Bizzell, Patricia. “Editing the Rhetorical Tradition.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 36.2 (2003): 109-18. Print.


In this piece, Bizzell employs the metaphor of a stockmarket report to talk about the process of editing the second edition of The Rhetorical Tradition because it is a metaphor that reflects “the volatility of the tradition as it appears in our time” (111). She explains that there has been no waning interest in, and indeed increased demand for, what is seen as the “traditional tradition”–Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, Longinus, Blair, etc. Meanwhile there has been rising interest in “new traditions,” of which there are two primary varieties. First, there are those that either existed previously but were thought minor (like the sophists) or theorists outside the “traditional tradition” who are now seen as having rhetorical relevance (Nietzsche, Bahktin, etc). Bizzell describes these as risky stocks, because they can quickly go out of fashion. The second kind of “new tradition” coincides with the changing demographics of the academy–particularly the rise of women and people of color in the discipline–and represents work previously unknown to rhetoric because it had either been silenced or because the resources weren’t there to explain why they were important for rhetoric. Bizzell describes these “stocks” as showing real growth potential.

Bizzell argues that anthologies/canons represent who is in power in a discipline. So the revising of the rhetorical tradition to include some of these “new traditions” necessitates a more diverse group of scholars who can argue for the relevance of these texts. Bizzell responds to the critique that the additions from women and minorities are not pieces that are equivalent to the pieces included from the “traditional tradition” by arguing that we’ve spent so much time studying the “traditional tradition” that we recognize it all as being the same–as being theory-like or philosophy-like–when it is, in fact, heterogenous. We need to continue to theorize the voices of resistance and critical awareness of language found in these “new tradition” while also using a critical lens to unpack the differences and heterogeneity in the “traditional tradition.” Ultimately, Bizzell argues, the tradition is never static, but rather changes as the discipline changes.


This is a really interesting and useful take on the politics of canonization, and I particularly appreciate Bizzell’s response to critiques of additions not doing the same kind of theory work as the “traditional tradition.”