Tag Archives: comparative rhetorics

Lu, Xing. “Studies and Development of Comparative Rhetoric in the U.S. A.: Chinese and Western Rhetoric in Focus”

In this article, Xing Lu describes the evolution of comparative rhetoric in rhetorical studies between Chinese rhetoric and Western rhetoric as has having occurred in four stages:  deficiency stage, recognition/emergence stage, the native/emic stage, and the appreciation/appropriation stage.  According to Lu, the during the deficiency stage, arguments about Chinese rhetorics are premised on the lack of logical thinking and rational arguments supposedly inherent in Chinese languages and tradition.  Robert Oliver, for instance, in his early study of ancient eastern rhetorics declares the “ancient East has not been much interested in logic…nor has it favored either definition and classification as aids to clear thought”  (Communication and Culture in Ancient Indian and China 10).  Other scholars have noted that Chinese rhetoric lacks logics of the West due to inability to make fine distinctions and abstractions.  Whatever the reason, during this stage, Chinese rhetorical practices are compared and deemed inferior to the logical, abstract, and definable practices of rhetoric of the West.  During the recognition/emergence stage, the stage in which Kennedy’s comparative Rhetoric was published, rhetorical scholars fully acknowledged and validated the value of non-Western rhetorics, identifying both similarities and differences between rhetorics of the East and West.  Still problems arose during this state of recognition. With Kennedy’s attempt to identify a “general theory” of rhetoric applicable to all societies and to develop a universal discourse with which to describe all rhetorical practices cross-culturally, for instance, Kennedy falls victim to creating an evolutionary model of rhetoric among other problems. Longings for a universal rhetoric also tend to erase difference all together.

            In the native/emic stage, rhetorical schlolars attempt to define non-western rhetorical practices on its own terms and in consideration of the social/political/cultural contexts in which they were produced.  Mao’s work on Confucian rhetoric is exemplary here as he shows that while Western conceptions of rhetoric emphasize causal and rational ideologies, Confucian rhetorics reveals a “participatory mode of discourse interested in transmitting knowledge, performing reciprosity,and acting in accordance with rituals” (114).  According to Lu, this state encourages rhetorical scholars to pay attention to the material realities in which these rhetorics were produced and acknowledge the recontextualization that always occurs as we represent rhetorical practices from other cultures and/or our own cultures from other points in time.  During the appreciation/appropriation stage, the shift focuses from emphasis of difference to emphasis on incorporating differences in respective rhetorical systems, or in other words, to borrowing rhetorical concepts from one culture to address problems and limitations in say Western rhetoric (115).  Stephen Comb’s article analyzing Sun Zi’s The Art of War, for instance, demonstrates how Daoist argumentation styles can provide western argumentation with a more flexible, critical approach (115).  Despite the improvement of comparative rhetoric from one that deemed Chinese rhetoric illogical, inadequate, and inferior to Western rhetoric to one that valued the unique qualities of Chinese rhetorical traditions, Lu claims that current challenges relating to translation, methodological research, and continued biases still exist.  Lu advocates continued research in comparative rhetoric as a means to develop intercultural understanding and communication.  The ideal approach, she says, is collaborative research by American and native scholars to address limitations in language competency, disciplinary training and misunderstandings that result in cross-cultural research.  


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Wang, Bo. “A Survey of Research in Asian Rhetoric”


In order to survey the existing state of research in Asian rhetorics, in this article, Bo Wang interviews top scholars in Asian rhetorics, who have recently begun to study Asian rhetorics on their own terms and in their own contexts and helped to broaden our modern conceptions of rhetoric.  Included in this survey are the opinions of Vernon Johnson (pioneer of Asian rhetoric whose work led to new and more appropriate ways of inquiry), Mary Garrett (studied pathos of early Chinese rhetorical practices through non-western rhetorical lens), XiaMing Li (ethnographic studies of writing in China and U.S. and author of “Good Writing” in Cross-Cultural Context), Xing Lu, (author of Rhetoric in Ancient China, Fifth to Third Century B.C.E.), and LuMing Mao, (rhetorical and linguistic scholar who studies Confucian rhetoric and author of the important work “Reflective Encounters”).  According to Bo, these scholars’ research are “mindful of the logic of Orientalism…stud[y] Asian rhetoric in its own cultural and political contexts,… appropriates Asian rhetoric for Western contexts, and…applies Asian rhetorical traditions to the study of pedagogical issues” (172-3).  This survey reveals that we need: to “rewrite rhetorical theory and explore new research methodologies;” more scholars who have the tools and expertise to study Asian rhetorics in their original contexts and cultures; explore a broader scope of genres from their rhetorical perspective and encourage more interdisciplinary research in this area”  (173). 


