Leave a comment

Notes from Ancient Non-Greek Rhetorics

Chapter 3: “The Gendering of Prophetic Discourse: Women and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East.” (Roberta Brinkley)

Calcite disk of Enheduanna

Calcite disk of Enheduanna

In this chapter, Brinkley discusses the tradition of prophetic discourse by women in the ancient near east, largely overlooked by scholars because of “the stigma of superstition” within current Western culture that privileges the rational/logos and thus may discount the validity of prophecies and omens as rhetorical. It is important to recover these prophecies and oratorical performances of ancient women because, according to Brinkley, “reading the tradition of prophecy diachronically through a critical rhetorical lens, documenting women who spoke and performed as orators, shows the ‘evolution’ of prophecy as a rhetoric of power in the Western cultural and spiritual traditions” (88). To this end, Brinkley highlights specific instances of women’s prophetic discourse, as well as offering an overview of how/why these traditions were eventually suppressed.

The opposition between mythos/logos discussed here reminds me of earlier treatments of this split mentioned in both Hall and Ames and Kennedy, though at times in different terms. This is something that I have repeatedly noted in Western epistemic, philosophic, and rhetorical traditions and which I see as problematic in Western ways of thinking. I’m likewise seeing this separation of binaries represented here (and elsewhere) as congruent or corollary with the privileging of male discourses over female ones. Though Brinkley doesn’t directly call upon or locate herself within feminist historiography, by bringing these discourses to the fore and highlighting their relationship within larger structures of power, she situates herself within this tradition of other feminist scholars.

This chapter, as well as the one by Katz, is of specific interest to me in its

Head of Goddess Ishtar

Head of Goddess Ishtar

relationshipto the research project that I hope to do for this class. These prophecies, like the text I hope to explore for my project, examine works by women in the ancient near east where women speak with authority through “inspired speech at the initiative of a divine power” (71). I appreciated the analysis in this chapter of these prophesies as performative acts meant to be heard by an audience, as well as the connection of female prophets as orators. As with many other feminist historiographers, Brinkley has had to search beyond the traditional canons of rhetorical texts to recover these works by women, and in doing so she aids in the project to situate works and words by women as an integral part of the formation of culture. Additionally, she notes how, where, and why these voices may have been silenced within larger projects of power and domination within Western society.

When I critique Western binary thinking, I can’t help but wonder what might have been possible outside of that framework for women and other non-privileged groups – this question is relevant, I think, within the questions set up by Brinkley and her analysis of women prophets within what became male-dominated religious and rhetorical traditions.  Though she kind of skips from the Oracle of Delphi to Paul, her points about the suppression of female voices in what became conventional Christianity are well taken. It seems that in some other offshoots of Christianity (e.g. the Gnostics) women speakers were still included for some time, though eventually conventional forms Christianity dominated other sects. How did religion during this time and in these places work to silence or authorize women in different times and places? Did different cultures interpret women prophets in different ways? Are/were there cultures where these practices did not die out? As someone who practices and studies feminist historiography, these questions are of interest to me in some areas of my ongoing research.

Chapter 5: “The Hebrew Bible as Another, Jewish Sophistic: A Genesis of Absence and Desire in Ancient Rhetoric.” (Steven B. Katz)

Katz argues that the nature of the Hebrew language, culture, and epistemology leads to a “philosophy [where] language and the endless interpretation of language become the ontological basis of reality itself” (125). Through the presentation and elucidation of four traditional assumptions, Katz puts forth the idea of the Hebrew Bible as both a theory of rhetoric and an example of such. Naming this a “Jewish Sophistic,” Katz highlights the contradictions and tensions in the text where “God is absence — and perhaps in part because of absence — is both doubted and loved, feared and revered. God becomes not only the source of absence and despair, but also of a source of longing and hope. God is the obscure object of desire” (131). These tensions and their interpretations, according to Katz, “characterizes Jewish religion and culture” and offer insight into this particular rhetorical approach (144).

Ancient Hebrew tablet

Ancient Hebrew tablet

While I appreciated this discussion and the idea of the contradictions in Jewish sacred writings, I was a bit disappointed in the manner in which these contradictions as they pertain to authorship was handled. While he mentions the three positions that are usually taken regarding authorship of the Torah, two require divine inspiration and a belief that one individual (Moses) wrote them all down and one, supported by science (in the words of Katz) and most archeological evidence, concludes that it was written by multiple authors. Though Katz briefly cites these different “authors” “(J, E, P, and D)” (139) he gives no further explanation of this. Even this is not wholly accurate, as these letters (J, E, P, and D) do not stand for individual authors, but rather totally different texts, each one of which may have had several authors and multiple revisions at different times.

