Question 2A (English 6311: Rhetorical History II): How has the history of rhetoric been “re-landscaped” over the past 30 years? Explain Royster’s metaphor of landscaping as it refers to historiography and describe shifts that have occurred, referencing Bizzell and Hertzberg’s, among others’, influence. What are the implications of these shifts? What kind of work is still to be done?
Jacqueline Jones Royster uses the metaphor of “landscaping” to describe rhetorical historiography. In her introduction to “Disciplinary Landscaping, or Contemporary Challenges in the History of Rhetoric,” she states:
What we choose to showcase depends materially on where on the landscape we stand and
what we have mind. The imperative is to recognize that the process of showcasing space is
an interpretive one, one that acknowledges a view and often re-scopes that view in light of
aesthetic sensibilities—values, preferences, beliefs. We landscape. (148)
This notion has been echoed by numerous contemporary theorists who understand that rhetorical historiography has been dominated by the voices of the “elites” for hundreds of years, and that a major objective of contemporary historiography is to “re-landscape” the terrain.
Historiography, as we know, is a constructed reality, one that has historically favored certain voices, certain existences, and certain rhetorics (i.e. Western, White, elite, male) above others. For over two thousand years these voices and experiences have dominated the terrain, leaving other voices buried in caves and shadows. This is not to say that a myriad of voices/rhetorics did not exist during this stretch of time, but it points to the fact that the history of Rhetoric has been presented/taught/historicized in a way that excludes the “othered.”
Along with Royster, theorists such as Patricia Bizzell and James Berlin have called for this re-landscaping to take place. Bizzell, a major figure of rhetorical historiography with her and Bruce Hertzberg’s anthology, The Rhetorical Tradition, writes that, for hundreds of years, the choices of which rhetorical texts to “preserve, elevate, delete” were “dominated by the preferences of socially privileged men who saw Western culture as the best in the world, and that culture itself as springing primarily from Greek and Roman roots” (110). The “traditional tradition” (Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Quintillian, Bacon, Blair, etc.) dominated well into the twentieth century and continues to influence rhetorical studies today. Because of this, Bizzell calls for a historiography, and aRhetorical Tradition, that highlights “new traditions” and allows us to “hear from rhetoricians who have struggled with culturally complex venues in which they were marginalized…” (117). Echoing Bizzell is James Berlin who explains that his historiographic method “foregrounds difference over identity” which is “useful not simply because it offers new conceptions of the past not yet entertained…[but] offers new interpretations of the present” (122). Understanding that marginalized rhetorics have been either destroyed or excluded from rhetorical historiography, he states that non-traditional rhetorics “can reveal to us alternative possibilities in conceiving discursive practices and their power formations” (118). Berlin, like Royster and Bizzell, is calling for the continual re-visioning and re-landscaping of rhetorical historiography.
Fortunately, attitudes such as these have caused important shifts. The three major shifts I will highlight here are the addition of women, racial minorities, and “non-theorists” in the history of rhetoric. The “re-landscaping” scholarship of the past thirty years which I will use highlights rhetorics of the past two hundred years or so with some reference to earlier and ancient rhetors. While this in no way is an exhaustive presentation, I believe that these three shifts represent extremely important points of revision in rhetorical historiography.
Shift 1: Rhetorics of Women
The first major shift I want to look at is the addition of women to rhetorical historiography. The rhetorics of women have historically been buried in the rubble of the historical landscape but much work has been done to change this. In ancient rhetoric we now have the voices of Enheduanna and Aspasia to add to the traditional male voices; in Medieval Rhetoric we have Christine de Pizan (a voice included in the first edition of The Rhetorical Tradition but expanded in the second); in Renaissance Rhetoric we have the recent additions of Madeleine de Scudéry and Sor Juana Inés De La Cruz; and in Enlightenment Rhetoric we have Mary Astell, thus far the only woman included in this era in The Rhetorical Tradtion! These are all important female voices which have made rhetorical historiography more kaleidoscopic, but now let me focus on female rhetors of the past two hundred years.
