A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

After Community: An Interview with D. Diane Davis

James J. Brown, Jr., Wayne State University

Enculturation: http://enculturation.net/after-community (Published October 28, 2010)

Inessential Solidarity: Rhetoric and Foreigner Relations

Available October 28, 2010

University of Pittsburgh Press

When I say that Diane Davis' Inessential Solidarity “comes after” community, you might assume that this book suggests the possibility of a “post-community” world. You might also put it in a certain category of books—say, with Terry Eagleton’s After Theory—that evokes a temporal after, suggesting that community is something we can “get over” or “get past.” But this is not what I’m hoping to evoke. Instead, I mean to suggest that Davis “comes after” the perplexing question of community, quests after it, tracks it down. She is hot on its trail. And yet, if she’s addressing the question of community, then it is most definitely addressing her as well. As we’ll discover below, Davis was hit with the question of community during her work on a previous book, Breaking Up [at] Totality. And she has been “on” it—as one is on a drug—for quite some time. Community was a kind of spectre, haunting this first book project, calling Davis to question. That nagging call is taken up in Inessential Solidarity, a book that asks the discipline to radically refigure its relationship to “community” (a term that can be, for rhetoricians, what Burke would call a “god term”) and that refigures rhetoric as “first philosophy.”

The question of community is arriving from places unknown, and Davis is attempting an answer. But this encounter points directly at the difficulty of the approach of the other, a difficulty that she takes up in her most recent work. Davis has been addressed by the question of community, but this encounter is shot through with difficulties: How does one address such a call? Where is the call coming from? How does one answer a call that does not even present itself as such? What are the ethical and rhetorical implications of thinking that we have understood this call? Any attempt to address an-other inevitably involves both an appropriation of that other—one that attempts to make sense of it—and also a depropriating address that continuously upsets any final move toward understanding. But while each attempt to address the question is an appropriation, such gestures never completely succeed. And yet, every address demands a response. Even a non-response is a response, for the address of the other demands our attention prior to and beyond any choice we make to accept the call (or its accompanying charges). These are the challenges that confront and are confronted by Inessential Solidarity.

The address of the other is not one that we choose to receive. It approaches us, and Davis’s work insists that this encounter is rhetorical. If we are exposed to the other, then this “(re)sounds a rhetorical imperative, and nonresponse is not an option” (Inessential Solidarity 12). This rhetorical imperative is our existential predicament, and Davis argues (along with Jean-Luc Nancy and Levinas, among others), that exposedness to the other is what makes the self solidary with the other. Community is not based on a shared essence or identity, and it is not based on a project. The community addressed by Davis is not based on a choice to expose ourselves to the other. Rather, community is exposed by our exposedness to one another—a (non)experience that every singularity shares. This inessential solidarity suggests that scholars of rhetorical studies are being called to rethink the relationship between rhetoric and community. It’s important to note here that Davis does not insist that we welcome the other. This has already happened, we are already exposed to various others and responding to them. Rather, she asks that rhetoricians recognize the rhetoricity of the other’s approach. Every-body is exposed, and this points to a primary sociality that leaves us radically open. The other arrives, and that other as other disrupts any attempt to pin down its meaning.

So, when the question of community comes calling, Davis attempts to answer it. And while this attempt brings with it an unavoidable hermeneutic drive to interpret, Davis’s approach is also something otherwise than hermeneutics. While the hermeneut attempts to pin down meaning, Davis comes after the problematics of community with restraint, with a desire to ask after the question of community in a way that does not completely domesticate it to the realm of the understood. The entire undertaking raises immense questions: How does one pursue a question without landing squarely in the realm of the understood? How does one attend to the arrival of an alterity that resists any attempt at description?