Key points made by various scholars:


Xing Lu:


–analytical and definition modes of thinking create obstacles in rendereing a more nuanced and authentic understanding of rhetoric and communication in non-Western cultures.

–we need not search for single definition of Chinese rhetoric or try to find equivalence from the Western terminology


LuMing Mao

–no evolutionary trajectory and no transferrance of Western terminologies uncritically

–futher explore how those rhetorical terms influenced and affected the rhetorical behaviors of their users and how they interacted with each other at different historical moments


XiaMing Lu

–broaden scope of texts to be studied beyond political and philosophical treaties

–eurocentrism still dominates rhetorical studies


Vernon Johnson

–don’t overlook southeast Asia. 

–look at rhetorics of contact between east and west and between asian nations

–analyze impact of mass media on individual asian nations

–explore impact of asian ancient religion and history on contemporary asian rhetoric and communication




















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Mao, LuMing “Reflective Encounters: Illustrating Comparative Rhetoric”

Mao’s Reflective Encounter’s begins with three challenges that comparative rhetoric as defined by Kennedy faces:  temptation of resorting to the defiency mode, identifying “rhetorical universals” across cultures and imposing principles from Western classical rhetoric onto other cultural rhetorical practices.  Mao offers a brief history of comparative rhetoric as subdiscipline in our field and fleshes out the advances that have thus far been made as well as the Orientalist perspectives that have often resulted.  Mao suggests taking an emic-etic approach to produce “reflective encounters,” which puts rhetorical traditions/practices into conversation to see how they can learn from each other. Mao explains that contrastive rhetorics by and large studies ESL and EFL rather than individual rhetorical tradition and practices on their own terms.  He asks:  how should we understand, study, and compare various rhetorical traditions and practices without resorting to the defiency model or forcing Western principles to unique rhetorical traditions so they fit within Western conceptions of rhetoric. Mao begins by analyzing whether or not Robert Olivers succeeds in studying Indian and Chinese rhetorics on their own terms as he proclaimed we must do and set out do in his seminal work in comparative rhetoric. Mao claims that Oliver does and does not succeed.  Problematic are the ways in which Oliver relies on unreliable sources, makes unwarranted general or stereotypical conclusions, makes misinterpretations because of his reliance on translated materials, as well as his failure to look at Chinese and Indian rhetoric on their own terms.


Mao also discusses the work Carolyn Matalene, who in conducting an early study of Chinese rhetoric, resorts to binary characterizations and the deficiency model, which result in part from not considering other social, cultural, and linguistic forces that shaped Chinese rhetorical practices she was studying. Mao also faults the scholarship of John Morrison, which claims Japanese lack a rhetorical tradition, for implying there is only one rhetorical tradition, the western one, and for a lack of primary research. Carl Becker’s work is also problematic in Mao’s eyes because in using negative correlation as a methodology, Becker focuses on what is absent  rather then what is present in Chinese rhetorical traditions, which Mao claims reflects not only a bias but also an Orientalist logic at work in Becker’s scholarship. Mao defines Orientalist logic as using “Western systems of thought or norms to adjudicate or to make value-laden judgments about rhetorical traditions in the East, without making any effort to reflect upon their own systems or norms or to search for interpretive norms or categories that inform these Eastern traditions” (409). Mao also claims that Kennedy’s work operates by an Orientalist logic that sparks rhetorical Darwinism in Kennedy’s work as well as the consistent use of Western rhetorical concepts to make sense of so called non-Western rhetorical practices.


