Rhetoric and Decomposition

RSA 2022 • slides

The future will eat us. Material—organic and inorganic alike—currently employed in the production of our built environment will eventually be repurposed for new formations and processes: consumed as food, stripped for parts, perhaps even mined as fossil fuels in the far future. The planet is an engine of change. Rhetorical theory has often, especially recently, considered the raw material involved in the production of rhetorical effects, but less attention has been paid to the future lifecycle of those materials. A rhetorical focus on decomposition thinks of the future use that rhetorical effects might be put to when their immediate exigency has long since passed. In millions of years, the cities and landfills of humans will persist in some form or another; so too will our rhetoric, either directly in the sense of physical creations produced for rhetorical ends, or indirectly in the sense that the causes we champion now will change the course of the planet’s future. This "deep time" provides additional context for a planetary understanding of rhetoric that highlights its political and economic implications.