Accounting for the address of the other, an address that overwhelms (as Levinas explains in Totality and Infinity, it “brings me more than I can contain”), one is dogged by the difficulty that this other arrives without mediation and leaves only a trace. Davis seeks out the trace of an encounter with the other that is barely perceptible. It is, in Levinas’s words, “an incision made in time that does not bleed” (“The Trace of the Other,” 354). Any examination of the trace demands a performative method that is otherwise than hermeneutics and the final determination of meaning. This method is an attempt to recover the seemingly unrecoverable. The trace is “not a sign like any other” but it “plays the role of a sign” (356). The trace signifies “something on the basis of a past which, in a trace, is neither indicated nor signaled, but yet disturbs order, while coinciding neither with revelation nor with dissimulation…A trace is a presence that which properly speaking has never been there, of what is always past” (358). As this description no doubt makes clear, any attempt to examine the trace is fraught with difficulty, and it demands a careful attention to method. If we are indeed able to attend to the unmediated approach of the other, that method will have been attentive and tentative. It will have been, in some sense, humble. In the interview that follows, Davis takes up the question of Inessential Solidarity’s method, one that examines the incision described by Levinas. In the book, she describes her challenge:

The task here—to expose a solidarity that precedes symbolicity—cannot be accomplished through representation (alone), through tireless exegesis, the constative work of describing and explicating; there is also, of course, no way to skip that work. The performative event of the saying takes place at (or as) the limit, the ‘unexposable in,’ but the saying by necessity gives a said that offers itself up once again to thematization and appropriation. Perhaps the most I can hope for here is that this text will testify to the saying’s tortured rapport with the said, in which it barely hangs on. (Inessential Solidarity, 15)

What is perhaps most striking about her discussion of Inessential Solidarity during the interview is her insistence that it is an experiment, something that may or may not “work.” Twice during the interview, in describing her attempts to “figure the unfigurable,” to speak of a pre-ontological rhetoricity and sociality that is the condition of being and that is the basis of solidarity, Davis says: “Maybe it won’t work. We’ll have to see.”

It would be wrong to see this statement as anything other than the hospitality that defines Davis’s approach. This “we’ll have to see” is not about a lack of confidence. Rather, it is about an incertitude that has everything to do with the difficulties of finally and completely understanding. Davis discusses this incertitude when she describes Avital Ronell’s willingness to painstakingly read, and I would suggest that this same description applies to Davis’s work:

A certain understanding is the goal, either way, but Ronell observes that ‘having understood, or thinking one has understood stands precisely on a refusal to read.’ Reading demonstrates that there is no ethical or logical past tense to understanding; guaranteed to shatter prejudgment structures and overwhelm cognition, it offers no comforting end point, no refuge to mastery or payoff of certitude. Reading really takes guts. (The UberReader, “Introduction” xxiv)

The payoff of certitude would suggest that the work is done, but Davis’s approach to the interlocking questions of community and of the other suggests precisely the opposite. Our work is never done, and the danger is that we land on any final understanding. Whether she is exposing the field of rhetoric to refigured notion of community, questioning the anthropocentrism of Levinas and others, or insisting that rhetoric cannot be completely collapsed into hermeneutics, Diane Davis is always hesitant to suggest that she has the answer, that she has understood something that we have all missed. It is this approach that will make Inessential Solidarity and its simultaneously humble and far-reaching mode of questioning such an important contribution to rhetorical studies.

Jim Brown: It seems you've been grappling with the question of "inessential solidarity" for quite some time. In a 1999 JAC article, you used this phrase in its subtitle.1 How has the project shifted and morphed? How has your thinking about these questions changed?

Diane Davis: The idea for this book actually began when I was writing the first book, Breaking Up [at] Totality. A section in chapter three, just a section, is devoted to rethinking “community.” But when I started writing it, it really took over and took me over, without concern for my little outline or the aims and limits of the text at hand. I started reading everything I could get my hands on about this notion of a rapport sans rapport, an inoperative (Nancy) or unavowable (Blanchot) “community” that has nothing to do with identity or identification, with communion or contracts. I needed to set it aside and “finish” (as if one ever finally finishes) my book, but in order to do that I had to promise this new Master that I would be back, that I’d return to give it its own space and time. It was a negotiation. Breaking Up came out in 2000, and the article you mentioned came out in 1999, so you can see the negotiation working itself out in the overlap. And you can see my time line: I’ve been “on” this idea now for over a decade. It’s crazy. And when I say I’ve been on it, I don’t mean it in the way one does when one says, “no problem, I’m on it!” but more in the way one does when one asks “what are you on?”

