Introduction to Composition & Rhetoric (CR)

double field of rhetoric and composition (reversed from above to indicate
chronology) is some two thousand years old. While it is rhetoric that holds the
bulk of this double field’s history in its grasp, it is composition that has,
generally speaking, dominated for its specific, contemporary attention to
pedagogy and literacy. I hope that this introductory course reveals the
importance of both perspectives: the historical life of rhetoric, spanning
cultures and periods from classical Greece to Renaissance England to post-war
America—and the active, quickly evolving contemporary powers of composition
theory and practice. To do this—a survey of a kind that must vault centuries
and societies, philosophers and teachers—is a tall order. To move beyond mere
surveying of the territory will require a careful choosing of subjects and

is, above all, a history of both persuasive and expressive communication. We
will read from within the earliest civic contexts of sophistic rhetoric,
consider Aristotle’s conceptualized system of rhetoric and Plato’s brilliant
critique of rhetoric. We will read from Roman texts, particularly Cicero’s De Oratore and Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria, both of which have
had  significant impact on current
practices of composition (as we look forward). The Latin Middle Ages and the
Renaissance will be represented by Augustine, Erasmus, and Thomas Wilson, the
17th Century by Bacon and Descartes. Composition begins to appear,
if shadowy, in George Campbell’s Philosophy
of Rhetoric
, and then, in the 19th Century rhetorics of Richard
Whately’s and Alexander Bain’s much more obviously. Most of these excerpts can
be found in Bizzell and Herzberg’s The
Rhetorical Tradition
(2nd ed., 2001). It is with the turn of the
century, and Harvard’s decision to test the writing capabilities of his
applicants, that composition begins to mingle with—or to be grafted upon—this
ancient tree of rhetoric. We will draw primarily on one thorough composition
reader, Victor Villanueva’s Cross-Talk in
Comp Theory
(2nd ed., 2003), and supplements.

is now fundamentally associated with the production of academic and
non-academic texts even those loosely categorized as autobiographies, essays,
memoirs, and reports. Whether it is wise to loosen the definition of rhetoric
so greatly as to allow these genres into its view—it has been done, and we will
consider the current scene of rhetorics and difference, cultural issues in the
classroom, multiculturalism and writing, the postcolonial writing subject, and
contemporary methods of research in composition. Each of these subjects, of
course, could form the basis for an interesting seminar. My challenge in this class
is to provide an extensive view of a “concentration” whose ambitious grasp is,
in part, because of its ancient heritage and, in part, because of its current
importance to national and cultural goals of literacy.

will be much good, focused discussion, I hope, and challenging writing
assignments. Of the latter, I anticipate three: a thorough response to a
rhetorical text or texts. A critique of a current writing practice, using a
full range of rhetorical and composition theory; and an argument for synthesis,
a future practice grounded in either ancient or contemporary theories of
rhetoric and composition. In all, students will produce about thirty to forty
pages of finished work; they will also lead discussions and distribute reading

Graduate standing or permission of instructor.