Victor Vitanza

Victor J. Vitanza, Jean-François Lyotard Chair and Professor of Rhetoric and Philosophy at The European Graduate School / EGS.


Victor J. Vitanza is a philosopher who specializes in rhetorics. He is not only Jean-François Lyotard Chair at the European Graduate School (EGS), but also a Professor of English and Rhetoric at Clemson University. Professor Vitanza obtained his B.A. from the University of Houston in English studies in 1967. He then went on to get his M.A., also in English studies, at the University of Houston. His master’s thesis was called The Image of the Abyss in Selected Works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Victor Vitanza did his first doctorate in 1975 in English at Northern Illinois University and his dissertation was entitled The Dialectic of Perverseness in the Major Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe. Before getting a second doctorate, Vitanza did his postdoctorate studies in Rhetorical Theory at Carnegie-Mellon University between 1978 and 1979, his fellowship topic was Rhetorical Invention and the Composing Process. In 2003 Vitanza was granted a second Ph.D. (habilitation) from EGS after having worked for his Ph.D. with an impressive combination of scholars: Wolfgang Schirmacher, Alain Badiou and Giorgio Agamben. Vitanza’s doctoral dissertation was called Chaste Rape: Sexual Violence, Canon Formation, and Rhetorical Cultures. Additionally, he did a post-habilitation seminar with Jacques Derrida in Paris in April 2004, only a few months before Jacques Derrida's death.

Professor Vitanza is also the Director of the PhD program at Clemson University in Rhetorics, Communications, and Information Design (RCID). Victor J. Vitanza is the Editor of PRE/TEXT: A Journal of Rhetorical Theory, and the Director of the PRE/TEXT Publishing Webwork. Over the years Professor Vitanza has accumulated several awards and honors, including one from the Research Network Forum (Dedicated Research Mentoring), Executive Committee, CCCC, in 2010. He also recieved the Kairos Award for the Best Webtext in 1999 and 2000.

Vitanza has tellingly qualified his work as follows:

I bring comic relief from what I see as the tragedy of ‘Philosophical Rhetoric’.

Internationally recognized as “the bad boy of American rhetoric", Victor J. Vitanza brings together classical and modern rhetorical theory with contemporary French and Italian philosophy. In doing so, he brings into question the status of rhetoric as a discipline by opening an inquiry into its relation with composition and vice versa, how each is immanent to the other, and how this mutual relation opens the possibility for asking about the third interval, which is outside of both.

Through the deployment of various figures drawn from Giorgio Agamben, Jean-François Lyotard, Hélène Cixous, and several others, professor Vitanza attempts to find a space outside of the university where writing can (potentially) happen. In his essay Abandoned to Writing: Notes Toward Several Provocations, he makes the highly subversive claim that the university cannot teach one how to write: “Writing cannot be commanded in a teleological or means-directed way; it can only be listened to in the 'unsubstantial territory' of the third interval." This attending to a call from a 'somewhere' which is outside is found through different paths, such as Martin Heidegger's 'impotentiality' and Giorgio Agamben's reading of 'potentiality' and ‘chora’ in both Aristotle and Martin Heidegger.

In the essay Two Gestures, While Waiting for a Third, Vitanza approaches the third term(s) through an analytic of economy–political, libidinal, discursive–as capitalism that moves from arestricted to general economy. This shift is fomented by a collapse in the power of negation, which “allow[s] for the return of the excluded third + body" (Vitanza, Two Gestures). Following Jean-François Lyotard’s characterization of Karl Marx (in Libidinal Economy) as hermaphroditic, at once “old man and young woman", the collapse of negation opens up unlimited potentialities for “an exuberance of sexes: [M, F, Hermaphrodites, Merms, Ferms, etc.]" (Vitanza, Two Gestures). Professor Vitanza finds in this proliferation of sexes, which go beyond the distinction of genus and species, singularities of pure potentiality in which a community can emerge outside of the demands of a transcendental State.

Victor J. Vitanza has authored the following books: Chaste Rape. Chaste Rapeis as mentioned above Vitanza’s dissertation for the European Graduate School which is a reassessment of thinking, reading, writing about sexual violence (2003). An updated and extended version of a book that began with the dissertation project is now available entitled, Sexual Violence in Western Thought and Writing: Chaste Rape (2011). This book has been highly anticipated due to the length and depth of work that he has put into it over the past decade. Vitanza has also authored Writing for the World Wide Web, or W4(1997), Negation, Subjectivity, and The History of Rhetoric (1996).

Victor J. Vitanza is the author of many chapters in books, including: “‘Whatever Beings’: The Coming (Educational) Community" in: Patricia Sullivan and Pamela Takayoshi (Editors) Labor, Writing Technologies, And the Shaping of Competition in the Academy (2007), “A Mini-Jeremiad" in: Duane Roen (Editor) Views from the Center: The CCCC Chairs’ Addresses, 1977-2005 (2006), “Favorinus" in: Michelle Ballif and Michael G. Moran (Editors) Classical Rhetorics and Rhetoricians: Critical Studies and Sources (2005), “Two Gestures, While Waiting for a Third" in: Mark Bousquet and Katherine V. Wills (Editors) The Politics of Information (2004), “Aesthetics, Party Lines" in: James Berlin (Editor), Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures: Refiguring College English Studies (2003), “Seeing in Third Sophistic Ways" in: Gary A. Olson (Editor) Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work (2002), “In Be Tween: Or, Writing on the Midway" in: Dene Grigar and John Barbar (Editors) New Worlds, New Words: Exploring Pathways for Writing about and in Electronic Environments (2001), “From Heuristic to Aleatory Procedures; or, Towards ‘Writing the Accident’" in: Maureen Daly Goggin (Editor) Inventing a Discipline: Rhetoric Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Young (2000), “James A. Berlin" in: Michael Moran and Michelle Ballif (Editors). 20th Century Rhetorics and Rhetoricians. Greenwood Press (2000).

Victor J. Vitanza is also the author of many articles, including: “Writing the TIC" in Kairos (2008). “Reading an Event after Patty and Jim" in Works and Days (2007). “Some Meditations-Ruminations on Cheryl Glenn's Unspoken: A Rhetoric of Silence" in JAC (2008). “Abandoned to Writing: Notes Toward Several Provocations" in Enculturation (2003). “Year Zero: Faciality" in Kairos (2003). “Two Gestures, While Waiting for a Third" in TechnoCapitalism (2003). “Other of the Ear" in frAme: Journal of Culture and Technology (2001). “The Shaping Forces of Electronic Texts and Journals on Our Professional Work" in The Writing Instructor (2001). “Iterations with Victor Vitanza on MOOs: an interview on the theory of MOOs" and “MOOniversity: A Student's Guide to Online Learning Environments" in Kairos (2000). “CompoZing comPLIcating Processes" in PRE/TEXT: Electra(Lite) (1999). “Potemkin-Repetition" in PRE/TEXT: Electra(Lite) (1999). “Rock and-or-not Roll, Rhythm, Noise, and Processual Mediating-Vibrating Technologies" in Enculturation: A Journal for Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture (1999). “‘The wasteland grows’; Or, What is ‘Cultural Studies for Composition’ and Why Must We Always Speak Good of It?" in JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory (1999). Interviews of Vitanza include: "Iterations with Victor Vitanza on MOOs: an interview on the theory of MOOs and MOOniversity: A Student's Guide to Online Learning Environments" in Kairos 5.1 (2000). “Re/Inter/View of Negation, Subjectivity, and The History of Rhetoric" in PRE/TEXT-List (1997). “Interview with Victor J. Vitanza" Harper's Magazine (1994).