English | Problems in Composition, Literacy & Culture
L705 | 28096 | Anderson

L705/W602  28096/28106   D ANDERSON (#6)
Problems in Composition, Literacy & Culture/ Contemporary Theories
in Rhetoric & Composition

9:30a – 10:45a TR


Every act of human communication presupposes a wealth of notions,
beliefs, and axioms that communicants simply take for granted.  Some
such taken-for-granted suppositions are so basic and uncontested
that to bring them up would seem frivolous, even backward.  Yet
without this tacit supporting structure of shared understandings--
comprising what we will loosely regard as “common sense”—meaningful
communication would hardly be possible at all.

This course examines the nature and function of “common sense” (last
time with scare quotes to indicate obvious provisionality) in
discourse, with an eye toward the processes by which we create,
maintain, and challenge conventional wisdom, received ideas, and all
such faces of common sense.  Because this is a class in contemporary
rhetorical theory, we will be using common sense (or what rhetoric
terms doxa) as a lens through which to read important scholarship
since 1940 that aims to help us better understand how language
persuades.  Because this is an English class, the linguistic forms
of persuasion which will most hold are interest will be literary
texts.  Because I prize heterodoxy, the overall goal of the course
will be for participants to develop independent, well-informed
perspectives on matters of common sense and language that they find
useful in their different areas of English study.

Our readings will be delightfully far-ranging.  Common sense is
hardly a 21st-Century invention, so we will begin by examining how
some of the oldest discussions of persuasion and knowledge present
doxa (and its forms as orthodoxy, heterodoxy, and paradox) as a
concept that still defines rhetorical theory and practice.
Isocrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero will all be invoked in ways
that will haunt the rest of the semester (in a benevolent ghost kind
of way).  We will then flash forward to read work from arguably the
two most influential rhetoricians of the 20th Century, Kenneth Burke
(sections from Counter-Statement, Permanence and Change, A Rhetoric
of Motives, and Language as Symbolic Action) and Chaim Perelman (The
Realm of Rhetoric and, with Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, The New
Rhetoric).  From here, we will wind our way through a plenitude of
Francophone critical theory and philosophy that has shaped how we
account for the place and function of common sense in language,
including Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Michel de Certeau, Pierre
Bourdieu, and Anne Cauquelin.  The consanguinity of doxa with its
contemporary critical cousins, hegemony and ideology, will be a
guiding focus.  Expect Ernesto Laclau’s On Populist Reason to make
an appearance.  Finally, we will examine recent work in rhetoric and
composition (and particularly scholarship on invention) to consider
the value of common sense as one key resource in our attempts to
teach, delight, and move others through our words.

Assignments will include various shorter analytical responses to
prompts I will provide, one five-page midterm paper about one of the
texts we’ve discussed, and a longer final paper that synthesizes and
applies our readings to a particular text or object beyond our
readings.  Course participants will also give an in-class
presentation on their final projects to share their insights with
the group.

Email me any time (danaande@indiana.edu) if you’d like to talk more
about the course or its potential contribution to your own interests
and ideas.