Condit, Celeste M. “Contemporary Rhetorical Criticism: Diverse Bodies Learning New Languages.” Rhetoric Review 25.4 (2006): 368-72.


In this brief piece, Condit traces the evolving shape of contemporary rhetorical criticism, highlighting the ways that it has complicated and extended classic rhetorical concepts (concepts developed in response to an immediate and homogenous audience) to address the changed technologies and discursive patterns that mark contemporary life. She credits scholars working in feminist and critical race theories for challenging the long-standing ideal of the disembodied, objective scholar, opening up the way for what Condit has discussed in previous work as “empathic studies.” She defines empathic studies as a critical orientation based on openness and uncertainty in which the critic’s primary goal is to empathically listen to as many voices as possible. As Condit herself explains, “The goal is to construct discourses one can best embody (whether at the social or individual scale)” (370). Condit argues that emphathic listening highlights the fact that the questions we ask as scholars are always tied to the embodied positions we occupy. Building on this notion, Condit encourages us to move a step further by not just listening to the discourses that surround us in our embodied positions within the world but by also paying attention to the codes within our bodies. Extending work that has been done to argue for the rhetorical importance of the material (objects and bodies alike), Condit contends that the codes that exist within both the human body and the environment are codes that we need to learn to listen to, despite the fact that we’ve been trained not to. According to Condit, listening to these codes offers us the opportunity to resist what she characterizes as the “ethnocentric assumption that only human-made codes matter to human action” and to thus expand our understanding of language.

Quotable Quotes:

“From [the perspective of empathic listening] the categories of rhetorical theory are tools for listening to discourses in specific ways. They supply lenses that highlight the pieces and connections of a circulating flow that is otherwise so fastmoving, multivarious, and seductive that one cannot but be swept along. They allow one to surf–to choose lines along thhe complicated flows of social movements–rather than merely be dragged like flotsam in the waves.” (370)

“Within the embodied practice of empathic listeingin, a biosymbolic critic might seek for better life-scripts for human beings. The choices are all situated, constrined, even overdetermined. they are all rhetorical, but all living things are coders, and all the codes of living things are relevent to rhetorical critics.” (371)