Final (for now) thoughts on Crowley's Toward a Civil Discourse

A few more thoughts on Sharon Crowley's Toward a Civil Discourse:

1. This is an important text, if only for the reason that Stanley Fish is right. Rhetoricians NEED to engage in what is an ontological and epistemological battle (although I believe that the two sides that Crowley describes--the fundamentialist and the liberal--see this as two different battles. For the liberals it is always epistemological, and for fundamentalists, it's ontological). I appreciate what Dr. Crowley is opening herself up to in writing this.

2. In some ways, I think of this book in the same way I read and understand Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead. It reads a little like a fin-de-siecle border drama, a lot like a Jeremiad, with a type of mystical gesture towards hope. The inexorable march northward in Silko's text (a march of prophesy) is parallelled by Sharon's gesture towards invention that might bring two warring factions closer (an enraged fundamentalism and a reluctant liberalism).

3. In her latest post, Dr. Edbauer notices the difficulty of formulating this debate as one that might revolve the idea of the irredemable. I'm extremely hesitant to call it that because of #4.

4. One thing that struck me about Dr. Crowley's book was the threat that is sketched out in her narrative. She is correct in looking at the Apocalyptic nature of fundamentalist Christian rhetoric and the importance of delineating clear inside/outside binaries based mostly upon patriarchal structures (patriarchal structures maintained semiotically with pulpits, diases, and "big bibles" held aloft during long and stylized sermons. Structures maintained discursively with distorted Biblical emphases on direct descent [a bizarre Gentile practice when perceived outside of its patriarchal function], fetus-centrism, and "Old Testament" justice). What she misses in her threading together of the Left Behind narratives and a solid historicizing of the Apocalyptist movements is the syncretism of the congregations. When I attended the churches and bible-studies that popularized the texts that Dr. Crowley studies, most of my fellow attendees didn't actually live most of what they publicly attested to. It was a sort of salmon faith. Most of the folks I went there with wanted to swim with a particular school of fish, direct their feelings towards some sort of larger and coherent goal (getting to heaven), and maybe eventually return towards the spawning ground of actually living their faith when they, well, spawn. I was one of the few kids in these groups that took it seriously (the thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning was more of an indictment of my boring Saturday nights than an indication that I went to church hung over). Did this sort of "preacher-kid syndrome" mean that my pentacostal/patriarchal/fundamentalist peeps didn't believe in this stuff. Kind of. We were embarassed by a lot of what Dr. Crowley delineates. There were even more bizarre parasites like exorcism call-in shows (the main guy, Bob Larsen, has had a re-surgence lately). We all pretty much rolled our eyes, but were too polite to confront our elders, who seemed pretty bewildered at modernity in general. We just sort of absorbed these beliefs and maintained pretty normal kid behavior. While there is a mental split between professing and living, it isn't all that unusual in nearly any belief system. My now-discarded fundamentalism has proven exceedingly useful when teaching freshman composition and rhetoric. Profess ideals and practice the real.

5. I especially agree with Jeff Rice's assertion that turning the fundamentalist rhetoric against itself seems a bit weak. I think that the strength of fundamentalist rhetoric is something that liberal rhetoric can appropriate successfully--that is, take language theorists seriously when using language. Meaning-making consists of both grouping and differentiation (differance). Fundamentalists can be deconstructed, but that misses the point of rhetoricians needing to craft appeals that reconfigure the "us" upon important differences. Yes, people will differentiate themselves, but take some sort of stand (and I think Crowley's book is doing this). Take Gerald Graff's "Teach the Conflict" approach one step farther. Get in there and believe in something. The writers of America's founding documents knew that Liberal Rhetoric could shape a country. They also knew that it could help keep us from killing one another. Our job isn't just one of co-optation of scary foundations (and, yes, Berube's antifoundational approach is itself a type of foundation that he defends more than adequately). A rhetor's job includes contending with and believing in all sorts of slippery and scary things like arete, phronesis, and even, gulp, agape.

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