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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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24 Three Seeds (E. Johanna Hartelius)


E. Johanna Hartelius

I am a terrible gardener. Because I live in a house, and because the house is surrounded by vegetation, some periodic gardening is required of me. But more often than not, the experience brings primarily frustration. I suspect it is because my ideal interaction with a garden would go like this: You clean up the weeds until everything is perfectly neat; you plant pretty flowers or tasty veggies; and then everything remains just so. Indefinitely. Unmoved. But that’s not how gardens or plants go, or grow. They grow wild, or sometimes they don’t grow at all. They refuse to submit, which is to say they resist being wielded as an instrument of my intent and will. The garden and I are resistant to one another. The garden reminds me of how space rejects my efforts to use it as a rhetorical device. It plants in me the sneaking and discomfiting suspicion that I may indeed be its device, as it compels me to labor.

The relationship between rhetoric and context is a continuous negotiation of power. In the process, it isn’t entirely clear who is in control of whom; whether it is I or the garden who’s the boss. Not surprisingly, I prefer to think of myself as the boss, and much of rhetorical theory bears out that assumption in the placement of agency with rhetorical agents. And yet, as rhetors (and gardeners) attempt to articulate ourselves through symbolic or horticultural...

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