, from Hellenistic traditions.
Campbell, Kermit E. “Rhetoric from the Ruins of African Antiquity.” ISHR 24.3 (Summer 2006): 255-274.
Hallden, Philip. “What is Arab Islamic Rhetoric? Rethinking the History of Muslim Oratory Art and Homilectics.” Middle East Studies 37 (2005): 19-38.
Mao, LouMing. “Beyond Bias, Binary, and Border: Mapping Out the Future of Comparative Rhetoric.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 43.3 (2013): 209-225.
Romano, Susan. “’Grand Convergence’ in the Mexican Colonial Mundane: The Matter of Introductories.” RSQ 40.1 (2010): 71-93.
Shoen, Megan. “Rhetoric of the Thirstland: An Historical Investigate of Discourse in Botswana.” Rhetoric Review 31.3 (2012): 271-288.