I’d have to go back and read that 1999 article and the other articles between then and now to say anything halfway intelligent about how the project has shifted. But I can say that it took a huge turn when my reading finally included Levinas—along with the texts by Blanchot that are devoted to reading (and typically rewriting) Levinas. I had already “read” Totality and Infinity, but it didn’t resonate at first. His vocabulary really turned me off; I couldn’t get past it. But in 2001 I took classes in Switzerland with Avital Ronell and Jean-Luc Nancy, and both of them opened me to Levinas in a way that I had previously resisted. To really read Levinas, you have to recognize that he is radically redefining certain very cringe-worthy terms, such as “metaphysics” and “prayer” and “religion,” but also “face” and “conversation” and “ethics.” So I started reading Levinas without cringing (much). The project took on a discernable shape when it occurred to me that the existential predicament that Heidegger calls Mitsein, being-with-the-other, would itself have to be the function of a not-quite-existential predicament of “obligation,” what Levinas calls substitution, or being-for-the-other. I realized that Levinas was right, in other words: there could be no being-with, no ecstatic sharing of world, that is not already a function of being-for. Being-for-the-other (l’un-pour-l’autre, as Levinas says) does not describe your response to some moral or cultural obligation, an obligation that you could choose to obey or not; it describes the very condition for your existence, for the birth of a subject, for being itself and therefore for being-with (as Heidegger says, there is no Sein that is not already Mitsein). Once it hit me that being-for-the-other names a preoriginary obligation to respond to the other (to an underivable provocation, a presubjective address or appeal) and that it is in this response that both the self and the other emerge as existents, I understood that rhetoric precedes ontology. Rhetoric is, as they say, “first philosophy.” That became the “insight”—it feels a little silly calling it that—that compelled the project in its current form.

Jim Brown: This relationship with Levinas plays out in interesting ways in your recent work. If I'm hearing and reading that work correctly, it seems that you're sparring (for lack of a better term) with Levinas a bit in this book. Would this be an accurate statement? If so, do you think this marks any kind of shift in your work?

Diane Davis: That’s an astute observation because though I would say I’m mostly with Levinas in this book and that in a certain sense I owe the whole thing to him, it turns out to be a somewhat conflicted embrace. My sort of “grounding” argument, the one on which the whole work is based, is that rhetoric is first philosophy. Levinas’s famous declaration is, of course, that ethics is first philosophy. And it’s no secret that he has nothing good to say about rhetoric, which for him lines up with nonethical language. So I’m both agreeing and disagreeing with him on this point. He describes ethics as a preoriginary obligation to respond to the Other, an obligation that interrupts one’s sense of selfsufficiency and spontaneity; and I redescribe that very obligation as a rhetorical imperative, since it involves an obligation to respond to a nonsubjective “address” or “appeal.” And at the end of the book, in a P.S., I take exception most specifically to Levinas’s humanism. But again, my position is conflicted since my entire argument assumes a Levinasian approach to the language relation. I’m arguing that there is no way to limit Levinasian ethics (or what I call the “rhetorical imperative”) to human beings, and that Levinas’s own exclusion of non-human animals from the ethico-rhetorical scene indicates a contradiction in his own terms. So one could say I’m after a more Levinasian approach to the language-relation than Levinas himself could or would embrace.

Jim Brown: It seems that Levinas’s stance on rhetoric shifts a bit through the years, and I’m wondering if we might link this to the so-called “new rhetorics” (Burke, Perelman, etc.) that radically expand rhetoric’s scope. Would you say that when Levinas “rails against rhetoric” as you’ve put it in P&R article that he’s railing against a particularly narrow or restricted rhetoric? And when he’s kinder to rhetoric, he’s speaking of a more generalized rhetoric?

