Laurie Gries – “Practicing Methods in Ancient Cultural Rhetorics: Uncovering Rhetorical Action in Moche Burial Rituals” in Rhetorics of the Americas 3114 BCE to 2012 CE

  • G. claims that studying cultures on their own terms is the future of ancient non-Western rhetorical historiography.  In this piece she will demonstrate what that looks like.
  • The use of symbols inscribed on material artifiacts will be the main means of meeting Pre-Columbian cultures on their own terms as no verbal artifacts are extant from those cultures (90).
  • The power dynamics present when researching ancient/Other cultures are complex as archaeology and history have also long been imbricated in the process of Occidentalizing non-Western cultures.
  • In order to study the ancient nonverbal rhetorical practices of cultures like the Moche Gries advocates that we “listen to the embodied discourse in the ancient practices themselves to uncover the rhetorical actions of those very practices” (91).  This means paying close attention to the metalanguage of visual symbols to uncover rhetorical actions.
  • To do this project Gries “describe[s] the symbolic construction of the burial chambers evident in the intentional placement of certain artifacts such as human bodies, earthenware, and gold and silver ornaments” (91).  She then unpacks this (relying heavily on an interpretation by art historian Steve Bourget) to reveal how the Moche burial rituals were “employed to transmit ideological values of the ruling class and maintain the prevailing sociopolitical paradigm.”
  • Gries invokes Latour here, arguing that she will not map onto the Moche her own metalanguage of analysis; rather, she’ll utilize an infra-language that will help to reveal the actor’s own fully developed metalanguage (92).
  • Gries aims to not assign rhetorical meaning to the burial practices; rather, she hopes to provide a rich description of the tombs to shed light on the rhetorical genres of the Moche.


1.       How do “rhetorical meanings” and “rhetorical genres” differ in this piece?  Can you have a genre without meaning?  Gries notes that she is developing a methodology of restraint that “attempts to work within the confines of a genre that has not yet revealed to us its precise rhetorical purpose but clearly has rhetorical actions” (98).  Does this answer my initial question?  What does this do to our traditional/conventional/disciplinary understanding of genre? (what discipline?!?)

2.       Gries notes that “Through refrain, we honor; through listening to rather than speaking for, we let go of that part of ourselves that must explain.  Through restraint, we embrace only those actions of which we can be certain” (93).  How successful do we see Gries’ work in this regard?

3.       How effective is Gries’ use of Latour and Spinuzzi (the ANT theorist extraordinaire and technical communication ANT/AT theorist) in this article?

4.       There are so many levels of history-making going on in this article.  Gries notes that her own work depends on the archeological work of the folks that came before her.  She notes that the museum created to showcase the burial practices of the Moche reconstructs the “dig” and unearths the pieces in a narrative that museum goers move through – a reconstructive narrative that “makes it glaringly clear that the original burial chambers were constructed with deliberate intentions to achieve specific social actions” (101).  Is this problematic?  While the method developed by Gries is trying to treat these rhetorical artifacts of genres without predetermined meaning, what of the role archeologists and historians in this process?  Is this something we can even ever get around? (Gries hedges here noting that “the symbolic meaning attached to the deliberate mortuary rituals of the royal tombs described in the following text can never be fixed with any certainty) (101).

Leave a Reply