The Regendering of Classical Rhetoric Header
Classical Computer Collage

[AH: As our conversation continued, Welch connected the idea of electric rhetoric to issues of gender and race.]

KW: It seemed to me that the more I studied composition-rhetoric texts and taught them, I could see how what I prefer to call classical rhetorics and writing practices offered ways to theorize and talk about what some people term "new media." I think of [new media] as new forms of the fifth canon of rhetoric, delivery. I became entranced by and committed to the belief that those theories, problematic as they are given that Isocrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian are so-called "foundational fathers of the West." Aristotle, in particular, is one of the most misogynistic writers I've read. If you look at On the Generation of Animals, for example, he works out a lot of his material on women and other humans, and everybody who's not a Greek citizen. You can see the reception of Aristotle's misogyny in various kinds of medical, spoken, and written texts today. There's a whole tradition there, so I really prefer to talk about the site of Aristotle.

I was a part of second-wave of United States-ian or Anglo-North American feminism beginning close to the year 1970, and when I was in college, I was very active in working on feminist second-wave issues. At that time, I don't think I knew it was the second wave. I mean, I knew about the first wave that Adrienne Rich has taught us all, that we have to know our histories.... [W]omen particularly have to know our histories. I kept thinking, "Well, where are the women? There must be women." A lot of us were working on dealing with women's narratives: Susan Jarratt and her groundbreaking book Rereading the Sophists: Classical Rhetoric Refigured (1991); Jan Swearingen's chapter in her book Rhetoric and Irony: Western Literacy and Western Lies (1991); and Elizabeth Flynn's "On Composing as a Woman" in College Composition and Communication. Swearingen's subtitle, Western Literacy and Western Lies, I think sums it all up. She's got a really amazing chapter on women. A decade later [there was] Cheryl Glenn with Rhetoric Retold (1997) and then the important volume edited by Andrea Lunsford, Reclaiming Rhetorica (1995), especially those first two chapters on classical rhetoric—one by Jarratt and Rory Ong on Aspasia, and then a second chapter on Diotima by Jan Swearingen. That work was being done, but as we presented our work in the 1980's, we encountered a lot of resistance. The word "antipathy" is really not strong enough. We were received with verbal brick bats, metaphorical rotten tomatoes.

If you look at Elizabeth Flynn's "Composing as a Woman" and then the follow up, "Composing "Composing as a Woman,'" both in College Composition and Communication, you can see Flynn writing those issues. She talks about the responses of antipathy toward women who are trying to write about anywomen, in any era. The message was, "You are an interloper. You are destroying Western civilization. You are not normal." It was just amazing. It seems like a dinosaur issue now, but that was what we faced. If you look at Louise Weatherbee Phelps and Janet Emig's very important edited volume Feminine Principles and Women's Experience in American Composition and Rhetoric (1995), you can see narratives of women in rhetoric and composition who were fired from their jobs frequently in the 1980s. Many men were fired, too, but more women were fired.

If you were a "double other" (a phrase I use in an article I presented at a meeting of the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition) "that is, if you're white in rhet/comp and you're working on white women, there really was such antagonism. (Not to mention how we might classify Aspasia's race and ethnicity which certainly was not white.) We had some men supporting us, certainly.... [Still] I'm writing Contemporary Reception in this context. People went into the realm of strong negative emotion so quickly that sometimes their reason left them, and they could not respond.

Eventually white women, African American women, Native North American women, Latinas and so on were really working across many sub-disciplines of English and other areas of the humanities to make change. It worked to a large extent, although white women and women of color remain profoundly underrepresented in the highest ranks of the Humanities. I heard again here on my campus that rhetoric and composition studies is populated mostly by women. Theresa Enos treated this issue in Gender Roles and Faculty Lives in Rhetoric and Composition (1996). The MLA statistics from the mid-1960s indicate that the same number of Ph.D.'s granted to women in English beginning about 1965 are nearly the same, over 50 years later. Something's still holding up the progress of many women, especially women of color.

Classical rhetoric as it has been regendered has been a really important issue in my research. I've found that when I do my own translations of the Greek and Latin a lot of things change for me. I took six Latin graduate courses in graduate school at the University of Iowa, particularly with Professor Roger Hornsby, who is one of the best teachers I've ever had, a brilliant scholar and so difficult. We would walk down the hill in Iowa City from Professor Hornsby's classes with headaches because we'd have a 75-minute class and he would just keep us there for 3 hours, 3½ hours, no questions asked. We would sit there and he would carry on about, you know, Aeneas! [Laughs]

I hardly had any women professors at Iowa. I did learn a lot also from Dudley Andrew from whom I took film courses. He was on my dissertation committee as well. Everything came together at Iowa. I feel that much of what I've learned was done in high school and graduate school. Iowa had this excellent film department with Dudley Andrew teaching French film theory and producing really brilliant books. He and his spouse were always having us over to his house. Richard (Jix) Lloyd-Jones would do four-hour tutorials with me. He was chair of the English Department and he was so generous. I would walk in there, you know, pretty much scared all the time, and he was very, very wonderful.

