Rhetoric and Hermeneutics Description

When: Wednesdays 6:00- 9 pm 
Where: CAL 323

Despite their disciplinary differences, both rhetoric and hermeneutics are communal “arts” devoted to enhancing the experience of being-together in the world. This in part explains the decidedly hermeneutic turn taken in contemporary rhetorical studies. Thomas Kent’s “paralogic hermeneutics,” Steve Mailloux’s “rhetorical hermeneutics,” and Michael Leff’s “hermeneutical rhetoric” are among the many and varied recent attempts in rhetorical studies to elaborate a realignment of the relation between interpretation and persuasion. The powerful impact of this “realignment” is exposed, for example, in Walter Jost and Michael Hyde’s observation that the title of their collection, Rhetoric and Hermeneutics in Our Time, “can be understood as virtually tautological.”

It becomes tautological, however, mainly for (neo)pragmatic rhetors who presume that rhetoric’s essential purpose is communicative and that communication necessarily involves comprehension. Rhetors who take a more deconstructive approach caution against reducing rhetoric to hermeneutics. Whereas hermeneutics masters textual disturbance via the interpretation of thematizable content, deconstructionist rhetors suggest that rhetoric can involve an extra- or post-hermeneutic reading protocol, one that proceeds according to a logic of disturbance and that struggles to remain open to a relation (or a “Saying” in Emmanuel Levinas’s terms) that precedes and exceeds signification and interpretation. What is at stake in this post-hermeneutic rhetoric, proponents argue, is the very possibility for ethical communications, for a non-appropriative encounter with the other. Enhancing communal relations (enhancing the possibilities for peace), in other words, is the motivating force behind both (neo)pragmatic and deconstructive approaches to rhetoric.

This course will offer students the opportunity to engage this current debate in rhetorical theory and to examine the potential gains and losses for “community,” for peace, that result from the virtual conflation of rhetoric and hermeneutics.

Attendance Policy. I suppose it needs to be said: Your grade will suffer if you don’t show up for class. Not because I have a thing for attendance but because if you miss class, we miss what you should have been there to offer us. Your significant contribution to discussions, both in class and on the class email listserv, will be expected.

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