Working my way through the “comp history” section of my reading list, and I’m starting with that magical and all-important time for composition: the nineteenth century. As I chug away at Berlin (and then Johnson, Connors, Paine, and Hawk), I am trying to keep Charles Paine’s criticisms of Berlin in mind:
- His penchant for rough historiography and too-broad critical horizons. He’s too macro about social forces, epistemology and ideology; not micro enough about agency and human beings.
- His “limiting conception of ideology as an always and everywhere malevolent force” (The Resistant Writer 32); one that consistently leads to paranoid interpretation and representation.
These are helpful for framing my reading as I reflect and connect Berlin’s histories to the others of the field, certainly. But there are also some good methodological (i.e. interpretive) reminders for critical rhetorical analysis that emerge here:
- Don’t get carried away with generalizations about social forces and historical moments–the chain of inference MUST be there between people and the forces you claim they are determined by.
- Don’t get so carried away with the critique of domination that you forget about the critique of freedom. Ideology is, but is not necessarily evil.