Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What We Heard from Cheryl Glenn Last Night

My 17-year-old daughter joined me and several faculty members and graduate students last night on the TCU campus to hear Cheryl Glenn. At Penn State now, Glenn is the Liberal Arts Research Professor of English and Women's Studies and Co-director of the Center for Democratic Deliberation. Her interests (posted publicly on her department web page) include "rhetorical histories and theories, composition theory and practice, feminist and gender theories, and medieval and Renaissance literatures." She entitled her talk "When Rhetoric and Feminism Work Together: The Possibilities."

On one hand, what Glenn said is very specific to the concerns of academics in a narrow, fairly marginalized scholarly field called "rhetoric." On the other hand, a high school junior (my daughter) found it to be relevant and important to her own interests. (She now insists that we should go tonight to hear Karen Armstrong speaking on campus).

Glenn wove together in her talk (and has been knitting together in her own rigorous work) four Parts:  I. Where are the women? II. Silence and Silencing III. Feminist rhetorical possibilities (We stream / into the unfinished / the unbegun / the possible -- Adrienne Rich). IV. Toward a transformed inclusionary rhetoric (What's a realistic fantasy?--call it hope -- Adrienne Rich).

Glenn used the opportunity of hearing our questions and replying to encourage more work. As her fourth part suggests, she's been working recently toward a rhetoric that is transformed, inclusionary of both women and men marginalized and silenced and subaltern. She talked of work done and being done with ethnographies and in identity studies, within our own academy and well beyond.

She concedes (in answer to my question) that moving "toward" a "transformed" "formulation" of a rhetoric is not only "new rhetoric" but is also a recovery of feminist rhetorics that are not new at all. She confesses that she finds many things of importance in, of all places, Quintilian's Book XII of Institutio Oratoria. (Why him after Aristotle, I wonder to myself? And have started brushing up on my Latin to hear what I've missed). She tells me that in my work "the F-word" is always going to be a challenge.

Glenn (to my delight) reveals that her own M.A. is in linguistics (as mine is)! I felt like I had gone back home for the evening. It's been months since I sat and talked face to face with literary scholars and rhetoricians (some of whom are linguists and feminists).

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