Back to Square One:

Reexamining Ivie on the Critic's Voice

-- presented at the Speech Communication Association National Convention, San Antonio TX, November 1995. Please cite appropriately.


James F. Klumpp

University of Maryland College Park

I begin with my story. I was trained as a critic in the decade we now call the "Sixties." Perhaps my story should begin earlier. Perhaps with my mother's observation that I was always the most curious child she could imagine. For when the sixties arrived and I was in graduate school in speech communication, discourse was one of the things in life that a curious person found compelling. I had been trained in all the traditional theories (I had Aristotle's Rhetoric, Lane Cooper edition, as a textbook for one of my undergraduate public speaking courses), but the things that were occurring around me were not explicable through those theories. As a curious person, my critical juices began to flow and I was off to explain that discourse.

Explain to whom? Toward what end? To explain to myself fundamentally, I now believe. But that does not fully capture it. Around the lunch table in 400 Folwell Hall and in colloquia in which we debated the rights and responsibilities of the academy in the face of the War in Vietnam, we were engaged in a discourse in which each of us grew to understand more about the decade, the meaning of its various discourses, and the challenge posed to the fabric of the society in which we lived. When I entered the classroom -- as graduate student or as teacher -- students and I shared vital interpretations about the things that were going on around us. In those exchanges I, and they, were exposed to new discourse, saw old discourse in new ways, and came to orient ourselves to the vital questions posed at the time. To go back to those two burning questions -- to whom? why? -- they were not particularly nettlesome questions. For we understood that we were living in a time when the texture of communication formed a part of the context of our lives. To orient ourselves to our world, we needed to weave ourselves into that fabric. We were empowered, and felt that empowerment coming through this ongoing exchange of our critical perspectives.

Can it be a quarter-century ago? Have we passed through the deadening decades of cynicism and narcissism to reach 1995? Are classes on the sixties now the hot item in campus curriculum -- as history courses? Yet, even though I left the sixties behind historically some time ago, I am today a critic of the same identity. I am immersed in a milieu of discourse and I am curious. Some voices today have a much harder time being heard, and as a critic I want to hear them and have others hear them. When those voices merge in the festival of social life, there are many more smiling faces uttering "I see" without really seeing or hearing. I want to stare into those unseeing eyes, bring those uninterested wanderers into the conversation, and enrich everyone's time in the carnival. I find much I do not like that is very powerful. I want to try out my distaste on others and see if I am right or wrong.

This program is, of course, about Bob Ivie's one page "editorials" -- or whatever we might call them -- that have introduced each issue of QJS during his editorship. I love them. I really do. Ivie was trained in that same time that I was trained. He read the same Prospect of Rhetoric that I read and took it as his license just as I did. So what I want to say about these editorials today is in full sympathy with them. In fact, let me dwell here a bit. Here we are around a table. Bob Ivie is here. He has penned these things. Here is my buddy Andy King, a veteran of those lunchtimes in 400 Folwell that sharpened his wit and burned questions into the text of his work. Here is Bob Hariman who ate there after Andy and I. Jim Kuypers, I understand is one of Andy's students, and Marilyn Young and I have been having conversations in person and on paper for longer than either of us will admit. Before us are students of rhetoric from various generations. I have the floor for a few minutes. I hope that some hearing me will look again at Bob Ivie's editorials or look at them for the first time. They are, after all, unindexed, unpaged, and for those who read the comics (or the sports) first as creatures of habit, easy to miss. But I also want to add to the conversation: to use Bob's thoughts as a stimulus, to mix it a bit with my experience, and to tease a bit of emphasis to a thread I hear there and in the process to challenge others. In short, I want to assume a persona of Ivie's critic to talk about Ivie in a spirit that I hope knits me into a conversation.

The thread that caught my eye in Ivie's editorials is a bit of a tension between the work Ivie posits as the critic's task and the voice with which Ivie writes. So, I want to call that tension to your attention and give you some thoughts on it, grounded in my experience and my identification with Ivie's project.

Reading Ivie

Let me begin then by telling you what I have heard in this conversation to this point, to give you a sense of the conversation I am entering. As the conversation proceeded, I found myself tracking it through a series of symbols, metaphors really, that draw a vivid picture of criticism. And I found myself nodding a lot at the things that Ivie said. I smiled and chuckled as I understood to whom he was preaching -- the sort of "Give it to them, Bob!" that we all do when we are in a lively conversation with something at stake.

