Annonce de colloque : Rhetoric and the Possible, 16-17 mai 2013

On nous prie d’annoncer l’organisation d’un Colloque international sur le thème :

Rhetoric and the Possible

Northwestern University, 16-17 May 2013

Not only a theory of public speaking or a commitment to revealing the persuasive work done by all forms of discourse, rhetoric is also, most basically, a mode of inquiry into the possible. It understands the actual as one possibility among many, as something that might have been otherwise. It begins with the actual (always changing, historically particular), and it discerns proximate possibilities. It considers how motion might begin. It is an imaginative depiction of that which is not yet. It sees how speech may bring things into being. Equally, it discerns proximate impossibilities, the chains of dependency that immobilize. Its motions are always also emotions, tendencies of desire and aversion that are embedded in affectively modulated structures of attention, cognition. It proposes that such attention is the primary object of aesthetics, proposes that aesthetics (like judgment) begins in sensation. It notes that visual experience-art, most perspicaciously-is shot through with implied motions and extrapolated continuations. It points out that narrative fiction too is preoccupied with issues of sequence and probability. It assumes also that the habits of sensation-the things that are habitually seen or not seen, the pressures that are habitually felt or not felt, that is, institutions in the broadest sense-are decisive as the underwriters of stasis and change. It is situated in deliberation, which it understands as the process of escaping an oversupply of possibilities. It ends, momentarily, in decision. It is always already collective, set in a thick, intractable being-with-others. As such, it is essentially political. In rhetoric’s gloss, politics is discursive negotiation in the space of possibilities opened up by doubt. Indeed, rhetoric makes a claim to be politics, because it defines politics as « exiting the state of collective indecision. » In sum, rhetoric finds/analyzes change.

At a time when discourses of « change, » entrenchment and volatility-in US electoral politics, in global financial markets, at the level of environmental crisis, in the Arab (perhaps Russian) Spring-seem by turns both urgent and empty, rhetoric is revealed anew as a particularly pertinent set of analytic resources. At a moment, moreover, when rhetoric once again has purchase in political theory, there is an opportunity to take dialogue between these disciplines beyond the established refrains of « rhetoric as phronesis » or « rhetoric as civic philosophy » or « rhetoric as new deliberative democracy. » This symposium proposes to bring together scholars who have, in various ways, contributed to this developing conception of rhetoric. This conception is fundamentally informed by Nancy Struever’s Rhetoric, Modality, Modernity (2009). It is given a historical point of departure by James Porter’s The Origins of Aesthetic Thought in Ancient Greece (2010). It finds a thematic in Daniel Gross’s The Secret History of Emotion (2006). And it finds a case study in David Marshall’s Vico and the Transformation of Rhetoric (2010). It draws on the renewal of sophistic as a doing things with words, a making possible, advanced by Barbara Cassin‘s L’Effet Sophistique (1995). It takes up the account of rhetorical poiesis, stipulation, given by Victoria Kahn’s Wayward Contracts (2004). It is anticipated most explicitly in Heidegger’s Summer Semester 1924 lectures on Aristotle, which have been contextualized by Theodore Kisiel’s The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time (1993) and given a political dimension by a variety of scholars in Heidegger and Rhetoric (2005). This conception of rhetoric then becomes a form of explicit political critique in Philippe-Joseph Salazar‘s L’Hyperpolitique (2009). The aim of the symposium is to explore this conception of rhetoric more fully and to locate its immediate, possible futures.

Contact : Dr David Marshall <>

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