Welcome, carnival-goers! Hold onto your funnel cakes: I want to begin my response to Sharon Crowley's book by citing another response to the book, this from the "Accuracy in America" group's Campus Report Online, whose mission it is to "document and publicize political bias in education." It's probably no surprise that the folks at AIA, where the name, like Fox's slogan "Fair and Balanced," perhaps protests too much, nabbed Crowley's book before it was published. Which is to say that the person documenting and publicizing Crowley's work has really only read the blurb included on the back cover (and hence on Amazon) and has, shall we say, contorted Crowley's points beyond recognition. Consider what the article, which may be found here, says of Toward:
Fundamentally Muddled Rhetoric, Animal Ethics and other Stuff
by: Malcolm A. Kline, December 07, 2005
If Toward a Civil Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism by Arizona State University English professor Sharon Crowley is academia’s latest attempt to understand Red State voters, the Ivory Tower has a long way to go. “Crowley asserts that rhetorical invention (which includes appeals to values and the passions) is superior in some cases to liberal argument (which often limits its appeals to empirical fact and reasoning) in mediating disagreements where participants are primarily motivated by a moral or passionate commitment to beliefs,” according to the book’s publisher—the University of Pittsburgh Press.
Are these the same empirical, factual and reasoned liberal arguments that conclude that tax cuts hurt the poor despite a multitude of economic data that shows otherwise?
Okay, carnivalers, settle down.
I begin with this excerpt because I want to bring to the fore certain "moments" or "positions" (both terms are defined by Crowley on p. 60) in order to try to simulate the difficulty of the task Crowley set for herself (and by extension for us): the difficulty, that is, of the book's urge to move "toward a civil discourse"--i.o.w, the impulse to engage with apocalyptism or fundamentalism at all.
The CRO excerpt really does, in a most stark way, prove some of Crowley's major points. Apparently in this case, the mere phrase "liberal argument" has prevented Kline from reflecting at all on what the blurb's sentence might mean--that Crowley is trying to take seriously the forces that would prevent someone from engaging a certain stripe of argument (or a sentence)--thereby yielding such an at-first-glance dismissal. And the excerpt works in the other direction equally well: if reading Kline's last line caused the outrage for you that it caused for me, perhaps that also suggests that affect cuts across all manner of convictions--even a faith in statistics and a certain interpretation of those statistics.
Crowley has a strong sense that emotion is too cognitive a way to formulate appeals, given some arguments' capacity to cut right to the viscera. This is likely why Crowley uses the term affect instead of emotion (esp. in chapter 3): affect allows for the cut-to-the-gut force of belief and conviction that this book regards as so crucial for understanding contemporary rhetorical practice.
In addition to Crowley's elaboration of affect as appealable (ch 3), the chapters on apocalypticism (4 and 6) are compelling to me, insofar as they set up one of the book's most surprising claims: "that academic and scientific skepticisms may in fact accelerate the spread of fundamentalisms, may be one reason that apocalyptic beliefs of all kinds are embraced by more and more Americans" (169).
We can see small bits of evidence that the antagonistic relation between academic criticism and critics of academia is doing nothing but strengthening the conviction (and perhaps spread) of the latter. In the AIA/CRO report excerpted above, the strategies of dismissal (as terribly weak as they might seem to our belief, values, and knowledge making habits) are used to effectively reinforce existing convictions; a wave of the hand meets the already-knowing nod of the head, working to further sediment resolve.
I have more to say on this score and am especially interested in what directions Crowley's book might (tacitly) suggest for subfields like science studies and for emerging work on bodily rhetoric (Donna, I'm betting you have something to say on this score--looking forward to that), and even, yes, pedagogy, for which the theories of invention presented early on (ch 2) hold interesting implications.