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The Weimar Origins of Rhetorical Inquiry

The Weimar origins of political theory is a widespread and powerful narrative, but this singular focus leaves out another intellectual history that historian David L. Marshall works to reveal: the Weimar origins of rhetorical inquiry. Marshall focuses his attention on Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, and Aby Warburg, revealing how these influential thinkers inflected and transformed problems originally set out by Max Weber, Carl Schmitt, Theodor Adorno, Hans Baron, and Leo Strauss. He contends that we miss major opportunities if we do not attend to the rhetorical aspects of their thought, and his aim, in the end, is to lay out an intellectual history that can become a zone of theoretical experimentation in para-democratic times. Redescribing the Weimar origins of political theory in terms of rhetorical inquiry, Marshall provides fresh readings of pivotal thinkers and argues that the vision of rhetorical inquiry that they open up allows for new ways of imagining political communities today.


“Beautifully researched and written, The Weimar Origins of Rhetorical Inquiry provides major contributions to high modern intellectual history, political theory, and to the history and theory of rhetoric. I won’t be alone in seeing these neighboring fields differently after reading the book. At the same time the book speaks to a broader political culture: especially compelling is how Marshall provides a historically rich account of rhetorical possibility in para-democratic times.”

Daniel M. Gross, University of California Irvine

“This is a wonderful, groundbreaking, and genuinely important book, one that won’t be read just in the next couple years, but one that will reward coming back to years from now. Not only is it brilliant in its depth of analysis and understanding of key figures, but it does hugely important work, carving out strong rhetorical content within what has heretofore been received as nearly exclusively philosophical or aesthetic work. The fact that Marshall does so with such rigor further backs the impact of his argument.”

Thomas Rickert, Purdue University

The Weimar Origins of Rhetorical Inquiry is as rewarding as it is ambitious. By relocating the rhetorical tradition within an intellectual topology of Heidegger, Arendt, Benjamin, and Warburg, the reader is brought to careful reconsideration of both modern and classical concepts. While erudite and bristling with insights, the book ultimately is a powerful study in method. All that remains is for other scholars to put it to work.”

Robert Hariman, Northwestern University

Table of Contents

1          The Weimar We Know and the Weimar We Do Not Know
2          Idioms of Rhetorical Inquiry
3          Heideggerian Foundations
4          Hannah Arendt and the Rhetorical Constitution of Space
5          Walter Benjamin and the Rhetorical Construal of Indecision
6          Warburgian Image Practices
7          New Points of Departure in the Weimar Afterlife
8          The Possibilities Now

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