ENGL708C - Seminar In Rhetoric: Affect And Persuasion

The main issue driving this course will be the relationship between rhetoric and emotion. Unlike most contemporary theory, which gives rational argumentation undue credit in effecting persuasion, classical to early modern rhetorical theory acknowledges the enormous role of the emotions in achieving willing consent. Much of the discussion in rhetorical treatises focuses on the power of verbal form to appeal to the senses; hence the emphasis on style, which – before the eighteenth century – was never simply an embellishment, but a powerful tool for invention and creativity, for sensory vividness and arousing the emotions.

The questions we will be considering are: What is the relationship between ekphrasis, enargeia (vividness), and persuasion? What kind of visual language moves the reader/listener to empathy, pleasure, or revulsion? How does figurative language appeal to sensory perception and how does it relate to argumentation? What is the role of rhythm in effecting a shared emotional experience? And finally, how does rhetoric figure in the production of visual culture?

Emphasis will be put on classical and late antique rhetorical theory of vividness and the psychology of an audience. At the same time, we will consider the visual culture of antiquity and the medieval period, which produced such attitudes, as well as the effect of rhetorical theory on literary works. Readings will include Plato, Aristotle, Rhetorica ad Herennium, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Quintilian, Longinus, Philostratus, and Hermogenes, as well as Horace, Heliodorus, Achilles Tatius,  Lucian, and Libanius. Readings from the medieval and early modern period will focus on how emotional effects are achieved through figures, rhythm, and vivid description, and will include Paul the Silentiary, Photius, Eustathius Makrembolites, and Manuel II Paleologus. Guest lectures by Professors Fahnestock and Donawerth will cover Melanchthon as well as the eighteenth century elocutionary movement.

Students will be encouraged to pursue projects that trace the appropriation of the classical tradition in their own areas of research.

Requirements and Grading: One oral presentation (20%); a report on a secondary source (10%); two short papers (500-700 words each) modeled on late antique or medieval stylistic exercises of your choice (10% each); a research paper (12-16 pages, 60%).