The history of rhetoric as dialogue: A consideration, with Mikhail Bakhtin, of rhetoric's history, past, present, and future
Miller, Brandon Lee
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In the 1980s, many historians of rhetoric began to question the way in which rhetoric's history had been conceived, in particular the prominence of what by then was frequently referred to as The Rhetorical Tradition. By the end of the twentieth century, historians of rhetoric had begun to reconsider rhetoric and its history in light of post-structuralist, post-colonial, and feminist thought, leading to alternative conceptions of rhetoric, but also the ways in which history might be constructed. Historiography had moved to the forefront of discussions of rhetoric's history. However, by the turn of the century, the study of history had reached an impasse as The Rhetorical Tradition continued to hold its place of prominence. Alternative conceptions of rhetoric and its history appeared separately from or in the margins of the centralized Rhetorical Tradition. In this dissertation, I use the ideas of Russian philosophical anthropologist Mikhail Bakhtin to examine the way rhetoric's history has been handled, but also to make some suggestions about how to move forward in the study of rhetoric's history. I consider Bakhtin's ideas about the ethical human as once-occurrent being, situated in time and space, revealed through utterances in dialogue. I then interpret the way rhetoric's history has been handled through this lens and consider ways in which Bakhtin's ideas may be suggestive in the study and composition of rhetoric's history. Finally, I offer a brief history of rhetoric in nineteenth-century North America that serves as an example of how history may be composed in light of the particular view of the ethical human in history suggested by my study of Bakhtin. In my conclusion, I anticipate potential objections to how I have approached rhetoric's history and suggest other issues that may be considered as the scholarly discussion of rhetoric's history continues.
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