Friday, November 13, 2009

My Spring Courses in Rhetoric

Some of you have expressed interest, so here are the full descriptions:

Rhetoric 105 -- Homo Economicus: Setting the Stage of Enterprising Modernities

We will treat the mannered comedies book-ending the early modern Augustan period and the late modern twentieth century as both documents of and negotiations of the ramifying terrains of enterprising North Atlantic modernities. In these insistently witty plays we will discern not only the shifting urban and institutional landscape of globalizations, mass mediations, technoscientific disruptions, market disciplines, social administrations, raced and gendered relations alive across these London scenes, but also the no less shifting agencies available from the mutable, calculating, contractarian, indebted, disreputable, stylish, desiring and desired rationalities making their play there. A simplifying assumption of our course will be that in the historical figures cut by the Earl of Rochester, Oscar Wilde, and David Bowie, respectively, we discover if not exemplary then at least indicatively provocative figures that capture an emerging enterprising lifeway while at once bringing that lifeway into a highly edifying crisis from which it never will recover even when it comes to prevail. It is no accident that these figures obsessively recur in the mannered comedies we will survey together.

George Etherege: The Man of Mode
William Wycherley: The Country Wife
Laurence Dunmore: The Libertine (film)
William Congreve: The Way of the World
Richard Sheridan: The School for Scandal
John Gay: The Beggar's Opera / Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill: The Threepenny Opera
Oscar Wilde: The Importance of Being Earnest
Noel Coward: Design for Living
Noel Coward: Hands Across the Sea
Joe Orton: Entertaining Mr. Sloane
Joe Orton: The Good and Faithful Servant
Todd Haynes: Velvet Goldmine (film)
Jennifer Saunders: Absolutely Fabulous (Television Series): Episodes: "Iso Tank," "Death," "Doorhandle"

Together with these mannered comedies we will be reading selections from Hobbes On Wit and Laughter, Addison and Steele's The Spectator, Willians', The Country and the City, Holland's The First Modern Comedies, Canfield's Tricksters and Estates, Hirschman's The Passions and the Interests, Brockway's The End of Economic Man, Bristol's Effeminate England, Sinfield's The Wilde Century, Harvey's The Limits to Capital, Goux's Symbolic Economies, Adorno's The Culture Industry, Lahr's Coward and his Prick Up Your Ears, Buckley's Strange Fascination: David Bowie the Definitive Story, Debord's Society of the Spectacle, and who knows what else... All of the plays and readings will be available either online or in a reader available for purchase at the beginning of term.

Rhetoric 171 -- Altars and Alters to the Market: Rhetoric in the Neoliberal/Neoconservative Epoch

We will track some of the key popular and polemical exchanges that have for a time, or even still, captured the imaginations, mobilized the movements, and organized the subcultures through which an ongoing clash has played out in the reception of the New Deal and its aftermaths reverberating right up into the present day. This is a discursive clash of Altars offered up to and Alternatives offered up against what have variously been construed as exemplary "market orders." Our texts form key moments in contrary canons, whatever their relative merits, and we will be reading them as time capsules, as symptoms, as crystallizations more often than as particularly sound arguments (which too few of them manage to be). And we will be striving whatever our initial sympathies may be to inhabit all these texts in a way that connects us to whatever it is that has been so compelling in each of them to so many, whatever the outcomes to which their assumptions and aspirations likely contributed in the way of mischief or emancipation. We will be reading:

John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, The End of Laissez Faire, Open Letter to FDR, Proposal for an International Clearing Union (all online)
Ludwig von Mises, Planned Chaos (online)
Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson (online)
The Grapes of Wrath (film), The Fountainhead (film)
Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (online)
Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Leonard Lewin, Report from Iron Mountain
John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society
Milton and Rose Friedman, Free to Choose
Peter Shwartz, The Long Boom
John Perkins, Confession of an Economic Hit Man
Hernando De Soto, The Mystery of Capital
Mike Davis, Planet of Slums
Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine
Bill McKibben, Deep Economy

Along with these texts we will also be reading contemporary speeches drawn -- well, mostly -- from Presidential campaigns and definitive public addresses by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, George Bush, Howard Dean, and Barack Obama.

While not required, good background reading for the course might include looking over Kim Phillips-Fein's Invisible Hands, Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, Norman Soloman's Made Love Got War, and David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism.


  1. I love Ab Fab, but Velvet Goldmine was pretty cheesy. But maybe thats why your showing it. I mean I assume your are not a big Ayn Rand fan. Her texts do fit the theme of the class as does the overly stylized Velvet Goldmined. My problem is that the players in the film all reminded me of these phony hipsters back from my band days. They were perfectly dressed like they were straight from the London Glam scene, but their music was straight garbage. To a lot of people that did not matter, but these bad bands (I can think of one in particular) never really made any successful records (because they couldn't). Sometimes I think the "white negro" of today is a lot more "white" and less "negro" than he or she was back in Norman Mailer's heyday.

  2. I'm already enrolled in 105, and I am ridiculously excited!

  3. I've already RSVPd to the party, Dale.