Skip Navigation
UT wordmark
College of Liberal Arts wordmark
english masthead
english masthead
Elizabeth Cullingford, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Diane Davis

Professor

Professor of Rhetoric & Writing; Director of Digital Writing & Research Lab
Diane Davis

Contact

Biography

I hold the Kenneth Burke Chair of Rhetoric & Critical Media Philosophy at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and my research and teaching interests include rhetorical theory, critical theory, digital culture, and continental philosophy. I am the author of Breaking Up [at] Totality: A Rhetoric of Laughter (Southern Illinois UP, 2000) and Inessential Solidarity: Rhetoric and Foreigner Relations (University of Pittsburgh, 2010), co-author of Women’s Ways of Making It in Rhetoric and Composition (with Michelle Ballif and Roxanne Mountford, Routledge, 2008), and editor of The ÜberReader: Selected Works of Avital Ronell (U of Illinois P, 2008) and Reading Ronell (U of Illinois P, 2009).

Interests

My work is situated at the intersection of rhetorical theory and continental philosophy.

E 387M • Performative Rhetorics

36045 • Fall 2014
Meets T 500pm-800pm FAC 9
show description

In the beginning was the deed.

  –Goethe Faust

 

Speech is in fact a gift of language, and language is not immaterial. It is a subtle body, but body it is.

  –Jacques Lacan, "The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis"

 

Valerie Solanas, who took no prisoners, took pleasure in the injurious effects of language and, with Lacanian precision, understood that words are bodies that can be hurled at the other, they can land in the psyche or explode in the soma. A hurtful utterance can give you hives, make you want to throw up, put a dent in your appetite, or summon up any number of somatic responses and physical collapses.

   –Avital Ronell, "Deviant Payback: The Aims of Valerie Solanas"

 

In his 1955 Harvard lectures, published posthumously in 1962 as How to do Things With Words, J. L. Austin outlined the basic tenets of speech-act theory in its contemporary form, offering a tentative but perhaps necessary distinction between the "constative" and "performative" functions of language. While the constative utterance offers a statement that describes or articulates "what is," the performative utterance produces, transforms, institutes. Austin for the most part located performative language within the realm of intentional consciousness and limited his analyses to instances of "relative purity," excluding citations of performative speech (e.g., those by "an actor in a play")—a position Derrida famously deconstructs. Nonetheless, Austin's lectures demonstrated that performative utterances collapse the distinction between saying and doing, severely problematizing the conception of language as a transcendental structure of meaning (what Saussure calls langue). Again. What currently goes by the name speech-act theory, in other words, can be understood as the latest articulation in a centuries old debate between philosophy and rhetoric. What's in question, to paraphrase Nietzsche, is whether there is any (transcendental) being behind concrete acts of saying (what Saussure calls parole). Whereas John Searle attempts in Speech Acts to systematize Austin's subversive insights within a logical framework, arguing that "an adequate study of speech acts is a study of langue," many of the most influential contemporary thinkers have resisted this effort, situating Austin's lectures on the side of (sophistic) rhetoric, as a re-affirmation of the awesome and undeniable positing power of language (as parole).

In this course, we will zero in on rhetoric's substantializing effects, on its capacity for concrete manifestation via, for example, hate speech, (psycho)analytic speech, poetic speech, and political speech. We won't attempt any sort of comprehensive approach but will instead begin with Gorgias and Plato, leap ahead to Austin and his contemporary interlocutors, and then spread out into linguistic avenues not explicitly associated with speech-act theory. Freud, for example, had his own theory of performative language (language that institutes as much as refers), as did Levinas, Athusser, and Heidegger. 

Probable Requirements:

  • Semi-Weekly Talking Points: Informal notes analyzing/exploring key issues in the readings. 
  • One short paper, to be read aloud and then handed in, which will explicate the "cultural artifact" (a text, a theory, a philosophy, an architectural style, etc.) you have chosen for the semester, across which you will read the texts of the course
  • Summary/Response Papers: Formal, one-page, single spaced, beautifully polished, and terribly insightful papers that summarize the assigned reading and then respond to it by "reading" it across your cultural artifact--to be read aloud in class and handed in

Probable Readings:

J. L. Austin. How to do things with Words.

John Searle. Selections from Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language, and “The World Turned Upside Down.”

Jacques Derrida. Limited Inc., “Declarations of Independence,” and “Performative Powerlessness”

Judith Butler. Excitable Speech

Shoshana Felman. The Scandal of the Speaking Body.

Avital Ronell. “The Rhetoric of Testing,” from Stupidity

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. "Postulates of Linguistics" from A Thousand Plateaus.

