What we do

I don’t wanna feel so different/but I don’t wanna be insignificant/I don’t know how to see the same things different now…   
-Still Counting Crows, still new album, still awesome   

So I’m about to rush over to a reading group about De Certeau (Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty). I’ve been looking at his work, thinking through the tiny chunk we read for today (and planning to finish The Practice of Everyday Life over the weekend). And I’ve been thinking about the field I’m in.

Rhetoric.

 I wonder if many of us don’t have it “wrong” on a certain level.  If you talk to a scholar in our field, he or she could probably say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ if you asked “is this rhetoric?” and rambled off a list of potential topics for discussion. We know what’s in our field. Mostly. Some people argue that some of what I– and what my mentors– do is not “really” rhetoric, but I think of those people the same way I thought of myself when I, upon entering my first algebra class, pointed out that X is not a number and shouldn’t be part of math. Sure… there’s a logic to it, but it’s a little short-sighted and immature. 🙂  

I made this argument in my history of rhetoric seminar last semester, and it was received with a mix of horror and interest. So… I’m going to toss it out again for my readers. I think in rhetoric we do ourselves a disservice by not acting like our field IS a field.  

Here’s what I mean.

Go watch Stephen Hawking speak. He’s not going to spend the first half of his presentation tracing physics from the start of the field to his particular brand of science. He’s not going to explain to us how gravity was “discovered” and documented. It would be foolish; that crowd KNOWS that physics is a thing. They came to hear a genius speak about his contributions.  

If you saw this recent news story about the near-retirement-age math genius who solved the “directions to anywhere” problem (I’ll link this later– I have the bookmark at home), you won’t catch him starting by saying “once upon a time there were two numbers, and *insert name* realized that by placing a plus sign between them one could indicate a desire to join them into a single number that was the sum of the two.” In fact if someone started a lecture by doing the basic “here’s six apples. I take two. How many are left?” math explanation we all get in elementary, we’d feel appalled and cheated.  

So that makes me  think that perhaps the answer to many of our problems is to simply stop trying to justify what rhetoric is. Stop tracing back to Plato and Aristotle, and stop charting through the Roman era into the enlightenment. Instead of trying to link everything back to the origin point, let the fact that the field exists do some of the heavy lifting for you.  

I get the feeling this will still be received poorly, but I ask you to consider it. A little field confidence could go a long, long way.

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