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Seminar 1: Rhetoric’s Affect/Affect’s Rhetoric

Seminar Leaders:

Josh Gunn, University of Texas
Jenny Rice, University of Kentucky

For decades, scholars in the theoretical humanities have been working toward an understanding of "affect," and more recently scholars in the rhetorical studies have also joined the so-called affective turn. If the growing number of essays, books, and talks are any indication, affect is now a well-established scholarly "object." This is not to say, however, that we have settled the question of what affect is, what it does, and why it matters to a field like rhetorical studies. We have yet to fully grasp how a discipline rooted in words can make sense of what Kathleen Stewart calls affect’s worlding: “A scratching on the surface of rhythms, sensory habits, gathering materialities, intervals, and durations.”

The seminar is a broad survey and disciplinary history of the study of affect in the humanities that will better enable participants to pursue and contextualize their own research, including the practical challenge of pursuing scholarship that breaks from more traditional, "rationalist" norms of writing. Participants may be new to the literature on affect, or they may simply wish to deepen their ongoing engagement with these complex materials. The seminar will address four impasses, or broad discussion areas, each focused on one or two framing question: What is the “subject” and “object” of affect? After Deleuze, how might we rethink the affect/emotion binary? What is the history of disciplinary engagements—or disengagements—of affect in rhetorical studies? How can we research and write (about) affect differently?

The seminar will be organized around these four impasses: On day one we will examine the early investigation of affect in psychoanalysis and psychology, reckoning with the subject/object binary that guides and constrains that research. On day two, we turn attention to immanentist approaches to affect, primarily those in the orbit of Deleuze's work, and the second binary that guides and constrains that work, affect/emotion. On day three we will survey the ways in which an interest in affect emerges in both the speech and composition rhetorical traditions. We will also confront the challenge of doing scholarship on/about affect and the scholarly norms that guide and constrain such work. Day four will be devoted to identifying and developing the provocations for rhetorical studies stimulated by the literatures of affect.

Tentative readings include selections from work by: Bettina Bergo; Lauren Berlant; Ann Cvekovitch; Sigmund Freud; Melissa Gregg and Greg Seigworth; Daniel Gross; Melanie Klein; Jacques Lacan; Brian Massumi; Derek McCormack; John Mowitt; Claudia Rankin; Thomas Rickert; and Kathleen Stewart.

Questions should be directed to Joshua Gunn, 

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