Keynote Abstracts

Debra Hawhee: Sensory Rhetorics

This keynote lecture will focus on the advantages and challenges of attending to sensation in studies of rhetoric, particularly in historical and theoretical work. Hawhee will present findings and methods from her recent book, which follows nonhuman animals through western treatises on rhetorical theory and also look toward a new project on “the colors of rhetoric.” The talk will build a case for sensation, feeling, and emotion as generative framing for what is often called non-rational or anti-rational rhetoric. Such framing, Hawhee argues, will allow sensory rhetoric to come into its own.

Celeste M. Condit: Making Angry Public Rhetorics Work Better for a Global “Us”

Anger is a social emotion with a crucial primary function of regulating resource distribution and human relations on a normative basis. As a bio-symbolic phenomenon, angry public rhetoric integrates the embodied proclivities of anger with the underlying structural forms of language in problematic ways, especially where identities are not shared. Specifically, the proclivities toward excessive optimism, certainty, and stereotypical thinking that are encouraged by the biological activations involved in what we call anger tend to amplify the binarism and the essentializing absolutism foundational to language. Regardless of a public rhetors’ ideology and positionality, the combination produces a typical dramatistic script for anger that includes demonization of others, distortion of both harms and norms, violently imagined action agendas, and even undesirable constitution of the in-group. This description was culled via a transductive process from multi-disciplinary literatures on anger and a close rhetorical analysis of the 9/11-related rhetorics of Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush, and Susan Sontag. The analysis, however, offers more general recommendations for those who would seek the enactment of resource distributions and human relations based on norms such as justice and care.

James Phelan: (Non)Fictionality, Functionality, and Salience: Or, Affect, Ethics, and Huntington’s Disease

This paper builds on previous work in a rhetorical approach to fictionality  to explore the consequences of one of its key findings.  There is considerable cross-border traffic between fictional and nonfictional discourse, as rhetors of global nonfictions turn to fictionality to enhance the affective and ethical force of their communications, and rhetors of global fictions turn to nonfictionality for the same reasons.  Focusing on two global fictions that rely on nonfictional treatments of Huntington’s disease, Lisa Genova’s Inside the O’Briens and Ian McEwan’s Saturday, I introduce a distinction between the status of a representation (fictional or nonfictional) and its functions as a first step toward understanding the effects of cross-border traffic in these fictions. For the second step, I propose the concept of salience, by which I mean the relative importance of an element’s functions within the larger rhetorical purposes of the communication.  I take these two steps in order to show (1) the significant differences between the functionality and salience of Huntington’s disease in the two novels; and (2) how attention to that functionality and salience can help assess the affective, ethical, and aesthetic dimensions of controversial scenes in each novel.  More generally, then, the paper makes a case for, well, the salience of these concepts in understanding the nexus of (non)fictionality, affect, and ethics in rhetorical communication.