Rhetoric and Reality in Prose and Poetry

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Lecture, Open—Spring

“Raid Kills Bugs Dead”

The subtitle of this class is a famous advertising slogan. It is also a curious rhetorical figure known as a pleonasm. This lecture will examine rhetoric traditionally conceived as the art of persuasion—an art that has encompassed a rich body of figures, from the profound (metaphor) to the quaint (pleonasm). It will also examine rhetoric broadly conceived as comprising not only the rules but also the structures of public speech, from the poem to the story to the essay to the sermon to the polemic to the political address to the ad campaign. Conference time will be devoted to workshopping, with an eye to the rhetorical achievements, stories, poems, and essays written by students in response to the themes of the class or to prompts based on current class discussion. The lecture itself will make a whirlwind tour through classical, biblical (as in the King James Bible), Elizabethan and Jacobean (paying careful attention to poems of seduction, poems of supplication to God, and texts of hellfire and damnation), Augustan and Romantic, and Modernist and contemporary (Joyce, Auden, Bukowski, Jamaica Kincaid, Mario Cuomo) examples of language made persuasive, interesting, or merely beautiful. Theorists accompanying us will range from Aristotle and Quintilian to Kenneth Burke and Marshall McLuhan, but we will spend most of our time closely reading rhetorically triumphant examples of literature to see how they work. We will look at masterpieces whose consequences are liberating and, briefly, at ones whose consequences are deplorable—hideous even. At some point, we will ask ourselves if there is or is not a difference between rhetoric and reality.