Further, in that discussion (had it occurred) there would have had to be some mention of the idea that these multiple texts – specifically the J and E texts – reference different gods and that the Hebrew tribal religions at the time of these writings was not strictly monotheistic. While modern scholarly Bibles typically reference this in a footnote at the beginning of Genesis, Katz does not reference it at all – the E text refers to a god named El/Ela whereas the J text refers to Jehovah. Given that he specifically discusses the contradictions in the Torah, including the first and one of the most obvious (i.e. the inclusion of two different stories of creation in Genesis, the “mud story” and the “rib story”) the fact that these contradictions are likely to have arisen because they are utterly separate stories from different tribal traditions is something that I think would be important to his overall argument. He seems to almost purposely elide this issue of authorship through phrases such as “But no matter which position we grant” and “regardless of who wrote the Hebrew Bible,” whereas I think that the ambiguity and outright contradictions (which Katz does address) found in these texts could be more thoroughly informed by a discussion of this multiple authorship and consequent redactions.

While this was an oversight I found difficult to get past, I did really appreciate his discussion about an epistemology rooted in ambiguity, absence, and tension between contradictions fascinating, and could see this as related to what we consider sophistic ideas about the world. The idea that language is material reality is fascinating and I can see its relationship to sophistic thinking as well as post-structural ideas of language and signification. The word is God in this sense, and there is nothing outside of discourse and its myriad interpretations.

I wonder, too, about this chapter being “comparative rhetoric” versus “cultural rhetoric,” as I think that Katz attempts to both situate this work within the culture from which it arose as well as using a comparative model that relates this to Greek sophistic thinking. I would have perhaps liked to see more “close attention to the cultural and particular historical settings for each of the rhetorics” (Lipson 24) than Katz provided, as this analysis seems to arise more from the later Rabbinical traditions and interpretations rather than from the much older pre-Rabbinical ways of life in the ancient Hebrew tribes. However, if Katz is sticking just with the text and offering a way of reading the Jewish Bible in a new, rhetorically informed way, then I think he has succeeded.

I have a very close friend who is Israeli, retired from military service, and also a scholar who teaches courses about ancient Hebrew texts and culture and grew up in a remote part of Israel where older pre-Rabbinical Hebrew tribal religions are still practiced. I am curious to get her input about this chapter, as I think she would likewise be a bit surprised that more attention was not paid to the question of authorship in explaining the ambiguities in the text(s) when Katz is clearly aware of this view of authorship. I’m also curious to get input from her about the Brinkley chapter, as female prophesy is still practiced and heeded in the area where she grew up and she herself was called upon in that capacity at times as part of the military. These views and practices are, in a way, even more different from “Western” ways of thinking than those outlined by Katz and are still currently extant.

How might the ways of thinking discussed by Katz inform practices still occurring today in these cultures? How do these ways of thinking manifest differently within the Jewish tradition based upon where those traditions happen and how they are informed by other cultural influences? How does “sophistic” thinking alter or expand possibilities for integrating tensions and paradox compared to more traditional Western ways of thinking? And how does this inform theories and practices of rhetoric cross-culturally?

Leave a comment

Kennedy’s Comparative Rhetoric

The basic function of rhetorical communication is defensive and conservative…the major function of rhetoric throughout most of human history in most of the world has been to preserve things as they are or to try to recover an idealized happier past” (Kennedy 216).

While there are several of Kennedy’s claims that I could choose to examine or critique, this idea – that rhetoric is or has been primarily used for conservative ends – struck me as both surprising and interesting. I understand that Kennedy is using this term “conservative” to mean, in a sense, conserving one’s position or even life and am reminded of the Latin roots meaning to save, watch over, or protect. In this sense of the word I can see the place of rhetoric in aiding in this endeavor – it is the idea, also supported by Kennedy, that “nature has favored the use of communication by utterance or body language over the use of force” (216). At the same time, Kennedy clearly argues for rhetoric as a conservative force as “contribut[ing] to the preservation of pasts values,” which is a slightly different way of interpreting that idea.

I’m not so sure about this, as even in the situations cited by Kennedy, would they not also imply that counter-rhetorics were being employed at the same time that were resistant to that conservatism? He does briefly acknowledge that there is a place for “rhetoric as a tool of change, uncovering the inconsistencies and irrationality of traditional assumptions and beliefs and opening up the possibilities of objective logical argument” that has, at least in the contentious climate of the West, aided “in the development of democracy, with its insistence on freedom of speech and the rights of individuals” (207). However, this is the only place I noted in the book where this idea, of rhetoric as used for counter-hegemonic or resistive practices, is mentioned. Perhaps because of my interest in equality and the ways that rhetoric can be used to empower otherwise silenced groups, I found this premise, that rhetoric is primarily used as a conservative force, difficult to accept.

Suffrage Parade

Suffrage Parade

While Kennedy himself seems surprised by this finding, I am not sure that it is accurate or is a claim that can be substantiated. It may be that the bulk of the rhetoric he examined fits into this category but 1) the existence of, or need for, conservative rhetoric implies a force that was counter to that and 2) it is likely that counter-rhetorics (for lack of a better term) may not have survived if the conservative rhetoric “won.” I think even of Cicero who, unlike Kennedy, thought of rhetoric as a uniquely human act and credited it with the ability to “gather scattered humanity into one place, or to lead it out of its brutish existence in the wilderness up to our present condition of civilization of men and as citizens” (De Orator 295). This idea of rhetoric as a progressive force, or in a less teleological sense, as the impetus for change, seems to be at least as apparent as rhetoric used for conservative ends.

