Contemporary Rhetorics

ENC 6370 | Spring 2014 | Dr. Marc C. Santos

Course Description

Three words I have carried with me for sometime: righting, writing, and riting. The University of higher learning is a conglomeration of all three-epistemology, language, and process. It is here that students come to engage the right rites, which often include writing. They are subjected to the proper subjects, which in terms subjects them as subjects of their subject. Especially all of you, since the subject of your subject is writing, and the rites of writing right. Seriously, I could do this all day.

There are two articles down the syllabus to which I would call introductory attention. The first is Vitanza’s “Abandoned to Writing: Notes Toward Several Provocations.” Vitanza argues that as a discipline Rhetoric and Composition is afraid of W-R-I-T-I-N-G as so chooses to teach writing. Writing, as opposed to W-R-I-T-I-N-G, can be ontologized, commodified, packaged, and exchanged. In Levinas’s language, be said. In Foucault’s language, it can be disciplined. Writing, in other words, can be righted and rited-or, better yet, writing can be righted through writed rites.

The second article I would point to is Muckelbauer’s “Through Foucault’s Resistance.” In response over academic debates (rites) attempting to write the right Foucault, Muckelbauer urges us to use Foucault productively. Ultimately, the goal is not to reproduce the proper Foucault (and thus render him an ontological, commodified, packaged thing ready for exchange) but rather to turn my experience with Foucault into something new. Again, in thinking through Levinas’s language, the point is not to say what Foucault said, but to unsay it. The ultimate value isn’t as a representation of Foucault, but rather as a productive purposing.

This entire course might be an attempt to render these two articles intelligible.

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that the course has a few other goals. Those might include:

  • Surveying the history of postmodern theory from the particular perspective of the purpose of education. What should University’s teach? How does rhetorical theory and the discipline of Rhetoric and Composition fit into this historic/mystoric perspective?
  • acknowledging that we are moving past postmodern theory into new avenues of investigation. What do these new avenues borrow from the last half of the 20th century? What are their new, particular concerns? As rhetorical theory becomes more enmeshed in mapping, location, emergence, kairos, and context, then we should pay particular attention to the values of the contexts in which we operate (both the Univeristy and the discipline).
  • Arguing that postmodernity has been overdetermined according to poststructuralism. Not everything in postmodern theory can be reduced to language-nor is postmodern theory in any way “a-political.” In fact, I want to argue that strains of this theory are dedicated to ethics. But can, or should, a University teach ethics? What distinguishes ethics from morality?
  • Asking “has the questioning of the postmodern been exhausted?” Do our contemporary movements reject some of its foundational questions and terms (subjectivity, difference, power, other)? These terms still carry currency, even if they head in new directions. We will explore these directions in our final weeks.

But what of the term “postmodern?” I was careful-and rhetorical-in my choice to exclude it from this course’s title. The term feels like it has overstayed its welcome, even if its questions to us continue to go either unanswered or unattended, or both. Some, like Latour and Graham Harman, are openly hostile to the term. How can we understand this hostility?

In Archive Fever Derrida sums up what he perceives as the impact of deconstruction in a simple sentence. Writing immediately of the instability surrounding the ontological classifications and categories used to sort Freud’s numerous writings in the new Freudian archive, Derrida writes:

In each of these cases, the limits, the borders, and the distinctions have been shaken by an earthquake from which no classificational concept and no implementation of the archive can be sheltered. Order is no longer assured.

The former sentence echoes the much younger Derrida of “Sign, Structure and Play”-a brazen Derrida who duplicitously discloses his “shock” at the terrible, monstrous progeny to which his essay gives birth (oh, he is such a proud papa). But it is the latter sentence, I believe, that speaks to an older, wiser Derrida. It is a simple sentence made all the more powerful by what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say we can live without order. It doesn’t say we no longer desire order. It only says-and this, I believe, is the unifying thread of all the readings we will encounter this semester–that there is no absolute foundation upon which one can construct an order (let alone the order). We are without a transcendental right. But this does not mean we live without right, only without assurance.

