In thinking through what I am calling the Strange Defense of Rhetoric, which, in brief, puts Richard Lanham in conversation with Bruno Latour, I find it helpful to keep in mind the Incredible Hulk. Stay with me now.
It is perhaps risky to imagine rhetoric as an uncontrollable and largely ambivalent force in the universe. Hulk is, after all, a monster. But, in using Latour to intensify Lanham’s Strong Defense of rhetoric, the story of the Hulk becomes worth the risk. Lanham argues that rhetoric is essential creative rather than ornamental: that the truths we live by are man-made and social. Using the social as a jumping off point, I use Latour to intensify the social by ratcheting up the number of actors, human and nonhuman, that compose the social.
Back to the Hulk. As "a monster" is not, Marvel aficionados will know, the only way to understand the Hulk—or rhetoric (with which Marvel may or may not be familiar). The analogy works for me because I wish to attend to the strange strength that moves through the Hulk, and the precedence (the potential) for that strange strength in the body of Bruce Banner. Revisiting the Hulk, then, is about revisiting the body of thought that is rhetoric. In bringing Latour into rhetoric, I intend neither to save nor fix it. I use Latour to cultivate from within rhetoric the strangeness that is always there. Latour is thus the gamma radiation that turns Bruce Banner into the Hulk. And not just anyone and everyone becomes the Hulk. It's both Banner's past and his proximity to gamma radiation that creates the Hulk. In his most recent instantiation in The Avengers, Bruce Banner, played by Mark Ruffulo, is asked what his secret is: that is, how does Banner make Hulk appear. His answer, "I'm always angry," is equal parts unsettling and revealing. The Hulk is always inside waiting to come out. (The Incredible Hulk should certainly be provided with trigger warnings at the beginnings of the semester.)
This analogy, however fitting, is nevertheless suspect. The Incredible Hulk is after all a muscular, masculine body born of a white male. My embodiment of rhetoric, however strange, remains stereotypical given the history of histories of rhetoric. There is a risk as well in the centering of anger and strife. So, like any figuration of rhetoric, this embodiment of rhetoric in the Hulk must be provisional. I use the analogy here because it is uniquely suited to the strange task ahead. Every body is a risk the outcome of which will necessarily be a surprise, another point of departure.