- Deep Rhetoric: Philosophy, Reason, Violence, Justice, Wisdom by James Crosswhite
Deep Rhetoric is addressed to philosophy and rhetoric. And, like the journal, its questions emerge from the problem of a long-standing and uncomfortable conjunction, the “and” that divides and joins in one stroke. Over the course of eight chapters or a “series of closely related essays” (8), Crosswhite argues for a redefinition of rhetoric’s place within our society’s ethical imagination (giving it new “rights” to reason, justice, and wisdom, rights usually given to philosophy) and thereby returns rhetoric firmly to its original arena, the human condition. Such a recovery of rhetoric, if not its empowerment, grounds Crosswhite’s concern for questions that philosophy shares with rhetoric only in a kind of grudging détente. It also says a great deal about his claim that rhetoric may be (or perhaps was all along) philosophy’s best critic, offering us other ways way of loving wisdom, seeking justice, and contending with violence.
A note on “deep:” Crosswhite’s “deep” is both a move against philosophy and a gesture toward going “beyond” rhetoric as an academic discipline. Rhetoric began—like philosophy—amid the conditions of humanity: our questions of virtue, community, and communication of both. Rhetoric’s migration into a university setting says less about its essences (one being its connection to teaching) and more about how education has shifted away from a concern with those conditions (3). Moreover, as Crosswhite notes, rhetoric has not been treated well in American higher education; it has been especially damaged by “destructive elitist” attitudes that simplify the complex “communication capabilities” needed for social life (3). Yet if rhetoric can go or become “deep” enough, Crosswhite argues, if it can do what it has always done all those times institutions have tried to kill it off—respond to [End Page 221] controversies “for a specific time and in a specific place,” ‘hosting’ them as honest and useful (6)—then it will thrive. In the end, Crosswhite is after this fully “critical, creative, and truthful” rhetoric (177).
Crosswhite solidifies rhetoric’s “rapprochement” with philosophy (177) in chapters 5 and 6, an extensive and productive reading of Heidegger. The work of that German philosopher/rhetorician is one of many shared substances between the two schools of thought that Crosswhite gives attention to throughout the book. A typical review would summarize those substances and their attendant chapters, moving toward an analytical climax. Yet a fair reviewer knows such a limited space cannot do justice to Crosswhite’s dense arguments, especially about Heidegger. And also Crosswhite covers some old ground. I will not rehearse his expansion on Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca’s 1969 work (chapter 7). Readers of this journal know that Crosswhite organized and oversaw a special issue in 2010 about the legacy of The New Rhetoric.
Crosswhite’s individual chapters are not as important as his work on concepts that bring rhetoric into its “deeper” self. Crosswhite argues for a retrieval of four concepts “from millennia of philosophical and theological reifications” (79).1 It is these concepts—transcendence, psychagōgia, logos, and humanism—that deserve a reviewer’s (and reader’s) attention. Their development throughout the essays shows in a more direct way how this book situates itself within rhetorical theory and the history of rhetoric and in relation to the progress that has been made in both of those arenas in the second half of the twentieth century. These concepts are not new to philosophy or rhetoric, but taken as a whole they define the “deepest” rhetoric.
Crosswhite’s rhetorical attention to these concepts highlights a significant difference between philosophy and rhetoric: he insists that rhetoric resist the urge for an epistemological telos, prominent in philosophy. Thus a “deep” rhetoric pursues a direction but acknowledges that such a pursuit consistently destabilizes any actual arriving. In that frame, Crosswhite expends the first one hundred pages or so (chapters 1 and 2) trying to name but not terminally define “deep rhetoric” through these concepts; the rescued concepts become mines in...