American Political Rhetoric
153 | CCN: 77932
Instructor: Benjamin Lempert
Date / Time: MWF 1-2P, 156 DWINELLE
Politics are interesting here. This being (early) election season, each week brings another shower of speeches, statements, insults, commentary, take-backs, and the like. Yet one of the fascinating things about America is that politics often bend more to actions conceived outside the electoral sphere. Think, for example, of Abraham Lincoln’s apocryphal statement to Harriet Beecher Stowe, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!” Or Nick Ut’s and Eddie Adams’s photographs, which helped end the Vietnam war. Or, more recently, the way that the simple fact that phones have cameras has helped start to change wider public opinion about police practice, and helped give rise to Black Lives Matter.
This class will explore the give-and-take between various cultural artifacts from the last 200 years, including speeches, novels, poems, songs, photographs, artworks, and hopefully a film or two, and the politics they’ve changed, captured, reframed, birthed, or otherwise affected. We’ll also read some political theory, most with an American bent. Our goal will be to ask what exactly counts as political rhetoric in this country, and how we know. Whatever else we look at, we will end the semester by close reading of one of the most important books of the year, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.