Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Slouching toward the big wheel

If JB can admit it, so can I: haven't quite finished Toward a Civil Discourse, hence my lack of blogging on the topic. But I'd like to at least feel as though I'm throwing a ring or something, so here are a few initial responses.

First, I want to say that I really appreciate the project that I understand Crowley setting up for herself: to see if stasis is possible for political liberals and conservative Christians. If stasis is possible, Crowley suggests early on, it must come not from the Enlightenment mode of argumentation that places total faith in rationality (and that faith in rationality leads her to also suggest that liberalism is also a kind of fundamentalism--see p. 14--so I think my reading might be slightly different Bill's item #1, though I could also be misreading Bill's point), but from rhetorical argumentation, which offers a broader range of appeals. This distinction between liberal "rational" argumentation and rhetorical argumentation is itself an important and timely intervention in the current climate. (See my previous musings on argument hope.)

So, although I haven't gotten far into Crowley's argument, I'm curious to see if she is free of argument hope or is reinscribing it. Or if I'll be convinced that I've been too hard on the idea of argument hope. Maybe, as Collin suggests (I think he suggests), we need argument hope in order to be in this business at all.

I'm interested, in particular, to see the use Crowley makes of Mouffe. I used to be a kind of Mouffe junky: I thought Mouffe had the great answer for rhetoric in the way that I now tend to think Massumi does. (And I'm sure I'll move on yet again. That's what we do. We move.) I used to think her ideas about agonistic discourse were exactly what we needed to be teaching in our classes. But now I'm sceptical of the very notion of hegemony if indeed hegemonic is somehow separate from or analytically privileged over affect.

Jenny's most recent post on affinity gets at my own scepticism about hegemony: am I really fully over on the side of "liberal" if I have what she calls a "sliver" of fundamentalism in my skin:

There is not a bigger skeptic than me, a girl who renounced the church and became a Jew (and loves reform Judaism for its own skepticism). And yet. Did I lose affinity with fundamentalist Christian beliefs or logics? On one hand, YES! But in another way, I’m bound to it through the habitual experience I lived for my first 15 years. (Crowley talks a lot about habitus.)

This isn’t to say that I still revert to fundamentalist logics or vocabularies. Rather, for me, it’s more like a tiny sliver of glass that my skin has been forced to grow around. My later processes of learning and rhetoricizing have also had to grow a hard callous around that sliver. That makes my later vocabularies (or lenses) uniquely scarred in a particular way. Insofar as my own body has had to develop with and against that habitual experience, I’m not really less viscerally identified with that belief system. Am I? Perhaps it’s more of an expansion than a matter of lessening/loosening affinities. . . at least for some folks.

Exactly. Like Jenny, rhetoric has been for me an incredible force of movement away from the good/bad-right/wrong discourse of my youth. Yet that habit continues to be a worn path my bodymind wants to go down, as I've recently talked a bit about in another blog entry.

So I'll continue to think about these things as I continue to read and continue to participate in this carnival of ours.

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