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A long, long time ago, I can’t remember when…

I had a class with a professor named John Stephen Nelson. He was my mentor in graduate school. One of John’s colleagues at the University of Iowa, Lane Davis, made some comments in class one day about John’s qualities as a political theorist. Lane ended by saying, “And boy, is he competent.”

Lane prized competence, so that was high praise.

John founded an interdisciplinary program at the University of Iowa called Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry (POROI). It had many of the strengths and some of the weaknesses of academic interdisciplinary programs. I’d better not go into these here. Rather, I wanted to make a few comments about why my work with John in rhetoric of political inquiry comes to mind in connection with this book title Infamy.

This could be a long hard haul, though. First I’d want to explain what John meant by rhetoric. Then I’d want to explain what he meant by rhetoric of inquiry. Lastly I’d want to tie these concepts to the subject matter, the point of view, and the thesis of Infamy.

Let’s see if you can force yourself to write short definitions or statements in lieu of your often longish explanations.

What is rhetoric? Rhetoric studies the motion of interplanetary bodies in the cryosphere. You’re funnin’ me, ain’t ya Tom? Surely I am, Huck. Surely I am.

What is rhetoric, then? The study of rhetoric aims to clarify how people use language to persuade. As such, it encompasses – or touches on – logic, evidence, emotion, argumentation, propaganda, analysis, motivation, reason and unreason: all the arts of persuasion people have developed since at least the Greeks. Rhetoric does not refer merely to fine talk: what we mean when we say, “That’s just rhetoric.”

Based on this broad definition of rhetoric, what does rhetoric of inquiry mean?

After we define rhetoric of inquiry, we want to consider why this realm of thought is relevant to Infamy‘s subject matter.

Our agenda for the next post is now set!

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