Teaching what doesn’t exist

Teaching what doesn’t exist.

I’ve been trying to read Kathleen Welch’s Electric Rhetoric for a little over a year now. The whole thing is so agonistic that it’s hard to separate the venom from the serum. Most reviewers don’t agree with me. Noemi Marin applauds it. Raymie McKerrow calls it a richly textured, broadly supported argument. I’m on page seventy-five, and I really haven’t found an original argument yet. It’s mostly been a polemic against other rhetoricians that have used dead white guys as a means to develop their arguments for rhetorical pedagogies which really don’t differ that radically from what she proposes. That is, unless you count studying texts that don’t exist.

Checking in the index, she lambasts Lanham for not citing enough women writers, calling it an evidence of his bias. Of course, she admits her own bias (as no-doubt Lanham would as well). Welch constantly announces what she’s going to do, but as a poor magician’s stall, it’s just taking too damn long. But I’m trying, again, to persevere. Diotima is her Joan of Arc. A brief reference, in one line of Plato’s Symposium, representing a female rhetorician with no extant writings. I’m all for studying female rhetoric; but how do you study what isn’t there? Well, you study contemporary theory on rhetoric that isn’t there. Sorry, I’d rather read Jane Austen. Now there is some powerful female rhetorical theory that does exist. I’ve got high hopes for Aphra Behn as well.

I just had to rant. I like Isocrates (her pet Sophist), but I prefer Protagoras. What really nailed me was her wonderful flourishes regarding Henry Sussman’s deployment of Ong’s orality theories in High Resolution:

This book is a sandwich in which the meat is a well done formulation applied to Male Master texts and the bread is some orality, literacy, secondary orality theory. We need the bread.

Don’t hold back girl, tell us how you really feel! So far, her book seems like a steam sandwich, with almost no bread. There are some points that I want to take from it that are good, but the constant fuming over nonexistant texts is just infuriating. At least Protagoras left fragments!