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Glenn, Jarratt/Ong, and Gale–A Provocative Read

I am interested in the difference in tone and methodology between Glenn and Jarrratt/Ong’s articles on Aspasia.  While Glenn takes an authoritatitive stance, not hesitating to make confident claims about Aspasia’s existence and role as rhetorician in Athens, Jarratt/Ong acknowledge that lack of certainty pertaining to Aspasia and make reader fully aware of their interpretative leaps.  Methodologically, Glenn appears to have “read crookedly” from the fragments of male authored texts about Aspasia to interpret Aspasia as a leading rhetorician and philosopher in Athens and to create a story of Aspasia’s intellectual contributions to Athenian public life, which Glenn claims are “fully situated and fully realized within the rhetorical tradition,” even though they have been “directed through a powerful gendered lens” (39).    Other than fragments of ancient texts, Glenn relies heavily on secondary sources to create a depiction of Aspasia through the words of Plato’s Socrates and Cicero to affirm Aspasia as not only the creator of Pericle’s famous funerary oration in Mexenenus but also a “hero in a new rhetorical narrative” (44).    Especially curious is Glenn’s comparison of Plato and Aspasia in her description of Aspasia’s influence.  Glenn makes numerous claims beginning with “Like Aspasia, Plato” and “Plato agrees with Aspasia;” as her reader, I am uncertain as to how she can make such certain declarations about Aspasia’s beliefs.  I find it risky that Glenn claims to have full knowledge of Aspasia’s beliefs and philosophies based on what others have said about her in the few fragments of texts in which she is mentioned, no matter how respectful those ancient claims about her are.  In terms of her influence, I actually am puzzled by Glenn’s claim toward the end of this section in which she writes that “What Plato could have learned, then, from Aspasia was the potentially harmful uses of rhetoric as a branch of philosophy…” (43).  Although Glen seems to protect herself by using the word “could,” again, I wonder what evidence has exactly lead Glenn to make such a bold claim?  Also, what are those exact influences Aspasia had on Plato????  More importantly, perhaps, by comparing Plato and Glenn, is Glenn promoting an individual woman who employs traditional, masculine rhetorical strategies in order to prove the credibility of Aspasia—a move that Sutherland claims feminist historiographers should avoid?

Glenn’s scholarship, although obviously rigorously researched and extremely important in feminist historiography, raise a number of questions about recovery and thus feminist methodology.  In recovering ancient women’s and/or feminist rhetorics, evidence of which exists only in fragments authored by males, how do we speculate about the women revealed in ancient texts authored by males without upholding canon of male-centered texts?  Also how do we recover female rhetoricians without letting our feminist commitments to recovery shape our interpretations in ways that discredit those very interpretations?  Sutherland claims feminist historiographers shouldn’t let their feminist ideologies “trespass” into their scholarship and should avoid claiming any kind of certainty. I can’t help but wonder if Glenn has let her feminist ideologies and commitments “trespass” into her gendered rereading of Plato’s texts.  On the other hand, perhaps, what I am troubled by in Glenn’s argument is the traditional untraditional approach to her recovery of Aspasia.  Like Schiappa, she adopts an objective, academic tone and speaks from a position of authority, even though she is, in essence, creating an alternative reading of Aspasia’s role in Athenian rhetoric. I think Glenn takes a great risk in not acknowledging the “fictive” nature of her recovery work with Aspasia, as Hayden White claims all historiographers must do.  Perhaps, then what I find odd is the Glenn doesn’t seem to adopt or employ multiple feminist approaches in her recovery of Aspasia.   The question then is what feminist approaches to feminist historiography need to be embraced to support recovery work?  Is it enough to simply recover female rhetoricians in traditional scholarly ways?

             Even though Jarratt and Ong reify the male rhetorical canon in their own article, Jarratt seems to take a more feminist approach to historiography in that, as Sutherland suggests, she collaborates with classical rhetorical and critical theory scholar Rory Ong to make meaning of Aspasia’s voice/presence in the male-authored ancient texts.  Jarratt and Ong also begin their article by acknowledging the uncertainty of recovery work.  This uncertainty does not discredit their reading/interpretation in the way that Glenn seems to fear, however.  If anything, their explicitly acknowledged uncertainty, evident throughout and even in the last paragraph, makes their argument stronger in that readers are more likely to consider their arguments.  Yet, Jarrat and Ong’s article raise questions about the role of interpretation in historiography. In this article, they employ Aspasia as presented in Plato’s texts as a site to make interpretations about democracy and political participation, production and reproduction, gender and citizenship in Greek Society.  Thus, more than trying to recover what influences Aspasia has on the rhetorical tradition, Jarratt and Ong attempt to uncover what Aspasia’s presence in the fragments of Plato’s texts reveals about Greek society, from which they imply at the end of their article contemporary democracies can learn.  Through their feminist and post-colonial analyses of Plato’s text, they explicitly defy attempts of objectivity and truth in their historiography, which runs counter to the traditional methods of historiography.  One must ask then: should their scholarly work really be considered historiography or are Jarratt and Ong simply enacting literary/rhetorical criticism??  Is there a difference?  Should there be?

