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Humor, Play, and Rhetoric

Workshop Leader:

Jonathan P. Rossing, Gonzaga University

The complementary playful ways of thinking and acting modeled through rhetoric and humor constitute the starting point for conversations in this workshop. In The Motives of Eloquence Richard Lanham contrasts homo rhetoricus against homo seriosus. Michael Mulkay echoes these distinctions in On Humour, noting that a person with a serious view posits a fully knowable, stable and unchangeable reality that exists outside social relationships. In contrast, both rhetoricians and humorists embrace a world of indeterminacy ripe for new constructions and a constantly changing reality in which contradictory worlds can coexist. A spirit and motive of play animates both rhetorical and humorous understandings of the world. This workshop will consider the importance and purpose of this spirit of play in rhetorical theory, education, and practice by exploring the intersections among rhetoric, humor, and play.

Lanham argues that rhetorical training equips citizens with “the tolerance, and usually the sense of humor, that comes from knowing [they]—and others—not only may think differently, but may be differently” (Motives 5). Thus, in order to explore the spirit and motive of play in rhetoric, the workshop will focus on this rhetorically-informed sense of humor and the play of language, meaning, identity, truth, and more through satire, irony, parody, and the like. To inquire about the purpose and value of play in rhetoric is to explore questions central to the discipline: How do we best relate to one another and motivate collective action? How do we best prepare ourselves for life and our role in society? Play initiates entry into social contracts, nourishes invention and creativity, and cultivates a sense of agency. This workshop considers the possibility that a deeper sense of play through investigations of humor will invite different ways of thinking and being as rhetoricians.

Readings will include excerpts from Lanham and Mulkay, as well as selections from Quintilian, Stephen Nachmanovitch’s Free Play, Garry Izzo’s The Art of Play, Dustin Griffin’s Satire, Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens, and recent articles on the relationship between humor and rhetoric. The first day and a half will be dedicated to discussion (both full group and small group) of shared readings and will feature experiential exercises designed to help participants explore new connections. In the spirit of cooperative play that motivates this proposal, the last morning will be dedicated to developing ideas and plans for collaborative research and writing projects.

Questions should be directed to Jonathon Rossing, rossing@gonzaga.edu


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