The second thing that I found interesting about Kennedy’s book is the way that it was impossible, despite his best efforts, to not privilege Western epistemological paradigms in his discussion and organization of concepts. While I think that Kennedy attempted to move away from this (and stated as much) and while I think that this comparison is useful in many ways (it seems almost necessary even if it is “moved beyond” in later works) there were several parts of the book where I could not help but notice the bias toward Western progressive narratives that always put the Western model, inadvertently or consciously, at the top of the developmental heap. The movement from animal, to non-literate, to literate is one apparent example, but there were also several places where the bias was more subtle.

One aspect of this was the idea that rhetoric almost should be considered as its own IMG_2029entity, “as an art or discipline distinct from politics, ethics, or literary criticism” (144). The copy of this book that I have is used, and though I’m not sure if the previous owner is of Chinese origin, there were comments that I found telling in the margins. Next to the above quote, which was in the “Rhetoric in Ancient China” chapter, was the note, “Of course not, why need to,” as well as the occasional circling of IMG_5404words in this chapter with the word “wrong” written above it. It also seems thatsomewhere in this chapter this person stopped reading this book, as the notes in an Asian script which had appeared through the book up until this point abruptly stop. I found myself continuing to wonder about this previous reader, wondering what she might have thought of Kennedy’s works, and also postulating about the emotions or motives for quitting the book when and where she did. After reading the work of Hall and Ames, this sensitized me to the possible mis-readings in the Kennedy book, not just in this chapter, but potentially throughout the whole book.

A speaker who only needs a majority of one can ignore the concerns of parts of the audience, concentrate on rallying supporters, and bringing in the undecided. Majority rule results from the tolerance of contention and at the same time sharpens it” (222).

Something useful that I gained from this reading was the idea that rhetoric based upon the Greek system was uniquely contentious compared to rhetorics found in other parts of the world. While I am suspect of any large, sweeping generalizations or claims, this struck me as interesting for a variety of reasons. In addition to the uses of rhetoric for empowering under-represented or silenced groups (including overtly combative and risky acts of speaking out, e.g. parrhesia) in a society, I have likewise been interested in the uses of irenic rhetoric for the purposes of reconciliation, empathy, and understanding[1]. I see the contention of the rhetoric within this (American) society all the time and am sometimes rather disheartened by the lack of effort taken to understand multiple views, or to stop and listen to the “other” side in arguments. I’m also aware that debate in our culture is largely a spectator sport, thus Kennedy’s connection between contentious debate and competitive sports in ancient Greece was of interest to me as well. In agonistic debate, the people arguing “against” one another are not really trying to convince each other of anything, but rather are arguing as a spectacle before an audience (e.g. televised political debates) whom they are trying to convince. There is no effort to understand or compromise, or to concede that the other side may have a valid point; in fact, these things are often taken as “signs of weakness” in American culture.

argueTo me, this is all pointless fighting that leads to nothing productive. Raised in this culture, at times I enjoy this type of debate and I have a group of people with whom I occasionally do this, but at the end of the day we are all still friends – there are no negative feelings between us. I am wondering if there is a way to support freedom of speech and a multiplicity of views and also harboring good-will, listening, and genuinely hearing all sides in a debate. I know that this is possible on a personal or small-scale level, but can it be made possible writ large? Nationally? Culturally? Without sacrificing individual expression? I believe that it can – I don’t buy that these are binary opposites that cannot live harmoniously next to one another or nested within one another, though history seems to reflect a long-standing belief in one or the other….or perhaps that is just the history recorded for me through the Western lens that can’t imagine any other focus.

I do appreciate Kennedy’s attempt to give an overview of multiple cultures’ rhetorics, and to compare them in some way to Western rhetoric, with which much of his readership will be acquainted. I likewise understand that in any broad-sweeping work, there will necessarily be places where depth is sacrificed for breadth and where generalizations will have to be made. I would have liked, perhaps, more attention to this, though he does say at the end that he hopes he has “provided a starting place for future study,” rather than claiming that the work of comparative rhetoric is somehow done (230). I think that more postioning on his part would have been helpful to me – what is his background? What are his assumptions? How closely has he examined his own motivations and ethics in this work, as suggested by Alcoff? Though Hum and Lyon state that “the most important work, at this stage in comparative rhetoric, is the focused study, one conscious of its standpoint,” it seems that at least an attempt at a broad comparison was almost necessary, if for no other reason than to have something against which to compare more in-depth works.

Honestly, I think that I would find Kennedy’s book most helpful as a graph, with (Aristotelian/Western) categories across the top and cultures down the side, with short notes in each box where these things do or don’t intersect. Likewise, I would enjoy seeing Western rhetoric examined, say, with the criteria set forth (or implied) in other cultures to see how Western rhetoric compares. This, of course, would not be a satisfactory “end” to the comparison, but I think that it would be a more “readable” chart that would impart largely the same information as this book, just in a graphic rather than textual/linear representation.

Works Cited:

Cicero. “De Oratore.” The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. 2nd Ed. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2001. 283-343.

