In Habermasian theory, the bourgeois public sphere was preceded by a literary public sphere whose favored genres revealed the interiority of the self and emphasized an audience-oriented subjectivity. This essay argues that the association of this early modern literary discourse with the ancient public sphere proceeds from their common origin in the historically continuous intellectual tradition of European rhetoric. Ancient rhetoric, which also constituted the ancient public sphere, entered into ancient, medieval, and Renaissance rhetorical poetics; this last, transformed by the anonymizing effects of print culture and the philosophy of skepticism, and by the consequent development of the autonomous narrator, produced the discourse of the early modern literary public sphere. The emergence of this discourse derived particularly from transformations in the concepts of ethos and auctoritas. A crucial prerequisite of this evolution was the shift in the presumed medium of European rhetorical poetics, from orality to writing to print. This argument has consequences for Habermas's general account of communicative rationality and is intended to suggest an alternate theoretical framework, in which the European rhetorical tradition replaces communicative rationality.

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