Panel at the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association (PAMLA) Conference Las Vegas: “City of God, City of Destruction”
Presiding Officer: Nanette Rasband Hilton (University of Nevada - Las Vegas)
Feminist rhetorical strategies are intended to nurture inclusivity, equality, immanent value, and self-determination amongst actors, human and nonhuman. In this way feminist rhetoric may promote peace—or usher in that “City of God” many people seek and claim to be striving for, especially as early America believed itself a “city on a hill” providing a “beacon of hope” for the world. This panel uses a feminist rhetorical lens to examine nineteenth century American literature to impart critical knowledge about historical worldviews, reframe texts in new ways, and ground a discussion of how modern-day rhetoricians may explicate, extend, and apply a text to promote world peace.
Early U.S. political mantra promoted John Winthrop’s 1630 vision of America as a “beacon of hope” to the world, even a “city upon a hill” to which people should gather and other nations use as a model. This idea of American exceptionalism, especially as a nation with unique responsibility to emulate and promote godly ideals, percolated over centuries and has been quoted in U.S. political speeches ever since, including those of Presidents Regan and Obama. This panel examines how feminist rhetorics grapple with this inherently patriarchal idea of rhetoric as persuasion and its many possible negative ramifications. Moreover, this panel examines how feminist rhetoricians of the nineteenth century, like Margaret Fuller and Harriet Beecher Stowe, embraced Winthrop’s vision and interpreted it to promote what feminist theorists propose as a strategy for advancing “equality, immanent value, and self-determination” (Foss and Griffin 1995) amongst actors, human and nonhuman.
Foss and Griffin’s “Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric” celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2020. In celebration, this panel acknowledges America’s early initiative as a model nation with noble aspirations and reexamines Winthrop’s idiom through the lens of nineteenth century feminist rhetoric. How do these rhetoricians extend or modify Winthrop’s vision? How might we learn from the historical world views represented in early texts, reframe these texts in generative ways, and promote discourse in the aim of world peace?
This panel is not a forum for national critique on either the misguidedness or failure of Winthrop’s vision or of contemporary U.S. politics. Instead, this panel is an opportunity to discuss the constructive feminist rhetorical strategies evidenced in nineteenth century literature and how we can apply them in the twenty-first century to promote an ideal society.