Hum, Sue, and Arabella Lyon. “Recent Advances in Comparative Rhetoric.” The SAGE Handbook of Rhetorical Studies. Ed. Andrea A. Lunsford, Kirt H. Wilson, and Rosa A. Eberly. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008. 153-65.

Kennedy, George. Comparative Rhetoric: An Historical and Cross-cultural Introduction. New York: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print.

[1] Prior to returning to graduate studies, I did some mediation work and practiced a modality called Non Violent Communication, which is a way of re-languaging interactions founded in compassion, empathy, and a disentangling of responsibility between communicators based upon an inter-dependence model rather than the oppositions of dependence/independence.

Leave a comment

Many Things Are Holographic….

The ten thousand things – nothing exists from its own side – all is interdependent and perpetually fluctuating – impermanence is the only permanent state – there is no transcendent subject or object – there is no ultimate distinction between subject/object and yet all and every are distinct – and all are one whole that is also every part – interdependent – the ten thousand things.


My mind makes constellations of word/connects – li, xiang, zhi – in pictures and networks I can’t draw on my computer. These are concepts shaped differently, composed of different bits, than the word/concepts constructed in the West. I wonder if we see differently? Based upon our language? Focal length is conditioned, constructed – I have always assumed the different ways of seeing (separation of objects in a particular way) was based upon predator/prey exigencies, scanning the horizon and whatnot, but perhaps it is also connected to language, the separation of objects as distinct unto themselves, “existing from their own side,” that is prevalent in the West, perhaps everywhere for all I know. It was challenging to retain other ways of seeing, the way we (or at least I) saw in childhood, but it is not impossible. The ten thousand things and the one, seen all at the same time….

But how does one communicate such things? In this climate? Amongst these objects? Oh yes…. We shall categorize…..

I have more thoughts than words to write them with; I vacillate between statements, terms, and questions. I have enjoyed this book and the way that Hall and Ames organized and backed their claims. The Western rhetorician in me rejoices and at the same time I am impressed with their “using the way of thinking method for describing the way of thinking” that they enact in this chapter. (Meta-explanatory methods? I am always drawn to and attempt to enact that as much as possible.) From my own perspective, I would have enjoyed more discussion about how Buddhist thought fits into this, as that is the area in which I’ve done the most reading and practice. I’ve likewise read many Daoist texts, but it was a longer time ago, and Confucianism never held much resonance for me, though I understand the relatedness of all three of these things – I would have enjoyed more explicit discussion of this, largely to satisfy my particular knowingness and place. It would have been helpful to ME though of course I am not their only or even primary audience.

I was likewise intrigued by mention of Chinese sophists (?) I believe as the authors cite “debates [that] took a procedural and logical turn [and] thinkers such as Zhuangzi, Sophists such as Hui Shi and Gong-sun Longzi…began to argue about the meaning of argument itself, and to worry over standards of evidence” (203-4). I am unclear whether the authors are using a Western term unproblematically – which seems unlikely – or if they are defining these thinkers as Sophists because of their particular interests and processes of argument, or if they themselves would have called themselves that or something similar. A few pages later (208) the authors also make a comparison to the Sophists of ancient Greece, stating that “nominalism of the rhetorical variety….is a much more informal way of thinking” and how this relates, at least in a vague or “leaning toward” way the type of thinking/naming that the authors then go on to attempt to describe.

Because I have the particular interests that I do in examining non-dominant strains of thought in the Western epistemic and rhetorical past, I was likewise intrigued by the discussion of “kenning” in pre-Latinized Anglo-Saxon language. This kenning as a way of knowing, as linguistically developing into knowing as we know it now pulls me toward a curiosity about mindsets that could have been but for the military might of Rome. Similarly, the discussion a few pages later concerning ways of approaching the Chinese language by accepting and embracing its “vagueness” where “this conscious effort to reconstitute the several meanings as an integrated whole, and to fathom how the term in question can carry what for us might well be a curious, often unexpected, and sometimes even incongruous combination of meanings, that leads us most directly to a recognition of difference” (226). While I support the recognition of difference, I would also assert that all languages might be like this if examined closely enough, at least to a degree. Even in English, words carry traces of past meanings, related meanings, constellations of meanings and contexts within them – they are not unproblematic nor do they easily point toward one simple and consensual idea. Similarly, in studying Latin, it becomes clear how many words we have today (in English) that are related conceptually to other words we no longer easily associate together, but which epistemologically carry baggage of cultures and concepts past where perhaps these now divergent words were held together within ONE word that meant one, both, or a variety of other things in addition. The study of Latin has given me such insight into Western thinking, as I can see these streams of meaning converging in the distant past and flowing through all of the discursive formations between then and now, trickling into various concepts and leaving traces, however unnoticed they may be in day to day interactions.

