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Rhetorical Investigations

Studies in Ordinary Language Criticism
Walter Jost

BUY Cloth · 368 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813922492 · $60.00 · Apr 2004

In Rhetorical Investigations Walter Jost juxtaposes problems and questions in philosophy and literature, using rhetoric as the middle term and common ground between them. Drawing on the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Stanley Cavell, among others, Jost joins a small band of contemporary literary critics who are rethinking theory beyond the apriorism of much poststructuralism and its built-in reading against the grain. By elaborating an "ordinary language criticism" stabilized in grammatical and rhetorical possibilities of language rather than in empirical actualities, Jost shows how literary critics at all levels, from the undergraduate to the sophisticated theorist, "pose" as they read, trying out "performances" of the words as claims to self-knowledge as well as cultural critique.

In the second half of the book, Jost examines the "low modernist" poetry of Robert Frost, finding in Frost’s work a "scene of instruction" through which underappreciated resources for criticism can be recovered in the traditions of rhetoric, hermeneutics, pragmatism, and ordinary language philosophy.

Rhetorical Investigations promises no convenient methods and no simple answers to questions of meaning in literature; instead, it proposes a criticism whose origins are the natural language we all speak and whose value rests on illuminating our language games in poetry, philosophy, and everyday life.


"When it comes to rhetoric and the question of its potential role in literary-philosophical analysis, I can hardly think of a more insightful book than this. It is accomplished, distinguished, and makes a genuine contribution to many different fields of thought.

Anthony CascardiUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeley, author of The Subject of Modernity

For those of us who are growing weary of interrogating, unmasking, and subverting, Walter Jost points the way to a different kind of thinking. Rhetorical Investigations is an eloquent manifesto for a style of criticism attentive to the rich resources of ordinary language and everyday life. Jost's arguments are rigorously made and always illuminating.

Rita FelskiUniversity of Virginia, author of Literature After Feminism

This is a book that should be read by everyone who cares about rhetorical inquiry, or about the importance of ordinary language, or about the neglected importance of the works of Robert Frost. With an impressive knowledge of contemporary philosophy, Jost has found the right way of tying fancy ideas to the ways we think and talk and write in the 'everyday' world. His analyses of major poems by Robert Frost are by far the best I have read.

Wayne Booth, author of The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction

About the Author(s): 

Walter Jost, Professor of English at the University of Virginia, is the author of Rhetorical Thought in John Henry Newman and has coedited several books, most recently (with Wendy Olmsted) A Companion to Rhetoric and Rhetorical Criticism.

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