Latour writes in “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam” that he hopes to cultivate

[…] an entirely different attitude than the critical one, not a flight into the conditions of possibility of a given matter of fact, not the addition of something more human that the inhumane matters of fact would have missed, but, rather, a multifarious inquiry launched with the tools of anthropology, philosophy, metaphysics, history, sociology to detect how many participants are gathered in a thing to make it exist and maintain its existence. (2004b, 245-46)

I want to propose that, without a transcendental right (but, contra Latour in light of Levinas, in the shadow of transcendence), rhetoric becomes the art of attuning oneself to our responsibility for others. It is a recognition of the role others (human and non) play in our constitution. Is it possible to take the analytical arts once dedicated to changing the other, persuading her and apply them to altering the disposition of the self toward the other (or toward the Other?)?

Course Texts

  • Berlin, James. Rhetoric, Poetic, Cultures.
  • Davis, D. Diane. Innessential Solidarity
  • Levinas, Emmanuel. Ethics and Infinity.
  • Lyotard, Jean-Francois, The Postmodern Condition.
  • Readings, Bill. The University in Ruins.
  • Rice, Jennifer. Distant Publics.
  • Rickert, Thomas. Ambient Rhetoric
  • Many articles and online readings distributed electronically.

Additional Suggested Readings

Every time I teach this course, I conclude with 3-5 recently published books that pick up the course themes and promise to move rhetoric in productive directions. Last time, these books were:

  • Brooke, Colin. Lingua Fracta.
  • Davis, D. Diane. Inessential Solidarity.
  • Harman, Graham. Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics.
  • Hawk, Byron, A Counter-History of Composition.
  • Rickert, Thomas. Acts of Enjoyment.
  • Ulmer, Gregory. Electronic Monuments.

Those interested in new media (or the digital humanities, or computers and composition, or whatever the kids are calling it these days), should check out the Brooke. Harman offers an amazingly insightful and succinct explication of Latour in the first half of Prince (those in rhetoric will likely want to tangle with the second half of his book). Hawk–particularly his final chapters–and Rickert develop postpedagogy respectively as an approach to invention and critical pedagogy (Berlin’s socio-epistemic) that prioritizes student investment and engagement.

This semester, here’s a few of the books that just missed the final cut:

  • Bogost, Persuasive Games (Bogost’s procedural rhetoric builds on rhetorics of interpellation and performativity)
  • Bryant, The Democracy of Objects (for anyone interested in new materialism, object-oriented ontology, speculative realism, Latour)
  • Rice, Digital Detroit (for anyone interested in place/space, affect, the role of the personal in research and writing)
  • Ulmer, Avatar Emergency (similar to Rice with a more overtly theoretical agenda, the intersection of the objective and the subjective, the advancement of electracy)

Major Assignments

Paper Day Papers
Compose and deliver 3 papers to the class. Papers will be one page, single-spaced legal size paper (yes, I know how inconvenient this is. I wrote around 12 of these papers while in grad school). Beyond providing summary, these papers will focus on putting course readings into conversation, tracing out relationships between the various thinkers and commentaries studied in class. Students will provide a copy of their paper to each of their classmates. These papers are expected to be at least 1200 words each. Font size must be nine or higher.
Forum Participation
Post approximately 400 words to our online forum each week. Forum posts should focus on particular passages from the reading in preparation for class papers. Additionally, I’ll ask each person to post at least one comment in response to someone else’s passage.
Secondary Source Presentations
Over the course of the semester, each student will be expected to make 1-2 presentations on secondary sources (MA students, one presentation, PhD students two). Ideally, these sources will address how composition pedagogy has attempted to incorporate our theoretical readings into its practice. Presentations should not exceed 3 double-spaced pages in length, and should be accompanied by a handout that provides classmates with 1) a brief summation of the article, 2) a brief response to the article, and 3) a few valuable quotes from the article.
Final Thing
Submit a final project or paper. The medium, length, and style of the project coincide with its purpose.


This is totally and completely subject to change.

