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25 2 Enactment History, Jesuit Practices, and Rhetorical Hermeneutics Steven Mailloux History exists only from out of a present. —Martin Heidegger, The Phenomenology of Religious Life [P]ast events cannot be separated from the living present and retain meaning. The true starting point of history is always some present situation with its problems. —John Dewey, Democracy and Education Hermeneutics is always about otherness. Hermeneutics theorizes how otherness is “overcome” through interpretation, the making of sense, the establishment of meaning. A specifically rhetorical hermeneutics claims that interpretation takes place through tropes, arguments, and narratives that persuade others to accept a way of sense making about the past, present, or future. If text is defined as any object of interpretation, then rhetorical hermeneutics theorizes the interpretation of various texts, including past events, present utterances, or future actions. Within such a perspective, interpreting the otherness of past practices is analogous to interpreting otherness in present communication, both understood in relation to some future action. In other words, we establish meaning for the otherness of the past in ways similar to understanding others in the present, by relating all to our own future enactments. In this essay I will elaborate on the historiographical claims of this first paragraph in three stages. The first section uses a recent disagreement over interpreting a text about a fictional future to defend a theoretical account of interpreting otherness in the actual present. The second section takes this account as a theoretical frame for doing histories of rhetoric and then presents a sample rhetorical history. And the third section comments on Steven Mailloux 26 this rhetorical history by making some additional historiographical remarks from the perspective of rhetorical hermeneutics. Appropriating Otherness in the Present “Shaka when the walls fell.” This Tamarian speech act occurs repeatedly throughout the “Darmok” episode of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. In some of its iterations, the foreign utterance is an assertion that means something like “we have failed to communicate.” The interlocutors are Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Star Ship Enterprise from the United Federation of Planets and Captain Dathon from the Tamarian home world outside the Federation in Stardate year 45047.2 (2368 c.e.). The plot of the episode turns on the captains’ repeated attempts to communicate, to make first contact, across the linguistic and broader cultural barriers that separate the two peoples they represent. The Tamarians artificially stage an encounter between the two captains by teleporting them down from their ships to an isolated planet inhabited by a strange Beast that threatens both. Through Dathon’s patient tutoring, Picard comes to realize that his fellow captain is not an enemy but actually a potential friend, whose incomprehensible language consists of metaphors taken from Tamarian historical mythology. Once he figures this out, Picard encourages Dathon to tell the relevant story that forms the background for the speech acts the Tamarian is currently performing. Picard is finally able to interpret their current battle against a common enemy as analogically related to the Tamarian story of “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.” Dathon and Picard then perform similar narrative practices, exchanging stories from their respective cultures. In this way, Picard and Dathon seem to have overcome the otherness of the other and successfully communicated. “Shaka when the walls fell” is replaced by “Sokath, his eyes uncovered!” This television episode about a fictional future thematizes the fact that ultimately there are no incommensurable cultures: communication is eventually possible, whatever the obstacles, when two interlocutors recognize themselves as interlocutors and don’t give up trying to understand each other. But another lesson of the episode is that otherness is always ethnocentrically interpreted in an act of hermeneutic appropriation from within the interpreter’s home culture.1 In Inessential Solidarity: Rhetoric and Foreigner Relations, Diane Davis argues against some of these points, or more exactly, she initiates a dialogue trying to persuade me and others that my rhetorical account is significantly incomplete. She suggests that I partially misread the “Darmok” episode and mistakenly advocate only a rhetorical hermeneutics to the exclusion of a nonhermeneutical rhetoric. Calling on Levinas and Enactment History 27 Lyotard, Davis claims that rhetorical hermeneutics is a “rhetoric of the said,” and only a “rhetoric of the saying” can expose a nonappropriative relation to otherness (Inessential 66–85). Davis’s critique pushes me to articulate a rhetorical hermeneutics of otherness . Such a theory relates not only to understanding the other within and across cultures—communication in the present—but also to...


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