Anthologies have always played a central role in the creation of the rhetorical tradition (Bizzell 109), and looking specifically at The Rhetorical Tradition we see that numerous women were added in the editing to produce the anthology’s second addition, released in 2001. Among the new women rhetors added to the sections on Nineteenth-Century Rhetoric and Modern and Postmodern Rhetoric are Maria Stewart, Phoebe Palmer, Frances Willard, Virginia Woolf, and Gloria Anzaldúa. Each of these women now plays a role in any serious discussion of rhetorical historiography, if for no other reason because of their inclusion in this seminal anthology. And, writing specifically about the second addition of The Rhetorical Tradition, Bizzell emphasizes that “these women joined newly expanded and/or renovated selections from Sarah Grimké and Héléne Cixous” in sections pertaining to rhetoric from the nineteenth century to today (114).
Beyond the anthology, other women rhetors have become prominent in the field such as bell hooks, an important female voice focusing on marginality and its status as a counterhegemonic space of discourse. Other important women rhetors can be found in Shirley Wilson Logan’s We are Coming: The Persuasive Discourse of Nineteenth Century Black Women. Rhetors such as Ida B. Wells, Frances Harper, and Fannie Williams, just to name a few, are gaining traction in the field and are excellent examples of figures that are re-landscaping the tradition and bringing to light new ways of seeing, doing, and analyzing Rhetoric.
Whether it be Phoebe Palmer and Frances Willard speaking about women’s right to speak in religious circles, Ida B. Wells speaking publicly about the atrocious nature of lynchings, or Gloria Anzaldúa giving a face and a voice to Latina rhetors, the re-landscaping that has been done to rhetorical historiography with the paintbrush (and many times the hammer and chisel) of women’s rhetoric is an important step in the realization of a more diverse, democratic, and just history of Rhetoric.
Shift 2: Racial Minorities
A second major shift in the rhetorical landscape has been the addition of some rhetorics of racial minorities. As earlier stated, rhetorical historiography in the West has been dominated by the White, elite voice, from Plato to the present. Only in the last thirty years or so has there been serious discussion about adding these non-White voices to the rhetorical tradition. Looking specifically at The Rhetorical Tradition we see the addition of some racial minority voices, but we must not forget that the first addition of this anthology came out in the mid 1980s, not a long time ago considering the history of Rhetoric studies in the West. Looking at the past two hundred years, we see only a handful of racial minorities included in the anthology: Maria Stewart, Fredrick Douglas, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Gloria Anzaldúa. But while there are only these few, the importance of their inclusion cannot be diminished.
In a field where Whiteness has dominated, these “new” voices are helping in the re-development and re-landscaping of historiography in the field. They are part of an initial first step to re-scope the tradition and are joined by other important rhetors of color who are not included in the anthology, like bell hooks, Keith Gilyard, and Victor Villanueva. While not included in The Rhetorical Tradition they are important mainstays in Rhetorical scholarship and are part of the ongoing re-landscaping and diversification of rhetorical historiography.
Their voices have served to expand our view of rhetorical history, expand what we view as “important” rhetoric, expand our understanding of non-elite discourse, and expand our understanding of rhetoric’s influence on power relations and social and political realities. No longer are the White man’s experiences, language, and discourse the only valid, legitimate, and important ones to be studied and no longer is his rhetorical theory and practice the only one to be included in the landscape that is the rhetorical tradition.
Shift 3: “Non-theorists”
This third shift is a bit trickier to define because much depends on one’s definition of “rhetorical theorist.” When I first began formulating the answer to the question of historical re-landscaping I knew I had to include a section on “non-theorists,” but after rereading Bizzell’s “Editing the Rhetorical Tradition” I had to reconsider the term “non-theorist.” I knew that rhetors who did not produce traditional rhetorical theory like that of Aristotle, Cicero, Blair, etc., were becoming important figures in rhetorical historiography but I had to consider that these “new” rhetors, in the words of Bizzell,did “show a metacritical awareness of how language can be used to do things in the world” and, as she states in her discussion of the addition of these “new” types of theorists into The Rhetorical Tradition, “we…included no texts in which the authors merely demonstrated rhetoric, but only texts in which they talked about language use in…metracritical ways” (115). Thus, instead of using “non-theorists” this section would be better served if the subjects of this “shift” were looked at as non-traditional theorists of rhetoric.
