But Who am I Here?: Rhetoric in the Context of a Citizen-Traveler

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A rhetorical approach to the interpretation of travel and travel writing opens up a host of intriguing questions: To what extent is a traveler and travel writer also a rhetor facing an inherently ethical task of narrating the experiences of sometimes distant “others” to largely domestic audiences? How do commonplaces assumed of a narrating writer—for example, a recognizable national identity and political culture—affect a traveler’s relations to people of other societies, who likely have their own distinct traditions and practices? Rhetoric concerns itself with communicative practices and practical wisdom. Thus a rhetorical study of travel must have some recommendations for how to approach a life experienced and narrated outside the presumed coherence of a national public sphere. I will argue that an ethos informed by civic virtue freights travelers with responsibilities concerning the representation of global others with whom travelers may or may not share cultural and political commonplaces. Finally, I explore how rhetorical theory and practice, informed as they are by politically and historically specific traditions, such as Cicero’s “civic virtue,” Quintilian’s “ideal orator,” or even Edward Said’s more contemporary “public intellectual,” make sense as a frame to use in approaching global travel and transnational identities and politics. My argument concludes by positing a set of critical cultural practices for travelers, travelling writers, and their critics.


Presented at Rhetoric in Society 4, in Copenhagen, Denmark, on January 16, 2013.

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