Historical Rhetorics 8: Contemporary Sophistry (Feminist, Third, New Materialist, and Otherwise)

Today’s plan:

  • Secondary source presentations
  • Jarratt’s explication of sophistry
  • Vitanza’s response to Jarratt / his explication of Gorgias
  • Let’s spend some time with Zizek. And maybe Sloterdjik.

Secondary Source Presentations

Tonight we have presentations from Elizabeth and Jon.

Jarratt’s Explication of Sophistry, Vitanza’s Response to Jarratt, and Vitanza’s Characterization of Gorgias

A few things to which we might want to pay attention:

  • Jarratt’s “lumping together of Plato and Aristotle” (xvi-xviii, xxii, big swipe at Aristotle–but is it fair? 47, 64)
  • Jarratt defining rhetoric/sophistry (14, 25, 64, 77) (on the diff between rhet and phil 3, 10*, 22*)
  • Jarratt on the relation between deconstruction, sophistry, and feminism (xxiii, 65–see below, 67-69 feminism and agonism)
  • Jarratt on why sophistry isn’t “today’s liberal, consensus-based politics” (in anticipation of Vitanza) (vviv)
  • What I call Jarratt’s “invested reading” (10, 25, characterization of Protogoras 50)
  • What does Jarratt mean by “antithesis” and “parataxis”? (20-21, 28)
  • Jarratt’s critique of Ong (31-36)
  • Jarratt’s explication of nomos (etymology 41, def 41-42, not “custom” 51, 60, 74)
  • Jarratt’s explication of Gorgias, logos, and apate (54-56*)

Thanks to Stephanie, let me suggest that there is a critical difference between these two analogies:

  • Plato:sophists::Partriarchy:feminists
  • Platonism:sophistry::Patriarchy:feminism

While we might problematize Jarratt’s equating feminism and sophistry, I want to suggest that she is working from the second of these anaologies, and that she is asking a question: why did Platonism fear sophistry? Why does it consider it so dangerous? And, if Platonism did consider sophistry so dangerous, and if one accepts Platonism as phallologocentric (and, as such, the underlying foundation for patriarchy), then we should mine sophistry for ideas and tools that so frightened Platonism.

Why does Jarratt see Gorgias’s idea of logos as central to dismantling the Platonic / Aristotlian rhetoric she articulates?

Vitanza’s Reading of Jarratt / Gorgias

I want to address Vitanza by first turning to the work of D. Diane Davis.

I hope our discussion of Jarratt and Vitanza highlights the Question of negative essentializing and terminology. This is a central question initiated by postmodernism, one that troubles identity politics. My own response to this, shaped by my reading of Levinas and the inevitability of violence, would be to say that the Question doesn’t have to have a right answer, but we need to be aware that every answer is wrong. Jarratt offers us something similar (pg. 69). Vitanza would have us work to construct a world without violence. Jarratt, Levinas, and myself would like to live in a world without violence, but don’t believe such an Ideal is realizable. Vitanza would argue that our skepticism only ensures the (re)cycle of violence.

And I think this is a nice transition into our reading in Latour next week, particularly the passages from Politics of Nature (and I need to prep this a bit).

Zizek, Sloterdjik, Diogenes, Cynicism, and Kynicism

This morning, while in the midst of preparing for class, I checked facebook. And on the facebook I came across an interview with Slavoj Zizek. I want to visit this text tonight as a way of introducing another set of ideas, another way of inhabiting nomos–one that doesn’t necessarily work toward paideia, but one that shares a skepticism toward Idealism (whether the Idealism of Plato or Vitanza). I call this approach to rhetoric kynicism, drawing on Sloterdjik’s deployment of the term, thought I seek to take it to a different place. Sloterdjik’s notion sounds very close to the kind of Gorgian laughter that Vitanza seeks to evoke, a laughter that attempts to shatter closed systems and polished truths. I’m more interested in kynicism in terms of everyday action, movement, smiles, and chuckles.

I am interested in this piece by Zizek, and by Sloterdjik’s recent work (You Must Change Your Life) precisely because they challenge my perspective (that small, daily changes can have larger impacts). They would argue that I have been tricked into believing in personal accountability! The first Socratic trap! Rather, they argue that the Socratic/Modern/Neoliberal emphasis on personal responsibility is itself a deflection away from social commitment.


Read McComiskey, introduction and chapters 1 and 2 (all the material dealing with Plato). Read Latour, re-read the chapters from Pandora’s Hope and selections from chapter one and chapter four of Politics of Nature.

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