[Springboard] LIMITS OF POWER: Gordon's idea of great American Conversations

James Wiegel jfwiegel at yahoo.com
Tue Nov 25 11:07:46 EST 2008

Gordon:  have you seen this book?  Seems like it is raising the central problem you were wanting to address with your call for some great american conversation . . .
Some Thoughts on Discourse I have been trying to find a way to discuss Sharon Crowley’s contention that no one wants to debate civilly anymore. That’s one item she expounds upon in Toward a Civil Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism (University of Pittsburgh Press 2006), her newest book that recently received the Gary A. Olson Award from the Association of Advanced Composition and the David H. Russell Award from the National Council of Teachers of English. Sharon Crowley is a Professor of Rhetoric and Composition in the ASU Department of English and her book has created a stir within academic and political communities. The volume “considers the ancient art of rhetoric as a solution to the problems of repetition and condemnation that pervade American public discourse.” When we, as a community, are not able to discuss and debate openly, to have a civil discourse expecting possible solutions and resolutions as a result—how can we have a civil
 society? No way. Professor Crowley and I met by the fifth floor elevator. Happenstance, but perfect. I told her I was to write a brief item on her and her new book. She said she was honored that I’d write something. We did agree I’d send her a couple of brief questions. A day or two later—after I’d walked and run up South Mountain trails arguing with myself—I sent her two questions: “How does America stand a chance of having a civil society if there is no way to debate the rights and wrongs of liberalism and Christian fundamentalism? And: “If American people are afraid to debate civilly, what are the chances for resolution?” Not long afterward, Sharon— she said it’s alright to call her Sharon—emailed me a reply that immediately made me smile: “Why don’t you ask some hard questions?” —Simon J. Ortiz
Sharon Crowley’s answers to Ortiz’s questions emphasize the central point of her book: “There are pathways by which people with very different ideas can engage in civil discussion. There are openings. First, liberals and fundamentalist Christians must try to understand the principles and beliefs that guide each group.” Generosity, the ability to listen, and a kind spirit—keys to Crowley’s own personality—are qualities that infuse this important new scholarship with hope for change in the rhetorical hills and valleys of the American political landscape.
>From Accents on English Newsletter of the Arizona State University Department of English 11:1 (Fall 2007): page 2. 

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