Analysis of a Pathological Text


For this assignment you will write a 5-page, double-spaced, researched paper analyzing a pathological text and describing the feelings this artifact provokes in you, citing at least 3 additional sources and documenting them in a Works Cited page at the end. 

A “pathological text” inscribes and propagates diseased or aberrant passions already in circulation. In reaction against our shared exposedness to one another and so to “rhetoric’s sensorium,” pathological texts insulate and tribalize: they invite violence by inspiring or reinforcing passionate attachment (love, hope, loyalty, compassion, identification) to an us and bitter disavowal (hate, anger, fear, disgust, contempt) of a them, while resisting rhetorical engagement that could challenge the clean distinction. 


Artifact Selection. Select a pathological text (an “artifact”) that circulates publicly (currently or historically), and that has proved somewhat “effective” with a certain audience, making it worthy of analysis. You might select, for example, a bigoted rant, manifesto, or scientific theory; a defense of a sexist or racist (or heterosexist, ageist, or ableist) law or policy or platform; the propagation of a reckless conspiracy theory, etc. **Please steer very clear of any artifact that could be traumatic or too intense for you.** This assignment asks you to engage with an injurious text, but its affective piercing should not be traumatizing for you.

Be sure to choose an artifact that is itself pathological and not one that aims to describe, explain, or analyze such a text. Describing, explaining, and analyzing this text will be your job. 

Artifact length. Your artifact should be complex enough to sustain the sort of analysis required by this assignment. If it’s too long to adequately address in a 5 page analysis, you may focus in on a specific chapter or section in it.

Artifact Possibilities. I’ve gathered a few pathological texts and lots of background info here, to help jumpstart your thought processes, but feel free to ignore these. You might check the the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of extremist groups, along with its Hatewatch publication, for other ideas. The Anti-Defamation League’s site is also a good resource, and this page most specifically, which offers a “short list of  people and organizations espousing virulent anti-Semitic views with active accounts on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.” Joseph Uscinski’s site lists and describes some conspiracy theories, too, including this list (published on Politico) of the top 5 most dangerous ones of 2016. You may also have just seen the perfect artifact to use on your twitter feed or some other social media site. 

Analysis Composition. You’ll actually be making an argument: you’ll argue that the artifact you’re analyzing is a pathological text. And your analysis will function as your evidence for that claim. Your paper should have 4 sections, plus a Works Cited page:

  • An introduction to the artifact and its rhetorical/historical context (target audience, purpose, etc.), along with your claim that this is a pathological text and why you consider it a pathological text: briefly, what is this text doing that makes it pathological, according to our definition? Document your artifact in the Works Cited page.
  • An analysis of the pathetic appeals in this artifact in which you demonstrate its pathological operations. (Remember that you’re analyzing a pathological text, not its author—we are not pathologizing an individual.) Start by noting this artifact’s presumed ingroup and outgroup and what makes that distinction clear; if it’s not all that clear, explain. Then point out 1) what it is in this artifact that’s likely to stir the ingroup’s feelings, 2) which feelings it’s likely to stir and how it’ll do it, and 3) what behaviors and/or attitudes these feelings are likely to inspire. Quote the artifact as textual evidence for your argument, cite texts we’ve studied in the class as sources to support your analysis, and document all sources in the Works Cited page. This will be the most developed section of the essay.
  • A description of the feelings this artifact stirs in you. You chose this artifact because you consider it a pathological text, so you are probably not its target audience, and the feelings it may elicit from that audience will likely not be the ones it provokes in you. But experiencing and reflecting on how this pathological text affects you, and on your own inability to not be affected by it, affirms your situatedness in what Hawhee calls “rhetoric’s sensorium.”
  • A conclusion that reiterates the ways this artifact is pathological or that otherwise wraps up your essay. 
  • A Works Cited page in which you correctly document all the sources you’ve cited in the analysis.

Main Page | Course Description | Texts Assignments Schedule Resources