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

190 Afterword: A Reminiscence Sharon Crowley The reader of the following pages must therefore bear in mind that what is at stake here is not differings in methodology alone but varying perceptions of what ought to be discovered for the good of the community. —James J. Murphy, in “Octalog” In her introduction to this volume, Michelle Ballif, envisioning a sequel to Victor J. Vitanza’s 1994 Writing Histories of Rhetoric, characterizes the collection as “an attempt to re/write, re/theorize that volume, specifically by querying: Where did all the theory go? That is, what happened to the impassioned fervor generated in the 1980s and 1990s regarding the theorization of theories of writing histories of rhetoric?” Having read the essays Michelle gathered in this volume, I think she may have begged her own question, at least in part. Theory did not go away—this collection is rife with it. Some of these pieces plot interesting new theoretical directions for the historiography of rhetoric; another contemplates future histories; and yet another charts a new take on older theoretical approaches. What is missing is the old fervor. While these pieces are cogently argued, they are not exactly “impassioned.” When a serious theoretical disagreement is raised, as in Steven Mailloux’s review of his differences with Diane Davis, the tone is collegial. Also missing is debate over the “best” or “proper” way to write the history of rhetoric, and good riddance to that. The standard or “traditional” way was challenged in the 1980s by scholars interested in new theoretical approaches, and the ensuing debate aroused passions because scholarly identities and important professional interests were at stake: a well-defined canon; a “tradition” that defined which texts were rhetorical and which were not; a body of rhetorical theory derived chiefly from Aristotle ; and an agreed-upon method of reading that we might call “formal Afterword 191 criticism.” Rhetoric scholars in speech departments had slowly won grudging respect for their field by adopting this program during the 1950s. Those who were still active in later decades of the twentieth century were loathe to put it at risk by dabbling in new-fangled theory from the French, or Marx, or—heaven forbid—feminists. Here, for example, is Forbes Hill in 1983, defending the fort from what he perceived as an attack on it by Philip Wander: Professor Wander leads us with his critiques away from the art of rhetoric. He tells us almost nothing about the internal structure of the work, the traditional topoi drawn on, the unique or unusual strategies developed, the pathe employed, or the kinds of audience it creates or seeks to persuade. These matters I take to be the very essence of an art [of] rhetoric; the rest is peripheral. (122) Hill was confident that rhetoric has an “essence” and discernible boundaries ; the ideological criticism that Wander called for dealt with non­ essential matters. At this time English departments pretty much denied that scholarship in rhetoric existed. At the first “octalog” on historiography, held at a 1988 at a meeting of CCCC in St. Louis, Jerry Murphy remarked: “When I first sent an article—it happened to be about medieval rhetoric—to PMLA, the only game in town, in 1960 . . . the response, of rejection, of course, came in two parts: One, rhetoric is not a subject; and if it were, there would be no history of it” (“Octalog” 33). Hence many English rhetoricians of Murphy’s generation stumbled onto rhetoric, usually because they needed help in teaching composition. My favorite “finding-rhetoric” story was often told by E. P. J. Corbett, who remembered searching the library for help with teaching freshman English, to which he had been assigned with no training whatever in the teaching of writing. As Corbett told the story, Hugh Blair’s Lectures jumped off the shelf and into his hands, open to the chapter on style. When I returned to graduate school in 1971, after six years of teaching high-school writing classes without much help from the available textbooks, I asked my graduate faculty mentors where to look for scholarship on composition pedagogy. The literature faculty hadn’t a clue, but Shirley Carriar—professor of English education —had the right answer: study rhetoric. So I registered for courses in the speech department, where I not only learned about Plato and Aristotle, but read Kennedy and Ong and Howell and other magisterial historians of the art. The intellectual disjunction between my literature and rhetoric classes nearly drove me...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.