History Time

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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