Then there was Mr. Hornsby from the Classics Department who was so, so demanding and once in while, you know, he needed to sort of bellow at us because he didn't careabout our translations, but he just thought that they were bad [Laughs] and that our interpretations were bad. But he always supported my work very strongly. He was also on my dissertation committee and then ended up being on leave, so he was replaced by Dudley. I was at the University of Iowa getting all this training in writing and rhetoric. I did tons of work in traditional literary studies, tons of feminist work. Gayatri Spivak was at Iowa at the time. I didn't work with her, but her influence was ubiquitous. She was a professor in Comparative Literature. I just had this coming together of fields so that I was able to do the electronic work. I feel lucky that I got all that training, and it's all served me well.

I've also realized you can't regender classical rhetoric and writing practices if you're not also reracing that issue. That connection took me into Whiteness Studies. One center of Whiteness Studies in rhetoric and composition is Krista Ratcliffe's Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness (2005). It is in Cheryl Glenn and Shirley Wilson Logan's series with SIU Press, Rhetorics and Feminisms. I've been on a couple of Whiteness panels, and I've talked to Ratcliffe and others such as Joyce Middleton whose work on the writing practices of Toni Morrison and various oral structures of consciousness have been fascinating. In fact, Joyce and I had talked about writing a joint autobiography.

The issue of reracing is a very difficult one. I'm white. I just tell people that. I lived in Oklahoma for a long time, and I love Oklahoma very much. I'm studying Cherokee, by the way; it's my latest language. I had to put German aside and delay German in order to learn Cherokee because I was living in Oklahoma. Of course, the Native American studies groups in the English Department and all over the University of Oklahoma are just the best; they're the best. It became clear when I moved here that to talk about race as a construction is a very iffy thing if one doesn't.... I mean, my whiteness feels very much like a construction in the same way that white bread is constructed.... The interface between our Composition/Rhetoric/Literacy graduate program within the English Department and the Native American studies within the English Department at the University of Oklahoma has just been great.

I've really had to look at critical race theory as I've worked on whiteness issues. I teach Martin Bernal and others to talk about the "Aryan myth" and the Arnoldian Anglo-German construction from the early 19th century that Bernal calls "the Aryan model" of classical Western culture. He has another model called the "extreme Aryan model." That work has been very important to me, as has a lot of work of Toni Morrison in this regard, and Jacqueline Jones Royster's Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change Among African American Women (2000). I think it s another tour de force. [A]s we rerace, for some people it's a "nomos/physis" issue. Is it a nomos, or a law, or is it physis, is it part of nature? That really is a very important concept in all of Western classical cultures, including classical rhetoric along with all those other binaries.

As Ratcliffe points out, eloquently, the use of the word "whiteness" is problematic. I didn't know this until I was studying Ratcliffe's work: "whiteness" is a word that was used by white supremacist groups. I had forgotten that or had not ever known that. Geneva Smitherman has suggested that we give everybody a linguistic marker (e.g., "you're white, this" ); that way everyone is identified and there isn't the situation of white people being neutral or non-raced.

I've been able to stitch together a lot of [gender/race] issues in connection with various texts and receptions, particularly in 5th and 4th century B.C.E. classical rhetorics and writing practices. George Kennedy, in his preface to the English translation of Aristotle's On Rhetoricfrom Oxford University Press, states that he has restored Aristotle's enthymemes to the text and also taken out sexist constructions in many of the 20th century and 19th century English translations. He makes the point that seems to me to be true, that you don't need to add any more sexism to Aristotle's work. [Laughs] There's plenty there! That's another reason I think that Kennedy's translation is standard and brilliant and really is the one that needs to be used. [Add] to this constellation of work Sappho's important school and the fact that she had such wonderful reception in her lifetime. That would be one site for beginning classical rhetoric, not Corax and Tisias off in Sicily doing issues of probability. These are all kinds of originary moves.

You can look at this constellation of work and say, "This is really helping us to understand what happens when we turn on the TV" (or when the TV turns us on, as it does, I argue in Electric Rhetoric) using theories from classical rhetoric and writing practices. We're dreaming, our dreams are infiltrated, and we're dreaming images that we see.

I was not the first person to make this point. Language speaks us, we don't speak language necessarily. We wake up and think, "Gee, I really need that Volvo" [Laughs], or "I really need that book that costs $300." These consumerist desires are inculcated by screens of all kinds. You probably just saw at the CCCC [2007] that irritating little CNN screen on the elevators at the Hilton that a lot of us commented on. Laura Gurak and I covered it up at CCCC in 2003 in the same hotel. We were distressed about the beginning of the Iraq War, but also one should be able to get on an elevator and not hear ads and CNN and so on. The screens are ubiquitous. Rhetoric and composition is absolutely set up not only to analyze these screens but to produce stronger and more ethical student writing in a sequence from the freshman level into the sophomore level, the junior level, the senior level, on through all the stages of graduate school. We are uniquely positioned—and I make this argument in an essay in Living Rhetoric and Composition: Stories of the Discipline (1999) edited by Duane Roen, Theresa Enos, and Stuart Brown.

These are the things that I've been working on. I am also very concerned about the usurping of discourse communities by the mass media in late capitalism, where there's been no effective control by either Democratic or Republican administrations, so that the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has just been a real problem. I've spoken to a political science colleague and some other people because I thought, "We need to get a rhet/comp person on the FCC." There is an historian on there, and he's been a wonderfully effective advocate of "I'm not sure how to phrase it" fairness in new media and not allowing capital to continue to control fully everything.



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