Contemporary Rhetorical Theory and Practice
205 | CCN: 78115
Instructor: Pheng Cheah
Date / Time: Th 10-1P, 7415 DWINELLE
Modernity can be understood as the epoch in which our confidence in the transparency of language and the ability of signs to reflect and express the reality of things becomes irreparably shattered. “From the nineteenth century on, beginning with Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche the sign is going to become malevolent,” Michel Foucault writes. “There is in the sign an ambiguous quality and a slight suspicion of ill will and ‘malice’.” This course explores the complex relationship between texts, things, events and social relations and their ethical and political implications. We will begin with Marx’s exploration of the mystificatory nature of cultural forms in his theory of ideology. We will then study Saussure’s account of the arbitrary nature of the linguistic sign and its influence on Roland Barthes’ structuralist critique of myth. We will then explore the bolder claim that language is not merely a mystifying veil that is cast over things but has a performative force that constitutes and forms objects. What kind of causality, if any, can texts and discourses exercise on things? Does the alleged formative power of texts lead to nihilism or does it open up new possibilities for critique and resistance? Such questions will be addressed through a study of Derrida’s theory of textuality and writing, and Foucault’s analysis of the links between discourse and power. The final part of the course examines the implications of such theories for feminist critiques of phallocentrism and patriarchy and postcolonial critiques of Orientalism and Eurocentrism.