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106 7 Stitching Together Events: Of Joints, Folds, and Assemblages Byron Hawk The only purpose the discourse of history can legitimately claim is to designate and transform the field of evidence into as many persuasive models as can possibly be fashioned. —Hans Kellner, “After the Fall” Our acts of composition are always collaborative. —Victor Vitanza, preface to Writing Histories of Rhetoric Victor J. Vitanza opens the collection Writing Histories of Rhetoric with the acknowledgement that the authors and texts gathered there are a constellation, a molecular agglomerate, a paratactic aggregate (viii). Despite all of the talk at the time (late 1980s, early 1990s) of categorizing historiographies (surely a function of the drive to categorize rhetorics that dominated the time period), Vitanza resists even his own typology. Rather, he characterizes each essay in the collection as a possible beginning, and the gathering of beginnings brought together in the collection as setting the conditions for new future lines of flight for thinking about historiographies. This attitude toward history seems to have resisted taking hold in rhetoric and composition. The desire to go back to the archives and read them as documents, or facts, is still a predominant force in the field (traditional historiography),1 and the most recent conference panel on historiography at CCCC still appears dominated by the desire for recovering excluded figures from the discipline’s view (revisionary historiography).2 Vitanza’s call for a third category that disperses all categorizations (sub/versive historiography ) appears to be the less widely adopted attitude. But I take this new collection of essays to be a response to this current state. In Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University, William Clark quips Stitching Together Events 107 in passing, “Often a good sign of decadence, a history appears” (88). He is acknowledging the fundamental rhetorical character of historiography that goes back at least as far as Nietzsche’s “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life”: new histories are needed when the old ones turn problematic for the promotion of present conditions.3 Even calls to return to the facts of the past are made in response to current practices and the evaluation of those facts is always grounded in contemporary values. The cyclical calls to theorize history and dispense with theory that we’ve seen in rhetoric and composition over the past two decades have always been in response to articulations of present conditions and the state of decadence achieved by either extreme. The call for historiographies is no different than the emergence of histories . A decadence of theory produces a return to the archive; a decadence of resistance to metareflection engenders the production of new methods. But I take Vitanza’s characterization of each piece and their collaborative collection as a new beginning to be an acknowledgement that every history demands its own historiography. In History out of Joint, Sande Cohen argues that the basis of all historiography is arguing over the method by which events are turned into narratives. From this perspective, history is an assemblage of events grounded in methods of finding, selecting, evaluating, and reassembling events judged from current rhetorical needs. These assemblages are always gathered in collaboration with other methods, other histories, other authors, other texts, other people, and other objects. Methods become situationally specific: they are always for stitching together particular events into assemblages, writing their interminglings and entanglements in rhetorical situatedness, and imagining possible future rhetorical and perhaps historical effects. In this chapter, I imagine a possible historical project and begin to assemble its own historiography. If I wanted to write a history of the collaborative moments in the twentieth century between communication and composition and the circulation of concepts and practices of rhetoric through these emergent events, how would I assemble a historiography that would allow me to stitch them together and trace their convergence and divergence?4 Getting the Story Crooked Following Kenneth Burke, Vitanza notes in his preface that even if we imagine our histories and methods as philanthropic, they will at some point be turned into a “devilish nightmare, because we inevitably ‘bureaucratize’ our acts of imagination” (Writing Histories x). Burke recommends a comic or farcical attitude toward history as a corrective for this inevitability. It Byron Hawk 108 is from this perspective that I read Hans Kellner’s contribution to Writing Histories of Rhetoric, “After the Fall.” Kellner provides a comical image of each dominant category of historiography. In his allegory, a mother dies and leaves a chest...


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