Paul de Man, “Autobiography as Defacement”

Sigmund Freud. Selections from Three Case Histories and Studies in Hysteria

Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen. “Analytic Speech: From a Restricted to a General Rhetoric.”

J. Hillis Miller. “Performativity as Performance /Performativity as Speech Act: Derrida’s Special Theory of Performativity.”

 

 

E 387M • Rhetorical Theory And Ethics

35800 • Fall 2012
Meets T 500pm-800pm FAC 9
show description

Though he was a masterful rhetorician himself, Plato famously ranted against sophistic rhetoric because it, unlike the “true dialectic,” was not an ethical use of language: it aimed at (evil) seduction rather than (good) truth. Centuries later in the Ethics of Rhetoric, Richard M. Weaver argues, in Plato’s footsteps, that rhetoric is ethical only when it urges commitment to dialectically secured principles, e.g. truths. The notion that rhetoric is ethical (or good) only when it operates in the service of previously established truths continues to dominate our ethico-political scene. However, once such metaphysical prejudices dissolve, once both “the good” and “the true” are understood—even to the tiniest degree—as effects of language, this clean, supplemental relation between rhetoric and ethics gets complicated. How are we to understand an ethics that is dependent upon language? How are we to understand this relation between rhetoric and ethics once the iffiness of doxa comes to replace the certitudes of episteme? What is left of ethics once its traditional “grounds” become a function of the interplay of rhetorical elements: audience, exigence, context, tone, arrangement, delivery, timing, etc.? Does this leave the ethical imperative impotent? Purely relative? In Postmodern Ethics, Sygmunt Bauman attempts to counter this putative relativity by proposing that ethics today, after the “fall,” takes place when I choose to be responsible, in the instant that “I assign the right to make me responsible” (86). But this position presumes to answer all the questions we will hold open in this course: it presumes a knowable other and a self who has both the freedom to choose and the knowledge of what it means to be responsible.

In this course, we will begin with the presumption that ethics and language are indissociably linked in the question of responsibility, which, etymologically speaking, comes from the Latin respondere (to respond, to answer to) and suggests the obligation to respond to the call of the other. However, we will not presume to understand ahead of time either the origin or the effects of this “call.” In Altérités, Jacques Derrida admits that what leaves him "reticent" about all current discourses on ethics is that they operate on the presumption that the "other" is necessarily another "myself"—a(nother) rational subject, a(nother) speaking consciousness, even another Dasein, just like me—that they fail to attend to the question of the "other," to the otherness of the other, proceeding instead on the basis of an unquestioned appropriation. Emmanuel Levinas proposes, further, that responding to the other is not a choice I get to make but an imperative that gives me to be: the priority of the other, according to him, is not a function of my generosity; it is my existential predicament. And yet, responding to the other’s call, as Avital Ronell has repeatedly shown, consists simultaneously in a deracinating experience of being-called that interrupts the presumption of spontaneity and in an experience of undecidability, as you can never be sure the call is a call or that it's meant for you: "How, precisely, can we know?" (Stupidity). The question that remains for the infinitely obligated addressee, as Lyotard puts it in The Differend, is whether what is coming through as a call really is a call--rather than, for example, a "fantasy."

In this seminar, we will hold ourselves within the complex intersections of rhetoric and ethics, where decisions are necessary but the “grounds” for making them cannot be secured, where the trial of decision involves an encounter with the undecidable. 

Probable Requirements:

  • Semi-Weekly Talking Points: Informal notes analyzing/exploring key issues in the readings. 
  • One short paper, to be read aloud and then handed in, which will explicate the "cultural artifact" (a text, a theory, a philosophy, an architectural style, etc.) you have chosen for the semester, across which you will read the texts of the course
  • Summary/Response Papers: Formal, one-page, single spaced, beautifully polished, and terribly insightful papers that summarize the assigned reading and then respond to it by "reading" it across your cultural artifact--to be read aloud in class and handed in
  • One conference panel and paper proposal utilizing the ideas you glean from the course

A Few Probable Readings:

Aristotle, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, Immanuel Kant, Luce Irigaray, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-François Lyotard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Plato, Avital Ronell, Clarice Lispector 

 

E 387M • Rhetoric And The Animal

35600 • Fall 2011
Meets T 500pm-800pm FAC 9
show description

Rhetoric and “the Animal”

