Author Archives: carr308

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In the interest of continuing conversation, the debate between Jim Phelan and Aman Garcha about historical versus rhetorical approaches to the study of literature has been posted according to blogging conventions, i.e. in reverse chronological order. Additionally, some subsequent comments on the debate have been moved from the depths of the comments section to the main page for more immediate availability. Enjoy.

Another Bystander Jumps Into the Fray: Robyn Warhol-Down

I confess I was smarting from Aman’s calling my work “simplistic and coarse,” and from his yoking me with Garret Stewart, the author of the nastiest and most dismissive footnote ever to reference *Gendered Interventions*. As I kept reading through Aman’s and then Jim’s statements, though, I was relieved at least that my approach had been spared the rhetoric of lameness that seems to have attached itself to Jim’s (Yes, Jim: who *is* your opponent?).

Our historicist would do well, I think, to attend more closely to the temporal situatedness of the critical text. Taking a look at what the “academic historians” were saying about nineteenth-century gender difference in the mid- to late-1980s would not uncover a much more fine-grained treatment of the subject than you’ll find in *Gendered Interventions*. If my book was not “incredibly nuanced”–and I’m willing to grant it was not–neither were the histories of gender being written at the time.

What we know about history is subject to development. It develops at least in part through the interchange between historicist and formal approaches to texts. What we’ve learned about the social and cultural dimensions of the rhetorical strategies of the past has contributed something to what we know now.

Ah—this particular Smack Down may have been indecisive. But just you wait until one of the Divas shows up to throw her chair into the ring! I can hardly wait to get there.

One More Round: Jim Phelan

One more round from me, one more effort to suggest to a committed historicist with post-structuralist leanings that rhetorical theory isn’t as wacky or impossible as it initially appears (or perhaps I should say, as I have previously made it sound).

Richard agrees that texts have patterns and that following them is an important part of the reading process. He even acknowleges that authors, despite being pronounced dead by those once very much alive French theorists, marshall words purposefully. But he questions the extent to which either such authorial marshalling of words or the activity of following textual patterns delimits meaning because, well, readers not authors determine meanings and because our old friend language is actually a very slippery fellow.

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Once More Unto the Breach: Jim Phelan

Thanks, Richard, for this response and the effort to carry the debate on. In that same spirit,I’ll go once more unto the breach.And the axe I carry along is the one I was grinding yesterday about the compatibility of historicism and rhetorical theory.

On Thu, Feb 14, 2008 at 9:07 PM, Richard Dutton wrote:

“My thanks to Aman and Jim for such a lively, entertaining and
thought-provoking session. I just hate to let it end there …

The reason I became a historicist, having trained as anything but (Cambridge Practical Criticism is about as a-historicist as it gets), is that I became increasingly frustrated by the slipperiness of meaning both at the linguistic level and at the level of genre. Words and genres simply do not stand still, and our assumption that we can read them now as anyone read them even twenty years ago (without the utmost circumspection) is deeply suspect.”

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