The first of these symbols was "rhetorical architecture." This one did not thrill me. Too much "brick by brick" here for my taste. But as I listened carefully I heard something more: Ivie's Burkean background coming through. Aha! I realized. The good architect melds the aesthetic with the pragmatic, and there was some of each in Ivie's vision. As Ivie's architect, I would sense my full powers of creativity, but with a grounding in something to which I answered, called "knowledge." As Ivie's architect, I would need to master the "strategic constructions that organize our lives," but I would master these so that I could "achieve an enhanced sense of community." As Ivie's critic I carried "a commitment to address . . . the serious issues of our times." "By confronting the consequences of rhetorical efficacy as partisan inducements to action and alerting us to better alternatives, critics aspire to the highest form of intellectual achievement: the performance of rhetorical knowledge."

In that last phrase I sensed the next two key symbols: "performance" and "knowledge." I cringed at the former. It reminded me too much of being pushed out onto the stage by my mother wearing my little tap dancing shoes. Must a critic be a ham? I shuddered. But I soon realized I had been hanging around with those theatre people too long, and I again listened a little more deeply to hear Ivie's Burkeanism. For "per-form-ance," in Burkean parlance, is a working of the identify/identification dialectic. As a per-form-ing critic -- Burkean meaning -- I had the freedom of active assertion of who I was and what I saw, but I was also a rhetor which compelled me to the "forms" that would communicate with those around me. As a critic, in short, I would be negotiating a dialectic of performance: a Dionysian power of my hour on the stage and an apollonian compulsion to see my audience as a constraint. I felt this painful tension as a dilemma. But then Ivie called me a "teacher" and it became clearer to me: my power was to "influence a collective consciousness that extends itself into the classroom and through other media of community-building performances."

The critic as teacher is a wonderful metaphor. I have used it myself in my essay with Tom Hollihan "Rhetorical Criticism as Moral Action." Among its virtues is that it is a metaphor most of us live out on a daily basis. For good teachers, the dilemma of the two performances is not a dilemma. I know a natural affinity for my stage -- yes, I am even a ham at times -- but the classroom stage is a place where I flaunt my special understanding and live terrified of not getting my message through.

The term "knowledge" was also painful. Foucault's critique of knowledge has made us ever suspicious of the mischief hidden within. And I found too much of the "container" concept in Ivie. Knowledge was "produced." I had to see my criticism in relationship to "general rhetorical knowledge." I didn't want my criticism to "be consumed" as Ivie said it would be. There was that damn "brick" metaphor again that had been there in the building. On the other hand, I believed Ivie was trying to tell me something else: his phrase was "knowledge is a performance." He was, perhaps we could say, trying to hint that criticism was a becoming rather than a being. But in the end, no metaphor like that of the "teacher" arose to make me very comfortable with the weighty burden of knowledge.

I was, therefore, relieved to see Ivie leave that morass behind a bit and carry the performance metaphor forward. As he did so, I sensed controlling symbols giving way to a set of terms -- "essential rhetoricity of a critic's insight," "scrutinizing performance," and "reflexivity" -- that stressed my need to think of my criticism as addressed. Ivie's account seemed very traditional to me here. In fact, I heard "criticism is epistemic" -- an echo of Robert Scott. I recalled that Scott's formulation had been based in an existential philosophy that entailed lots of obligations on the part of the rhetor that followed from the fact of the rhetor's contextualization in a social process of knowing. My trip with Ivie through the need to place myself at risk with my audience, to become an audience myself and to exercise my critical powers, to be conscious of the interests that shaped both me and my audience, all seemed familiar axioms of how I saw rhetoric and how I saw criticism. The smile and nod returned to my face. This Ivie was heroic to me. But I now believe that Scott's ideas were too tied to a humanistic individualism that is now being challenged by what I consider a more fruitful construction -- a socially enclosed participation. I heard Ivie trying to get us there often in his statements of critical purpose -- "to achieve an enhanced sense of community."

Last week, just before I began a final draft of these thoughts, the latest issue of QJS arrived, and another key symbol appeared "innovation." A key term, I thought. It emphasizes a thread that Ivie introduced earlier -- the rhetorical function is to organize our lives. It stresses the creative side of discourse -- the best sense of invention -- more than it stresses the basis in conflict. I have been arguing lately that the innovative powers of discourse have been ignored. I smiled again and felt again the sense of Ivie as my soul brother.

But time to wrap up my listening to Ivie and to summarize what I understood. As a critic, Ivie wants me to be socially involved and active. I must understand that the value of my work does not stop at the walls of my office but extends outward into my society. I must be conscious of this social context for my work. I have a particular expertise that I must bring to the conversation and I must understand that doing so makes me a participant.