Section One: Past Foundations

Week One: Instituting Modernity

Kant, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?”
Readings, University in Ruins, chapters 4 and 5

Week Two: Instituting Postmodernity

Lyotard, Postmodern Condition
Readings, UiR chapters 8 and 11

Week Three: Heidegger’s Poetics and Technics

Heidegger, “Question Concerning Technology”
Worsham, “Question Concerning Invention”

Week Four: An Ethical Response to Heidegger

Levinas, Ethics and Infinity
Levinas, “Philosophy, Justice, Love” from Entre Nous
Levinas “Seperation and Discourse” from Totality and Infinity
Jim Corder, “Argument as Emergence, Rhetoric as Love”

Week Five: First Paper Day

Hi ho, hi ho, its off to listen we go.

Recent Legacy

Week Six: Postmodern Freedom Rock

Read three of the following, at least one marked by an *. Feel free to suggest additions to the list by email prior to week five.

  • Althusser “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”
  • Barthes “Death of the Author”*
  • Baudrillard “Simulation and Simulacra”
  • Burke “Terministic Screens”
  • Burke “Definition of Man”
  • Cixous “Laugh of the Medusa”
  • Derrida “Sign, Structure and Play”*
  • Derrida “Signature, Event, Context”
  • Foucault “What is an Author”*
  • Foucault “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”
  • Foucault “Intellectuals and Power”
  • Foucault “Essay on Discourse”*
  • Haraway, “Cyborg Manifesto”*
  • Heidegger, “Letter on Humanism”
  • Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking”
  • Heidegger, “The Way to Language”*
  • hooks “Postmodern Blackness”
  • Horkheimer & Adorno “The Culture Industry as Mass Deception”
  • Kristeva, “Women’s Time”
  • Levinas, “The Thinking of Being and the Question of the Other”
  • Rorty “The Contingency of Language”
  • Spivak, “Can the Sub-Altern Speak?”*
  • West “Black Culture and Postmodernism”

Please note that you can choose a work marked with an # in week 7 to count as both your week 6 and week 7 reading.

Longer Postmodern Freedom Rock

Read one of the following [or a suitable replacement cleared ahead of time via email].

  • Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation
  • Bourdieu, Distinction
  • Burke, Rhetoric of Motives
  • Butler, Gender Trouble
  • de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life
  • Cixous, The Helene Cixous Reader
  • Deleuze and Guattari, Thousand Plateaus #
  • Derrida, Of Grammatology #
  • Derrida, Archive Fever
  • Derrida, Animal That Therefore I Am
  • Foucault, Discipline and Punish
  • Foucault, History of Sexuality
  • Foucault, Language, Counter Memory, Practice
  • Hayles, How We Became Posthuman
  • Heidegger, The Principle of Reason
  • Irigaray, An Ethics of Sexual Difference
  • Kristeva, Powers of Horror
  • Lacan, Ecrits [or any other, assuming you are crazy enough]
  • Levinas, Totality and Infinity #
  • Levinas, Otherwise than Being #
  • Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals
  • Ulmer, Applied Grammatology
  • Zizek, Looking Awry [on Lacan]
  • Zizek, Sublime Object of Ideology #
  • Zizek, The Plague of Fantasies
Week Eight: Berlin and Vitanza
  • Berlin, Rhetoric, Poetics, Cultures.
  • Vitanza, Negation, Subjectivity, and the History of Rhetoric (1-24).
  • Vitanza, “Abandoned to Writing: Notes Toward Several Provocations”
Week Nine: A Small Canon of (Postmodern?) Rhetorical Theory
  • Edbauer, “Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies”
  • Hawhee, “Rhetoric, Bodies, and Everyday Life”
  • Jarratt “The First Sophists and Feminism: Discourses of the ‘Other'”
  • Mucklebauer, “On Reading Differently: Through Foucault’s Resistance”
  • Sullivan and Porter, selections from Opening Spaces on feminist research practices
Week Ten: Paper Day #2

Happy, happy. Joy, joy.

Section Three: Contemporary Directions

Week Eleven: Bruno Latour
  • Selections from Modes of Existence, Pandora’s Hope, Politics of Nature, and “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam”?
Week Twelve: Jennifer Edbauer Rice
  • Distant Publics
Week Thirteen: D. Diane Davis
  • Innessential Solidarity
Week Fourteen: Thomas Rickert
  • Ambient Rhetorics
Week Fifteen: Jeff Rice
  • Digital Detroit
Week Sixteen: Paper Day #3

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

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