Some of these rhetors, from the past two hundred years, include Maria Stewart, Phoebe Palmer, Frances Willard, Sarah Grimké, and Virginia Woolf (all in The Rhetorical Tradition), who were mainly concerned with women’s rights, including the important right to speak publicly and in religious circles. As Bizzell puts it, a re-landscaped historiography sees as important “the rhetorical force of an argument for the right to speak at all” (114). This is an important shift considering the right to speak and be heard was taken for granted for hundreds of years by privileged males. If we go beyond the two hundred year mark we could add Margaret Fell, Sor Juana, and Aspasia. And beyond rhetors in the anthology we can point to Ida B. Wells, Frances Harper, and bell hooks as important figures in Rhetoric who have not produced traditional rhetorical theory. They could be joined by the ancient rhetor Enheduanna whose substantial poetry is a far cry from the traditional voices of rhetorical historiography.
Beyond the three major shifts I have presented above, there are others such as the addition of “non-elite,” “non-Western,” and “non-public” rhetorics to the rhetorical tradition. I would argue that each of these is contained, to a certain degree, in the three major sections I have discussed. Certainly females and racial minorities are historically non-elites, Enheduanna, Aspasia, and African American rhetors are highly influenced by non-Western thought, and Madeleine de Scudéry’s rhetoric represented, what Bizzell and Hertzberg describe in The Rhetorical Tradition as, “the semiprivate space of the salon…” (766). So while each of these categories could be expanded, they also fit into the three major categories presented in this essay. But importantly, they also highlight the fact that there is still continued work to be done to recover, preserve, and incorporate rhetorics that have been supplanted and “othered,” such as the rhetorics of racial minorities not discussed in this essay, gay/queer rhetoric, children’s rhetoric, etc.
Because we can point to important shifts in the landscape of rhetorical historiography we must also consider the implications of these shifts. Are these shifts simply inevitable? Are they reconfigurations or disruptions? These are important questions that must be considered. As far as being “simply inevitable,” I agree more with the “inevitable” than the “simple.” In some ways, the diversification of rhetorical history, though recent, is not a huge surprise considering the move towards diversity in many fields of study—from the literary canon to the sciences. But to get to this point certainly has not been a simple task. From being victims of ignorance and censorship to violent attacks, historically dominated rhetors have struggled to have their voices heard and re-landscaping has been a long and hard process.
Certainly, scholars such as Bizzell, Berlin, and Royster would see these historical shifts as important and positive reconfigurations. But there are those who see any “relandscaping” as a disruption. As Berlin states in “Revisionary Histories of Rhetoric,” “for Kennedy, Corbett, and Vickers, the eternal rhetoric is located at the source of the dialogue, among the ancients who set the fundamental terms of the discussion in motion” (113). For traditional scholars and historiographers of Rhetoric, “new rhetorics” (those of women, racial minorities, “non-theorists,” etc.) are always subordinate to the “true” classics of ancient Greece and Rome and those modern scholars who follow closely in their footsteps. Unlike these traditionalists, progressive rhetorical historiographers have no problem with new traditions “supplementing—or in some cases supplanting…” the traditional tradition (Bizzell 112), something which most certainly politicizes the process of historiography and something which I fully agree with.
Ultimately, the hope of progressive thought in rhetorical historiography is that more and more categories will be added to the list of those in the tradition. We must not forget that rhetorics of the “traditional tradition” are still the “blue chip stocks” of rhetorical historiography (Bizzell 117) and that a myriad of voices are still excluded from the “landscape.” The three shifts presented above are extremely important, and have been major components of the “re-landscaping” of our field’s history of the past two hundred years. This work, and future landscaping, is important “if we are to live and work and function as responsible citizens in the American multicultural democracy” (117). I hope this is important to all scholars of Rhetoric.
Berlin, James. “Revisionary Histories of Rhetoric: Politics, Power, and Plurality.” Writing
Histories of Rhetoric. Ed. Victor Vitanza. Carbondale: Southern Illinois P, 1994.
Bizzell, Patricia. “Editing the Rhetorical Tradition.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 36.2 (2003):
Bizzell, Patricia, and Bruce Hertzberg. Eds. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from
Classical Times to the Present. 2nd ed. 2001.
Royster, Jacqueline Jones. “Disciplinary Landscaping, or Contemporary Challenges in the
History of Rhetoric.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 36.2 (2003): 148-67.