Monday, January 21, 2008

Introduction to the Class

Rhetoric is strange. Unlike philosophy, rhetoric eschews the search for universal truths. And yet the rhetorician does not dismiss propriety. On the contrary, the rhetorician relentlessly seeks it, always trying to say the right thing at the right time. Picture a lawyer: he or she must heed a complex confluence of factors before speaking—the law as it reads, legal precedent, available evidence, the make up of the jury, the disposition of the judge, public opinion, etc. The lawyer does not enjoy the luxury of the philosopher; the lawyer cannot meditate in solitude discovering eternal truths. The lawyer, the rhetorician, must reckon a truth that is local, that changes as the world changes.

This is the art and logic of rhetoric, the art and logic of circumstantial propriety, of knowing the right thing to say and do in this or that circumstance. In this class, we will read a wide variety of texts—from Plato and Nietzsche to Barthes and McLuhan—, exploring what it entails to be a rhetorician, what it entails to make sense of a world, of texts, without stable truths but nevertheless with local laws. We will look at how texts function, how arguments are created, how meaning comes to the fore, and what it entails to read all of these things at once.

Required reading:
A robust reader available at Copy Central on Bancroft
Plato, Phaedrus (please use the version translated by WC Helmbold and WG Rabinowitz)
Lohren Green, Poetical Dictionary (buy from bookstore now; very hard to find elsewhere)
Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage (version doesn't matter)
Raymond Queneau, Exercises in Style (version doesn't matter)

Requirements and Grading
  • We expect that you’ll not only do all the reading but think about it.
  • There will be a mid-term essay; this will account for 30% of your final grade.
  • There will be a final essay; this will account for 40% of your final grade.
  • The remaining 30% of your final grade will be based on class participation. This means attending lectures and sections, doing the weekly writing assignments, and actively participating in section discussions.
  • We understand that it is not always possible to attend class. So you may officially miss three classes. For every class you miss after that, your grade will be lowered 1/3.
  • If you miss class, you may not come to office hours to discover what you missed.
  • Weekly reading and assignments will be given in class. You are responsible for knowing what the assignment is. We highly recommend you exchange phone numbers with someone in the class so, in the chance you should be absent, you’ll know what you missed and what to do.


evetsberg said...

I am eavesdropping on your lecture via podcast. Any way to get a copy of the "robust reader" that is part of the course??

kelseykristin said...

I too am listening in via podcast, and I am utterly enthralled. I listened to the first four lectures all in a row today, and immediately started at the beginning and listened to them straight through again. I can't believe it, I feel like this is exactly what how I have always thought, but never had a model for it, or could have given it structure even for myself. I always felt guilty about thinking this way! I am so excited, I have been grinning all day. Thank you professor Coffeen! You are blowing my mind. Incidentally, I loved your discussion on ideas as sculpture. I went to art school to study sculpture, and am now planning on entering law school. My vision of law has always been a three dimensional structure of ideas, a massive transparent lattice work surrounding and interweaving through society. I would have given anything to hear you teach Kant to sculptors!
I too would love to know what is in the reader your class has. Regardless, thank you for your lectures. Not to put to fine a point on it, you've pretty much revolutionized my life in one day. Its not every day you can say that! Well done.

Daniel Coffeen said...

The reader is available at Copy Central on Bancroft in Berkeley:

And, Kelseykristin: thanks for the unbridled encouragement -- truly, truly. I hope I can keep it up.

kelseykristin said...

Don't worry, I have no doubt that you can keep it up! You continue to make my world a more beautiful place. I listened to your February 12th discussion on Roland Barthes literally 8 times in one day. The whole "voluptuousness of vowels" and "carnal stereophony" bit just slew me, I was so turned on. As you said of your experience with Ada, those words made my heart beat faster. Thank you.

Eric said...

Almost a year after it was first created, I'm listening to this course via iTunes as part of a reinvigoration of my ability to think (this ability having been decimated by medical school) - it's incredible. Thanks for leaving this blog up, it will be most helpful.


Dave said...

Hi, Daniel.

Someone linked me to the podcast of this course and I decided to listen to the whole thing. I'm on the second lecture and, as kelseykristin said, "I feel like this is exactly what how I have always thought."