I likewise appreciated the discussion distinguishing between the language of presence, the language of absence, and the language of deference. This was a very valuable juxtaposition for me in seeing the differences between, say, postmodern critiques of the deferral of meaning that lacks an transcendent object that it unproblematically describes and where the authors are going in a “next step” to describe the language of deference that “is based upon mutual recognition and resonances among instances of communicative activity” (229). This explanation very much resonated for me, both as an explanatory model and, actually, as a means of articulating types of (loosely defined) “creative writing” that I do not as Renea Frey. Again, I keep seeing the threads of cross-over between the Western and Eastern, noticing, as I have tended to, the non-dominant strands in Western practices, language, rhetorics, philosophies, and epistemologies and asked – why not that? Why this instead of that?

Analects of Confucius

Analects of Confucius

Many centers in an acosmotic universe. This I understand. Continuums of matter and energy – do we not already know this? There is no transcendent subject or object and yet there is both – we already know this too. I do not understand the clinging to particular epistemologies where the comprehension of this leads to angst (e.g. Existentialism et. al.) and which fall apart at the acknowledgement of chaos and impermanence. Sometimes I look at the West and think it is still running around frantically not sure what to do with itself at hearing the words “God is dead.” It is not a romanticizing of the Other so much as it is incomprehensibility for what I am told is my “Self” in a cultural context.


1 Comment

The Value of the Vague

The point is simply that the usefulness, appropriateness, and fit of these terms should always be in question and should never be assumed, and that their application must always bear a burden of proof when applied outside their original cultural contexts” (Garrett 54).

Garrett’s chapter about the issues of applying various Westernized definitions to “rhetoric” as it might be understood in China warn against assuming the validity of terminology, perceptions, and classification systems from Hellenistic traditions as applied to divergent cultural practices and histories. This discussion about using Western terms to discuss non-Western practices reminds me of three pieces that I read last fall about Chinese Rhetoric from Xu, Lyons, and Liu. The Garrett piece informs some of the disagreements and discrepancies that I saw comparing those three pieces as the issue is not only in using Westernized terms, but in even defining what that term (rhetoric) means or is to begin with. I recall that when I read the Xu piece, I myself was questioning the possible uses or meanings of “eloquence” and how that one word might mean a host of possibilities depending upon the person or cultural background from which one arises. Which leads me to…..

Those victimized by hyperconsciousness suffer not only from an excess of history but equally from a surplus of meanings” (Hall and Ames).

… a particular part of the discussion by Hall and Ames near the end of their central chapter in Anticipating China. I very much appreciated especially the end of this chapter in its critique of Western Enlightenment era thinking and transcendental Vaguenessmonism. “The value of vagueness” and the field/focus discussion were particularly valuable to me and I’ve made a tremendous number of notes in the margins as this gives me terms and a philosophical tradition in which to negotiate and name my own thoughts on some particular subjects of interest to me. I have always wondered exactly how Pragmatism, as a philosophical school, fit into or alongside of postmodern or poststructuralist ideas and the outline by Hall and Ames gave me a much clearer idea about situating these modes of thinking within an associative conceptual constellation which I found very helpful. I understand, now, the value of setting up the entire first chapter with its march through Platonic/Aristotelian thought, down through Augustine and then the Enlightenment era thinkers, an epistemology highlighted so that it could be shown as a construction, not a teleological inevitability. I admit some impatience with this at times, as it is not an argument of which I need to be convinced – I’ve never BEEN convinced by this way of thinking. I didn’t buy it as reality as a four-year-old and certainly don’t now, but I also understand that I am not the only reader, or perhaps even the intended one, who is supposed to be convinced by claims I already believe.

However, in chapter two, I’ve found a whole lot of value that is, in fact, new information to me, especially the situating of Pragmatism within/alongside postmodernism/structrualism and also understand more fully the audience to which Hall and Ames addresses this argument. If I were to situate my own thinking, I would certainly fall most into their category of interpretive pluralism where “one denies that there is any final truth to be attained” (144) wholly embracing the possibility (inevitability?) of multiple truths that, while they may appear to be in conflict, never really are.

The presumption of a single coherent world that might serve as ground and goal of descriptive or interpretive endeavors, or of an essentialized mind or ego that might ground the thoughts, decisions, and actions of agents, as well as the very idea of a stable agent that could serve as the author of ideas or the terminus of ascriptions of responsibility with respect to actions and decisions, are no longer presupposed by the above named movements. With the dissolution of ‘self’ and ‘world’ the remainder of the Enlightenment architectonic is undermined” (146).

I likewise appreciated the discussion about how the critique of the rationality of language and the “specter of incommensurability” (147) undermine the Enlightenment endeavor. (And wow does that word not fit with my conception of Western Enlightenment thinking. Enlightened as compared to what?) The Baconian conception Anti Baconof language as pointing to untroubled, single, definable objects “really in the world” is eroded through any in-depth exploration of language and meaning, in all of their ambiguity and richness and as Hall and Ames note, “dictionaries now serve primarily as a compendia of ambiguities” and that this “collapse of the dictionary is symptomatic of our altered conception of thinking” (165). At the same time, the authors eschew charges of cultural relativism by delineating between lower case “c” cultures, of which there are potentially infinite variations that “are indefinitely flexible,” and capital “C” Culture, of which there can be at most one, that “refers to a vague complex of significances focused in accordance with a variety of interests” (178). This redefinition of “culture” is extremely helpful in the simultaneous recognition of both similarity and difference across/within/trans/inter cultural dialogs as non-separate endeavors with no need to reduce any culture to a set of possible choices (as with the transcendental pluralists) or to seek some ONE defining principle with which to define them all (as with transcendental monists).