In a 1917 essay, Freud noted that modern science had dealt three devastating blows to human pride: the Copernican revelation that the earth revolves around the sun, the Darwinian revelation that man shares a common ancestor with apes, and his own revelation that consciousness is mostly ruled by the unconscious. Of these narcissistic wounds, each still gaping today, the second will be the focus of this course, specifically inasmuch as its panicked deflection continues to ground contemporary theories of rhetoric. The myth of the knowing and speaking subject who understands the world and communicates that understanding with eloquence and grace has been massively and probably permanently interrupted by, among other things, the first and third of these revelations. However, even the most sophisticated posthumanist theories of symbolic exchange, those fully embracing the Copernican and Freudian revelations, tend (explicitly or implicitly, consciously or unconsciously) to refuse the Darwinian revelation, along with its philosophical and—more to the point for us—rhetorical implications. Heidegger, Lacan, and Levinas, for example, each articulates a strictly human(ist) description of the language relation, presuming that the gulf that separates “the human” from “the animal” is uncrossable, having something to do with the former’s capacity for language and the latter’s captivation by its environment, or by the imaginary, or by its own "being," respectively. And rhetorical studies on the whole agrees: rhetoric, at the very least, requires an engagement with the symbolic. This engagement, while it defines man (“the symbol-using animal,” “the rational animal”), is what nonhuman animals purportedly lack.

In this course, we will first of all question the certainty of this conviction—and so the putatively solid border between “the human” and “the animal” that grounds the history of philosophy from Plato to Levinas and the history of rhetoric from Plato to Burke, not to mention all Judeo-Christian religions, even western culture itself. We will examine the ways in which this conceptual border has both enabled and constrained theories of persuasion and identification in rhetorical studies, and we will consider the implications (for rhetorical studies, for ethics, for politics) of the deconstruction of this dichotomy.

Potential Texts:

The tentative reading list includes works by ancient philosophers and rhetoricians, including Gorgias, Plato, and Aristotle; works by continental philosophers, including Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben, and Gilles Deleuze;  works by contemporary theorists and rhetoricians, possibly including Matthew Calarco, Brett Buchanan, Donna Haraway, Cary Woolfe, Luanne T. Frank, George A. Kennedy, John Muckelbauer, Gerard Hauser, and Debra Hawhee; and works by contemporary primatologists, ethologists, and animal trainers, including Frans de Waal, Jane Goodall, and Vickie Hearne.

Probable Requirements:

  • Semi-Weekly Reading Notes: Informal notes analyzing/exploring key issues in the readings, to be shared online.
  • One short paper, with an annotated bibliography, to be read aloud and then submitted, which will explicate the "cultural artifact" (a text, a theory, a philosophy, an architectural style, etc.) you have chosen for the semester, across which you will read the texts of the course.
  • Summary/Response Papers: Formal, one-page, single spaced, beautifully polished, and terribly insightful papers that summarize the assigned reading and then respond to it by "reading" it across your cultural artifact--to be read aloud in class and then submitted.
  • One short, 10 page seminar paper.

E 387M • Performative Rhetorics

35005 • Fall 2010
Meets W 500pm-800pm FAC 9
show description

In the beginning was the deed.  –Goethe Faust

Speech is in fact a gift of language, and language is not immaterial. It is a subtle body, but body it is.
 –Jacques Lacan, "The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis"

Valerie Solanas, who took no prisoners, took pleasure in the injurious effects of language and, with Lacanian precision, understood that words are bodies that can be hurled at the other, they can land in the psyche or explode in the soma. A hurtful utterance can give you hives, make you want to throw up, put a dent in your appetite, or summon up any number of somatic responses and physical collapses.
 –Avital Ronell, "Deviant Payback: The Aims of Valerie Solanas"

In his 1955 Harvard lectures, published posthumously in 1962 as How to do Things With Words, J. L. Austin outlined the basic tenets of speech-act theory in its contemporary form, offering a tentative but perhaps necessary distinction between the "constative" and "performative" functions of language. While the constative utterance offers a statement that describes or articulates "what is," the performative utterance produces, transforms, institutes. Austin for the most part located performative language within the realm of intentional consciousness and limited his analyses to instances of "relative purity," excluding citations of performative speech (e.g., those by "an actor in a play")—a position Derrida famously deconstructs. Nonetheless, Austin's lectures demonstrated that performative utterances collapse the distinction between saying and doing, severely problematizing the conception of language as a transcendental structure of meaning (what Saussure calls langue). Again. What currently goes by the name speech-act theory, in other words, can be understood as the latest articulation in a centuries old debate between philosophy and rhetoric. What's in question, to paraphrase Nietzsche, is whether there is any (transcendental) being behind concrete acts of saying (what Saussure calls parole). Whereas John Searle attempts in Speech Acts to systematize Austin's subversive insights within a logical framework, arguing that "an adequate study of speech acts is a study of langue," many of the most influential contemporary thinkers have resisted this effort, situating Austin's lectures on the side of (sophistic) rhetoric, as a re-affirmation of the awesome and undeniable positing power of language (as parole).

