Rhetoric and Desire

Workshop Leader:

James Kastely, University of Houston

Desire is a concern that links the classical rhetorical tradition with some contemporary efforts to think through the complexity of human subjectivity. If these contemporary thinkers offer us models of subjectivity that account more fully for the ways in which selves are constituted, the classical tradition connects such inquiries to the force of eros in human life. To the extent that rhetoric is an art or practice that seeks to constitute or reconstitute souls, it needs to understand how desire is shaped by culture and how desire can be transformed by rhetorical acts.

During our first three sessions participants will discuss three texts: Ann Carson’s Eros, the Bittersweet; Plato’s Phaedrus, and Jonathan Lear’s Love and its Place in Nature. Ann Carson develops the paradox at the heart of eros. The Phaedrus brings eros and rhetoric together at the same time that is seems to keep them separate—it asks, “What does it mean to be fated to dance in the chorus of a particular god?” Love and its Place in Nature explores the consequences of Freud’s revolution: his discovery of the archaic self, his search for a science of subjectivity, and his recognition that eros is a fundamental part of the universe. At the final meeting each participant will present a research question or proposal that explores how issues raised by any or all of the three texts impacts our understanding of rhetoric, desire, or the role of rhetoric in the constitution of subjectivity. As a group we will then discuss possible projects arising from these research questions or proposals.

Direct questions to James Kastely, jkastely@Central.UH.EDU.