“Critical Sub/Versions of the History of Philosophical Rhetoric” — Vitanza

Embracing the Sophisitic notion of possibility to its fullest, Vitanza calls for nondisciplinary, nonrational, nonargumentative mode of rhetoric that acknowledges the uncertaintity from where knowledge is derived. Employing what he calls a methodology of provocations through the application of rhetorical figures such as hyperbole, metaphor, and others, Vitanza attempts to model a non-philosophical rhetoric, which he says has infiltrated every aspect of our contemporary discipline. Calling for a reclamation and cultivation of Sophistic Rhetorics, Vitanza envisions “The Antibody Rhetoric,” which has the potential to cure us from the logocentric, grammaphobic, subject-centered, seriously over-disciplined and overcategorized status of our field. In playing with language in the spirit of Vitanza, Antibody Rhetoric can help us decategorize, deseriousize, dedisciplinize, and derationalize the philosophical-serious state of Comp and Rhet. Knowing that language is always ambiguous, Vitanza calls for us to play on the page with our word choice and structure and to decenter the speaker and writer. “Language speaks more therefore we are.” We must dissoi logoi our arguments to the point of no return.

In what he says is a Pre-Modern form of Rhetoric, Vitanza wants us to practice paralogism, or what he calls “sub/version”—a “kind of intellectual guerilla warfare conducted by marginals, that will function as a de/stabilizing principle (through paradox/irony) or as a dis/placing principle (though oxymoronic metonymy) in the writing of our newer histories” (52). Rather than rhetoric based on intersubjectivity, he calls for rhetoric based on intertextuality, which would create a writerly text rather then a readerly text. In sum, he wants us to deliberate upon an “ideological choice against a philosophical history of Rhetoric—namely, a humanistic, “speaking-subject” history of Rhetoric in favor of comedic, pluralistic, anarchistic, intertextual histories” (53). He calls for counterbalancing new rhetorics with “an expressive literary rhetoric,” which is post-modern or better yet New Sophistic. We want to “create, detonate, and exploit ambiguities in histories of rhetoric.”

Calling for an anti-tradition tradition, as Sub/Versive historians, Vitanza wants us to embrace possibility and to focus on what has been displaced, to locate competing, contradictory voices, and to play perhaps most of all……

As always with Vitanza, I enjoyed reading this article and find his claims to be dangerously astute. As always, however, I also wonder what will be lost if we adopt both his sub/versive nature of historiography and writing history. Vitanza is important because he pushed the boundaries of our discipline, but what are the consequences of breaking through the boundaries? What new boundaries are erected? I am also concerned with his mode of writing, which seems to discount everything we teach about writing in the rhetorical tradition. I understand his point is to break that tradition wide open, which can only be achieved by altering the way we write as well as conduct scholarship, but how do we translate his theories about writing to our students???? Are Vitanza’s theories about writing practical for the academic setting? Or do we want/need to create some kind of conforming rhetorical practice, even if it does uphold a canonized rhetorical tradition that historically and currently privileges the elite? Theoretically and ideally, the answer is no. Practically and realistically though???

Nonetheless, I really appreciate the risks Vitanza takes. We need to take risks in our own scholarship. I think as a newbie I am afraid of taking too many risks though. Was Vitanza always making such radical arguments? Or did he become more radical as he grew more accepted in the field and attained tenure????


1 Comment

Filed under cultural rhetorics exam, historiography exam

One response to ““Critical Sub/Versions of the History of Philosophical Rhetoric” — Vitanza

  1. lpagnew

    It is interesting to consider the purpose this type of argument might serve in our field. In our earlier discussion of historiography, we acknowledged that writers such as Vitanza don’t really serve as models, but reflect a particular type of genius most people can’t emulate. On one hand, that seems to be a strength of his writing, as you’ve suggested here. On the other hand, the question of what is left after these boundaries are broken is an intriguing one. What does “the cure” consist of? If Vitanza’s writing can be seen neither as a call to action nor as a model, how does it work to effect the change he envisions?

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