Drawing on the work of J. Vernon Jenson, Mao demonstrates how comparative rhetoric can operate outside an Orientalist logic if scholars do not use Western rhetorical concepts as only “points of reference or origin and that insists on reflective encounters” (412). Reflective Encounters demand “critical interrogation and informed contextualization” (412).  Mao cites Mary Garrett’s work as example that does this important work on ancient Chinese rhetorics to prove that argumentation played a role in the Chinese rhetorical tradition and accomplished various rhetorical and political objectives. Mao reminds readers that motivating forces behind comparative work is to not only better understand Western rhetoric but also to redefine and enrich it through comparison with other rhetorical traditions operating in different contexts (413). Perhaps one of the strongest points made by Mao is that in comparative rhetoric, “the point of origin can be non-Western…and…tools for crosscultural comparisons can be based on non-Western terms or concepts” (414). Using Lu as an example, Mao also reminds us that we need to study original texts rather than rely on translations to identify rhetorical practices that have often been overlooked. Mao claims Lu effectively models how to conduct contextual analysis; describe non-Western rhetorical practices by using their own terms and concepts which do not already exist; identify how non-Western cultures conceputalized rhetoric and put it to practice; and investigate multicultural rhetorics, which are simultaneously both local and global (415). Mao does not simply praise Lu, however.  Mao claims that any move toward identifying universal rhetorics is risky, unappealing, and idealistic because that move demands extensive knoweldge across rhetoridal traditions, which there is far to less work on to be able to do it well. Mao discourages the temptation to characterize different rhetorical traditions in dichotomous terms, which in turn causes various concerns.  


Instead, he suggests to take an etic/emic approach, and more specifically an emic approach if we want to study rhetorical traditions on their own terms.  An emic approach describes elements that are already components of a rhetorical tradition and focuses our attention on materials and conditions that are embedded in these traditions. Mao acknowledges, however, that we are always located outside our object of study in time and place so that there is always pressure to use concepts from the here and now to describe an Other rhetorical tradition.  As long as we avoid Orientalist logic, attempt emic accounts, and practice self-interrogation, we can practice comparative rhetoric ethically. Mao concludes that an etic/emic approach produces reflective encounters, which results when we both study a non-Western rhetorical tradition on its own terms and develop on ongoing dialogue between these rhetorical traditions and Western ones.  We must again interrogate  our own dominant traditions, dominant positions, and well meaning representations of the other.  Interestingly, Mao notes that those scholars native to a non-western rhetorical tradition do not necessarily offer more authentic accounts of their own rhetorical traditions because “studying (one’s own0 rhetorical and cultural experiences is always a process of recontextualization, no matter how intimate they are with these experiences” (418).  In order to avoid resorting to Occidentalism, they too need to employ reflective encounters, which “renounce domination, adjudication, and assimilation, and…nurture tolerance, vagueness, and heteroglossia” (418).

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Culture in Ancient India and china by Robert Oliver—Chapter 1: Culture and Rhetoric

In Chapter 1 of Communication and Culture in Ancient India and china, Robert Oliver attempts to explain the manner in which these cultures talked–“how they addressed one another, under what circumstances, on what topics, in what varied styles, with what intent, and with what effects” (3)–as expressed in communication theories articulated in classical philosophies and in life styles of their societies. Oliver argues that as we begin to locate” rhetorics of the East,” we need to create ways of identifying and depicting these rhetorical practices in ways that make sense to Western minds without denying its unique, essential character (11).

Thomas Mann in MAGIC MOUNTAIN–“speech is civilization itself. The word, even the most contradictory word, preserves contact–it is silence which isolates” (2).

Questions Addressed:

“How have Asians conceived the problems of communication? What significance have they conceived he problems of communication? What significance have they conceived the problems of communication? What significance have they attached to barriers which impede it? By what means and in what contexts have they considered such questions? What sorts of communication systems—nonverbal as well as verbal—have they conceived? What theories and practices have they fostered? How have they institutionalized communication beyond the boundaries of talk?” (3)

Key Quotes:

The standards of rhetoric in the West which have had a unitary development since their identification by Aristotle are not universals. They are expressions of Western culture, applicable within the context of Western cultural values….Any attempt to discover in Asia prototypes of the Western rhetorical canons would be unavailing. It would resemble trying to measure the salinity of water with a ruler” (3).

“What happens when we try to understand a set of meanings in another culture is, to use world coined by Gregory Bateson, schizmeogenetic,” mening in effect, that one difference creates another. Strangeness begets strangness” (5).

“The necessity of accepting differences not as barriers to understanding but as invitations to inquiry, and even to new modes or channels of investigation, is especially pertinent for a study of ancient Asian rhetoric” (6).

