Negation, Subjectivity, and The History of Rhetoric

By Victor J. Vitanza

Subjects: Comparative Religion
Paperback : 9780791431245, 440 pages, November 1996
Hardcover : 9780791431238, 440 pages, November 1996

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents



Introduction: What Do I Want, Wanting to Write This ("our") Book?
What Do I Want, Wanting You to Read This ("our") Book?

1. The Sophists?

Excursus. The Negative, Aesthetics, and the Sublime (terror)

2. Helen(ism)?

3. Isocrates, the Paideia, and Imperialism

4. Isocrates, the Logos, and Heidegger

5. Heidegger, Wesen, and "The Rector's Address"

Excursus. A Feminist Sophistic?

6. Gorgias, Accounting, and Helen

7. Gorgias, "Some More," and Helens

Excursus. Preludes to Future (anterior) Histories of Rhetorics (From the Obsessive to the Hysterical and Third Schizo turns)


Works Cited


Examines the principles of historiography that are generally applied to writing what we call "The History of Rhetoric." Focusing on the Sophists Gorgias and Isocrates, and on how each has been received and refigured by historians, the book moves beyond these approaches to postmodernist ones.


Vitanza introduces his book with the questions: "What Do I Want, Wanting to Write This ('our') Book? What Do I Want, Wanting You to Read This ('our') Book?" Thereafter, in a series of chapters and excursions and as schizographer of rhetorics (erotics), he interrogates three recent, influential historians of Sophists (Edward Schiappa, John Poulakos, and Susan Jarratt), and how these historians as well as others represent Sophists and, in particular, Isocrates and Gorgias under the sign of the negative. Vitanza concludes—rather rebegins in a sophistic-performative excursus—with a prelude to future (anterior) histories of rhetorics. Vitanza asks: "What will have been anti-Oedipalizedized (de-negated) hysteries of rhetorics? What will have they looked like, sounded, read like? Or to ask affirmatively, what, then, will have libidinalized-hysteries of rhetorics looked, sounded, read like?"

Victor J. Vitanza is Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at Arlington. He is the editor of two books, PRE/TEXT: The First Decade and Writing Histories of Rhetoric.


"This is a remarkably comprehensive and original treatment of crucial concerns for historians and theorists of rhetoric. I am, of course, struck by Vitanza's 'style,' which ranges from excursive to the expository to the exclamatory, as a strong demonstration of his theoretical/historical sophistry. The book's variety and energy make it constantly engaging. " — William A. Covino, University of Illinois at Chicago

"I'm most impressed by its range. Vitanza brings together theorists from the classical, modern, and postmodern eras; also, he interweaves rhetoric, philosophy, and literary theory. His ability to make all these connections is dazzling. I can't think of another book on the history of rhetoric that blends so many perspectives and puts the topic in such a broad context. " — John Schilb, University of Maryland at College Park

"…This book should be read. Any review simply cannot do justice to the complexity, depth, care and insight which Vitanza brings to the nature and relation of negation to subjectivity in 'The' History of Rhetoric. Only a direct encounter with the text will do justice to the obvious care and effort brought to this powerful work … Vitanza's book, difficult and brilliant, aggravating and enticing, elusive and invigorating, promises a future-anterior of wild, new (re)beginnings. It is a tour-de-force argument against the disciplinary rituals of power as played out in The History of Rhetoric. Ultimately, it leaves one desiring to see, if not also bring about, his and (Others') envisioned future histories of rhetoric. " — H-Net Reviews (H-Rhetor)

"The book is interesting to read for three reasons. First, it is playful throughout and often irreverent. Second, it makes the familiar unfamiliar in unexpected ways. And third, it anticipates and accommodates most questions, objections, and counterarguments of would-be readers. I am confident that this book will prompt sustained discussions and debates among many readers and for a long time. The author's manner and arguments will irk some and delight others. It will provoke, excite, and irritate as much as it will please, charm, and cheer. It will leave no reader indifferent or apathetic. " — John Poulakos, University of Pittsburgh