Sem Rhet (Bob Dylan & the Rhetoric of American Song) (CR/CSAP)

You can think of this course
as a “major author” course, as “an intensive study of the literary works and
milieu” of a single figure; or you can think of it as a course in contemporary
rhetoric’s interest in how the material of everyday speaks to and from the
human condition; or you can think of it as an interdisciplinary approach to
studying culture in all its complexity and power; or you can think of it the
way Dylan thought about his work shortly after the turn of the century: “Every
one of the records I’ve made has emanated from the entire panorama of what
America is to me. America, to me, is a rising tide that lifts all ships, and
I’ve never really sought inspiration from other types of music. My problem in
writing songs has always been how to tone down the rhetoric in using the

Maybe the course will be all
of these things, or one in particular for each of you; regardless, we will approach
the materials of American song and its greatest artist as eminently important
to our understanding the everyday as it is transmuted into music, and how music
has contributed to making the
everyday. Song, or its larger category that generally subsumes it—music—can be
studied in infinite ways, but we will try to confine ourselves to these:

–music and self-knowledge

–music and agency

–music and social ordering

–music and the expression of

–music and social change

What Bob Dylan has to do with
each of these themes is a set of open questions, but we can at least pose the
problem of placing an artist of some durability against our own personal, social,
and political histories, dimensionalize the frame even further with rhetorical
theory, add specific readings in cultural and music studies (see below for a
selection), and ponder what music “in action” can do.

We will work on a fairly
conventional schedule of a combination of discussion, short responses, three
short papers, an oral presentation, and perhaps a collaborative project. Our
five sub-headings above will create a structure of a kind for our starting
points in reading and writing, but given the depth and range of the artist in
question we may go elsewhere in our pursuit of understanding the rhetorical
power of the aesthetic category.

Texts will include:

Dylan, Bob. Music, lyrics,
interviews, Chronicles Volume One

Clayton, Martin, et al., eds. The Cultural Study of Music. New York: Routledge, 2003.

DeNora, Tia. Music in Everyday Life. New York: Cambridge
University Press, 2000.

Frith, Simon. Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular
Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1996).

Gray, Michael. The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. New York:
Continuum, 2008.