Biesecker, Barbara. “Coming to Terms with Recent Attempts to Write Women into the History of Rhetoric.” Philosophy & Rhetoric, Vol. 25, No. 2 (1992).

  • begins by highlighting how “female tokenism” is the risk of feminist revisionist historiography, noting that offering the power of men (and legitimation of a historical tradition) to a few under the guise of it being offered to all is the problem.
  • balances the desire to elude tokenism with indifference and stagnation. Arguing that any inclusion of women in the rhetorical tradition is itself a destabilization of the female subject, B. end up arguing for a “yes” and “no” approach to considering the appropriateness of feminist revisionist historiography (142).
  • argues against the “affirmative action” approach to inclusion of female histories of rhetoric because it begs the center to affirm certain voices and discount others. This means that the criteria that the center establishes hasn’t changed; rather, just a few get the cultural authorization of canonical legitimacy (143).
  • notes that the elevation of singular individual subjectivity in the history of rhetoric (including some women speakers) is an exclusion of other rhetorical actions of the collective . . . which also happens to be the most common organizational form for women’s rhetoric (144).
  • argues that, as feminists, to truly get beyond the patriarchal model of rhetoric that organizes around the subject, they must take seriously post-structuralist objections to subjectivity that problematize the entire notion of the unified subject (147).
  • argues that appropriating certain aspects of post-structuralism allows for a new definition of techne that gets around the active/passive opposition inherent in individual-centric notions of subjectivity altogether.
  • turns to Derridean difference as her first uptake of an alternative subject. This is a subjectivity defined by it’s always differing from itself-ness. As an ever in process subject, this is a negative definition . . . but one whose essence is constantly shifting (148).
  • next turns to Spivak to recognize that the “I” is actually a historical articulation, constituted by a bewildering, pluralized weave of discourses and events (148).
  • Recognizing these two readings of the subject (1: subject=not self-ness; and 2: subject=historical articulation), B. argues that the focus shifts from who is speaking to “what play of forces made it possible for a particular speaking subject to emerge?” (148).
  • This turn is, according to B., a turn to Foucaultian subjectivity as found in The Archaeology of Knowledge. Here the subject=discursive formation (149). For Foucault, the identity of the subject is defined by one’s relations, be they social, political, cultural, economic, etc. These relations are provisional, discontinuous, shifting, and powerful/normative.
  • locates the difference between Foucault and Derrida thusly: for D., final identity is constantly deferred because of the ever-shifting limits of the subject. For F., final identity is the product of microinstances of disciplinary power and localized rules that insure the further reproduction of particular kinds of subjectivity. D. is rooted in language and the infinite play of signs; F. is rooted in the function of power materially (149).
  • points out that in F.’s account of the articulation of the subject, there’s little room for a way of thinking human agency that makes much sense (151). This means that resistance and revolution seem like very distant possibilities, indeed.
  • notes that the idea of subjectivity as historical articulation is useful inasmuch as the gaps/fissures and slippages of the “nonidentical I” could provide the topoi for resistance (152) . . . but she doesn’t buy it. Instead, B. argues that Foucault’s theory of subject-in-power is useful; however, his uptake of the possibility of social change is weak. To make it stronger, she turns back to Derrida.
  • asks: What if we were to turn Foucault back to Derrida, asking him to acknowledge Derrida’s position that “the subject is always centered is nonetheless outstripped by a temporality and a spacing that always already exceeds it” (154).
  • According to B., “spacing” is “that which inaugurates the constitution of time and space” (154).
  • To theorize resistance, B. turns not to practice, but “a force or structure of breaching in practice” that allows for transformational change. In techne she finds just such a force (155). As she notes: “by scrupulously working within and against thegrain of the word’s historically constituted semantic field, techne can be used to refer to a kind of “getting through” or ad hoc “making do” by a subject whose resources are necessarily located in and circumscribed by the field within which she operates, but whose enunciation, in always and already exceeding and falling short of its intending subject, harbors within it the possibility of disrupting, fragmenting, and altering the horizon of human action out of which it emerges” (155).
  • According to B., “my own use of techne seeks to mark out a structure of possibility in action that never entered the space and temporality of the intending consciousness upon which its own legibility depends” (156).
  • What is techne for Biesecker? It “signifies a bringing-about in the doing-of on the part of an agent that does not necessarily take herself to be anything like a subject of historical or, as in the above instance, cultural change (156).
  • has done the work of rearticulating techne so that feminist historiographers or rhetoric can look to the “plurality of practices that constitute the everyday” to understand social transformation (157).
  • B.’s reimagining of techne is, ostensibly, a removal of techne from intention. In this sense, intervention vis-a-vis techne certainly isn’t teachable or even anticipatable — the subject and it’s intentions are not necessarily consciously related.

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