- Rhetoric and Pluralism
In his (non)conclusion to this volume’s witty Afterword, Wayne Booth remarks on the need to “improve our inquiry into how we inquire together” (p. 307). The fifteen essays collected in Rhetoric and Pluralism are enthusiastically engaged in this project. Although often strikingly different in their methodologies and assumptions, keeping company with Wayne Booth has allowed the contributors to practice—and to try to improve—what inquiry they would preach. Frederick J. Antczak opens with a brief introduction that previews the five sections to come: “Situating Booth”; “Ethics and Fictions”; “Rhetoric and Politics”; “Booth across Disciplines”; and “Booth, Assent, and Argument.” Booth’s Afterword is followed by Lee Artz’s bibliography of Booth’s work.
For readers primarily interested in rhetoric, Walter Jost’s “Teaching the Topics: Character, Rhetoric, and Liberal Education” provides a thoughtful exploration of Booth’s contributions to a theory of special topics as well as a strategy for using this theory as a means of integrating liberal education. Those more interested in philosophy may turn first to Alan Brinton’s rereading of Booth’s Modern Drama and the Rhetoric of Assent against Brinton’s own understanding of the Cartesian tradition, or to James McOmber’s comparison of Booth, Richard Rorty, and Paul Feyerabend in “Rhetoric without Sophistry.” And those with a primary interest in teaching should be pleased to find that [End Page 276] subject given strong treatment here in Francis-Noel Thomas’s use of Booth’s practice of criticism, and its relationship to the work of all teachers of English, in taking on advocates of a narrowly-conceived cultural literacy. Patsy Callaghan and Ann Dobyns use a Boothian ethics of argument to inform the teaching of first-year English classes.
Literature, of course, is featured throughout. Monica Johnstone arrestingly reads Genet’s Querelle against the evaluative model Booth elucidates in The Company We Keep; Susan Shapiro tests Boothian ethical criticism in the case of Elie Wiesel’s post-Holocaust fiction; and Antczak discusses Martin Luther King’s “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence.” Two essays, one by Don Bialostosky and one by David Richter, relate Booth’s work to Bakhtinian principles, though with very different ends and effects. Finally, those who wonder whether Booth’s brand of pluralism shies too far away from a rigorous encounter with politics will gain from James Phelan’s careful and convincing extension of Booth’s evaluative criticism and from Barbara Foley’s insistence that Booth’s system of ethical criticism too often ignores or elides issues of class and race.
The richest section of this text for me, however, focuses on “Booth across Disciplines.” In three remarkably provocative and highly readable discussions, Peter Rabinowitz, Donald McCloskey, and Eugene Garver take Booth on the road, applying or extending his work to an analysis of the ethics of music (Rabinowitz), the rhetoric of economics (McCloskey), and the significance of the implicit, of “What Goes Without Saying: in Francis Bacon’s Essays (Garver). One mark of important thinkers is surely that they enable creativity, that their thinking sparks the thoughts of many others. Throughout this volume, but particularly in this section, that mark of Booth’s influence is palpably evident.
As I read through Rhetoric and Pluralism, and especially when I came to Booth’s playful and multivocalic Afterword, I kept wishing that someone had contributed a piece of oral history to this volume: Booth is still working, still working hard, and there are many more of his range of selves available to us in his spoken voice. Finally, I longed for a detailed analysis of some of Booth’s playful and ironic pieces, which come in for some mention here and there but are not featured in any essay. This openness to play, so much a part of the rhetorical tradition and so necessary to any ethics of postmodernity, is another of Booth’s gifts to all readers.