Diane Davis: I think so. Levinas’s conception of rhetoric is usually excruciatingly narrow, referring to the intentional use of persuasive language. When I talk to you in order to persuade you of something, I come at you both at and with “an angle,” as Levinas puts it. And he argues that this angle makes it impossible to experience le visage d’Autrui (the “face” or the radical singularity of the other). But that experience is precisely the opening of what he calls “discourse” or “conversation” (entre-tien) which names the specifically ethical relation. Throughout almost all of his work, rhetoric lines up with non-ethical language. But as I have noted elsewhere, he can’t quite get the opposition between rhetoric and ethical language to stick. In an early essay called “Freedom and Command” (1953), he had already described the ethical relation as a kind of persuasion before speech. And in his most mature work, Otherwise than Being, he describes the saying of the face (ethical language) as “an overflowing of the said itself by a rhetoric which is not only a linguistic mirage, but a surplus of meaning of which consciousness all by itself would be incapable” (OTB 152; emphasis mine). In an essay published a decade later (1981) called “Everyday Language and Rhetoric Without Eloquence,” Levinas understands that rhetoric names not only persuasion in the most banal sense but also the tropological function of language, which takes place not simply as an eloquent distortion of reality but as the production of “reality.” And he realizes that “the saying” takes place in and through this tropological exchange, even if it has nothing to do with “the said” or the content of the exchange. So his understanding of rhetoric does seem to expand a little by the end.

Jim Brown: The coda of this text explores the question of the animal. What brought you to this line of thinking? Is this a more recent development in the project, or did you have a sense that this would be part of the book all along?

Diane Davis: My very first publication, written when I was an MA student and published in RSQ in 1990, was on language and animalilty.2 This has been a serious concern of mine for as long as I can remember having “serious concerns.” Some of my favorite contemporary philosophers are unapologetically anthropocentric—Heidegger, Levinas, and Lacan to name just a few. It would be irresponsible simply to dismiss them because of it, but I don’t let them off the hook, either, and it’s important not to. Since that first 1990 article, I’ve had the great fortune to talk with Derrida, Ronell, and Nancy about the question of “the animal” in various settings, and their perspectives have had a huge influence on me, as has their work more generally. I mention somewhere in the book that Ronell frequently hounded the Derridas about vegetarianism at the dinner table, and Nancy told me just this past summer that Derrida ate less and less meat toward the end of his life because he just couldn’t justify it. Of course, the question of “the animal” is gigantic, much bigger than the issue of vegetarianism, and really addressing it would have apocalyptic implications—for philosophy, for rhetoric, for religion, for Western culture itself.

But yes, to answer your question, from the beginning I knew that some form of argument against Levinas’s anthropocentrism was going to be a part of this book. It took a while to figure out exactly how it was going to take shape, but it I always knew it would be in there in some form.

Jim Brown: In a recent discussion on The Blogora, the discussion of object-oriented philosophy/ontology/rhetoric came up. This seems to be a hot topic right now. In fact, Enculturation recently published Scot Barnett’s review essay “Toward an Object-Oriented Rhetoric” which focused on Graham Harman’s work. In the Blogora discussion you posed the question of “Why now?” That is, you asked why we are asking questions about the object and the animal at this moment. Clearly, these are not brand new questions, and all of this current work is rooted in a long philosophical tradition. But these questions are popping up with more urgency now. So, I’d like to deflect your own question back to you. Why now?

Diane Davis: Well, let me say first that Barnett is right that Jenny Edbauer Rice, Byron Hawk, Debbie Hawhee, Thomas Rickert, and Jenny Bay, for example, have all produced very interesting and theoretically sophisticated contributions to what we could call Object Oriented Rhetoric, exposing each of the supposedly discrete elements of, say, the rhetorical situation, as ecologically relational and radically exposed. In my contribution to that discussion on the Blogora, I noted that some of the new work describing itself as Object Oriented, however, worries me a little because it seems oblivious to the more groundbreaking work done previously in that arena. I’m thinking not only of, say Adorno and Baudrillard, two really compelling interventions, but especially of Heidegger. But all of the thinkers I just mentioned, and Harman, too, are onto the stakes of this inquiry. They begin, for instance, with the realization that there’s no discrete object to study, no das ding that is flatly and simply there. They don’t, in other words, simply reconfirm the subject/object dichotomy by presuming that there is an other of the subject that has been neglected in order to flip the site of privilege from subject to object. They’re interested in something else, something irreducible to this tired dichotomy. Each in his or her own way points instead toward the abject, toward that which is neither inside nor outside, public nor private, subject nor object, present nor absent. The abject is what’s at stake, it seems to me, in this discussion. It is also at stake in the question of “the animal.”