In this course, we will zero in on rhetoric's substantializing effects, on its capacity for concrete manifestation via, for example, hate speech, (psycho)analytic speech, poetic speech, and political speech. We won't attempt any sort of comprehensive approach but will instead begin with Gorgias and Plato, leap ahead to Austin and his contemporary interlocutors, and then spread out into linguistic avenues not so explicitly associated with speech-act theory. Freud, for example, had his own theory of performative linguistics, as did Althusser.

Probable Requirements

  • Semi-Weekly Talking Points: Informal notes analyzing/exploring key issues in the readings.
  • One short paper, to be read aloud and then handed in, which will explicate the "cultural artifact" (a text, a theory, a philosophy, an architectural style, etc.) you have chosen for the semester, across which you will read the texts of the course
  • Summary/Response Papers: Formal, one-page, single spaced, beautifully polished, and terribly insightful papers that summarize the assigned reading and then respond to it by "reading" it across your cultural artifact--to be read aloud in class and handed in

Potential Readings

Gorgias. "Encomium of Helen" (rhet as drug)
Plato. Phaedrus (rhet as seduction)
J. L. Austin. How to do things with Words.
John Searle. Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language.
Jacques Derrida. Limited Inc.
Lloyd Bitzer. "The Rhetorical Situation"
Richard E. Vatz. "The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation"
Barbara Biesecker. "Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation"
Kenneth Burke. Selections from Language as Symbolic Action and Rhetoric of Motives
Judith Butler. Excitable Speech
Avital Ronell. Selections from The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech
Martin Heidegger. “The Question Concerning Technology.”
Foucault. Fearless Speech
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. "Postulates of Linguistics" from A Thousand Plateaus.
Sigmund Freud. Three Case Histories and Studies in Hysteria
Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen. “Analytic Speech: From a Restricted to a General Rhetoric.”
Ruth Leys. “Freud and Trauma.”

E 321K • Intro To Criticism-Honors-W

34995 • Fall 2009
Meets TTH 200pm-330pm FAC 7
show description

TBD

Publications

“Performative Perfume.” Forthcoming in Performatives After Deconstruction. Ed. Mauro Senatore. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013. 20 mss pages. 

“Writing-Being: Another Look at the ‘Symbol-Using Animal.’” Forthcoming in Writing Posthumanism Writing. Ed. Sidney Dobrin.  Parlor Press, 2012. 25 mss pages.

“Creaturely Rhetorics.” Special forum on rhetoric and the question of the animal. Philosophy and Rhetoric 44.1 (2011): 88-94. 

Inessential Solidarity: Rhetoric and Foreigner Relations. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010. 214 pp.

Review of Amit Pinchevski’s By Way of Interruption: Levinas and the Ethics of Communication. Philosophy and Rhetoric 43.3 (2010): 289-95.

Reading Ronell. Edited collection with an introduction. University of Illinois Press, 2009. 254 pp.

“Greetings: On Levinas and the Wagging Tail.” JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory. Special issue on Levinas. 29.1 (2009): 711-748. 

Women's Ways of Making It in Rhetoric and Composition. With Michelle Ballif and Roxanne Mountford. Routledge, 2008. 342 pp.

The UberReader: Selected Works of Avital Ronell. Edited collection with introduction. University of Illinois Press 2008. 342pp.

"Identification: Burke and Freud on Who You Are.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 38.2 (2008): 123-147.

"The Fifth Risk: A Response to Muckelbauer's Response." Philosophy and Rhetoric 40.2 (2007): 248-256.

"Addressing Alterity: Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and the Non-Appropriative Relation." Philosophy and Rhetoric 38.3 (2005): 191-212.

"Finitude’s Clamor; Or, Notes Toward a Communitarian Literacy." College Composition and Communication 53.1 (Sept. 2001): 119‐145.

"(Non)Fiction('s) Addiction(s): A NarcoAnalysis of Virtual Worlds." High Wired: On the Design, Use, and Theory of Educational MOOs. Eds. Cynthia Haynes and Jan Rune Holmevik. University of Michigan Press, 1998. 267‐285. Rpt. in 2nd ed., 2001.

Breaking Up [at] Totality: A Rhetoric of Laughter. Rhetorical Theory and Philosophy Series. Southern Illinois University Press, 2000. 312 pp.

"Confessions of an Anacoluthon: Avital Ronell on Writing, Technology, Pedagogy, Politics." JAC: Journal of Composition Theory 20.2 (2000): 243‐281.

"Negotiating the Differend: A Feminist Trilogue." With Michelle Ballif and Roxanne Mountford. JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory 20.3 (2000): 583‐625.

"Addicted to Love; Or, Toward an Inessential Solidarity." JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory 19.4 (1999): 633‐656.

bottom border