Afterword to Queer Rhetorical Listening

Afterword to Queer Rhetorical Listening

Author: Krista Ratcliffe

Bio: Kris is Professor and Chair of English at ASU in Tempe, AZ. She is a former English Department chair at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, and at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, where she also served as Director of the First-Year Writing Program, which under her direction won a CCCC Certificate of Excellence Award for its emphasis on rhetoric, literacy and diversity. She has served as President of the Rhetoric Society of America and of CCCC’s Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition. Her research focuses on listening cross-culturally. Her book Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness won a Rhetoric Society of America Book Award and a CCCC Outstanding Book Award; her co-edited collection, Rhetorics of WhitenessPost-racial Hauntings in Popular Culture, Social Media, and Education also won a CCCC Outstanding Book Award. At ASU she teaches writing, rhetoric, and literacy courses. 

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For me, this special cluster conversation in Peitho invokes both gratitude and humility. I am grateful and humbled because the contributors have taken rhetorical listening so seriously and also because they have taken it far beyond its initial imaginings. For that I want to thank Timothy Oleksiak, the editor of this cluster, who set the tone of “generosity of spirit” as well as all the contributors—Michael J. Faris, Rachel Lewis, Violet Livingston, Storm Pilloff, and Jonathan Smilges—for attending to that spirit (p. 2). Indeed, these articles were a gift, at a time when I needed one.

As I write this “Afterword” in September of 2020, the world is suffering a Covid-19 pandemic, and the US is suffering a president who demonstrates no respect for the rule of law, the right to assemble for peaceful protests, or the protection of “minority” rights. Amidst this public health and social unrest, I am chairing a very large English Department, trying to juggle the needs of students, faculty, administrators, and education broadly construed. I am also teaching an undergraduate course called Introduction to Writing, Rhetorics, and Literacies, which has two students in the classroom and 20 on Zoom. And I’m serving on a search committee for RSA’s next Executive Director who will need to help the society’s elected officers meet impending challenges and changes in higher education and its professional organizations. I list these factors not to complain (believe me, I understand how privileged I am, especially at this particular moment) but, rather, to acknowledge that these factors comingle in ways that have me wondering about the future.  

On my mind are life and death (never before have I begun a semester by updating my will and worrying if assigning people without accommodations to teach in classrooms would be fatal), the future of US democracy (especially for people who don’t look like, earn like, or act like our current chief executive), the future of higher education (particularly whether financial fall-outs from Covid-19 will trigger a massive restructuring of higher education and our economy more  generally) and the study of rhetoric (in light of our current cultural divisiveness). 

Of all these concerns, I am most optimistic about the study of rhetoric, thanks in part to this volume. Its articles either ask or imply generative questions that produce dynamic concepts and tactics that supplement and/or challenge not just rhetorical listening, but the map of rhetorical studies itself, by inviting the idea of queering listening into our conversations.1 

The articles are rich in ideas that readers may utilize for their teaching and future research projects as well as engaging the world. In particular, I can imagine employing in my own teaching, writing, and living the following concepts.

  • Queer rhetorical listening. This concept is generated by asking: “What can queer work and rhetorical listening do for each other?”  (p. 1).
  • Bad listener. This concept is generated by asking, “Does being a bad listener make me a bad feminist?” (p. 8), and by focusing on neurodiversity so as to “offer neuroqueers ways to stick around” (p. 16).
  • Coalitional identification. This concept is generated by asking, “How is it possible to communicate, organize, and build relationships when our very lives are in competition?” (p. 18), and by using coalitional queer politics to analyze power as it flows in, among, and beyond prison systems (p. 26). 
  • Queer Kinesthetic Interlistening. This concept is generated by asking, What happens to listening when we turn from the discursive “to the material and embodied” (28) and take seriously the idea that “rhetoric is often a nonrational, material, embodied, and sensorial practice” (p. 28), and then analyzing “voguing and an art exhibit composed of candy” to exemplify this concept’s functions (p. 30).
  • Métis. This concept is generated by asking, What happens if we attempt “to hear things, or rather, people we do see?” (p. 42), and then invoking #BlackLivesMatter as its focus.2
  • Failure of consent. This concept is generated by asking, What does consent signify when listening to the work of Mia Mingus about the “forced intimacy” encountered by a body that is “disabled” (p. 62).
  • Emotional receptivity. This concept is generated by asking, “What would it look like if we focused more purposefully not only on desire but the theorizing of feeling that structures rhetorical listening?” (p. 74), with attention to queer cultural logics and to non-identification as “a state of emotional crisis that is necessary as we move toward more capacious cultural logics, logics that allow us to experience a fully felt sense of self” (p. 80).

While these concepts emerge from the editor’s invitation for authors to engage with my work, the real importance of this volume is not simply its extension of, or challenge to rhetorical listening. This cluster conversation is important, it seems to me, because it offers a number of voices in concert with the question of queering listening; these voices, then, expand the repertoire of responses to the question and problem—indeed the call to action–posed by Jacqueline Jones Royster when she asked, “How do we translate listening into language and action? (“When the First Voice” 38). 

Having answered Royster’s call, the contributors to this volume have participated in the time-honored tradition of questioning existing theories within scholarly conversations. More importantly, the contributors have taken ownership of methods for queering existing theories, in this case rhetorical listening. In the process, they have modelled for students and other researchers how to queer questions and how to produce queer concepts/theories that may, in turn, undergird future rhetorical teaching and research. This modelling is important because this volume demonstrates not just the how but also the why as it insistently resists the normative functions of tradition, scholarly or otherwise. 

With that thought in mind, I will close as I began, by thanking the editor and the contributors to this volume. Such voices and ears, I believe, offer (to echo my friend Cheryl Glenn) a thing called hope.

Works Cited

  • Glenn, Cheryl. Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope. SIUP, 2018.
  • Kopelson, Karen. “Rhetoric on the Edge of Cunning; Or, the Performance of Neutrality (Re)Considered as a Composition Pedagogy for Student Resistance.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 55, no. 1 (Sep., 2003), pp. 115-146.
  • Landreau, John. “Queer Listening as a Framework for Teaching Men and Masculinities” Queer Masculinities: A Critical Reader in Education. Edited by John Landreau and Nelson Rodriguez, Springer, 2012, pp.155-167.
  • Royster, Jacqueline Jones. “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 47, no. 1 (Feb., 1996), pp. 29-40.