            Unbeknownst to me at the time of writing my above response, Xin Lui Gale, former professor at our very own Syracuse University, raises many of the same questions I have broached above.  More eloquently and writing in response to Glenn’s work, she asks “should we eschew the traditional concern with validity, reliability, and adequacy of historical sources when we purposefully turn away from the traditional way of doing history?  Does the postmodern view of history and doing history necessarily entail an abandonment of the traditional concern for truth and evidence?  Gales acknowledges a contradiction in postmodern thought and in Glenn’s work that I raised in my response to Gorgias.  There I wrote, “I wonder if giving up on the ability of language to convey any truth at all is having or going to have detrimental consequences for our “democracy,” if we ever did or still have one…..Just as Plato’s notion that the function of language is to arrive at truth seems extreme, so is the notion that certainty or absolute truth is unavailable to humans.  Even though down deep, I don’t believe language has the capability of constructing or finding certainty or truth, I wonder what consequences we will have to (continue to have to) face if we accept this belief to be “true” in and of itself….”  Similarly, Gale problematizes feminist re-readings of ancient texts that presume truth cannot be derived at but then asks readers to consider their interpretations, which they present as being truer than previous interpretations.  I think this contradiction is real, yet, at the same time, how can it be avoided?  It can’t really, so as my earlier comment suggests, rather than trying to avoid creating more true truths, we need to begin asking what consequences result in our rereadings in which we present alternative truths and also while acknowledging, the uncertainty behind all truths, we might explain why a consideration of an alternative truth derived from our research might be useful to our understanding of the rhetorical tradition.  Thus, we might acknowledge the competing ideas that comprise the field of rhetoric.  This practice would perhaps help one avoid the method/truth binary Gale speaks of.             

Another point Gale raises, which I inquired about in my own response, is that we should resist community interests in our research method and research outcome, but again is this possible?  Don’t our own ideologies/scholarly, political interests always guide our work even if on unconscious level? Also, why is that working from a feminist perspective isn’t working for common good of our entire field?  Gale claims that feminist readings tend to take the moral high ground “of knowing the historical truth and excluding the competing truths,” (372) which is what feminists accuse male historians of doing.  My question, as always when it comes to this point, is:  aren’t there some truths that are truer than others even if they might not be the absolute truth?  Isn’t it the job of scholars to search after these truths?  (Plus, why is Gale conflating truth with morality anyway???)             

 In terms of Jarratt and Ong’s article, Gale claims that they present contradicting interpretations and that they attempt to use “a satirical text with fictitious scenes” as historical evidence (373).  She also compares Jarratt’s sophistic historiography with Foucault’s genealogy and criticizes Jarratt’s methodologies for making interpretations based solely texts within the rhetorical canon, essentializing women.  Despite these criticisms, which read rather harshly, Gale credits Jarratt and Ong’s work for providing a “historical rhetorical context” for women’s exclusions in and contributions to Athenian public life, for illustrating how rhetoric can depict exclusion and oppression of women in everyday life, and finally for the questions it raises about the role of interpretation and speculation in historiography.           

In seeming opposition to Glenn and Jarratt, Gale claims Madelaine Henry’s work on Aspasia, which blends feminist scholarship and postmodern concerns with traditional philological methods, offers rich theoretical and methodological implications for feminist historical reconstructions.  Gale explains that Henry’s method of situating Aspasia into the male biographical tradition constructs Aspasia as a construct of discourse rather than a real identity, thus revealing how the persona of Aspasia is perspective-relative and historically contingent and how women in antiquity were positioned as sexual and intellectual beings (380-1).  Through her research, Henry demonstrates how truths about Aspasia are created, rather than trying to articulate truths about Aspasia herself—a move I must admit seems more in line with what historiography out to be embarking on even as if I am uncertain as to what exactly historiography should entail.           

Ultimately, Gale ends with repeating questions Foucault raises twenty years ago, questions we need to keep pondering and finding answers to:           

How can we write radical, alternative histories without discrediting ourselves as historians?           

How do we do primary research without having to submit to traditionally male methods and perspectives?           

How do we embrace postmodernism and anti-foundationalism without making our scholarship seem like a rhetorical ploy?           

How do we contribute to social and political good without creating new hierarchies, exclusionary practices, etc? 

One way Gale suggests is to embrace a multidisciplinary approach.  The other to conduct research and write for entire scholarly community, not just our special interests…..             

This entire set of readings is so provocative on so many levels.  Strictly speaking on a rhetorical level, I am curious to find out how Glenn and Jarratt and other scholars received Gale’s article/critique/insights.  What are the consequences of her confrontational critique? Gale obviously attempts to be tactful by acknowledging the difficulties of working with Aspasia, crediting Glenn and Jarratt for the contributions they are making to feminist historiography, etc.  Yet, she more or less “rips apart” each of their arguments even if she claims she does so with the altruistic nature of deepening the debate about alternative ways of doing historiography.  I imagine Sutherland asking if Gale is writing with an ethics of care.  Is she collaborating with Glenn and Jarratt to work toward the common good of our field?  Some might see Gale’s confrontational critique as lacking this ethic, but no matter how painful this critique maybe, Gale does push the debate forward.  I can’t help but think of Kuhn’s stages of scientific revolutions when reading these articles.  Kuhn claims that during each revolution, a crisis stage occurs before a new paradigm is accepted.  During this crisis stage, new, innovative methods are being tested and some community members lead the way, others follow enthusiastically, and others resist.  Those who resist eventually either jump on board or leave the debate/profession/etc.  If we think of Glenn and Jarratt (and Henry) as leading the way to a new paradigm in historiography, how to we interpret Gale?   Where does she fit in the new paradigm of feminist historiography?

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