Rhetoric and History
230 | CCN: 78094
Instructor: Michael Wintroub
Date / Time: Tu 10-1P, 7415 DWINELLE
Our understanding of the modern is inextricably linked up with the history of objectivity. By this, I mean, the development of an epistemological standpoint that is defined by exclusion of all that is human— of cunning, desire, artifice, need, place, and affect. However, if we look closely at the history of proof, truth, evidence and objectivity, an entirely different story appears. Expertise is entangled with cunning; translation threatens treason; facts are factitious; induction is persuasion; evidence is rhetorical description, and replication is a rehearsal. We thus begin to see emerge across a history of related practices, a range of meanings associated with deceit, forgery, counterfeiting, artifice and rhetorical persuasion, which is to say, the divide between the manmade and the natural, the authentic and the inauthentic, the true and the artificial, the civilized and the savage, is not as clear cut as we have been led to believe. What motivations, interests, and processes form the context(s) for thinking both about this promiscuous coupling and uncoupling of “opposites”? I’d like to speculate in the class about the genealogy of these processes and how, if, and to what extent, they were implicated in the growing power of techno-science?
In other words, what was so modern about the early modern? Or conversely, following Latour, asking whether or not we have ever been modern? Or perhaps, taking another tack entirely, to ask whether or not these notions of periodization obscure, rather than reveal, historical processes of epistemic and social change. We will read, among other things, works by Max Weber, Bruno Latour, Michel Serres, Harry Collins, Natalie Davis, Donna Haraway, Frank Lestringant, Steven Shapin, Thomas Kuhn, Simon Schaffer, Ian Hacking, William Pietz, Peter Galison, Lorraine Daston, Philippe Descola, Robert Brain, and John Tresch.