Saturday, April 14, 2012

Welcome to English 404

Welcome to the course site for ENGL 404: Problems in Rhetoric: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral* (Fall 2012 at Saint Louis University). I am your professor, Nathaniel Rivers.

Rhetoric is typically viewed as people getting other people to do things by means of speech, writing, and other forms of symbolic action (e.g., music and math). But what about the rhetorical work of nonhumans? And what about persuasion that isn’t based in language? The problem in rhetoric that this course explores, then, is the place of the nonhuman (plants, animals, environments, and technologies) and the non-symbolic (body language, emotion, and the sensual) in the work of persuasion. Course projects thus entail exploring and documenting, in a hands-on fashion, various nonhuman rhetorical agents and non-symbolic forms of persuasion. We call these object analyses. For instance, a student might first analyze a pet in terms of how it shapes the family dynamic. Next, a student might observe a campus environment, documenting how that environment shapes its inhabitants (and how it might have been designed to do so). For their final object analysis, that student might then do the same for a technological device such as a toaster or a smart phone. Students also have opportunities to make things that persuade: cook a meal, redesign the living room, or build a piece of furniture.

Feel free to explore the site for more information about the course. The Introduction describes the goals and guiding principles of the course. ENGL 404 is grounded in the critical methodology of rhetoric, which students will hopefully come to value as a productive method for negotiating, constructing, maintaining, and reshaping their personal, professional, and technological lives.

*This course also is cross-listed in Medical Humanities.