Vitanza's big rhetoric and "some more"

Iternation has an interview with Victor Vitanza where he discusses the idea of "big rhetoric" (see below). Big rhetoric is a concept that has been around for a few decades. It remarks on the move by which all forms of symbolic communication come to be seen as rhetorical. It is arguably part of the larger "linguistic turn" of postmodernity and is juxtaposed to a narrower, more traditionally disciplinary rhetoric that might focus upon public address. 

Vitanza goes an interesting direction with this though in referencing George Kennedy's "A Hoot in the Dark: The Evolution of General Rhetoric," which looks beyond symbolic behaviors to animals (and even plants) to speculate on nonsymbolic, nonhuman rhetoric. Kennedy's point is that rhetoric is connected to communication and necessariy precedes symoblic behaviors since it is clear that animals communicate without a symbolic language. For me, Kennedy's most interesting thesis is one he says the least about: "Rhetoric is prior to intentionality or to any belief

on the part of a speaker about the meaning of a sign or its effect
on others." In my own work, I separate rhetoric from communication in following Deleuze and Guattari's argument that "Language is neither informational nor communica-tional. It is not the communication of information but something quite different: the transmission of order-words, either from one statement to another or within each statement, insofar as each statement accomplishes an act and the act is accomplished in the statement" (ATP, 79). This connects with their concept of incorporeal transformations. However, I take this further than Deleuze and Guattari do here to think about rhetoric in terms of expressions that cannot enact incorporeal transformations without recourse to language; expressions that are autonomous and auto-objective, or, as Kennedy puts it here, "prior to intentionality or to any belief on the part of the speaker." The bird's song expresses itself prior to expressing some bird's intentionality. As Vitanza puts it in responding to a question about the future of rhetoric, rhetoric is going wherever it wants, that it does not know where it is going, that it is just "rhetoricking." This is what Deleuze and Guattari would mean by autonomous as well, not "free-willed," but subject to its own internal goverance and laws, laws which are never fully knowlable by the self.


Big Ideas: Victor Vitanza with Jimmy Butts from Itineration on Vimeo.

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