Given the nature of even the sciences today (quantum and field theories, neuroscience and plasticity of the brain, etc.) it is difficult for me to wrap my head around the possibility of thinking or seeking to think through a lens of transcendental monism – it is a paradigm that has never made sense to me, was/is reductionist to the point of absurdity and is, in my way of thinking, the height of irrationality, despite its own claims to the contrary. Hall and Ames note the horizontal nature of contemporary Western culture (171) which reminded me of the image I drew of the chalk board during the defense of my Master’s exams. I drew the conventional binary hierarchy “ladder” on the board labeled with a cross-section of various Western ordering systems that was predicated upon an individuated, atomistic model of human subjectivity, then contrasted that to what I was describing, which was a similar model but laid

Masters Blackboardhorizontally with a “Horizontal Field of Authority” (rather than top-down) in a “Dispersed Field of Relationality” that included my idea of hybrid subjectivity, which I labeled a molecular model. This, to me, seems to describe the same phenomena but without an ideology of domination and “power over” that I find a more productive lens for future relations and cultural directions without wholly disrupting (a process as potentially violent as difficult) a model already in place. Hall and Ames have offered an interpretive lens, and more importantly extant terms and concepts, that may help me explain these ideas in more accessible ways, as well as offering ideas for pragmatic applications.

Leave a comment

Problematics and Representation

“Rituals of speaking are politically constituted by power relations of domination, exploitation, and subordination. Who is speaking, who is spoken of, and who listens is a result, as well as an act, of political struggle (Alcoff 15).

“A form of first problematic thinking, while recessive in the West, dominates classical Chinese culture. Likewise, the cultural dominant in the West, which we are calling second problematic or causal thinking, is recessive within classical Chinese culture” (Hall and Ames xviii).

Taking these two readings together, I find myself attempting to make meaning where they join, conflict, and/or overlap. What does it mean to speak about or speak for someone? Alcoff’s questions and critiques were very much in my mind when reading Hall and Ames, and while I appreciated many of their explanations about the strands of Western philosophy that come together to form our dominant epistemic paradigms, I was not nearly as convinced by the more or less simple ways in which they set the Chinese systems of thought in opposition to that. And who are they to speak? Are they speaking for? About? With? What is the outcome or consequence of this discourse?

At the same time, my approach to the text remains open-ended as I haven’t yet read all of it – it is likely that more detail is offered later in the book as to where they arrive at their conclusions about Chinese philosophy (ß is this itself a reductive term?) but thus far it strikes me as overly simplistic based upon my own studies of Eastern philosophy. (ß And I will cringe ever time I use these words, reinscribing dualities that I don’t quite believe but being stuck in my “Western” ((cringe)) language to describe what I’m trying to say in a way that articulates a type of sense.) My hope is that more detail is given later, or that perhaps this seeming duality – itself a product (from their argument) of Western thinking will be disrupted later.


One area that I did appreciate and that is related to my critique, moving against its grain at least a bit, is the section in the Introduction, part of which is cited above. The idea that ideas may be recessive and/or dominant within a culture resonates with my own inquiries, curiosities, and questions about these things. The languaging of dominant/recessive viewed as analogous to “traits” that may surface or exist subtly just beneath the surface of an epistemic system fits with some of my own conceptualizations, though instead of seeing these systems as discreet (which thus far the argument strikes me as portraying) I see them as more subtly intertwined without hard distinctions between East/West. It is something difficult to put into words and seems that it would work better as a tapestry or rug, where strands and colors could mix together in places, sometimes one over the other, sometimes intertwined, sometimes coalescing in areas where one color primarily dominates and/or one or the other color(s) seems to completely disappear. It is my hope that this text (Hall and Ames) moves more toward this direction later.

Some partial thoughts:

Zeno’s paradox: I’ve wrestled with it before and never quite traverse the space to get to its end. I’m not sure that one must. Why must paradoxes be “solved?” What about them makes them conflicted spaces? Why must surfaces meet without first twisting? Does it feel too much like chaos to leave questions hanging as their own answers?

Plato and Aristotle: The idea that we can break Western thought down to it being Platonic or Aristotelian has always amused me. That or is an and and they are not all that very different. This treatment highlighted that in a way I found useful. What is it about cutting things into pieces that leads to a belief that the whole will suddenly be found within that? There are always smaller pieces. (See: Zeno)

While I appreciated the discussion of the Sophists, and there was a momentary mention of the Stoics, these are exactly the types of philosophic schools about which I want more contextualization within the more dominant strands of Western philosophy. Though I’m working on that on my own (at least with Cynics at the moment) I wonder how these ways of thinking fit in with the model set up here by Hall and Ames. Are there philosophies between East and West? That encompass both? Is this a continuum? A circle? A spiral? A wave moving back and forth? Or will these be set up as islands where only waves of the “other” touch the shores?


