Historical Rhetorics/Sophists Old and New/Leff, Michael

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Leff, Michael. "Serious Comedy: The Strange Case History of Dr. Vitanza." Rhetoric Review 6.2 (1988): 237-245.

Leff’s article does not show much patience with Vitanza. In it, Leff recognizes the inherent value of comic purpose in rhetoric, but when he compares how it is used by Gorgias to Vitanza’s “comic relief” (237) he finds it sorely lacking. The article comes off pretty stuffy at first, as Leff really seems taken aback that Vitanza is willing to admit up-front that he will be ironic, and perhaps due to this irritation Leff does not hold back as he offers specific critical dissections of Vitanza’s “clear announcement of a ‘post-modernist’ project for the history of rhetoric” (238). Leff feels that Vitanza is restricted by his use of irony that “can function only so long as it operates against an all encompassing and palpable object of derision” (238). This trope creates a binary, a history that over-simplifies the history of rhetoric and philosophy by simply reducing it to an opposite of the standard. While Leff recognizes that brevity and genre may allow some minor glosses of events and people, he calls Vitanza’s result “bad history” that suggests “his antibody rhetoric is too much infected by the disease it would cure” (239).