A Distinction No Longer of Use: Evolutionary Discourse and the Disappearance of the Trope/Figure Binarism

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Abstract

The concern with progress and utility is shared by nineteenth-century scientists, philosophers, and rhetoricians, leading to significant correspondences among their discourses. This concern is manifest, for example, in the way in which several rhetorical treatises of the nineteenth century regard the distinction between a figure and a trope, which had been a common part of rhetorical theory since the time of Quintilian, as useless and anachronistic. By examining three nineteenth-century articulations of the justifications for erasing the trope/figure distinction from the cultural repertoire, this essay reveals structural and semantic parallels between these rhetorical treatises and the discourses of evolution and utilitarianism. Thus, the essay locates the source of the synonymity which the terms “trope” and “figure” have acquired in contemporary critical metalanguage in Victorian ideologies of progress and of the unprofitability and consequent discardability of the ancient.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-342
Number of pages22
JournalRhetorica - Journal of the History of Rhetoric
Volume11
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 1993

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