I’m not sure why there has been a surge of interest right now in these two questions, “the object” and “the animal.” I guess we are maybe, hopefully, growing weary of talking about the subject as if it’s not itself a product of subjection. Derrida actually has a theory about why the question of “the animal” has become so important today. He says that the West’s impossibly cruel subjugation of animals has, over the last 200 years or so, reached such “unprecedented proportions” that it has sparked a surge of compassion. Animal suffering is so great today that it’s no longer deniable, Derrida argues, and he uses the word “genocide” unapologetically, reminding us that there are “animal genocides: the number of species endangered because of man takes one’s breath away,” he writes in The Animal that Therefore I am (26). But he is also talking about a different sort of genocide, one in which “the annihilation of certain species . . . is occurring through the organization and exploitation of an artificial, infernal, virtually interminable survival, in conditions that previous generations would have judged monstrous, outside of every presumed norm of a life proper to animals that are thus exterminated by means of their continued existence or even their overpopulation” (26).

The impossible breadth of this cruelty and this suffering has sparked, Derrida says, a “new experience” of compassion; indeed, he suggests that a “war (whose inequality could one day be reversed) [is] being waged between, on the one hand, those who violate not only animal life but even and also this sentiment of compassion, and, on the other hand, those who appeal for an irrefutable testimony to this pity” (28-29). Though this war has probably never not been going on, Derrida hypothesizes that it is now in a “critical phase.” I find this argument, this theory about why the question of “the animal” is suddenly all over the place today, very compelling. And it’s very likely linked to the sudden surge of interest in the question of “the object.”

Jim Brown: Your writing style has shifted significantly since your first book, Breaking Up [at] Totality. That text was very playful in tone, and it was pushing the boundaries of the page. Do you have any thoughts on this shift? What does this shift in style say about the changes you've undergone as a thinker?

Diane Davis: In the first book I was trying to perform what I was talking about typographically in order to call attention to the limits of the page as well as the materiality of language. I was, of course, very much under the influence of Victor J. Vitanza and Avital Ronell at that time; their styles are singular and contagious (though, no one can do them the way they do). Anyway, that book was fun to produce and a royal pain to publish (you would not believe. . .). I mean, it was accepted by the first press I submitted it to, SIUP, but the process was painful and long because of all the typographical play. When I finished that project, I kind of felt that I had done what I set out to do, and I no longer felt the need to make the performative argument typographically. This time, the performativity is much more subtle—it doesn’t jump out at you. You have to read really closely to experience it. I try to perform two opposing methodological threads simultaneously. On the one hand, my task is to offer a cautious figuring of the unfigurable, or, in Levinas’s terms, to reduce the saying to the said. (The saying lines up with the performative; it’s the address, the greeting, the approach. The said lines up with the constative; it’s the content, the signified meaning, etc.) And on the other hand, my task is to allow the saying to show itself within the said by interrupting it or, in Levinas’s terms, to reduce the said to the saying. These opposing reductions operate in tandem without much commentary from me as I go. And maybe it won’t work. We’ll have to see. In the introduction, I say that the text offers itself up—tentatively, experimentally—as a rhetoric of the saying, as a work devoted to interrogating and affirming the saying as an extra-symbolic rhetorical appeal. So the performativity is still there in this book, but it takes a different, much more subtle form this time. I’m not sure if this shift in approach reflects a shift in thinking. I think it’s more a matter of finding and testing different ways to engage with performativity. I have no idea what my next book will look like.

