Thursday, April 2, 2009

Week 13: Historiographies

Victor Vitanza – “’Notes’ Towards Historiographies of Rhetorics”
First assumption: the writing of history is ideological.
Second assumption: there is no escape from ideology.
Third assumption: the most wide-spread form of ideology is that of common sense.

To be ideological is to be semiotic and to be semiotic is to be social.

One of the major questions we have to ask when reading/writing history is “whose ideology is it?” And it is more complicated than just looking further than at who is more “sophisticated.”

“Historians use rhetoric to as a means of presenting to the reading public the Truth of The Archives” (68). Rhetoric eloquently presents historical wisdom. Historical facts MUST be considered, else history becomes a fantasy, or historical romance. But facts, of course, are only true by virtue of interpretive frameworks—they are themselves interpretations. History can be considered fiction, though Marxists would consider that “hedonism.”

Communally-agreed upon propaganda can “impoverish a communal dialectic.” And a “communal dialectic” can propagandistically exclude others, especially those who are not acceptable members of a discourse community. In other words, there is a big problem with saying that the majority rules when determining historical fact. Groups cannot rely on univocal, homological, propagandistic understandings of histories. They must favor heterological ones.

History must be determined not by asking a series of questions through dialectical steps, but interrogating through a system of always open discourse, allowing all (and this means ALL) to participate in the contribution to the construction of a history.

Three kinds of historiographies: Traditional (time); Revisionary (disclosure); and Sub/versive. The goal with this third kind is to destroy the categorizations, possibly calling it a hysteriography—allegories of hysterias, or sophistic parodies. Instead of arboressence (the branching logic of trees), it favors the middleness.

Traditional Historiography: Follows a pattern of beginning, middle, and end. The first kind centers around time—narrative events and periodizations. The second does not consider time. Most histories of rhetoric fall into the first category. Often the problem with this is historians look at artifacts and documents, even on site, but fail to mention the methodology for interpreting the artifacts. Simple description without method fails. Archives are NOT self-evident.

Revisionary Historiography: Often an extension of traditional historiography or a transitional stage on a “theoretical continuum.” A hermeneutical understanding and ideological self-awareness of History Writing. This kind of historiography exposed previously undisclosed facts. It is sometimes considered a correction or revision of history. An understanding is exposed that suggests archives are subject to ideological distortion.

Sub/Versive Historiography: Sub/versive is concerned with pedagogical politics and the teaching of history, claiming that teaching is, by definition, fascist. Sub/Versive seeks to attenuate, or ease and weaken, fascism “through [possibly] a series of individual cells of critical authority that remain non-aligned and…defused” or “through an extended radical pluralism” (108). Sub/versive seeks anit-nomianism, non-alignment, and nondisciplinarity. Sub/versive historiographies consist of six main ideas: 1) its purposes are anti-Platonic and are parodic, farcical, and directed against reality; 2) there is a dissociation of identity and opposes history given as continuity or representative of tradition; 3) it opposes history as knowledge; 4) reestablishes the groundworks for rewriting histories in the form of “an expressive, literary rhetoric”; 5) writes us out of a philoshopical, fascistic-paranoid, arboressent vocabulary; 6) constructs mis/representative anecdotes—always allegorize, always hysterize.

Edward Corbett – “What Classical Rhetoric Has to Offer the Teacher and the Student of Business and Professional Writing

Corbett attempts to argue that classical rhetoric has played a significant role in the way we produce technical and business writing documents. This argument is made by referring to Aristotle, Francis Bacon, and many other “ancient, dead” rhetoricians. Corbett also notes many more contemporary authors who have historically made similar claims. Aristotle is primarily discussed as the classic rhetorician and Corbett makes his claims about the way we address audience, emotion, ethos, and other rhetorical devices in business and technical writing are because of what ol’ Aristotle—and Cicero and Quintilian—taught us. Because this article does not attempt to revise or add to historical understanding, it clearly would fall under the “traditional historiography” method. It suffers from what Vitanza mentions as a problem with traditional—it looks at artifacts but never outlines the methodologies for interpreting those artifacts.

Tharon Howard – “Who ‘Owns’ Electronic Texts?”
A description, with modern scenarios, is given about some of the copyright infringement issues we face in the workplace with electronic texts such as email and hypertexts. A history is given of intellectual property, primarily relying on “facts” that have been archived as historical “knowledge.” Several quotes about the various time periods being discussed are given, perhaps revising the way in which we can interpret this history, based on new perspectives amalgamated in this article. For the most part, though, this is a traditional historiography, focused around narrative events and periodization. Again, as with Corbett, there is little in terms of methodologies for interpreting the historical events.

James P. Zappen – "Francis Bacon and the Historiography of Scientific Rhetoric"
Zappen announces he will “review three twentieth-century interpretations of Bacon’s science and his rhetoric” and then present his own interpretation of Bacon’s rhetoric. At the end of his introduction, Zappen says that he recognizes that these are four ideologies, and never really dismisses the other three. This suggests early on that he is conducting a revisionary historiography where he believes archives are subject to distortion. Zappen convincingly compares the three ideologies of 20th century thinkers, showing how each interpreted Bacon’s conceptions of positivistic science, institutionalized science, democratic science, and imaginative and plain styles. He concludes by suggesting that his interpretation offers something new to our historical discussion of rhetoric; by not denouncing the previous historical accounts, he obviously is attempting a revisionist historiography.

Discussion Questions
Vitanza’s perspective on historiographies is very compelling and persuasive. However, his argument for a somewhat abstract, subversive reconstruction of history—while it makes perfect sense theoretically—has a hard time finding place in an article such as Howard’s. While I could certainly agree with Vitanza’s argument that traditional historiographies fail to address the interpretation of archives, I have to ask—at what point to do we need to methodologically describe our historical interpretations? Certainly if we are to critique a historical perspective, it may be necessary. But I find it hard to know when farce and parody, expressive, literary rhetoric finds place in a document that is simply trying to establish a common historical ground upon which a reader can move forward from to understand the present argument. In other words, when the history presented isn’t part of the primary argument being made.

45 comments:

  1. Curtis:

    You do such a great job of examining the overall argument of the piece. I really enjoyed reading it, in particular the breakdown you give of Victor's piece - particularly Sub/Versive Historiography. I may always associate Victor with the line "writes out of a philosophical, fascistic-paranoid, arboressent vocabulary." That pretty much sums it up. It is true that he attempts to subvert a traditional view of history in favor of staying outside of political positions. He wants a non-disciplinary nonalignment that is nonfascist. The only part I tended to disagree with is how to classify Howard's piece (you said Traditional and I said Revisionary with full disclosure). I do not know whether I am right or not, but I just felt that if he was attempting to account for distortion of views on copyright laws, then in attempting to correct the misunderstanding, he uses a revisionary historiography.

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