Approaches and Paradigms in the History of Rhetorical Theory
103A | CCN: 77857
Instructor: Daniel Boyarin
Date / Time: TuTh 11-1230P, 160 KROEBER
In this course various strategies will be pursued in search of the cultural significance of "Rhetoric." Let us define "rhetoric" for the moment as the use of language (verbal, visual) to persuade someone of something, to move another subject in a particular direction. As such, it will be seen that all of us every day and humans everywhere always employ rhetoric constantly; the child trying to persuade her mother to give her a cookie, the lover, as well as the preacher, the politician, the lawyer. Rhetoric, therefore, as a discipline is a second-order reflection on language being used to persuade. One version of such reflection might be the codification (and then teaching) of methods and "rules" for effective persuasion in particular circumstances (this is not what we do in the rhetoric department at Berkeley, nor what we do in this course). A more interesting (to me) part of that is the analysis of the use of tropes and figures in discourse. Why do we speak or write figuratively; what work does metaphor or other figures do for us? Another is reflection on the relationship of rhetoric, persuasive speech, to such concepts as truth, sincerity, and thus to philosophy, self-defined as the search for truth as well as to the question of the political. In this sense, rhetoric and its close congener Sophism (not sophistry) goes beyond the question of persuasion and represents an alternative approach toward describing the world to that of philosophy. This comes much closer to the project of this course (and I would contend of the rhetoric department itself) .
We will be studying texts of various genres from ancient Athens and Rome (more the former than the latter) as a way of getting at the very formation of this second order reflection on the deployment of language, on the ethical, political, and epistemological levels. A major part of the project of the course will be to see how rhetoric came to be marked off as a particular way of thinking about language and how many of the questions that were raised sharply as long ago as the 5th century B.C. remain unsolved (and unsolvable) today but nonetheless help us to negotiate our dilemmas and aporias. Inter alia, this investigation is designed to provide us (professor and students) with a richer sense of what it means to be pursuing our own studies within a department called "Rhetoric."