In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Tribute to Robert L. Scott
  • Robert Hariman (bio)

Ever since the Sophists, teachers of rhetoric have been measured by the actions of their students, however unfair that might be. Likewise, some of those students—Polus comes to mind—have been all too quick to sing their teacher's praises, often to the dismay of the one being celebrated. So it is that I am standing here today, and so it is that this event may not be an unqualified pleasure for Robert L. Scott. I have no doubt that he deserves better, but, after all, he has more than once advised an appreciation of fallibility, and so perhaps it is fitting that he should have his career summarized by one who still sits at his knee.

My story begins in 1973, when I graduated from college and worked for the summer as a handyman for a lunatic slumlord, and then went to graduate school in the fall, foolishly assuming it was a step up. The gods took pity on me, however—as they should have, after that summer—and sent me to the University of Minnesota, where R. L. Scott was department chair.

Graduate students today will not understand this, but when I showed up for the departmental breakfast at the start of the orientation session, I had never before set foot on the premises or spoken with any member of the department. You can imagine, then, how impressed I was when I was greeted at the door by a person whose nametag said "Robert L. Scott." I did know from the award letter that he was the chair, and I was gratified at how friendly he was and how easily we chatted. I then went inside, got my roll [End Page 657] and coffee, and soon found myself talking with another member of the faculty. Things again were going well, until I looked and realized that his nametag also said "Robert L. Scott." Had I misread the first tag? A feeling of disorientation arose. I smiled bravely and moved on, only to meet another "Robert L. Scott," and another and another. By nowmymind was starting to split in two—not for the first time, I might add, but it was disconcerting nonetheless. I had no idea who was who, but I knew something was up and I liked the taste of it. Today we know that jokes are rich complexes of signs and symptoms, and we can explain that in reproducing the sign the faculty were problematizing the relationship with its referent to induce critical consciousness regarding the realm of representation; and that in hiding the individual's body they were revealing the spirit of the place; and that by performing anarchy they were acknowledging who had put his stamp on the department; and that by replicating his name they were orienting everyone toward the iterability and imitation of his conduct.

But the question remained, "Who is Robert L. Scott?" Today, drawing on my experience, I can begin to rough out an answer. He is someone who:

  • ● both chairs the meeting and takes the minutes;

  • ● returns on Wednesday the dissertation chapter that you give him on Monday;

  • ● doesn't suffer fools gladly but will listen patiently to all manner of nonsense if he thinks it is a good faith effort at participation in the life of the mind;

  • ● speaks with a candor that is oddly reassuring: "well, Robert, it's a botch, but next time you will only be half as confusing"; or, in response to my first submission of a chapter for my M.A. thesis, "Why is it that the young always wish to run before they have learned to walk?"

  • ● has no hint of religious affiliation but knows his Bible;

  • ● was department chair and editor of the Quarterly Journal of Speech but never described himself as chair or editor;

  • ● is an advisor who, when Bill Lewis asked for yet another incomplete, nodded slowly and looked out the window and said, "William, have you ever been working for a couple of hours and then looked up to see the sun rise? It is a beautiful sight."

  • ● wrote a groundbreaking essay in rhetorical theory in our discipline...


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