College Of Arts And Sciences | Tragedies and Comedies of Communication
E103 | 0106 | Fluery


2:30-3:45 MW SB 150
We consider how two attitudes toward communication clash and blend in
everyday life.  A tragic attitude toward communication suggests that people
seldom if ever genuinely understand one another, that our attempts to
understand one another are thwarted by various forces, and even that we
don't really have the desire to understand one another.  As a consequence of
this attitude, feelings of doubt, confusion, anxiety, and fear are
magnified.  One particularly tragic attitude toward communication tells us
to use force rather than language to resolve conflict, to go to war when
understanding between parties falters.  And yet a tragic attitude toward
communication may encourage respect for the dignity of another person or
group's difference, their unknowability.

A comic attitude toward communication suggests that misunderstanding is a
resource for enjoyment, not fear and aggression.  But the consequences of
this attitude are mixed, and might include delight in the pain of others,
lapses in self-respect, and a paralyzing inability to appreciate the urgency
of certain situations.  While a splendid corrective to the tragic attitude
toward communication, comedy has its own pitfalls.

Divisions between people that make understanding difficult, or even
impossible, may be met either tragically or comically.  Our differences in
race, gender, class, sexuality, and religious heritage may be addressed with
various attitudes.  When we select an attitude toward difference, we begin
committing to ways of acting, believing, valuing, and knowing.  For this
reason, tragedy and comedy are not merely genres of human action nor is each
merely a private impression one has about other people.  Tragic and
comic attitudes toward communication furnish equipment for living,
understanding, and acting in the complexities of the social world.

We consult various resources to explore the cultural and communicative
contexts in which tragic/comic attitudes may be employed to get leverage on
life.  Fiction, film, non-fiction, virtual reality, city streets, and coffee
shops-all are sites at which you may encounter and experience the tragedies
and comedies of communication.

There are two tests in this course, a mid-term and a final examination. Both
are essay exams.  There are also two shorter writing assignments based on
class readings, lectures, and discussions.  We have a variety of in-class
writing exercises, some of them asking you to imaginatively "occupy" the
perspective of a person you devalue and to try to see the world through
their eyes.  Is life tragic or comic? What do you yourself look like from
other points of view?  The exams, writing assignments, and in-class
exercises invite you to entertain the complexity of human social life and
communication, and offer the opportunity to regard tragedy and comedy as
lifestyle choices and equipment for living.