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Rhetoric and Foucault as Philosopher

I admit; I am not as well versed in the history of rhetorical criticism as I should be. That said, I wonder if critical rhetoric would be at all possible without Foucault’s (vis-à-vis Nietzsche’s, Heidegger’s) de-centering of the privileged subject position. In other words, insofar as rhetoric (so-construed as a “tradition?) is beholden to the “subject? who seeks knowledge that s/he can then persuade an audience of, or “man? as something that remains constant: for rhetoric to become more “critical? rhetorical criticism needed a theoretical postulate from which to launch an examination of the rhetorical subject as non-fixed. Or, in order to join on firm ground the “postmodern? debate, rhetoric had to build a more “critical? discipline, which adopted an idea of the subject that was not an immutable given. Having done this, rhetoric could posit itself as possessing a “subject? who was familiar with shifting social structures and instability. Put differently, rhetoric as an independent discipline in the mid-twentieth century was not developing a body of theory that was clearly anti-humanist and was therefore reliant upon philosophy to generate the theoretical tools to become more “critical.? In this sense, the logical place for rhetoric to look for critical tools was philosophy. In so doing, rhetoric had to adopt thinkers, such as Foucault, that were clearly anti-rhetoric, so to speak. Barbara Biesecker notes in her essay “Michel Foucault and the Question of Rhetoric?: “Given that Foucault’s work appears to have undermined the liberal view of self-determination as the basis and condition of the possibility for freedom, and seems to have flagrantly dismissed the deeply entrenched view of our discipline that the existing social order—its relations of exploitation, domination, and oppression—can be transcended through symbolic intervention and collective recognition and resistance, why have we welcomed him into the house that Aristotle built??

This brings me to a tricky acknowledgement: I’m not sure how seamlessly rhetoric has taken up Foucault. In other words, I see Foucault as having an explicit place in philosophical debates and a convenient place in rhetoric. I do think a critical turn in rhetoric was necessary in order to address issues of power, gender, race, etc., but I wonder about the rigor with which rhetoricians have justified their use of Foucault’s theory, which is clearly philosophical. Let me clarify with an example: in Foucault’s essay “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,? Foucault is validating and extending Nietzsche’s view that the problem with a history which seeks origins is that it relies on faith in metaphysics and offers up a “suprahistorical perspective [which] metaphysics can bend … to its own purpose? (360). Furthermore, Foucault notes “historical sense can evade metaphysics and become a privileged instrument of genealogy if it refuses the certainty of absolutes.? In this sense, Foucault is concerned with an argument against the primacy of metaphysics, its postulate of a stable human, and the totalizing forms of history. In what we have read to date, I see the clearest affinity to rhetoric in Foucault’s “the Archeology of Knowledge,? but even here, as Liz noted, he is arguing with Saussure. I guess what I am getting at is fundamentally this: in order to make sense of Foucault in relation to the Rhetorical project, rhetoric needs to more carefully craft a sense of itself in relation to philosophy, particularly postmodern philosophers such as Foucault, Derrida, etc. Has rhetoric carefully woven a disciplinary self that can justify the co-optation of philosophy for its critical ends? Or, does one need to let rhetoric and philosophy co-exist as related projects with indentifiably similar projects? I have trouble with this.

Kim TP