“Studying the Chinese Rhetorical Tradition in the Present: Re-presentiing the Native’s Point of View” by LuMing Mao

In this important article, Mao insists that those scholars studying cultural rhetorics must reflect on the methodologies we employ in studying the rhetorical practices of the Other and deepen our understanding of how these methodologies connect to our objects of study and our understanding of Other as well as ourselves (216).  Mao advocates for a methodological study of discursive fields to re-present the Other’s point of view and illustrates how this methodology might function through an analysis of the discursive fields at play in Confucious’ Analects.  Mao also models the type of self-reflexivity needed when undertaking the study of Other’s rhetorical pratices.  He dissuades scholars from:•    following Kennedy’s lead in testing the adaptbility of Western or Aristostlean rhetorical concepts and theories in other rhetorical traditions;•    taking the piecemeal approach of making direct comparisons between individual theories and concepts across cultures in search of direct equivalences, which often only leads to “defiency” labels and perpetuated divisions of ways of thinking;•     employing an Orientalist logic, which essentializes other, constructs West as idealized standard, applying Western values and ideas to study of other rhetorical traditions, and “discursive hypercorrecting” orientalist logic by studying other rhetorical traditions outside its own political and social context, distorting importance of certain rhetorical practices because of “our present rhetorical exignency and the level of importance” that accrued because of the rhetorical practices’ “own context and its own terms” (221).Mao also examines our turn to and from cultural anthropology in the study of cultural rhetorics.  He challenges Clifford Geertz’s historical methods of to see from Other’s point of view by enacting experience-near  and experience-distinct concepts, which create in Geertz’s words “a dialectical tacking between the most local of local detail and the most global of global structure in such a way as to bring them into simultaneous view” (qtd. on 222).  Mao explains that while we can certainly try to “stay in the Other’s context and on the Other’s terms all the time,” we can literally do so because our present location always impacts how knowledge is both produced and consumed and we are so far removed from some rhetorical practices in terms of time, that we can’t possibly 100% accurately represent the Native’s point of view.Mao asks an important set of questions:“In whose name or on whose behalf is our study of the Chinese rhetori- cal tradition being carried out, and to what end? What kind of knowledge is being created through this exercise? What are those sociocultural conditions and power relations that have framed the production and consumption of this knowledge? Are the concepts and practices chosen for study more important to us here and now than to the actors there and then? Given the methodological challenges discussed above, to what extent, then, can we pursue this kind of study without privileging the Euro- pean American rhetorical tradition and without holding on to a monolithic or reified idea of the Chinese rhetorical tradition?”Mao also points to the fact the experience-near concepts does not attend to discursive conditions in which rhetorical practices were created nor does it create space to examine the “structural indifference to the material conditions of the present” (223).  Therefore, Mao suggests a turn toward the discursive fields—“textual spaces where related concepts and categories cluster, and where different semantic alignmens and subject positions take shape” (223).  A study of discursive field reveals that meaning of discourse “lies beyond any predetermined situation type;” rather meaning is produced and consumed by “the occasion of use in complicity with or in competition with existing meanings or associations” (225).  This methodology, as Mao illutrates through his study of the Analects, can help give distinct rhetorical practices the agency they deserve and perform by “anchoring it in its own context and its own terms and ascribing to it a relevance and topicality that is only made possible by who we are and where we are” (226).In his conclusion Mao argues we must be more self-reflexive and “less afraid” to interrogate the evidence and conclusion we draw from our own studies.  He promotes a culture of reciprocity in the study of cross-cultural rhetoirics, one which moves beyoon polarized thinking and negotiates difference, ambiguity, and contradictions that arise when studying diverse discourse practices.  He advocates putting opposing discourses into dialogue with one another, which can lead to “creative confrontation,” which itself can lead to “cultural bending and recreation” (see Joseph Chan and Eric Ma) (234).  This methodology, Mar argues, has the potential to create a “true dialectical tacking…,where we can begin to represent the native’s point of view in ways that can contribute to a discourse of reciprocity, and that can reconfigure the relations of power in the process of interconnectedness” (235).

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