While at CCCC’s, I had the pleasure of attending Steven Mailloux, D. Diane Davis, and Michelle Ballif’s panel “Expanding Rhetorical Publics: the Zoo, the Cemetery, and the Chapel.”
Mailloux’s talk “Human Acts, Divine Publics” wonders whether it is possible to imagine how a human might share a rhetorical relation with the divine (rhetorical, here, stipulating the potential for a two-way relationship). To me, the most engaging part of his talk concerned his discussion of the role of pathos in Heidegger, that, via Heidegger’s reading of Aristotle in “Existential Constitution of the There” in Being in Time, the first work of rhetoric isn’t necessarily identification (ethos), but rather the establishment of a mood (pathos); an affective register from which we can share a world.
Davis’s talk “Human Acts, Animal Publics” challenges the Cartesian distinction that self-referentiality, in the form of autobiography, distinguishes the Human. Besides the fact that science increasingly acknowledges the self-referential capabilities of other species (an aside she makes in her conclusion), poststructuralist conceptions of language reveal we are never in command of our own self-image, but always in the process of chasing “the animal that therefore I am.” This line of thought isn’t primarily intended to achieve animal rights (which would simply lead to another conversation and drawing of lines–which animals? etc.). Nor is it a matter of eliminating the desire to draw lines (echoing Derrida’s distinction between the necessity of human laws and our obligation to honor the absolute Law of hospitality). It is a matter of drawing so many lines that the act of line drawing diminishes Humanism’s power to cause epistemological and material violence.
Ballif’s talk “Human Acts, Dead Publics” explores how we might derive a post humanist rhetoric and ethics from the figure of the vampire. Working from Derrida’s claim that we learn to live, finally, not from life but from death. First, like Davis, she urges us to let go of the chimera of representation and strain to listen to our spectral borders, unsure of the certainty of ourselves and our ears. Furthermore, she strives to make us recognize how much our conception of ourselves is tied to the horizons of our being, to death and the beyond. Finally, Ballif advocates that learning to live finally is an ethical move that necessitates stepping to and beyond the impossible border between life and death.