Introduction to Rhetoric

This course is a survey of the history of rhetoric. You will be introduced to that history, as we trace key developments in the field across the last 2000+ years. To deepen and diversify your engagement, this is also a writing intensive course.

Please note that this course satisfies the “PRE-1700” historical breadth requirement for the English major.

Rhetoric is as much about understanding, navigating, and negotiating belief systems, as it is about “the arts of persuasion” (the latter is only possible via the former). As such, rhetoricians have worried a great deal over the last 2000+ years about what constitutes a “good [person] speaking well” (Quintilian), though how we worry has shifted dramatically since the implosive influence of rhetorician and philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. So, we’ll pause in our historical survey of rhetoric at Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, which renders a deep critique of common conceptions of morality and of what it means to be a good person. In the last half of the semester, we’ll apply what we’ve read, from Plato to Nietzsche, to episodes of The Walking Dead, asking key rhetorical and moral questions of that text. As a post-apocalyptic vision of the world, the series asks important questions of its viewers about what constitutes a “good person” in a world where moralities are in flux and in competition.

Most of the writing you will do in this course will be in the form of “Write Offs”—short arguments (about 400-500 words) written in conversation with your peers. Basically, Write Offs are debates that happen on the page instead of orally. You’ll have alot of space to choose topics that you are interested in, and you’ll receive lots of feedback from your peers, as you all work together to develop the strongest arguments that you can.