“Plato’s injunction to’discover the type of speech appropriate to each nature’ is indeed a rhetorical universal. But his insistance upon ‘knowing the truth about the subject,’ and thence proceeding to ‘isolate it in definition’ and ‘to divide it into kinds’ is based upon a particular view of the nature of truth and a particular concept of psychology” (8)

“In the West rhetoric has been considered to be so important that it has had to be explored and delineated separately, as a special field of knowledge about human relations. In the East, rhetoric has been considered so important that it could not be separated from the remainder of human knowledge. Asian thinkers have consistently seen rhetoric as being inseparably interconnected with problems of ethics, psychology, politics, and social relations” (10).

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George Kennedy “Comparative Rhetoric”

In Comparative Rhetoric, George Kennedy offers an evolutionary model of rhetoric, beginning with animals, moving in chronological time to “non-literate” cultures, or “societies without writing,” and ending with ancient ‘literate” societies, the apex of which is ancient Greece and Rome. Relying on histories largely constructed by white historians, in this part of his book, Kennedy attempts to demonstrate that in all ancient cultures, rhetoric, as a mental or emotional energy, which impels the speaker to [coded] expression , is largely a conservative action employed to preserve the best interests of the rhetor, on both an individual and community level. In this sense, Kennedy argues, rhetoric has a universal function in ancient cultures, although it is manifested in various ways depending on the culture.

Kennedy’s controversial text is important, that cannot be debated. As the first reknown cross-cultural study of the rhetorical traditions of different societies from around the world, Kennedy’s text delineates what he sees as the four objectives of comparative rhetoric:

a.) use comparative methods to identify what is universal and what is distinctive about any one rhetorical tradition in comparison with others.

b.) Formulate a general theory of rhetoric that will apply to all societies.

c.) Develop and test Greco-Roman rhetorical structures and theories used to describe cross cultural practices.

d.) Apply lessons from cross-cultural practices to contemporary cross-cultural communication.

Although these well-intended objectives have helped to spark the emerging and exciting field of cultural rhetorics, and thus a field, we are indebted to Kennedy’s work, these objectives in premise and practice are problematic. As numerous scholars have noted, Kennedy’s text can be identified as what Scott Lyons calls “rhetorical imperialism.” One reason Lyons himself charges Kennedy’s book with rhetorical imperialism is for presenting an evolutionary study of language, which positions Indians below the apex of Greeks and Romans—a concern Lipson and Binkley also share in Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks and one that I share as well. As Said reminds us, imperialism is accomplished and/or enacted not only by soldiers and cannons but also about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings (“Cutlure and Imperialism 8). Reifying the Greco-Roman rhetorical tradition as the apex of ancient rhetoric and literacy reifies the West as the center of intellectual thought and civilization.

Rather than reifying the evolutionary model of rhetoric, what Kennedy might have done is offered a coevolutionary model emphasized by Mignolo. Or lately, I have been thinking a lot about the Two Row Wampum treaty belt as a metaphor for a methodology of comparative rhetoric. On the Two Row Wampum belt, “the purple row of beads represents the path of the natives’ canoe which contains their customs and laws. The other row represents the path of the Whiteman’s vessel, the sailing ship, which contains his customs and laws. The meaning of the parallel paths is that neither boat should out pace the other, and the paths should remain separate and parallel forever, that is, as long as the grass grows, the rivers flow, the sun shines, and will be everlasting, and they shall always renew their treaties.” One of my students the other day iterated that also embedded in the wampum belt is the understanding that neither vessel will capsize the other. How can comparative rhetoric perform a cross-cultural study of the rhetorical practices of distinct cultures without capsizing one or the other?

As Lyons notes, one of the ways in which American Indian cultures get capsized in Kennedy’s book is by the omission of representations of 19th century American Indian writing (459). This omission, based supposedly on stereotypes of Indian as oral creature and savage, might conclude reader to think “a writing Indian is no Indian at all” (459). Lyons also charges Kennedy with erasing “real Indians” and making ” a connecting link” between rhetoric of animals and oral humans, which Lyons claims would lead uncritical reader to link American Indians to animals, a link that was at the heart of scientific racism. Locating Indians early on in the “Chain of Speaking,” Lyons argues, is dehumanizing and “suggests that today’s Indian people’s are probably not real anymore” (460).

In addition, as Lyons also makes clear, Kennedy’s text, divided into two parts—“Rhetoric in Socities without Writing” and “Rhetoric in Ancient Literate Societies”—reifies the oral-literate binary. This reification not only capsizes those cultures Kennedy designates as “non-literate,” but also capsizes rhetorical practices that do not fit traditional Western standards of rhetoric. How is Kennedy defining language here? How is Kennedy defining literacy? How is he defining writing? How is his book upholding Greco-Roman rhetoric as the center of our discipline by basing claims on his definitions of language, literacy, and writing?

