Saturday, September 10, 2005

"We Are Coming" - Logan (1999)

In 691 (Method~ologies) this week we're considering historical methods and reading for such methods specifically through the Shirley Wilson Logan's work in "We Are Coming": The Persuasive Discourse of Nineteenth-Century Black Women.  In the preface, Logan speaks briefly to her method: "Since rhetorical analysis requires an understanding of the formal features of a text in conjunction with its historical context, I consider pertinent historical details--biographical, social, political and cultural.  Moving from the historical, I address various characteristics of a chosen text in the light of these details.  The selection of characteristics is informed by classical rhetoric and its twentieth-century reconstructions.  My hope is that these discussions might also add to a clearer understanding of nineteenth-century culture and of the ways in which the persuasive discourse of nineteenth-century black women adapted itself to its multiple audiences and multilayered exigencies" (xvi).  As well as any passage I could locate, these few sentences give a fairly complete, succinct overview of the project.

Although the historical span in question runs from 1832-1900, many of the samples of persuasive discourse--often performed speeches--tip toward the tail end of this period, 1880-1900.  Logan's reading is admittedly pastiche-like, working from sometimes-fragmentary sources in search of patterns that, when understood in the context of other histories, might be regarded as evidence of heretofore unhistoricized rhetorical activity concerned with abolition, women's rights, antilynching and racial uplift (which, in c. 7, splits out to roles rel. to home, church and work).  The restorative aspect of this work is compelling and important, but in some places I found it hard to work through the accumulating referential details. For instance, this paragraphs opens into the final section the concluding chapter:

The persuasive discourse on women's racial uplift work and the uplift of women's work in this last section comes out of the Hampton Negro Conferences of 1898 and 1899 and out of a Hampton publication.  The Hampton, Virginia, conferences, first held in 1897, were presided over by Hollis Burke Frissell, principal of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute from 1893 to 1917.  Victoria Earle Matthews's address, "Some of the Dangers Confronting Southern Girls in the North," was delivered at the second summer conference, July 20-22, 1898.  "Colored Women as Wage-Earners," an article by Anna J. Cooper, appeared in the August 1899 Southern Workman and Hampton School Record.  Lucy Laney's speech, "The Burden of the Educated Colored Woman," was delivered at the Third Hampton Conference in July 1899. (172)

It would be off-base for me to suggest that this paragraph is broadly representative of Logan's prose.  I include in these notes because it's especially representative of the referential bog so problematic in some historical projects.  Are all these details relevant?  Possibly.  But this case seems more appropriate to a footnote.  These are the questions writing researchers confront, yes?  Yet the hyper-referential sneaks in periodically, extra-loaded passages so chock full of references that they might be better suited to a database than a paragraph.

It's never explicit why Logan prefers to prop up the speech-events or persuasive acts on these New Rhetorical structures.  A pattern emerges in chapters 2-6 of introducing a figure (Maria Stewart, Frances Harper, Ida B. Wells, etc.) and a sampling of that figure's notable speech-events.  Each historical figure and act/event, however, is accompanied by a kind of rationalization, as in this is rhetorical. Logan points out the correspondences, "informed by classical rhetoric and its twentieth-century reconstruction."  It's clear enough that this is happening, but I continued to wonder why it was necessary.  Sure, these are gestures to well-known figures and tropes, but to what extent are such gestures vital in this kind of historical project?

To illustrate, here (roughly) are the classical/New Rhetorical tactics and figures invoked in each of the chapters:

2. Africa Origins/American Appropriations: Maria Stewart and "Ethiopia Rising"
Tactics/figures attributed: Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's figures of choice, presence and communion (23, 34) and apostrophe/allusion (38)

3. "We Are All Bound Up Together": Frances Harper's Converging Communities of Interest
Tactics/figures attributed: Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's association and dissociation among communities of interest (47)

4. "Out of Their Own Mouths": Ida Wells and the Presence of Lynching
Tactics/figures attributed: Cicero, "ocular demonstration" (intensifying descriptions) and Quintillian, Enaergeia (72); Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca rel. to several other schemes: amplification, onomatopoeia, synonymy, interpretatio, enallage, anaphora (74); analogy (81)

5. "Women of a Common Country, with Common Interests": Fannie Barrier Williams, Anna Julia Cooper, Identification and Arrangement
Tactics/figures attributed: Burke's identification and division (99, 107, 111);  Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's arrangement and order or sequencing (117, 121) and presence (123)

6. "To Embalm Her Memory in Song and Story": Victoria Earle Matthews and Situated Sisterhood
Tactics/figures attributed: Dyson's public intellectual (127); Bitzer and Miller on rhetorical context and exigence (129, 145); public intellectual, Bitzer and Miller (129, 145); Nancy Fraser's counterpublics (150); and Aristotle's forensic and deliberative rhetorics (135, also epideictic on 119 and elsewhere)

I hope that presenting the tactics and figures in this selective way doesn't appear as a slight against Logan's work.  This is admittedly but one strand of marginalia and things not(ic)ed from my reading, and I've traced it for thinking more carefully about the (perhaps false) notion of any method's transparency/ubiquity in a given text.  Maybe I could begin to account for my uneasiness with the gestures to more canonical rhetoric by noting the related terms that seem only subtly present (esp. in comparison to Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca references), e.g. nommo (life seed or life force, rhetoric as organic) (24), "verbal magic" (74), the conditions giving rise to nadir (71), and race literature (135). Ultimately, this set of terms--more than the classical/New Rhetorical references--moves me to consider the significance of this project as something more than recovery work or recuperative history.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at September 10, 2005 10:30 PM to Reading Notes

Now, I have not read Logan's book in awhile, but from your description, and my memory, it seems as if she is not only doing a recovery project for African American Rhetors, but that she is continuing an on-going recovery project of rhetoric . . . one that started about mid-century and had been under attack by several minorities as ethnocentric in the latter part of the century. Connecting the speeches of these women in their "event" with all the painstaking detail is important to Perelman and his notion of context and audience, so that is why the details (at least for me) were very important. But they also show how rhetoric is created by and from specific social situations, not just from the rhetor themselves.

In re-reading your notes, it seems to me as if the disciplinarily and identity of rhetoric (as well as women rhetors) is what is being shored up in her work as well, (I never looked at this text that way before) and it becomes a more interesting text in certain ways that way.

But again, I could be blowing smoke, and my theory may be disproved fairly easily by those with a fresher read on the text than mine : ). Good post though, got me thinking about my exam stuff. Thanks.

Posted by: jenwingard at September 11, 2005 10:08 AM

I don't think you're blowing smoke at all, Jen. You're right that we can read Logan's work for African American history and rhetorics, feminist history and rhetorics, or a more general contribution to a history of rhetoric--even, perhaps, all three. The references to established rhetorical figured/terms/tactics is, in itself, a kind of strategy. I don't object to it as much as question the move--a move that runs the risk of suggesting Perelman, Olbrechts-Tyteca, Burke, Bitzer and Miller are necessary for making rhetorical sense of (or even officializing) these scenes and events. Still, I want to raise the question as it relates to historical methodology rather than subit it as a critique of Logan's work. For me, it's a what if: What if nommo or verbal magic were the chief rhetorical operators for understanding these scenes/events (situated as they admittedly are)? I'd like to think it'd be just as significant of a contribution to the history of rhetoric in such a case (elbow me for being naive?).

Posted by: Derek at September 11, 2005 10:53 AM