“A scintillating account of the classical and early modern roots of political rhetoric, this book could not be more welcome or more timely. In an era threatened on all sides by pessimism and moralism, Struever’s response is to ask how one can produce possibility out of negation. Her answer lies in this vigorous, bold, and often edgy set of reflections which celebrate the powers of positivity, capacity, and life itself. Retrieving rhetoric as civic engagement, Struever offers a completely novel explanation of modernity as modality—less as an epochal marker than as a grasp of potentials and possibilities, and as a rejection of hegemonic determinism. Almost as a bonus, the book is filled with astonishing and original readings of a number of writers, from Aristotle to Hobbes, Vico, and Benjamin, to contemporary interpreters of modernity. Rhetoric, Modality, Modernity is a great gift from a wonderfully resourceful mind, and a joy to read.”
(James I. Porter, University of California, Irvine)
“In this brilliant and provocative essay, Nancy Struever revisits the quarrel between rhetoric and philosophy and argues that rhetoric is uniquely able to deal with the realm of possibility—the civic or political realm in which actions take place. Struever argues for the neglected modernity of early modernists such as Hobbes and Vico against the classical philosophical and Enlightenment paradigms, for which rhetoric lacks explanatory power. Hobbes and Vico secede from classical philosophical paradigms by virtue of their focus on modality and possibility rather than truth and necessity. Their insights find a modern equivalent in the work of Walter Benjamin, whose investigations into modernity are guided not by philosophy but by a rhetoric that is political at its core. Ranging widely from Aristotle and Cicero to Hegel, Hintikka, Peirce, and Williams, Struever challenges us to rethink the history of philosophy as well as rhetoric, and their relation to our own postmodern moment.”
(Victoria Kahn, University of California, Berkeley)
About the Author
Nancy S. Struever is professor emerita in the History Department and the Humanities Center at the Johns Hopkins University. Her most recent book is The History of Rhetoric and the Rhetoric of History.