Also, as is explicitly clear in the his chapter “Rhetoric in Ancient China,” how is Kennedy upholding Greco-Roman rhetoric as the idealized standard of rhetoric by comparing rhetorical practices of ancient China with the Greco-Roman rhetorical tradition? Robert Oliver, in his chapter Culture and rhetorics, identifies Plato’s “insistance upon ‘knowing the truth about the subject,’ and thence proceeding to ‘isolate it in definition’ and ‘to divide it into kinds’ is based upon a particular view of the nature of truth and a particular concept of psychology” (8). I can’t help but see Kennedy proceeding with his comparative analysis along similiar lines. Kennedy’s tendency to identify ancient Chinese rhetorics based on Western conceptions of rhetoric causes him to attempt to describe ancient Chinese rhetorical speeches and practices within the framework of Western rhetorical theory by:

  • demonstrating how ancient Chinese speeches fit mold of Greek rhetorical structures (proemium, narration, proof, and epilogue, ethos, pathos, logos, deliberative, judicial, and epideictic);
  • making judgments about ancient Chinese rhetoric based on western conceptions of “system,”
    “art,” and “argument”–evident in claims such as “Confucius was less systematic [than Socrates] and did not develop a system of argument” (153);
  • by always measuring and qualifying ancient Chinese rhetorical standards to Greco-Roman standards, evident in claims such as: “In classical Chinese, the word pien, literally ‘to till apart,’ thus ‘to distinguish,’ ‘to argue,’ or ‘argument,’ …is probably the closest approximation to ‘rhetoric’ as understood in Greece: It can refer to an art of persuasion including understanding of audience psychology, as well as moral and rtional actions in the inerest of social order (Lu 1999), but lacks [my emphasis] the connotation of artistic composition or style, which ‘rhetoric’ often carries in the West” (143).

By studying Ancient Chinese rhetoric in such ways, Kennedy upholds Greco-Roman rhetoric as the ideal rhetoric to be compared to and whose concepts and theories other cultures’ rhetorical practices should be explained.




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Manifesto Revisited

Manifesto:  Why Study and Write Social Histories of Rhetoric?


            Social histories of rhetoric(s) study the use of rhetorical practices by communities and members of communities who haven’t been typically represented mainstream rhetorical history.  Working under this assumption, it is extremely important in my eyes to expand the rhetorical canon to account for a broader spectrum of ancient and contemporary cultural rhetorics, especially those practiced by underrepresented populations in unique, non-discursive forms that operate differently than traditional conceptions of discursive rhetorics. In order to make room for such practices, we need to “dig up” and study texts, artifacts, and discourse venues that represent ancient rhetorics practiced by various members of specific cultures on their own terms (Gaines).  We thus cannot assume that rhetoric in all ancient cultures is confined to discursive language use as traditionally conceived in classical Western rhetoric. Not only are a wide array of cultural rhetorics enacted through non-verbal mediums, such as songs, gestures, physical movements, attire, and spaces, cultural rhetorics employed in global settings often do not operate “logically” according to the Western, Greco-Roman, Enlightenment mindset. 

            In order to uncover social histories of non-discursive rhetorical practices, we must first expand the scope of rhetoric beyond its traditionally conceived discursive framework. As James Fredal convincingly argues, rhetoric should encompass the “manipulation of signs in any symbolic system, through any medium, capable of communicating meaning and value” (“Seeing” 183).  Expanding the conception of rhetoric beyond ancient Western conceptions to nearly all forms of symbolic communication has the potential to decenter the Greco-Roman tradition in the rhetorical canon.  This decentering is necessary because reasoned persuasion in the Aristotelian rhetorical sense leaves little room for oral or written texts that have their own unique rhetorical framework as well as the non-discursive symbols that behave rhetorically in many ancient (and contemporary) cultures. Thus, if social historians of ancient rhetoric truly want to investigate rhetorical practices beyond the Western canon on their own terms, social historians must not only be open to unique rhetorical frameworks but also create space within the scope of rhetoric to include non-discursive modes of communication that do not operate according to western logic and traditional western forms of communication. A move toward the non-discursive in rhetorical criticism would help us better understand the full spectrum of rhetorical transactions made by various people in various cultures at various points in their histories—a recommendation made by rhetorical scholars at the well-known Wingspread Conference back in 1970 (Ochs 2).   This movement toward non-discursivity is especially important because we must begin to embrace cultural rhetorics from perspectives that do not reify Greco-Roman classical rhetoric as the apex in the development of ancient rhetorical systems (Lipson and Binkley 2).  Excavating global, non-discursive rhetorics also exposes and challenges the tendency of canonized Western rhetoric to normalize as rhetoric the rhetorical system of one particular western culture” (Lipson and Binkley 2).  

