Why the “politics of Writing”?


Why the “politics of writing”? This is a place to theorize, perform, and translate politics into aesthetic and ethical experiments. Although this is an experiment set up for Students of my English 10600 composition class at Purdue University Indiana, it is also open to the public to contribute (I can add you to the list of contributors if you e-mail yours truly, René Harrison: rharriso@purdue.edu). Students are required to post one blog a week and to comment on one other person’s blog. All topics are welcome so long as they relate to our exploration of rhetoric as socially situated, that is, politics as the general coordination of social relations. I encourage you to discuss social texts, share insights and theories, critiques of ideologies, news stories, public culture, and entertainment as a form of mediation between the private and the public. My own interests in Anthropology, and “scenes” of violence and desire have motivated the readings and films I have suggested for discussion: beginning with Plato’s Euthyphro (on religious paradox and violent claims to know), Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” )on materialism, Jewish Messianism, and resisting historical totality), and the film Memoirs of a Geisha (on the translation of Japanese culture into “Western” political entertainment, and the “commodification” of gender and honor). Our later discussions will center on disability in its aesthetic, ethical and political rhetoric. We will break down the “political” nature of writing into its various and interrelated modes of representation, including existential leaps of faith, as well as political, aesthetic, and ethical representations.

First off, we can define three of these modes of representation with the terms “ethics”, “politics”, and “aesthetics”. The term “politics” comes from the Greek word polis or city, and it connotes group identity and its borders; the term “ethics” concerns our responsibility for others and our ideals; and the term “aesthetics” refers to the sense of beauty and taste within a representation. The writing we’ll do in the course will explore these different spheres and try to relate them together to form an *integral* understanding of communication as a kind of socially symbolic action. We’ll view argumentation as the study of effective reasoning, and see how reasons and evidence enter into both public and private spheres. But we’ll also explore how pathos or emotions are influenced by symbols, and learn to analyze their implicit meanings, because emotional appeals carry kernels of logic, authority, and truth as well.

Consciousness is a composition whereby experience is focused through the repetition and narration of symbols. Human thinking and discovery takes place and makes social scenes in language; when we are persuaded that something is significant, it is always in relation to what the Anthropologist Eric Gans calls a shared language scene with others. Language is always a socially symbolic act. So we should improve our ability to represent and invent ourselves through various forms of communication.

We can engage with politics and social concerns – diving into scandals that demand action; or we might practice a critical deferral of judgment and action: rhetoric is the realm of possibilities! This experiment in the public sphere should let us take the gloves off, and allow for a greater freedom of self-expression, of truth, lies, and the undecidable. That said, for the sake of argument, lets place our pathos and conflicts between quotation marks, and remember that ideally we should strengthen our own moral standards for “honest” communication. If we have infinite irony, this can help us critically address our real world choices for thinking and acting in-between the sacred and profane registers of language, the comic and the tragic frames of existence, the serious and the playful ways of thinking. Thus, our writing can be a playful, heuristic, means for discovery (I smell eu-reka).

I hope we’ll break down our discussions of the “political” into aesthetic, ethical, and existential categories of representation. These four dimensions interact rhetorically to create our political reality, not to mention its increasingly flattened appearance, as Tobin Siebers has shown in _The Subject and Other Subjects). This distinction recalls Walter Benjamin’s work and his notion that fascism was the aestheticisation of politics. The German rhetoric of race was linked to a kitsch culture of ideal beauty, rotten with perfection in Kenneth Burke’s sense, which looks to us now as paradoxically camp.

For our first blogs lets discuss the readings and films so far!

René Harrison



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