Entering the Conversation

I was not content, however, to have listened to Ivie. I wanted to enter the conversation. I am surrounded by many students and colleagues who come by my office daily with fabulous interpretations of our world -- about the latest Gingrich move, the latest militia website, the eulogy of Rabin's granddaughter. I enjoy those daily exchanges and find that they make me a livelier participant in public conversation. My reading of Ivie's position had left me feeling my own empowerment as a critic in a way that I wanted to share with them. I proposed such a conversation and they were eager.

After our first discussion was underway, something was happening that I did not expect. Ivie closes his fourth editorial -- should we call it Editorial IV, as my Bible and the NFL sequences its episodes -- with this statement: "The essence of rhetoric exists, ironically, in the dramatic presentation of its details rather than as a reduction to abstract principles." I found this sentence liberating. It contrasted with the model of criticism which disciplines the act by insisting on its contribution to theory constructed as principles of rhetorical practice. I found my fellow critics failing to voice a greater empowerment, and instead arguing about Ivie's theory of criticism and how that theory of criticism related to other theories that they had encountered. Ivie's editorials had seemed to ascend to the status of abstract principles. In that sense, Ivie had not given these critics' voice as critics.

You may have noticed that I have told this story of my encounter with Ivie's editorials in the first person. I have done so to make a point. Stories of empowerment are always more so, it seems to me, if they facilitate the voice empowered. Ivie writes these editorials in the third person. In fact, the first person in Ivie's pieces -- appearing for the first time in Editorial III -- is the reader of criticism. How strange, I thought, for Ivie to identify himself with the reader rather than the critic. The entire texture of what we might call Ivie's theory of criticism is wonderfully subjective -- it establishes the critic's interpretation as centering in the critical act. But the use of the third person leaves Ivie describing his subjectivity as some sideline observer and disembodied voice.

So, I want to offer some revisions in Ivie's voice as I adopt it and adapt it as my own. I have organized these revisions in my own mind in three contexts. The first deals with revisions in the nature of knowledge. When I cheer Ivie's final statement in Editorial IV -- the rejection of abstract principle as our end -- I believe I alter the nature of the disciplining in criticism. Our old concept of knowledge -- the one which Foucault attacks -- ties the critic to others by materializing the learning in the critical act. As a critic, in this old understanding, I identify with the discipline of rhetorical studies, carry the knowledge of rhetorical transaction with me into the critical act, employ that knowledge to enlighten the act, and in the process return my insight to add to, correct, or bring into doubt some principle of that body of learning. In doing so, I reach out to others, identifying my participation with them, and those others are my fellow critics. In addition, the tension between my knowledge-contextualized observations and the material body of knowledge provide the discipline for my own observations. My audience, therefore, (Ivie's readers and fellow rhetorical scholars) contextualizes my subjectivity.

I believe the critic's voice at the heart of Ivie's critical commitments is not well-contextualized through this construction of knowledge. I want to replace the role of the academic critical community in those two necessary functions -- discipline and identification -- with the community of discourse toward which I feel my obligations of participation. All the elements are there in Ivie for me to temper my voice this way. The discipline comes from the intersubjectivity that I must accept to place my critical observations into the service of the "enhanced sense of community" so central to Ivie's sense of purpose. In an important sense this privileges an empirical discipline over a theoretical discipline. Theory itself is decentered into my need to relate my understanding to the community I address. My identification is broader than my academic home and is constructed from the memory and experience with the community that I address as a participant in rhetorical exchange. My identity as a critic is always changing but with memory and with experience available as I orient myself to the new situations of criticism.

My students greeted this scheme -- connecting the critic with the community of discourse rather than the materialized field of knowledge -- with enthusiasm. And they cut right through the concept to one of knowledge's central tenets -- the scholarly journal as a home for our criticism. One of those students had spent her summer reading criticism from our journals and had come away unhappy with its distance and its disempowering exercise of abstraction. Another was struggling to see the relevance of criticism to the reawakening sense of social purpose. Ivie hints at the need to relocate the place of the academic journal in his phrase "into the classroom and through other media of community-building performances." To me the question is: Where do I use my critical voice? The answer is much more complex than pitting scholarly publication against the classroom and against the popular media. In fact, my critical voice seeks many contexts, adapts to them, listens to their tenor and direction, and participates as a contributor to their form. Thus, I see myself, in Ivie's urging, diffused through many more opportunities for critical voice than are circumscribed by disciplinary constraints. My voice seeks participation in discourse as opportunities arise and develops through the interactions whether interpersonal, through the classroom, through journals, or wherever else.