            I am currently rethinking my argument for embracing transcultural and transhistorical research on both discursive and non-discursive rhetorical practices.  Formerly, I have strongly advocated for comparative work because of its potential to bridge the polarized thinking concerning western/non-western and literate/non-literate societies that still pervades our field, despite recent efforts to complicate this way of thinking.  I have long recognized that as Robert Oliver makes clear in his original call for scholars to study “non-western” rhetorics that received harsh criticism back in 1961, “There is not just one rhetoric—instead, there are many rhetorics…and many different modes of thinking, many different standards of value, many different ways in which influence must be exerted if it is to be effective” (qtd. in Lu 113). I understand, as Lois Agnew points out, that the last generation of historians took a major step in recognizing that such rhetorical differences exist amongst various cultures and various members within those cultures, and that there is a significant “value in conceptions of language that are different from those we have inherited through the western rhetorical tradition” (Interview). I consider this scholarship vital; we need to be aware of these differences in order not to hold prejudices against other cultures and develop an appreciation for cultural rhetorics different from our own. Yet, I previously argued that by solely focusing on rhetorical differences, we often miss the opportunity to locate similarities in the ways and reasons why certain members of certain cultures communicate rhetorically—similarities that can bridge the hierarchical thinking patterns that cloud our rhetorical gaze.  I have argued that our goal should not be to develop a “General Theory” of rhetoric applicable to all cultures, as Kennedy attempts to do in Comparative Rhetoric. Rather, as Xing Lu has argued, our goal should be to “bridge gaps of misunderstandings for the betterment, enrichment, and illumination of human conditions” (“Studies and Development” 115).  By identifying common values and beliefs, ways of communicating those beliefs and values, and reasons for communicating those beliefs and values across differences, social historians of rhetoric can facilitate transcultural and transhistorical understanding of how and why people in ancient cultures communicate rhetorically.

            I am currently rethinking this position because I am in the midst of what I call a paradigm shift in my own thinking.  As of late I have been very persuaded by the work of Vizenor, Powell, Beam and others who call our attention to the imperialist tendencies of our scholarly practices.  As Powell rights about the Academy’s role in the continuous frontier tale of “America” in her essay “Blood and Scholarship,”

The ‘rules’ of scholarly discourse—the legitimizing discourse of the discipline             of rhetoric and composition—require us to write ourselves into this frontier             story.  Scholars are to set forth on the fringes of ‘the unknown’ in order to                 stake out and define a piece of ‘unoccupied’ scholarly territory that, through             our skill at explicating and analyzing, will become our own scholarly             homestead, our area of concentration.  We are trained to identify our object of study in terms of its boundaries, its difference from other objects of study, and then to do everything within our power to bring that object into the realm of other ‘known’ objects.  In effect, we ‘civilize’ unruly topics.  And it is our distance from those topics, the fact of our displacement from the materiality of these areas of study, that lends legitimacy to our efforts (3-4).           

I think comparative analysis is part of the Academy’s imperialist practices.  I am currently then in the process of examining my desire and my inclination to compare.  Does comparative analysis have to be a means to transcultural understanding? How can we “bridge gaps of misunderstandings for the betterment, enrichment, and illumination of human conditions” without identifying common values and beliefs, ways of communicating those beliefs and values, and reasons for communicating those beliefs and values across differences?  I think social histories of cultural rhetorics have the potential to achieve these goals without employing comparative analysis….

