English 733

Nathaniel Rivers

    401 New North
    Office Hours: T 12:00 - 2:00

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To return to the beginning, the title of this course - "Alternative Rhetorics" - suggests not just other ways of figuring contemporary rhetoric, but of figuring Rhetoric, from the beginning, as always already alternative. The rhetoric articulated through this course is, in several important ways, not the "rhetoric" left to us by a dominant, Philosophical tradition. Since Plato and his student Aristotle, rhetoric has been cordoned off as a type of discourse that is at worst deception and at best ornamentation. This view, found at several points in Plato's dialogues, seems to represent rather well contemporary attitudes toward rhetoric. Equally important is how Plato's philosophy - and the key binaries upon which it is predicated - informs our understanding of the "natural" world, our place in it, and the science with which we investigate it. This is, in short, how Plato delimits Being. Plato's treatment of rhetoric is comprehensive, and the realms he creates - the bins he fashions - work to control the slipperiness of rhetoric, of human relationships, and of the shape of the world. However, the sophists, Gorgias in particular, offer an already present alternative tradition for rhetoric. Whereas the Platonic tradition, which includes Aristotle, would control rhetoric by anchoring it to Philosophy and the "logical architecture of reality" (White 27), Gorgias harbors forth rhetoric into the flux of Being. Rhetoric, then, becomes something other than a "handmaiden to morality and politics" (White 22); it becomes, in a word, cultivating. From within and as part of "an unending flux" (White 16), rhetorical action is "determinative" and "essentially creative" (Lanham 156).

There are, of course, numerous ways to chart the history of rhetoric. Our point of sail, pursuing in large part the question posed by Victor Vitanza of what rhetoric will have been, is but one. That being said, the course is charted through common topics in rhetorical theory: the rhetorical situation, subjectivity, agency, invention, kairos, and others. We proceed by revisiting early figurations of these topics and, then, by exploring alternative figurations of them. For instance, how has our understanding of invention changed over time and in what ways will our understanding of invention evolve? Is invention the act of an individual rhetor determining the available means of persuasion, or is invention a distributed activity in which the individual rhetor is but one participant along with audiences, environments, bodies, and technologies? Likewise, is the rhetorical situation a time and place that calls the rhetor to speak, or is the rhetor the creator of the situation through rhetorical action? Is it something in between or entirely different? The course, as a whole, echoes this structure: we start with Plato and the Sophists, move further back to the Pre-Socratics, and then grapple with the above topics. Thus, the course moves through history by continually returning to it. Importantly, our study of rhetoric is not a moving beyond but is always a moving through and within.