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The Conceit of Context

Resituating Domains in Rhetorical Studies


Edited By Charles E. Morris III and Kendall R. Phillips

This edited volume features essays derived from presentations delivered at the 15th Biennial Public Address Conference held at Syracuse University in October 2016, as well as additional material. The Conceit of Context explores the often invoked—indeed a central term in the history of rhetorical studies—but less often engaged concept of context. In this volume, we center the notion of context as the site of engagement, critique, and imagination, seeking to deepen the critical and political promise of context in the study of public discourse.

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5 Fragments of Winter, 2015: Fragmentation, Popular Culture, and Making a Murderer (Isaac West)


Isaac West

In “McGee Unplugged,” John Lucaites paints an intimate portrait of Michael McGee’s living room to place McGee’s corpus of thought in a breathing body, one that engaged in many late-night discussions there with coffee in hand and cats on his lap as he debated the issues of the day against the sounds of carefully curated musical selections. For McGee, music was not background noise—it was integral to the exchange of ideas. On Lucaites’s telling, “to appreciate the vitality and situatedness of these conversations with McGee, one has to hear them, in part at least, against the background” of his eclectic compilations on cassette tapes.1 Music helped set the mood, of course, but no doubt the ears of the rhetoricians in the room heard also the melodic poetics of these songs as they worked through the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments. The chance encounter of an ongoing conversation coinciding with a fitting lyric or the abrupt transitions forced by the need to flip over a tape had to have informed these dialectical contests, maybe only in the most indirect and subtle of ways, and this scene of songs paired contingently with transitory arguments reminds us McGee never abandoned the text as much as he wanted us to account for a text’s shifting meanings and purposes as it accompanies us through space and time. Appropriately enough, then, McGee’s ephemeral mixed-media salons are conversations that exist now only in fragmented form in essays, lectures, and...

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