- Jeremy GordonJeremy GordonGonzaga University
Before reading the essay in its entirety, readers should note that this entry about animal rhetoric is arranged thematically. More than a chronologically arranged summary, the entry attempts to outline three themes that ground theories and practices of animal rhetoric. The three themes include (a) a synthesis of how animal rhetoric has been featured in the history and myth of rhetorical studies; (b) a synthesis of how animal rhetoric has been theorized as an embodied rhetorical style that foregrounds interconnective, interdependent, and intimate relationships between humans and more-than-humans; and (c) a narrative of how animal rhetoric is inherently rooted in attention to specific ecological contexts, spaces, and places. The three themes emphasize that scholarship featuring animal rhetoric is radically interdisciplinary and maintains an ethical impulse toward more just and vibrant multispecies relations.
According to a number of animal rhetoric scholars, rhetoric has always been bestial (Theme 1, point “a”). The mythic roots of rhetoric can be seen and heard in the “classical” narrative of Korax, a raven who pollutes norms of decorum and challenges anthropocentric assumptions of “good” speech. More than mere myth, classical rhetorical practices and habits are furry, feathery, and tentacled. Octopuses and foxes play a part in teaching the cunning intelligence (metis) needed for performing rhetoric. In rhetorical histories, all manner of creaturely figures have been called on to model eloquence—making rhetoric always already a multispecies affair. Whether fabled caricatures of eloquence or Aristotelian models of intelligence, rhetorical scholars have detailed how an array of creatures jump from pages of rhetorical treatises and handbooks to interrupt anthropocentric assumptions about how meaning, identity, power, and place are constituted. Beyond presence in mythic and historical legacies of rhetoric, more-than-human animals have been situated as performing unique yet shared rhetorical styles to animate relations, arrange belonging, shape meaning, and create identity (Theme 2, point “b”). Those styles are corporeal, fleshy, and sensual. Ultimately, theories of animal style center bodily arts of rhetoric that energize, move, and delight. The senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, and more) of animal rhetoric expand the manners of rhetoric - or the ways that rhetoric can and might be performed. With feet and beaks, tooth and claw, more-than-human animal forms of rhetoric transgress assumed binaries between human and animal, nature and culture, feral and domestic, speech and noise. Animal styles of eloquence resignify presumptions of what it means to be a political, rhetorical animal. According a number of scholars, fostering intimate, caring relations between humans and animals happens in the process of learning and practicing various forms of internatural communication, such as play, howling, and walking. Finally, as animals walk, glide, slither, scurry, and slide across streets and sidewalks, they cross borders, shuffle categories, and call into question assumptions of anthropocentric perspectives of place (Theme 3, point “c”). The study and practice of animal rhetoric is contextual, intimately grounded, specific places and spaces. The styles and manners of creaturely communication are deeply emplaced and emerge in relation to biocultural surrounds. More than this, the senses and styles of animal rhetorics help constitute biocultural surrounds, raising questions about who takes part in constituting communities and shaping a public. Many of the scholars cited in this entry foreground being attentive to the emplaced contexts of animal rhetoric, as well as the politics of whose voices are deemed worthy of belonging and whose presence is marked as unwelcome, unloved, and beyond the borders of a multispecies place. Most importantly, then, attending to animal rhetoric foregrounds concerns for how to practice manners—the capacity and willingness to be responsive and affected by the calls, caws, claws, and cries that share everyday ecological, political, and economic life. Being responsive to animal rhetoric marks the practice of multispecies manners and invites possibilities for more just multispecies relations and peaceful earthly coexistence that contest settler-colonial logics, the death work of capitalism, and climate derangement.
- Rhetorical Theory