Jim Brown: Your discussion of this work as tentative and experimental raises interesting questions about your mode of address. In much of your work, you ask the discipline to do some difficult things--to consider the "nonappropriative relation," to redefine its stance toward agency and ethics, to completely rethink the notion of "community." And yet few would describe your tone as abrasive or aggressive. How do you think you've been able to strike this kind of balance?

Diane Davis: Well, I don’t do polemics. I understand the significance of a certain type of polemics, and I can appreciate its potential. But I don’t typically have the time or energy to write with or even against a thinker that I don’t also respect and embrace. To really write with or against someone, you have to spend some quality time with their work. You can’t do much of anything worthwhile after a one night stand; you have to go steady, commit for a while, and I only really cuddle up to texts I’m attracted to, those that are clearly going to teach me something substantial. So I end up writing with and against texts and writers that I also love—at least a little—and certainly respect. I may end up intensely disagreeing with some aspect of a work, but the respect is still there, too. In Inessential Solidarity, for example, there are two chapters in which I think with and against two well known rhetoricians: Steven Mailloux and Michael Hyde. The aim in both chapters is to expose something that their work covers over. But I chose them because their work is solid and thoughtful, because I find so much to agree with in it. Nonetheless, I want to talk about something they don’t talk about, something that their work makes it really hard to talk about—something that their work helps to foreclose. Still, you’re not hearing disrespect or dismissal there, certainly not aggression, precisely because I embrace what they’re doing for the most part. And because without them doing what they do, I’m not sure I could be doing what I do.

Jim Brown: I wonder if you might talk about recent developments that have happened under the banner of “community.” Specifically, I’m thinking of the Tea Party Movement and the Obama campaign. How does the work you do in Inessential Solidarity speak to the various complicated questions raised by these kinds of “communities.”

Diane Davis: What I’m trying to describe with the phrase “inessential solidarity” is not reducible to any form of determinate “community,” but determinate communities are potential effects of it. Members of this party or that club form a “community” (in the most banal sense) inasmuch as they share the presumption of a common being or interest or purpose or practice or value; they share an identification across some level of presumed essence or desire. The bond or contract that takes place among the members of each community defines its limits, marking what it takes to get in and so the measure by which others are excluded. Now, Burke taught us that belonging is fundamentally rhetorical, which means that what is presumed to be common among the members the Tea Party or the Obama campaign, for example, is not fixed ontologically (it’s not about essence) but is rather a function of shared symbol systems. We identify with those we presume are “like us” or share something with us, and the presumed overlap of commonality is first of all a product of symbolicity. However, what I’m trying to describe—and this is where Steven Mailloux and I disagree—precedes and exceeds symbolic structure. Inessential solidarity names a kind of presubjective relationality and responsivity (and so rhetoricity) that would be the condition for symbolic exchange; we could say it operates on a more primordially rhetorical level. It is thanks to this originary or preoriginary rhetoricity that any sort of determinate “community” can take shape at all, whether we’re talking about the Nazis or the PTA. But it’s also why there is something called compassion. If identity preceded relationality and responsivity, as is typically presumed—if the freedom to choose preceded the obligation to respond—there would no generosity in the world, Levinas notes, not “even the little that there is.”

Jim Brown: At one point in the book, you describe this preoriginary rhetoricity by pointing to Nancy’s discussion of passengers on a train. For Nancy, this is a situation that corresponds to the notion of “being-with.” Passengers on a train are “not linked” and they are “quite together.” They are singularities, exposed to one another, prior to or beyond any choice to “respond.” This exposedness is the basis for the theory of community that you’re developing in this text. They are next to each other but “in an accidental, arbitrary, and completely exterior manner.” But even this correspondence seems to present a problem, because everyone is headed in the same direction. There may be no “fusion” amongst this group, but they do share a direction or trajectory. I raise this problem not to “disprove” Nancy. Rather, I wonder if the difficulty here is an inescapable one. How do we describe an “inessential solidarity” when every metaphor seems to fall short of such a description?