As our discussion proceeded, however, it was not the dimensions of discipline and identification in knowledge that my cohorts noticed -- it was the power that Ivie gave the critic. They had heard Foucault and sensed that the authority with which Ivie's critic spoke was derivative from the body of rhetorical knowledge. They detected a bit of pontification in Ivie's voice. They sensed much more than an invitation. In fact, the invitation seemed to go to the readers rather than the critic. We talked about the nature of power. We decided that Ivie's critic seemed to treat power as a status characteristic, brought to the critical exchange. Ivie locates "the intellectual force of criticism in the detailed execution of the scholar's argument." When Ivie warns us to locate the critic into the context of his community, discussion of power seemed to elevate the critic beyond that community.

As our discussion proceeded we began to see that what we needed to do was to understand our relationship of the critic to our contexutalizing community. We summarized this by objecting to Ivie's notion of power as a zero-sum game -- if knowledge was power, invoking the critic's power diminished the power of others. Instead, we proposed that empowerment stressed the plus-plus nature of power -- in a fruitful community exchange, a critic listens and adapts to the flow of the conversation and the interpenetration of memory and experience enhances the community's strategic constructions to organize its life. Consider the following charge by Ivie:

Whether a project is aimed at constructing motives for peace, strengthening a commitment to environmentalism, enhancing the status of marginalized people, managing a crisis of consensus within the scientific community, protecting women's autonomy in the workplace, or adapting the knowledge of one culture to the needs of another, a critic's work entails the rhetorical invention of social knowledge, which is neither neutral in attitude nor immune to critique.

In this image, we read a careful balance of the critic's assertiveness and participation that identified the voice with the community's welfare. Speaking from a more diffused sense of power would give my voice a more contextualized power to achieve the "enhanced sense of community."

It seems to me that a good way of uniting these revised senses of knowledge and power is to focus on the nature of the critic as subject. I believe that the voice I envision for the empowered critic is de-centered. The de-centered subject does not dissolve subjectivity. It does stress that coherence and continuity is less important to subjectivity than connectedness and development. To us, the second definition of performance -- the Burkean stress on interpretation into form -- is a more appropriate emphasis. Our critical voice should feature the 1st person to locate our centering of interests, memories, and experience. But the voice should contain a tone of invitation, inviting the enrichment of interpretation in the re-centering of my interpretation by the others in the conversation. When our gathered critics finished with our discussion of Ivie's editorials, I felt a deeper appreciation for Ivie's critic and an enriched sense of my own direction that I would like to see the notions developed. In this sense, those participating were all empowered by our common pursuit.

The Critic's Voice

I have stressed the first person because I believe recovering our identities as actors is a great task of our time. In our disempowered age, critics need to appreciate the power of the art that energizes their lives. The key question is not one of method -- how do we do criticism? -- but of identity -- what does it mean to be a critic? I believe that Ivie addresses that latter question with an excellent framework for the critic's work. His critic is alive to the place of communication in the postmodern world. The strength Ivie gives the critic is the sense of purpose of dedication to bettering that world through his/her awareness of communication as the context for social life.

I have also stressed the metaphor of conversation rather than Ivie's metaphor of the speaker and audience. I do so because I believe our logic of influence must change to accomplish the purposes that Ivie and I share. The logic of the hypodermic model of influence -- speeches must reach intended audiences and persuade them to their purposes -- leads us to focus upon the roots of the disempowerment of our generation. I believe that the key task of our time is to empower a renewed public communication to counter the dulling omnipresence of mass communication. Recovering the power of public communication must begin by decentering the power of the hyperdermic. I have seen that decentered power. I have seen how our teaching of 20 years ago has had its effect -- both good and bad -- on our current moment. I know that there is no power on earth as powerful as the teaching of youth. But that power is not just my power nor is it your power. It is our power. Nor should we overstress the classroom, for it is the diffusion beyond the classroom through lively public conversations that forms the powerful influence of the conversation. In our criticism today, we are working out together the power that will create the world of the first quarter of the 21st century. We must embrace that power, take responsibility for it, and assume Ivie's sense of purpose.

If we do so, our critical voices will shape the vital questions of the next century. They will decide whether democracy survives as a healthy participatory empowerment of people, or merely as a shell for the wielding of concentrated power. They will decide whether the full power of discourse -- not merely its power to persuade, but also its power to invent new ways of seeing, to marshall energy to a cause, to develop united purpose to worthy ends -- will construct the world that makes the critical countenance a smile rather than a grimace.


I wish to thank my circle of critics who saw this project through to the end: Lisa Gring-Pemble, Nathaniel Cordova, Heather Balas, Noami Marin, and Camilla Kari. I also express my appreciation to Roxana Gitlin, and Diane Blair who provided wonderful response to Ivie's editorials.