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"Up from Theory: Or, I Fought the Topoi and the Topoi Won"

"Up from Theory: Or, I Fought the Topoi and the Topoi Won"

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Published by Jodie Nicotra
Michael Leff
Michael Leff

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Published by: Jodie Nicotra on Nov 20, 2013
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This article was downloaded by: [Northern Arizona University-Cline Library]On: 16 October 2013, At: 11:38Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK
Rhetoric Society Quarterly
Publication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rrsq20
Up from Theory: Or I Foughtthe Topoi and the Topoi Won
Michael Leff
aa
 Department of Communication , University of Memphis , Memphis, Tennessee, USAPublished online: 02 Sep 2006.
To cite this article:
 Michael Leff (2006) Up from Theory: Or I Fought theTopoi and the Topoi Won, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 36:2, 203-211, DOI:10.1080/02773940600605560
To link to this article:
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02773940600605560
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Up from Theory: Or I Fought the Topoi andthe Topoi Won
Michael Leff 
Department of Communication, University of Memphis,Memphis, Tennessee, USA 
Early in my career I studied the history of topical invention in order todiscover the basis for a distinctive, substantive, and coherent theory of rhetorical argumentation. The effort reflected the dominant academicassumptions of the time, and it proved both frustrating and instructive.Eventually, I concluded that my objective was misdirected. When theo-retical coherence became the goal of topical invention (as in Boethius),the topics lost connection with rhetorical interests and applicationsand became part of a self-contained scholastic enterprise. But whentreated more loosely as precepts that helped develop a capacity foraction and performance in a particular case (as in Quintilian), the topicsemerged not only as more useful but as more directly connected to thedistinctive characteristics of rhetorical art. This shift in emphasis for‘‘substance’’ and ‘‘theory’’ to ‘‘action’’ and ‘‘performance’’ corresponds toa general change in attitudes toward rhetoric that has occurred during the last three decades. This change may lead to a revisionism thatextends beyond the teaching of individual courses and encouragesconsideration of rhetoric as a curriculum.
When I first began to study rhetoric, some forty or so years ago, theterms ‘‘substance’’ and ‘‘theory’occupied privileged positions indisciplinary consciousness. ‘‘Substance’’ referred to content or subject-matter,andinthispre-post-disciplinaryschemeofthings,scholarsweresupposed to work within bounded and clearly differentiated domains of inquiry. A discipline, that is, needed to have a proper subject, and sincescholarship demanded rationally refined, systematically organizedabstractprinciplesthatstoodaboveandapartfromparticulars,thestudyofanacademicsubjectrequiredtheuseof‘‘theory’’.Inthequasi-discipline
 Address correspondence to Michael Leff, University of Memphis, Department of Communication, 143 Theatre & Communication Bldg., Memphis, TN 31852–3150, USA.E-mail: mleff@memphis.edu
 Rhetoric Society Quarterly
, 36:203–211, 2006Copyright
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The Rhetoric Society of AmericaISSN: 0277-3945 print
=
1930-322X onlineDOI: 10.1080/02773940600605560
203
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