Diane Davis: Well, part of the methodological task is to demonstrate the necessary impossibility of figuring a solidarity that is the very condition for figuration. This inessential solidarity is exposed in the experience of disfiguration rather than the other way around, but there is no disfiguration without figuration—hence the back and forth action, the reduction, each time, of the said to the saying. In this case, though, the analogy Nancy is using is a good one inasmuch as it indicates a kind of liminal zone between relation and nonrelation, “disintegration and aggregation,” “solitude and collectivity.” The train compartment stands in for “world,” which the passengers share: Dasein names (a) being that is first of all in-the-world and with-others, and “world,” for Heidegger, is always a “shared world” (Mitwelt). Dasein is constituted in and as its sharing of this world, a world that is perpetually coming into being and putting being into play. There is no pre-existing I, no subject of the verb “to be” that could precede this being-with, so it indicates neither fusion nor, to be fair, a specific direction/trajectory.

Nonetheless, as I argue in the book, being-with would have to be dependent upon an always prior responsivitiy—in other words, being-with does not adequately cover the sort of inessential solidarity that I’m trying to expose; it is already derivative of another sort of relationality or solidarity that is the focus of this book. That’s what I’m trying to indicate when, a few paragraphs after I describe the train compartment scene, I begin a new paragraph under the heading “The Handoff.” The handoff is from Nancy to Levinas, from being-with to being-for, from Mitsein to substitution (“l’un-pour-l’autre”). The train passengers are simply seated next to each other, side by side, suspended between disinterestedness and concern; they exist in and as their ecstatic (non)relation. They are with-one-another, Mitsein-style, which means that they share being and therefore states-of-mind (moods) that attest to their being-outside, in-the-world, together. And yet, they are capable of maintaining a fundamental indifference toward one another, of continuing, as I put it in the book, to file their nails or to read the paper (or Being and Time) without offering the slightest gesture of acknowledgment or concern. They are exposed without being faced with the fact of their exposedness. And my argument, alongside Levinas, is that this indifference must already be dependent upon a prior nonindifference—that is, on a nonsubjective responsivity that would be the condition for (and not the effect of) the emergence of any Dasein, any Mitsein, any Mitwelt. What kick-starts the emergence of world and consciousness, each time, is an obligation to respond, a rhetorical imperative; we could also say that this imperative operates as the kick-stand for both world and consciousness.

Jim Brown: The introduction to the book includes a section on “Methodology,” and it’s clear that both describing and enacting your method is difficult and painstaking. This discussion of methodology is not always present in works of rhetorical theory--it seems we often assume that rhetoric entails an unspoken method (or that “rhetoric” or “rhetorical analysis” is the method). Discussions of methodology are (unfortunately) often reserved for the more qualitative work in our field. I’m wondering if you might talk about what made you include that section and whether you always think of your work in methodological terms.

Diane Davis: That makes me laugh a little because the question of method was so agonizing this time. No, I rarely focus on method in my work; my approach is typically deconstructive, and I don’t usually comment much on the implications of that “methodology” (if we can call it that). But this time I really wanted to address the field of rhetorical studies on both sides of the aisle, so I hoped to land on a methodological approach that rhetoricians in communication studies and rhetoric and writing studies would consider legitimate and familiar. The quest really hounded and harassed me for a while. But of course no standard method was going to work for me, no amount of archival work or qualitative or quantitative data collection would expose what I wanted to expose—I tried to include a couple of what one might call “case studies,” but it’s actually a bit of a stretch to describe them that way. So I finally decided I better just come clean right up front, admit that the work was not, in fact, going to adopt a familiar methodological approach. I thought if I noted it explicitly and also explained the perhaps unfamiliar method I had adopted, it would make more sense to more readers. We’ll see how that works out. So much of this work is experimental—I’m just not sure what will work and what won’t, and I admitted that in the introduction. Maybe it won’t work. We’ll have to see.


1 Davis, D. Diane. "'Addicted to Love'; or, toward an Inessential Solidarity." JAC 19.4 (1999): 635-56. Print.

2 Mowery, Diane and Eve Duffy. "The Power of Language to Efface and Desensitize." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 20.2 (1990): 163-171. Print.