            I am also growing fond of social history as a means to study contemporary cultural rhetorical practices because of its potential to affect real social change.  As I wrote in the first draft of my manifesto, by uncovering the rhetorical practices currently employed to marginalize communities, such as women marked as “Third World,” social historians of rhetorical practices can identify and challenge existing rhetorics that both explicitly and implicitly oppress and discriminate. Simultaneously, we can identify and support contemporary rhetorical practices employed by marginal communities to resist those oppressive and discriminatory rhetorics.  Through such investigations, we will deepen our understanding of how rhetoric operates beyond our own borders and contributes to the unequal labor and cultural dynamics at work in our increasingly globalized world.  We also will also deepen our understanding and learn from cultural rhetorical practices employed effectively to resist, challenge, and subvert oppressive powers.  Rather than just deepen our understanding, however, we can use our new “understandings” to help activate change on the ground if we devote some of our scholarly energy to work outside the academy.  I am currently working on a project, for instance, that analyzes the promotional materials of ProLiteracy, which through rhetorical analysis I have discovered to be so extremely problematic that they actually undermine the very women their Women in Literacy Initiative aims to “empower.”  This work has the potential to disrupt malevolent promotional practices but only if I both share my findings with the organization and offer solutions to counteract their current promotional strategies.  We need, or should I say, I need to focus my work on scholarship that has the potential to both create transcultural understanding and enact real change.

            Anyway, as idealistic as it sounds, social historians focusing on rhetorical practices in the global world can use our scholarship to not only create a more diverse and equitable discipline, we can also play an important role in creating a safer and more equitable globalized world. As our field takes the global turn, we have this responsibility; social history projects might be a useful vehicle for enacting this responsibility.


Works Cited:

Fredal, James.  “Seeing Ancient Rhetoric, Easily at a Glance.”  Rhetoric Society Quarterly.  Vol. 36 (2006), pp. 181-189.


Gaines, Robert N. “De-Canonizing Ancient Rhetoric.” The Viability of the Rhetorical             Tradition.  Eds. Richard Graff, Arthur E. Walzer, and Janet M. Atwill.  New York:  State University of New York Press, 2005. 61-73. 


Lipson, Carol and Roberta A. Binkley.  Eds.  Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks.              Albany:  State University of New York Press, 2004.


Lu, Xing.  “Studies and Development of Comparative Rhetorics in the U.S.A.:  Chinese and Western rhetoric in Focus.”  China Media Research.  2 (2), 2006, pp. 112-116.


Ochs, Donovan J.  Consolatory Rhetoric:  Grief, Symbol, and Ritual in the Greco-Roman             Era.  Columbia, South Carolina:  University of South Carolina Press, 1993.     


Powell, Malea.  “Blood and Scholarship: One Mixed-Blood’s Dilemma.” Race, Rhetoric,             and Composition. Ed. Keith Gilyard. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann-Boynton/Cook, 1999.


Stearns, Peter N.  “Why Study History?” American Historical Association.  1998.  August 30 2007.  <http://www.historians.org/pubs/Free/WhyStudyHistory.htm&gt;


By symbol, I refer to Clifford Geertz’s definition:  “any object, event, quality, or relation which serves as a vehicle for a conception” (“Religion” 5).

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Chapter 3 of David Halperin’s “How to do the History of Homosexuality”—“Historicizing the Subject of Desire”

In this chapter, Halperin clarifies misinterpretations of Foucault’s arguments on the discourse of sexuality, and then compares his own interpretation of the pseudo-Lucianic ancient text titled Erotes to modern discourses of sexuality.  In the process, Halperin affirms Foucault’s argument that sexuality is a historical apparatus that produces historically specific forms of subjectivity, which in and of themselves, determine sexual desire and shape erotic ideals.  Halperin claims that Foucault’s work on the history of sexuality should not be read as a history of sexual categories or representations of sexuality present in specific discourses as many scholars have assumed.  Instead Foucault’s work should be understood as identifying the “seemingly heterogeneous mass of discourses, social practices, disciplinary mechanisms, institutional structures, and political agencies, all of which, arose out of different circumstances and different contexts throughout history” (87).  Together, Halperin explains, these discourses, institutions, mechanisms, and practices formed a pervasive and complex network, which constitutes a single apparatus and correlates to what Foucault calls “bio-power”—the administration of life (87).  These,  in turn, determine sexual subjectivities and shapes their sexual relations and desires in particular moments of time (87).  Essentially, Halperin points out, Foucault aims to analyze how sexuality, as an apparatus, constitutes human subjects, orders social relations, authorizes certain knowledges, normalizes erotic desires and behaviors, etc. (88).  By historicizing the subject of desire as a history of erotic subjectivity, Foucault offers a means to develop a history of sexuality, which Halperin claims, has yet to be fully realized by scholars—a scholarly project to which Halperin himself hopes to contribute in this chapter by recovering and analyzing the ancient text titled Erotes, which Foucault himself analyzes in a chapter of Le souci de soi.


