The concept of liminal space is useful, too, for understanding rhetoric as practice, generally, and for reading this collection, the inaugural issue of Rhetor, in particular. Liminality entails a position on the margins: on the edges of society, the coast of a continent, the borders of one’s body, the end of one stage of life and the beginning of another, etc. Rhetoric, especially in popular discourse, finds itself quite casually and habitually marginalized. Randy Harris puts it succinctly and well: “When someone calls an utterance rhetorical, they mean — to use a few of Roget's choicest synonyms — it is rant or bombast or twaddle. They mean, ‘it stinks’.”5 A bit of a free-floating ion on the margins of the disciplinary schoolyard, rhetoric finds itself attaching to different partners — composition, speech communication, and literary studies, to name a few.
The discipline of rhetoric in Canada, as many of us know, finds itself betwixt and between, lacking a strong, clearly defined tradition or place in the university. According to Maurice Charland, in his recent article, “The Constitution of Rhetoric’s Tradition,”6 rhetoric in Canada and the U.S. finds itself “within or between several traditions.” This interstitial status, he maintains, allows for autonomy and diversity in one’s field, even if it also means rhetoricians work without a traditional net:To figure oneself as a rhetorician is an act of self-ascription that in the first instance enables refusal. One may refuse reigning orthodoxies, be they Platonic or post-structuralist. One may figure oneself as within or between several traditions. In other words, what rhetoric is is up for grabs. "Rhetoric" thus can serve as alibi for eccentricities, for interdisciplinarity and the violation of disciplinary boundaries, and for the development of alternate intellectual strategies and rogue practices, even as it also permits a return to — and refiguring of — classical sources and humanist thought. As Hariman has observed, rhetoric's marginal standing and consequent lack of coherence is a potential source of strength.
(Via wood s lot.)