Guest Editors’ Introduction: Pushing the Limits of the Anthropos
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Guest Editors’ Introduction:
Pushing the Limits of the Anthropos

But my real cat is not Alice’s little cat … because I am certainly not about to conclude hurriedly, upon waking, as Alice did, that one cannot speak with a cat on the pretext that it doesn’t reply or that it always replies the same thing. Everything that I am about to entrust to you no doubt comes back to asking you to respond to me, you, to me, reply to me concerning what it is to respond. If you can. The said question of the said animal in its entirety comes down to knowing not whether the animal speaks but whether one can know what respond means. And how to distinguish the response from a reaction.

Jacques Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am

A response that does not respond to a question is a response that is not the solution to a problem or the appeasement of an interrogation or the conclusion of a search. Instead, as we can see by the etymology of the word response, it is a given guarantee, a promise, an engagement. A given guarantee, a promise, an engaged responsibility. Someone is, first of all, less a being-present than an engaged presence—engaged perhaps first in nothing other than being-here, exposed there. In this sense, for example, a mere rock “responds” just as much as a man named Peter: there is being-exposed in a crowded world.

Jean-Luc Nancy, Sense of the World [End Page 346]

The wholly other—and the dead person is the wholly other—watches me, concerns me, and concerns or watches me while addressing to me, without however answering me, a prayer or an injunction, an infinite demand, which becomes the law for me: it concerns me, it regards, it addresses itself only to me at the same time that it exceeds me infinitely and universally, without my being able to exchange a glance with him or with her.

Jacques Derrida, Echographies of Television

This tie to the other (autrui), which does not reduce itself to the representation of the Other (autrui) but rather to his invocation, where invocation is not preceded by comprehension, we call religion. The essence of discourse is prayer.

Emmanuel Levinas, “Is Ontology Fundamental?”

Traditionally, rhetorical theory has been defined as the study of human symbol use, which posits at the center of “the rhetorical situation” a knowing subject who understands himself (traditionally, it is a he), his audience, and what he means to communicate; indeed, this capacity to mean what he says and say what he means is, putatively, what distinguishes him as human. According to this very traditional approach, each of the elements in the rhetorical situation remain discrete—rhetor, audience, exigency, constraints, purpose, context, and message—and a successful outcome depends on the capacity of the rhetor to invent, organize, style, and deliver a message that will move this particular audience at this particular moment to some sort of action or attitude. Over the last several decades, the profoundly humanist and foundationalist (not to mention sexist) presumptions of this perspective have been challenged in various ways and to various ends by both continental philosophers and rhetorical theorists and practitioners.

Decades of feminist scholarship has challenged the deeply sexist assumption that the rhetor is male, noting rhetoric’s collusion with patriarchal and phallic modes, in addition to its accompanying complicity with racist and classist institutional privileges. That is, scholars have questioned the fundamental assumption that the rhetor is granted rhetorical agency precisely because of his humanity, which traditionally is associated with being a white, male property owner.1 Building on this critique, subsequent scholars have further challenged the humanist foundation of rhetoric by inviting our attention to the various ecologies that instantiate any so-called rhetorical situation, including material geologies as well as networked relations.2 [End Page 347] Acknowledging how “the human” is indelibly networked in its relations to place, space, matter, and especially to technology and various media, many have theorized a notion of the “posthuman,” of a human that is fundamentally a technological construction or prosthesis.3

This focus on the technological...