“After the Fall” Hans Kellner

“After the Fall” Hans Kellner

I appreciate this exploration on Kellnar’s part on how to write histories of rhetorics; as he notes, writing histories of rhetorics is always a struggle for power over the discourse, so a rich discussion on the current state of historiography in rhetoric is worth thinking deeply about. Kellnar’s allegory about the children finding family documents is useful for understanding the spectrum of ideologies underlying different historians work. According to Kellnar’s taxonomy, traditional historians such as George Kennedy value classical texts/documents for their historical value and thus make few to no moves to include themselves in their histories. Rather, traditional historians attempt to create arhetorical histories if that is possible. As antirhetorical historians, they simply paraphrase, summarize, and survey. The authority comes from the sources—not their own expertise as historians. The revisionary historian of rhetoric, on the other hand, recognizes the particular contexts in which the classical documents were originally created. Consequently, as James Berlin makes clear, all classical texts are interpreted as rhetorical and thus seen as presenting a rhetorical “strand of meaning,” one among many other rhetorical texts that represent competing interests. A subversive historian, such as Vitanza, wants to deconstruct all histories through writing history in unconventional ways because histories are simply part of the ideological machine, which uses discourse as a means to keep our institutions intact. Since all discourse is fabricated for ulterior means, our job as historians is to free history from the binds of rhetoric. Kellnar’s aim is not to create three kinds of historians through a taxonomy; he would argue, I am sure, that these categories are unreliable. He spends time developing this spectrum to point out that “all uses of language exact a price, and trying to avoid paying the price may be very expensive indeed.” In other words, whatever history we try to produce, we are always attempting to create reality and therefore must be cognizant of the reality we are creating.

Perhaps, one of the most little and simultaneously important contributions Kellner makes in this article is the explanation of a kind of new research method that Enos calls for and that I am looking for a rhetoric student: crooked reading. According to Kellner, learning to write new histories, means learning to read crookedly—to look as texts as texts, not documents, and for other sources which are in tension with those. To look into various strands of meaning in a text in order to disrupt commonly identified trends, categories, and identities of history. To flesh out hidden sources of language and rhetoric. To do what Gregory did in Mimesis—find a seemingly little unimportant passage in a seemingly unimportant text and find new evidence in the language.

Crooked reading is important in Kellnar’s eyes because as White has argued, it serves the essential purpose of researching history—“to designate and transform the field of evidence into as many persuasive models as can possibly be fashioned; history tests the rhetorical and creative foundations of the culture.”

Kellner’s argument is thought provoking and reminds me of a point we raised in our collaborative archival project, in which we attempted to write the history of our department. When you write a history, you rewrite history—and since, as Kellner notes, rhetoric is an attempt to create reality, when you write a history, you rewrite reality. Therefore, when we employ a method as simple as crooked reading, we are in a sense both rewriting history and reality. I think this is one reason why Enos is so determined for new research methods to be developed and new evidence to be discovered.

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1 Comment

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One response to ““After the Fall” Hans Kellner

  1. Lois Agnew

    Yes–the more information we gather, the more possible realities we will be able to uncover. I think it’s useful to see ways in which Enos’s call for “basic research,” which might at first seem to be merely related to a desire to uncover additional “facts,” can actually be seen as potentially supporting the “crooked reading” that Kellner talks about.

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