6/7510 - Session 1 (Aug 25) - Introduction: What Is the Scope of "Rhetoric"?

The history of Western rhetoric is basically a history of responses to the ideas of classical rhetoric, especially the theory and analytical concepts of Aristotle. Thus, although ENGL 6/7510 surveys the history of rhetoric from the early-modern period to the present, we will want to use our first session to (re)acquaint ourselves with the basics of classical rhetorical theory. In addition, I'd like to use this first session to introduce you to an important aspect of how we will approach our primary texts. This page contains a list of readings for this opening session, along with instructions for a brief written assignment.

"Rhetoric," Composition Pedagogy, & Literary Studies

Typically, our interest in rhetoric (that is, our interest in the study of language called "rhetoric") begins with the study of advanced written composition, where we are introduced to some key terms and basic theory to help us better understand the composition of persuasive discourse. For example, don't such introductions typically consist of an explanation of the three types of rhetorical appeal: logos, ethos, and pathos? In addition, such introductions usually make the student aware that these terms carry a long history and, in fact, originate in ancient Greek thought. Then, if such an introduction ignites our interest in rhetoric, can we say that our interest takes shape around two basic expectations: (1) that the discipline of rhetoric consists of a set of analytical concepts (e.g., logos, ethos, and pathos) as well as a theory that provides this set of terms a sense of coherence and (2) a historical study of these terms and theories will make us better writers, readers, and teachers of reading and writing. Can we say that these are the expectation of most students who enter a graduate seminar on the history of rhetoric. These expectations are entirely reasonable. But what if rhetoric is more?

A Broader Significance: The History of Rhetoric, Philosophies of Education, and Philosophical Anthropology

What if the study of the history of rhetoric reveals this discipline to be a perennial site of conflict regarding the proper role of education and, moreover, the perennial site of conflict regarding our understanding of human nature? We will want to use our seminar, of course, as an opportunity to become better acquainted with rhetorical terminology and theory that has developed over the past 2400 years since Aristotle; but the deeper significance of rhetoric will remain out of sight if we are not attentive to the conditions under which people felt the necessity to think about and discuss "rhetoric." A study of this past may well show us more productive ways to think about the role of language in the life of the individual and in the development of society.


For our inaugural session, I would like us to establish a firm sense of these two levels; and I hope this small set of readings will help us (all are available online):

This excerpt from Lanham's book will serve as our (re)introduction to Level 1, that is, the level of "rhetoric" as terminology and basic theory. Now, in order to distinguish Level 2, I have selected two texts that deal with the same material but present it within the contexts of more complex concerns. We will be reading both of these texts later in the semester; but for our first session I would like you to read at least one of the following:


Written Response

I would like you to write a short response to these readings in which you identify something of broader significance in Nietzsche's and/or Burke's texts that one doesn't find in Lanham's more straight-forward overview. For instance, what does Nietzsche say that gives us some understanding of why he thinks rhetoric is worthy of his students' attention? He obviously doesn't tell his students that the study of rhetoric will help them write better resumés. You may brings copies of your response to our session (at the moment there are eight of us) or you may post your response to the private blog that I will be setting up next week. I also will be posting some of my own observations to the blog next week.

My (Dusty) View of Rhetoric, Modernity, & Postmodernity

Finally, in case you're interested in my general ideas about the modern epoch of rhetorical theory, I can refer you to the entry on "Rhetoric" that I wrote for the *Encyclopedia of Postmodernism* (Routledge 2001). I've made the article available online via my Box account: https://app.box.com/s/vvddorxl7by23lq8ka2g. In addition, online access to the entire *Encyclopedia* is available via Walker Library. Actually, I would write this article differently, now, stressing some other matters; and I talk about that during the course of the semester.

Session 2 >

Last update: 8/02/15

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Dr. James N. Comas (james.comas@mtsu.edu)
Middle Tennessee State University
English Dept., Box 70
Murfreesboro, TN 37132

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