Southern Colloquium on Rhetoric
Friday, October 21, 2016
North Carolina State University

Rhetoric’s Energies

Energy is everywhere. But that need not be a principle of physics, or even of metaphysics, so much as an observation about how often the word “energy” is now bandied about. Whether you’re concerned with the
energy crisis, in need of coffee because you’re low energy, or excited about the energy in the room during a particularly invigorating seminar, it is clear that “energy” has become both a vernacular and institutional keyword in our contemporary conjuncture. Depending whom you ask, and in what context, “energy” might now be nearly anything: a kind of drink, a government department, a sort of aura, a natural resource, a commodity. It might be kinetic or merely potential. It might be high or low. It might be renewable or nonrenewable. Something to replenish or to conserve. In one breath “energy” rings of new age mysticism, and in the next of nothing less than a basis for warfare, political and economic crisis, planetary collapse.

This year’s Southern Colloquium on Rhetoric is based on the premise that, as scholars, and as rhetoricians in particular, we have an obligation to get straight what we talk about when we talk about energy. This is especially true today, when, across the academy recent interest in new materialism, affect theory, and the Anthropocene has made “energy” more salient, yet more attenuated than ever. In the rhetorical tradition, our standard touchstone for the concept, dating to Aristotle, has been
energia, understood as the “energy” or vitality of spoken expression. Often energia is conflated with the more inherently visual rhetorical concept of enargia, equally as old but pertaining rather to vivid or graphic description, the pleasurable bringing to presence of that which is absent. Neither concept, however, is sufficient to account for the many associations and meanings that evoking energy connotes and denotes across disciplines and public discourse today. The 2016 Colloquium, therefore, will convene scholars interested in rhetoric’s many energies to discuss what they are, how we ought to set them straight, and why or why not energy is so important to the future of rhetorical studies.

To do so, we will read three texts from contemporary rhetorical theory that leverage the concept of energy to build their argument—and discuss them with reference to a specific, concrete example of public address. The three theoretical texts will be George Kennedy’s “A Hoot in the Dark” (1992), Carolyn Miller’s “What Can Automation Tell us About Agency?” (2007), and Catherine Chaput’s “Rhetorical Circulation in Late Capitalism” (2010). The concrete example of public address will be a “
Virtual Martin Luther King” performance (vMLK). This is an ambient audiovisual experience of a reenacted Martin Luther King speech digitally screened in a state-of-the-art visualization lab at NC State. Seminar attendees should read the theoretical texts in advance and plan to experience the vMLK performance together. While the articles may already be familiar to many seminar attendees, the vMLK experience is likely not. Our hope is that, by reading the articles specifically for their insights about rhetorical energy, and by experiencing the energy of the vMLK speech together, we can critically and creatively discuss what it means to evoke energy in public or academic rhetorical discourse.
General Format

  • Introduction from seminar moderators, Chris Ingraham and Emily Winderman
  • “Pre-Discussion” of primary texts and topic before vMLK experience
  • Shared experience of vMLK performance
  • “Post-Discussion” of primary texts in light of vMLK experience
  • If panelists are interested, we will discuss the possibility of developing a special issue publication based on the work undertaken during the seminar
  • Informal gatherings for meals, drinks, or recreation on Friday night & Saturday morning


Friday, October 21*

12:00 p.m.: Food, mingling, etc.
12:30 – 2:00: Introductions and Position Statements
2:00 – 2:30: Break (more food & caffeine)
2:30 – 3:30: vMLK experience
3:30 – 5:00: Optional Dinner

*Meetings will take place in the HUNT LIBRARY VISUALIZATION LAB (reserved 12-5 p.m.)

Primary Texts

Chaput, Catherine. “Rhetorical Circulation in Late Capitalism: Neoliberalism and the
Overdetermination of Affective Energy.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 43.1 (2010): 1-25.

Kennedy, George. “A Hoot in the Dark: The Evolution of General Rhetoric.”
and Rhetoric 25.1 (1992): 1-21.

Miller, Carolyn. “What Can Automation Tell us About Agency?”
Rhetoric Society Quarterly 37
(2007): 137-157.

Touchstone Text

Potential Supplementary Texts

Debra Hawhee, “Toward a Bestial Rhetoric.”
Philosophy and Rhetoric 44.1 (2011): 81-87.
Teresa Brennan,
The Transmission of Affect (2004)
Diane Davis,
Inessential Solidarity (2010)
Thomas Rickert,
Ambient Rhetoric (2013)