Intr to Composition & Rhetoric

Sarah Allen

ENG 625c, sec 001

Mondays, 3:15-5:45pm

Course Description

There has been a long-standing and contentious debate in rhetoric about whether a speaker/writer should be seen as possessing good character or should actually be good of character. The same question recurs today in public discourse. Though scholars often point out that its recurrence means that the question has not yet been answered satisfactorily, it also suggests that the question has mattered more than any particular answer. To put this in a different way, if we are looking for an answer to why humans are often persuaded by decidedly “bad” characters, then we need look no further than Burke’s concept of identification. If the recent election has reminded us (in the field of Rhetoric and Composition) of anything, it is that Burke was right — it is in identification, not in “right speeches,” that persuasion happens. Still, despite our general acceptance of Burke’s explanation, the larger, ethical question remains.

In this course, we will explore the roots of the question of whether it matters that the good person speaking well actually is “good,” as well as what it might mean to be good. We will read Plato and Aristotle, who took great pains to explore both questions. We’ll read Cicero and Quintilian, their Latin brothers in this effort, and we will trace a genealogy of the concept of good—in particular, its relationships to skepticism and political change—from the Ancient Western world through the (“poststructuralist”) works of Nietzsche and Foucault and into the works of pedagogues who worry a great deal about the kinds of citizens we are producing in our college-level rhetoric and writing courses today (e.g., Lester Faigley, Patricia Bizzell, Paulo Freire, Ira Shor, Henri Giroux, Peter Elbow, David Bartholomae, Nedra Reynolds, Richard Scott Lyons, bell hooks, Krista Ratcliffe, and Sharon Crowley). This course should make clear that the question of what constitutes the “good citizen” never ceases to dog us—too, the questions of whether and how we should cultivate such a person in our students and whether (or how much) we should embody such a person, as teachers.

Student Learning Outcomes:

  1. To investigate the lines and intersections and departures in the narratives that constitute the history of the field;
  2. To identify and explore the values and practices that are central to the field of Rhetoric and Composition so that your teaching might be informed by disciplinary expertise;
  3. To explore connections between your disciplinary and teacherly interests within the context of the field of Rhetoric and Composition;
  4. To create “a conversation” that emerges out of scholarly discourse in Rhetoric and Composition and to enter into that conversation in compelling ways in your research-based writings.

Possible Assignments:

Students will share reading responses with me throughout much of the semester so that I can help them navigate the denser readings and help them explore and identify a topic for their final projects.

They will work individually or in pairs, depending on the size of the course, to offer presentations on assigned readings so that they will be encouraged to take more ownership of the course content and work.

They will prepare a short presentation, as part of the department’s colloquia, on the assigned theme of “Self.”

They will be required to share a draft of a literature review in the last half of the semester, as well as a plan for their final projects.

The final project will be a scholarly paper that could be revised for publication.

Possible Texts:

Week 1: Gorgias, Encomium of Helen + Intros on Gorgias and on Classical Rhetoric from Bizzell and Herzberg’s Rhetorical Tradition

Week 2: Plato, Phaedrus

Weeks 3-5: Aristotle, On Rhetoric (excerpts) and Nichomachean Ethics (excerpts)

Weeks 6-7: Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Week 8: Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives (excerpts)

Week 9: Foucault, “What is an Author?”

Week 10: Faigley, Fragments of Rationality (excerpts) + Elbow (debate)

Week 11: Bartholomae (debate) + Bizzell, Academic Discourse and Critical Consciousness (excerpts)

Week 12: Freire, Shor, and Giroux (excerpts of each)

Week 13: bell hooks, Talking Back (excerpts) + Nedra Reynolds

Week 14: Ratcliffe, Rhetorical Listening (excerpts) + Richard Scott Lyons

Weeks 15: Crowley, Toward a Civil Discourse

(Week 16: group conferences for final papers)