Google Ngram metadata reveal that the English phrase “rhetorical theory” is not that old, appearing on the scene in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and then picking up dramatically with critical and literary theory in the 1960s. How do we square this with familiar arguments that rhetorical theory is much, much older? In this forum contribution I argue that the long view applies to our contemporary rhetorical theory only if we equivocate. Much of what currently falls under the heading “rhetorical theory” has little or nothing to do with the systematic conceptualization of persuasive discourse (i.e., the long view)—general, posthuman, eco-, and materialist rhetorics are the most prominent counterexamples. Instead, around 1900, Gertrude Buck develops what I call the short and sharp view that prevails to this day: rhetorical theory offers reality figured by way of its alternatives.


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