According to Halperin, Erotes is a philosophical dialogue between two men, Charicles and Callicratida, who rationally debate whether women or boys provide more sexual pleasure for men (90).  A rich analysis of this dialogue, Halperin notes, raises a number of compelling questions (which he identifies on pages 90-91), provides insight into both ancient and modern sexual regimes, and serves as a useful site for interrogating common contemporary assumptions about “sexual preference, erotic identity, and the linkages between them”  (93).  Halperin’s ultimate hope is to “defamiliarize current sexual behaviors and attitudes and to destabilize the binary opposition between heterosexuality and homosexuality” (93). 


Through his analysis of Erotes, Halperin identifies nine topics for consideration, all of which I quote below:

  • The text’s emphasis on paederasty to the exclusion of homosexuality
  • The masculinization of the paederast and the effeminization of the lover of women
  • The paederast’s lack of social marginalization
  • The shared queerness of both interlocuters
  • The ability of each interlocuter to put himself in the erotic subject position of the other
  • Their common knowingness about both women and boys
  • The paederast’s capacity to eroticize the elements of the human anatomy independently of the sex of the pwron whose anatomy is being eroticized
  • The lover of women’s utilitarian appeal to quantitative factors as a basis for calculating relative sexual value
  • Both men’s treatment of sexual object-choices as a matter of taste (99).


By comparing Erotes with The Great Mirror of Male Love by Japanese writer Ihara Saikaku, which fits within the same genre as it argues for paederasty, displays misogyny, and playfully explores multiple possibilities of sexual pleasure for men, Halperin insists that what Erotes reveals is that sexuality is a historical construct—“a seizure of the body by a historically unique apparatus for producing historically specific forms of subjectivity” (103).  As such, as Foucault makes clear, the objects and bodies that human subjects desire are historically constructed as well by the apparatus and biopower that construct subjectivity itself (103).

 Questions and Comments:

 Halperin writes “new critical vocabularies are helplessly overwhelmed and reabsorbed…by older and more familiar ones, while prior epistemologies and methodologies continually resurface within the intellectual framework of even the most radical innovations” (86).  He also claims that many of us suffer from a “psychology of rumor” and in effect, produce a kind of “terminological shift,” which results in a simulacrum of sorts (86).  This issue has come up in all of my courses this semester. In learning from other scholars how to write history, what do you think of Halperin sneaking in this important point?  How does this rhetorical move weaken/strengthen his argument?

 What did ya’ll think of the part on page 99, when Halperin suggests for us to think of the dialogue between Charicles and Callicratidas along the lines of a contemporary debate over “dietary object-choice between a committed vegetarian and an unreconstructed omnivore” or between “someone who eats nothing but vegetables and someone who eats nothing but meat” ?  Even though he admits the ludicrous nature of these analogies, are these analogies appropriate, persuasive, necessary, helpful?? 

I think Foucault’s point is really important to understand and one that is not easy to persuade people of in day to day conversations outside of the academy.  I appreciate Halperin’s clarification and affirmation of Foucault’s point and think it is useful.   Halperin is very conscientious of the fact that he is trying to persuade us of his interpretation of Erotes.  Does he convince you with his interpretation of Erotes?  Why or why not?  Do the conclusions he makes seem justified by the text as he presents it or does he move a bit quickly from his analysis to his conclusions?   Does showing his vulnerability weaken or strengthen his argument?  (See page 102 and elsewhere).  

What are the assumptions beneath Halperin’s argument?  Does he identify those assumptions appropriately in this chapter? Should he?  For instance, on page 98, he claims and assumes that “most bourgeois Westerners” have not yet realized that sexuality is historically constructed by the subjectivities shaped by the ruling apparatus and the prevailing biopower and that instead thinks that homosexuality is simply a genetic construct without considering homosexuality could be perhaps a rational decision.  What are the risks in making a claim that identifies “Western bourgeois” as culprits of the genetic argument about sexuality when that term has perjorative connotations?  When we perform historiography, should we risk employing  such terms?  How else could Halperin have framed the debate?  (Thanks, Kelly, for helping me be more specific with my question?)









Filed under cultural rhetorics exam, historiography exam