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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Fall 2009

E 387M • Rhetorical Criticism in Literature Studies

Unique Days Time Location Instructor


Course Description

This course will consider the sometimes puzzling relation between literary texts and theories of persuasion and public discourse. At several moments, literature has had considerable impact on public discourse--significant political consequences are commonly attributed to books as various as Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Jungle, In His Steps, and 1984. Yet, theorists of public deliberation often ignore or even explicitly exclude imaginative works from the realm of public argument

There are four main lines of argument used for dismissing literature from consideration as argumentation. J├╝rgen Habermas argues that assimilating literature into philosophy or vice versa is not only false, but "robs" both projects of "their substance." Others have argued that including literature in public deliberation makes for bad argumentation, as narrative is too particular (precluding the shift to the universal position on which argumentation, in some models, should be grounded). Some have argued that argumentation makes for bad literature--too bound to the particular historical and political contingencies (it's striking that this is Orwell's criticism of political literature). Finally, some have argued that argumentation must be rational, and it must be true, and literature is neither. Hence, that literature has had tremendous impact on public debates is either a fault with the literature (a common criticism of Uncle Tom's Cabin) or of the debate (that people make political decisions on irrational bases).

But, what happens if you take seriously the idea that literature, especially narrative fiction, does and should contribute to public deliberation? This course will explore the various models of public deliberation, and the role these models assume for the imagination, imaginative discourse, and narrative.


Proposed Readings:

Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

Seyla Benhabib, Situating the Self

Wayne Booth, selections from Rhetoric of Fiction

Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse

Jurgen Habermas, selections from Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and On the Pragmatics of Communication

James Kastely, Rethinking the Rhetorical Tradition

James Kinneavy, selections from Aims of Discourse

Martha Nussbaum, Love's Knowledge

Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin

Stephen Toulmin, Return to Reason

F. H. van Eemeren, R. Grootendorst, Fundamentals of Argumentation Theory


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