embodying a discourse

constructive rhetoric, narrative, subjectivity, collective subject, “falsity” of narratives

The Argument
Audiences do not exist in a vacuum; as subjects that exist in a world, the ideologies and identities of an audience are also a part of the conversations they are and aren’t a part of. Constitutive rhetoric offers a way to explore and problematize the ways in which narratives of identity are constructed, and the ways they affect audiences.

 “Consequently, attempts to elucidate ideological or identity-forming discourses as persuasive are trapped in a contradiction” persuasive discourse requires a subject-as-audience who is already constituted within an identity and within an ideology” (134).

“All narratives, as they create the illusion of merely revealing a unified and unproblematic subjectivity, are ideological, because they occult the importance of discourse, culture, and history in giving rise to subjectivity, and because, as G. H. Mead and Freud have made clear, subjectivity is always social, constituted in language, and exists in a delicate balance of contradictory drives and impulses” (139).

“The necessity is ontological: one must already be a subject in order to be addressed or to speak. We therefore cannot say that one is persuaded to be a subject; one is ‘always already’ a subject” (141).

“Constitutive rhetorics are ideological not merely because they provide individuals with narratives to inhibit as subjects and motives to experience, but because they insert ‘narratized’ subjects-as-agents into the world” (143).

“From this perspective, we can see that audiences do not exist outside rhetoric, merely addressed by it, but live inside rhetoric” (147).

 Something that really stood out to me as I read Maurice Charland’s piece for class was the second quote I shared above. Immediately after reading the quote, I thought to myself what this means for marginalized people aren’t always included in narratives of national identity. When is a person a non-subject, and thus not a part of the audience that “participates in the very discourse” that works to persuade us?

Obviously, from a rhetorical, persuasive standpoint, there are situations where we are not subjects that need to be persuaded for a variety of instances. We’re not always being spoken to, but that sure as hell doesn’t stop people from making a space from them within discourses they’re not a part of. There are situations where we are “transcendent subject[s] as [an] audience” and not members who “participate in the very discourse by which [we are to be] ‘persuaded’” (133). As a Latina, I understand that there are elements of the Latino narrative that work to shape the ways in which I, and other Latinos, embody my Latinidad. Things like our family, or our own, immigration story, our “brown-ness”, and even cultural things like music, traditions, and food are things Latinos are extremely proud of. These elements mean that I am already “constituted within an identity and within an ideology” that is going to affect the way I participate in discourses, especially those that deal with my narratives of identity.

Charland states that out identities and narratives aren’t fixed, they’re dynamic and can change. I remember a time when I didn’t want to embrace my Latinidad because I was embarrassed by it; I was embarrassed by all the things that I’m proud of now. I think we can all pinpoint times in which our identities shifted, which “allowed” us to become active audience members that participate in the discourses we’re a part of. These shifts are important because they work to “reposition us with respect to such formal and informal institutions as the state, the economy, the church, and the school” (147).

We talked in class last week about how we don’t really know what to look for when reflecting, but I think it’s important to try and reflect on these instances where identities shift because 1. they’re memorable, and 2. they allow us to become active audiences among different discourses.

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