English 706: Composition, Rhetoric, and the Nonhuman (Spring 2013)

whale

The "Giant Whale" at the St. Louis City Museum
Photo by Jillian Sayre

In recent decades, a number of disciplines have begun to turn attention to the nonhuman. Work on the posthuman, actor-network theory, speculative realism, and animal studies (among numerous other fields and theories) attempts to expand the scope of scholarship in both the humanities and the sciences. This scholarship is looking beyond the human, and Composition and Rhetoric has begun to take this turn as well. This seminar takes up the lines of research that have begun to address writing, rhetoric, and the nonhuman. The course examines recent work in the field that asks: What is the role of the nonhuman in studies of composition, literacy, and in rhetoric? What does a nonhuman theory of composition, literacy, or rhetoric look like? How does accounting for the nonhuman reshape or reimagine the various scholarly agendas of the field?

The course covers work in Composition and Rhetoric that addresses the nonhuman along with the work of scholars outside the field who address these questions. In addition to reading and writing about contemporary scholarship, students in this course will also address these questions in a less traditional way: They will make something. Throughout the semester, students will work toward the construction of some object. This can take a number of forms, including (but not limited to) knitting, carpentry, cooking, and computer programming. We will treat this process of making as an opportunity to meditate on how nonhumans intervene in and shape writing processes and rhetorical action.