Document Type


Publication Title

Virginia Journal of International Law

Publication Date

Winter 1993


Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. According to James Boyd White, it is "the central art by which community and culture are established, maintained, and transformed." In this essay, I consider how the rhetoric of "opportunity" has shaped American ideas of economic rights and how the postmodern fragmentation of that rhetoric has transformed them. Elizabeth Bishop's poem provides the metaphors for the evolution of social consciousness I want to describe. The poem works both as a description of our collective, historical experience and as a description of its recapitulation, in whole or in part, in our individual lives. This essay is divided into six sections, the next three corresponding to three iterations of the rhetoric of opportunity which this poem powerfully evokes. The last section suggests that international human rights law offers a constructive alternative to Bishop's final bleak vision. Faced with the limits of our domestic rhetoric, we would do well to look beyond our borders, "across the river" to another text. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights" could help us reinvent our rhetoric and generate its postmodern iterations.



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