Leave a comment

Contrastive and Intercultural Rhetoric: A Reflective Encounter

“This model is a valuable tool for intercultural rhetoric. It posits that there are various overlapping social institutions and practices in a classroom, such as national culture, professional-academic culture, student culture, etc. that need to be considered when we study and teach writing in a second language…The national culture plays a role, but the small cultures also contribute to understanding and communication” (Connor 308-9).

“Cultures do not stay in separated domains, and they change, although…the change happens from our active understanding and thoughtful adoption of the alternative, rather than an inevitable tipping to the opposite that results from excesses, regardless of human intention” (Li 17).

“Reflective encounters can help these rhetoricians cultivate a much-needed awareness that the process of studying (one’s own) rhetorical and cultural experiences is always a process of recontextualization, no matter how intimate they are with these experiences” (Mao 418).

In these three articles by Connor, Li. And Mao, the history of contrastive rhetoric and its transitional movements toward intercultural rhetoric are mapped, discussed, and critiqued.  Though all three articles note the importance of the work begun by Kaplan in the 1960s, they likewise note the limitations in his approach and call for expanded scholarship that moves away from a Western-centric perspective. Earlier approaches tended toward essentialization, generalization, and unsupported stereotyping. However important foundational work may have been, these authors call for expanded perceptions in examining the complex interplay of cultures within the field of rhetorical studies.

Connor, after giving some details about Kaplan’s approach, offers a method of postmodern mapping (inspired by Bourdieu, Soja, Fairclough, and others) that takes connection, interaction, and overlapping cultural influences into account, offering a more dynamic and nuanced approach than contrastive rhetorical models. Preferring the term “intercultural rhetoric,” Connor offers a method of taking macro and micro cultures into account when exploring the complexities of cultural interactions noting that “all cultures and social practices are deeply infused and penetrated by other cultural practices. In this sense, the ‘inter’ of intercultural stresses the connections rather than the differences” (312).

Though of course the maps presented by Connors are static as they appear on the page, they offer a potentially dynamic means of examining rhetorical diversity, as maps overlay one within the other where practices “bleed through” from one cultural experience into another. It is not a flat map of explanatory closure, but rather an attempt to graphically depict the multiple influences and cultures simultaneously at work within these connective and overlapping moments. This way of mapping the inter-penetration of cultures works rhetorically, taking situations (micro and macro) into account in analysis and could be, I think, a useful method to employ. However, this still is limited as there would be no way to account for ALL of the myriad cultures and contexts at play in any situation, yet like all methods, it offers a potentially productive place to begin an analysis that allows for more complexity than those that examine only extant discourse.

Li takes up the discussion where Connor leaves off, citing her work as moving away from older notions of contrastive rhetoric toward intercultural rhetoric. By explaining her positionality as a Chinese American with a background in linguistics and rhetoric, Li then explores three fields – culture, linguistics, and difference – to show where/how intercultural rhetoric can best positions itself in relation to composition studies (13). Critiquing both a more individuated approach (e.g. Zamel) as well as one that posits an undifferentiated “world culture” (e.g. Kubota), Li states that while “it is true that the received notion of culture is too simplistic and static to reflect the emerging reality of an interconnected, globalizing, postmodern world…the interconnected world does not necessarily create a homogeneous world culture” (16). Instead, Li puts forth a model based upon the yin/yang scheme where difference is not necessarily wholly distinct or oppositional, but rather “intertwined, curling into each other’s sphere…[in a]… model of fluidity based on the acknowledgment of difference” (17).

While models founded in binaries are often critiqued for that reason, alternatives to this paradigm tend to be lacking within that critique, thus Li’s offer of the yin/yang model to visually and conceptually analyze the interplay between cultures serves as a method of understanding both difference and connection, in a similar yet different way from Connor’s postmodern mapping. Li notes that constrastive rhetoric, while it has always been social, has not made the “political turn” seen in areas such as cultural studies, and that this may be the best site for positioning these studies within/alongside composition scholarship.

Mao opens with a thoughtful history and critique of the forays into comparative and contrastive rhetoric, demonstrating the ways in which Western-centric thinking often produced scholarship, however well intended, grounded in hierarchical binaries, teleological/evolutionary models, or the discourse of deficiency. Moving toward “reflective encounters” cross/interculturally, Mao encourages an etic/emic approach that entails an ongoing process of moving back and forth between the known and the unknown, the familiar and the new. As noted, “we may not have any choice than to articulate other rhetorical traditions first by seeking out frames and terms found in our own tradition…but if our larger goal is to study these traditions on their own terms, we must move from the etic approach to the emic approach” (417).

Much like Li’s yin/yang model, this way of understanding across cultures is fluid and dynamic, as “every etic/emic process begets a new one, and each process raises the level of understanding and enriches the modes of reflection” leading to an analysis which does not necessitate closure or “finally knowing,” but rather an ongoing process of movement based upon reflection. As Mao notes, this can lead to reflection not just upon the “other” culture, but upon one’s home culture as well, perhaps facilitating an interrogation of power and privilege, difference and connection.

