Public Address Redux

Part 1: Re-Booting Public Address

Stuckey and Corrigan, “Re-Booting Public Address”

Stuckey and Corrigan talk about the Public Address Conference and Rhetoric and Public Affairs as “rounding up the usual suspects” on the topic of public address, which they describe as an implicitly limiting and exclusionary practice of selecting white scholars and topics for publication/presentation.

  • How does the history of public address, epistemic rhetoric, and the rhetorical situation support this thesis?

Stuckey and Corrigan state that R&PA has historically had an “anti-theory” bias, the corrective for which is “a more inclusive space intellectually and materially,” one that should “avoid the gatekeeping in leadership that privileges a narrow set of questions and interests.”

  • How might greater inclusion and reduced gatekeeping address ‘anti-theory bias’?
  • What kinds of “theory” do you believe are implicated in this statement?
  • What is the role of “theory” in a class about rhetorical methods?

The editors of R&PA describe the journal as occupying a tension between “past” and “future” in the sense that it wishes to “preserve the best of the original while adapting it to the changes in the discipline since the 1990s and to the requirements of diversity and inclusion.” Reading the following editorial statement. Then, let’s discuss how you see the tension materializing.

  • Rhetoric & Public Affairs is an interdisciplinary journal devoted to the history, theory, and criticism of public discourse. Arenas of rhetorical investigation might include but are by no means limited to campaigns for social, political, environmental, or economic justice; modes of resistance to those campaigns; situated instances of executive leadership; legislative and judicial deliberations; comparative rhetorics; transnational diplomacy; digital circulation and mediation of public discourse; and/or constitution of political and social identities. Critical, analytical, or interpretive essays examining symbolic influences in any historical period (including the contemporary) anywhere in the world are welcome. Of special interest are manuscripts that interrogate dynamics of power and privilege, voice and voicelessness, oppression and resistance as well as axes of identity such as race, gender, sexuality, ability, citizenship, and class, as these take form in concrete rhetorical situations. Moreover, we welcome essays that explore the nexus of rhetoric, politics, and ethics—the worlds of power, persuasion, and social values as they meet in the crucible of public deliberation, debate, and protest.

Part 2: The Role of the Critic

Murphy and Lechuga, “The Role of the Critic”

Murphy describes responsibility as “responsibility” to the text being analyzed (oratory, assemblage, photography, movement) and describes a “contrarian” approach to the text as a decision “to defy the consensus that has formed around a rhetorical act.” He argues that “we owe a debt to the people who previously worked through the key issues.”

Lechuga explains that the texts that he encounters as a critic “are always met with a certain level of suspicion” and challenges the idea “that there can be any sort of rhetorical objectivity that does not replicate the colonial, patriarchal status quo in our field.” His reframes the critic’s responsibility as seeking “out the voices of those that are speaking directly to power,” and warns against “choosing texts that focus on the struggle/death of people of color” because “this work disconnect[s] the people suffering at the hands of violent state power from their experiences [and] commodifies those experiences as currency in our industry.”

  • If Murphy articulates a responsibility to the text and Lechuga articulates a responsibility to precarity, exploitation, and comodification,” how are these two principles in conflict (or in harmony) with one another?
  • Does Murphy’s position amount to a defense of “canon”?
  • Does Lechuga’s amount to a resistance to it?

Murphy argues that “method warrants a critic’s claims on grounds other than subjective (e.g. irrational) opinion” and suspects “we’ve moved away from method as such.” He describes critical rhetoric as offering the critic’s “publishable insight” that they can “see structures of oppression that others, including the communities they study, do not see.” Methods, such as those offered by “Foucault, Deleuze, Marx, Lacan, Laclau, Mouffe, some other poststructualist” are arguably what lend the critic the false aura of perceiving what others cannot. According to Murphy, often critics “‘make’ a text to ‘elevate’ the voices of others” without revealing “their choices, assumptions, and authority to do so.”

Lechuga argues that the conventional logic of criticism is based on “replicability” and “lingering trend … that critics want an audience to be a homogeneous and logical set of thinkers who engage with texts as a unified body politic.” When we default to analyzing presidents and their public address, for example, rhetorical critics tend to look at these “texts” with less suspicion than “we give the voices of people of color when we speak to and as authority.”

  • What good is “method” for rhetorical studies or for a related/similar discipline?
  • Should rhetoric be “against method” in the sense that it is a shortcut for the critic to argue that their perception is more authoritative than others, or even the communities whose discourse they analyze?
  • Should we “dump the European critical theory scholarship on power”?
  • Should rhetoric be attentive to “method” in the sense that “normalized” or “neutral” discourses have assume a position even though they disavow it?
  • Should we “dump” the habits of waiting for governing leaders to speak and then reply?

Part 3: Carter G. Wilson and Rhetorical Theory

Johnson, “Carter G. Wilson and Rhetorical History”

Part of Johnson’s goal in this essay is to resituate the “origin” or “foundation” of public address by taking us back to 1925, the year that Wichelns published “The Literary Criticism of Oratory” and Carter G. Woodson published his book on Black oration. He argues that “an alternative or speculative history of rhetorical studies” would have introduced the field “to the richness and power of the African American public address tradition” and that “who we start to see as scholars and what we call scholarship would be different as well.”

  • What aspects of rhetorical history and method is Johnson seeking to revise or abandon?
  • Which aspects of rhetorical history and method does he pick up as useful for advancing this project?

On page 22, Johnson revises a question asked by Kirt Wilson. Whereas Wilson asks “why were Black orators not more evident in public address studies (at least) between 1925 and the 1960s?,” Johnson asks “why was African American public address scholarship not more evident in our field between 1925 and 1960?”

  • What are the stakes of this distinction? How does it mark Johnson’s contribution in this essay as unique from Wilson’s answer that “black orators could not, by definition, have “successful speeches” that “altered history” simply because black orators, still were not considered part of the “formally organized social and political structure in America”?
  • What sorts of concepts does Woodson theorize? How does Johnson describe the epistemology that informs these concepts (e.g. Maat and Nommo)?
  • How might these concepts open up a new or distinct understanding of speakers and public address?
  • Speculatively, what is Johnson’s stance on the idea of “canon” in rhetorical studies?

Writing Activity

For this activity, I would like us to map Johnson’s argument in his essay about Carter G. Wilson. Specifically, I would like us to think about the following:

  • How does the introduction build up to his main argument? What is the progression of the introduction? How long is it? What are the major parts?
  • How are the sections divided? What is the purpose of each one? How much space does each section take up relative to the others?
  • What is the “intervention” (or interventions) staged by this essay?