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154 10 Writing Future Rhetoric G. L. Ercolini and Pat J. Gehrke In the preface to Elements of the Philosophy of Right, G. W. F. Hegel wrote that “when philosophy paints its grey in grey, a shape of life has grown old, and it cannot be rejuvenated, but only recognized, by the grey in grey of philosophy; the Owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the onset of dusk” (23). Minerva, for whom the owl was both symbol and companion, was the Roman goddess of wisdom, contemplation, technical arts, and defensive warfare. She sprang into the world from the head of Jupiter fully grown and fully armored, without need of a past of her own. This was Hegel’s archetype for history and a fitting figure for the desire to know the future: at the twilight of history’s articulation, privileged by being at the cusp or the dawning of a radically new moment or an apocalyptic shift, coming into the present fully formed and armored by the articulation of history’s reason. For Hegel, only at twilight is wisdom possible—the twilight of one’s life or the twilight of a particular moment in history, when all is grey on grey. A pattern or reason in history is only sensible to those witnessing the end of its articulation. Yet what a strange figure for history is Minerva’s owl; imbued with powers to discern what others cannot in the twilight, the owl’s task to survey remains one of diligence and repetition, always to be done (or to have been done), folding wisdom upon wisdom in a future that is figured as a present-progressive. It was Michel Foucault, perhaps more than any other thinker, who struggled with Minerva’s owl and the potency of Hegelian history. Foucault’s critique of history made optimism for deeper wisdom in the twilight difficult, but he also amplified the necessity of attending to both our pasts and futures. For Foucault, patterns of history are formed, articulated, re-formed, and re-articulated ad infinitum in a process that calls into question the unity of history and, hence, the unity of self and metaphysics implicit in theories of history grounded in either nature or reason. Foucault’s revolutionizing of history, as Paul Veyne called it, recasts Minerva’s owl into a new role: one that surveys not the past but the present in its own twilight. Foucault, in Writing Future Rhetoric 155 meditating upon the work of Gilles Deleuze, transforms the owl of Minerva into a recursive flight of infinite vigilance, writing the interstice: What ceaselessly reactivates it, what causes the endless rebirth of the aporia of being and nonbeing, is the humble classroom interrogation , the student’s fictive dialogue: “This is red; that is not red. At this moment, it is light outside. No, now it is dark.” In the twilight of an October sky, Minerva’s bird flies close to the ground: “Write it down, write it down,” it croaks, “tomorrow morning, it will no longer be dark.” (“Theatricum” 185) Between Hegelian and Foucauldian history lie not only how we remember and inscribe the past, or solely how we understand our moment in the present, but more importantly, what we can imagine in our tomorrows yet-to-come. Orienting oneself towards the future is the political question at stake in attitudes toward history. When we speak of the future, we often relate it to a present and past, or perhaps more properly a continuum of simple past into present-progressive: a has-been that is-coming. We talk of a future as an articulation of a movement of the present that has reached a culmination of our past. We utter a prediction in the echo of Hegel’s voice. Today, as we stand in the dawning of a new millennium, we are surrounded by predictions of every sort: technological, social, political, and even academic. Authors conjure futures that depict the political, ecological, and technological present-progressives as futures in articulation. Scholars in the humanities, and particularly in rhetoric, have not often engaged in such substantive predictions, but every now and again a moment arises—the anniversary of an association, the fiftieth issue of a journal, or the onset of a marked calendar change—that brings even the wisest to summon the future. These predictive moments sometimes forecast what is to come and other times prescribe a “better” future. In either case, such predictions often obviate and forestall the potentialities of the...


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