In each of these three essays, the problems, issues, challenges, and complexities of cross-cultural rhetorical study is detailed and alternate models offered as methods of analysis. While the models offered may differ one from another, all ask to look beyond simple binaries, assumptions, and stereotypes to seek a deeper understanding of both relationality and difference, or perhaps relationality across, within, and in celebration of those differences. I find myself wanting to explore these methods further, to actually “draw out” these relationships either through overlaying maps or dynamically cycling spirals of reflexivity. Most of what I can imagine in these terms is more visual than verbal – how do these models “look” when translated into linear discourse? How can they inform, perhaps, other sites of analysis? And is there a way to translate these analyses into words without falling back into binary distinctions that are beside/outside of the point?

These are my questions, though I don’t seek closure on their potential answers.

Connor, Ulla. “Mapping Multidimensional Aspects of Research: Reaching to Intercultural Rhetoric.” Contrastive Rhetoric: Reaching to Intercultural Rhetoric. Ed. Ulla Connor, Ed. Nagelhout, and William V. Rozycki. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2008. 300-315.

Li, Xiaoming. “From Contrastive Rhetoric to Intercultural Rhetoric.” Contrastive Rhetoric: Reaching to Intercultural Rhetoric. Ed. Ulla Connor, Ed Nagelhout, and William V. Rozycki. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2008. 11-24.

Mao, LuMing. “Reflective Encounters: Illustrating Comparative Rhetoric.” Style 37.4 (2003): 401-425.

1 Comment

Systemic TakeAway

I think perhaps the most important thing that I will take away from 733 is not “one thing,” but rather a deeper understanding of rhetoric studies overall. Going through “the tradition” for a second time, I knew more about what was coming up and was thus able to make more and deeper connections than I did the first time through. It was also interesting to see what readings we included, what we excluded, and how that connected to readings outside of The Rhetorical Tradition. These connections to events and cultural developments that were not covered in the “big book” were extremely helpful in allowing me to contextualize the canonized thinkers in the rhetorical tradition in newer and broader ways.

Of the supplemental readings, I found those from Reclaiming Rhetorica and A Short History of Writing Instruction the most helpful overall. Reclaiming Rhetorica offered perspectives from female rhetors that were often left out of The Rhetorical Tradition, almost offering a woman-centered version of the larger book. I had read chapters ten and eleven from this book before (though we did not cover these in this class) and found the chapter by Jan Swearingen on Diotima especially interesting, enough so that I reread Symposium so that I could contextualize her ideas more thoroughly within the larger text. I am interested in Western ideas of love and desire, how they arose, and how they compare to non-Western ideas of the same. Often in ancient Western texts I see strains of non-Western ideas (or at least that is how we might label them now) thus this discussion of Diotima’s discourse on love was very compelling to me for that reason.

The chapters in A Short History of Writing Instruction were likewise very informative, showing the background and historic context for the readings from The Rhetorical Tradition. Though all of these readings were helpful, I particularly remember the chapters on Greek and Roman writing instruction, and how that informed the readings I was doing from these times. Who could read and write, and why they might want or need these skills was very helpful in understanding written literacy during these times, and I learned things that surprised me – for instance, that writing initially was more of a merchant class activity rather than an upper class one. It was also very helpful to track the history of writing instruction alongside the history of rhetorical studies and pedagogy, thus knowing how central writing and literacy training were to the curriculum during, say, the Renaissance, made the theories from this time richer as I understood more fully how intertwined humanism and rhetoric were.

The discussions about the centrality of rhetoric, grammar, and Latin was also of interest to me – from my own experience this semester being immersed in Latin and rhetoric, I felt more a part of a tradition, rather than just being that one eccentric student who thinks learning Latin is a good idea. Honestly, this has given me a much greater understanding of many issues in rhetoric and writing instruction, including how a focus on grammar could come to dominate ideas about teaching writing. In learning Latin, grammar is such a central focus and almost has to be, as words are totally changed by the way they are used in a sentence – to even be able to choose the correct word or understand the meaning of a sentence, one needs to know what word is the direct object versus the indirect object, etc. Latin is incomprehensible otherwise. Understanding that “grammar school” meant “Latin grammar school,” I understand more about how teaching writing in English could have been conflated with learning how to write in Latin. This is not a teaching method that ever made sense to me, and though I don’t think that it is the most effective way to teach writing, I at least understand where the idea came from.

Seeing rhetoric, writing, and pedagogy within a larger historic network is the most important thing that I will take from this course, I think. Viewing it from within a larger systemic model allows me to see the changes and fluctuations in perceptions of rhetoric and writing, as well as their inter-relationality across time and place. In addition, it offers a deeper understanding of the ideas and concepts that I encounter within the field of composition and rhetoric, both from those within the field and those outside of it. I can also see holes and gaps in these frameworks and can imagine places yet to be fully explored and directions toward which these studies might move. The Rhetorical Tradition, however large a book it might be, only covers a small percentage of the rhetorical practices and theories actually enacted – the space outside of and beyond that tradition leaves significant room for more and different scholarship, a proposition that I take as an exciting challenge.