This page lists the graduate courses being offered in the current academic year. For a list of graduate courses offered in previous years, see Past graduate courses. For a list of graduate courses offered next year, see Future graduate courses.
The systematic study of effective communication—the art of rhetoric—dates back at least to the epics of Homer and flourishes today in countless academic disciplines and fields of business. In fact, the “empire” of rhetoric is so vast and enduring that it “digests regimes, religions, and civilizations” (Roland Barthes). Nevertheless, English 700 sets out to compress two and a half millennia of rhetorical theory and criticism into a single semester. More specifically, this introductory seminar aims to provide students with the grounding in rhetorical theory necessary for advanced study in rhetoric, communication design, digital media, and literary studies. To accomplish this goal, the seminar will introduce essential concepts, frameworks, and debates in rhetorical theory by analyzing key selections from foundational texts, both ancient and contemporary. The seminar will also demonstrate the relevance of rhetorical theory and criticism to a variety of social, intellectual, and cultural fields: law, politics, science, philosophy, etc. Finally, the seminar will investigate, with the help of guest lecturers, emerging forms of rhetorical theory and practice made possible by new media technologies: digital design, information warfare, computational gaming, and others. Students will leave the seminar with a firm grasp of basic concepts, an ability to analyze rhetorical artifacts, and a deeper sense of rhetoric as an inventive, critical, multimodal, and richly interdisciplinary enterprise—what Quintilian calls an “encompassing art” (ars circumcurrens).
In this seminar the question of the good of poetry will be investigated via poets’ prose and poetry as well as philosophical writings in ethics and recent literary theory on ethics and literature. Using these texts we will explore questions about the nature of poetic art, the nature of the good, and the relationship between these. Taking the twentieth century as our primary focus, we will test poems against the ideals promoted in them and in the poet’s prose, taking note of the different and differing ways in which poetry and prose can think philosophically. Some questions we will explore include: Is there a relationship between truth and art? Between truth and ethics? What might valuing literary ethics mean for literary politics, and for politics tout court? Can there be an analogy between artistic and political representation? How might generic or formal considerations impact on particular configurations of ethics? What value if any can we place on something as contingent as a rhyme, as unpredictable as aesthetic pleasure? While keeping the long intellectual history in mind, focusing on the twentieth-century will require us to consider these questions in light of recent reprises of Plato’s attack on poetry, including Emmanuel Levinas’s seeming rejection of the possibility of ethical poetic art, and Theodor Adorno’s dictum on the barbarity of writing poetry after Auschwitz.
This course will have three broad movements. It will start by introducing some key classical and present-day contexts for the study of voice and animal communication; it will then bring together eighteenth-century rhetorical theory, such as Thomas Sheridan’s Lectures on Elocution, with examples of the animal voice drawn from across some exciting works of eighteenth-century and Romantic literature; finally, with this groundwork in place, students will be enabled to conduct their own research on the animal voice in their choice of period and medium.
Questions that we will ask will be many and various, but may include: What is “voice”? How does it relate to style, ethos, and form? What does a zoocentric approach to the voice look like? How are the paralinguistic dimensions of communication relevant to the study of the animal voice? Is there a post-human/pre-human voice?
A key locus for our study of voice will be birdsong. Authors we will consider include Laurence Sterne, William Wordsworth, and Jane Austen. We will draw on recent critical work by Mladen Dolar (A Voice and Nothing More) and Tobias Menely (The Animal Claim), and on ancient rhetorical texts by Aristotle and Demetrius. Our goal will be to think rhetorically about the animal and the voice.
‘Language is a social art’: this relatively uncontroversial statement, uttered by the philosopher W.V.O. Quine, undergirds our commonsense understanding of what language is. We use language not only to describe things, but to make friends, coordinate the making of objects, give and receive instructions, console or attack others, and so on. In the scientific study of language, however (in linguistics and analytic philosophy of language), language is a formal system, a code that we learn and deploy: we use the system in social life, but social life isn’t in the system, which consists of words and their formal relations. In this course we explore diverse attempts to make social life part of language, rather than just the arena in which it’s used; we study arguments from rhetoric, philosophy, anthropology, sociolinguistics and writing studies that search for an idea of language as something other than a formal code or system, as in some respects the very substance of social life, where social relationships are established, maintained and reshaped.
This course examines pessimism in American culture and literature. Against what Emerson dubbed the optative mood (positive thinking, progressivism, can-do spirit) that typifies canonical representations of the American experience, there exists a darker, cynical, even nihilistic counter-tradition. Pessimism crops up in a variety of forms and genres, including black comedy, literary naturalism, horror fiction, film noir and the western, not to mention modern art, poetry, and music. We will read literary works by Hawthorne, Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Frost, Stevens, H.P. Lovecraft, John Williams, Joy Williams, and Cormac McCarthy. We will view Fight Club, Requiem for A Dream, and First Reformed. As we study a variety of touchstone texts, we will also track the philosophical and cultural underpinnings of pessimistic thought in writings by the pre-Socratics, Voltaire, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud, Adorno, Peter Zapffe, E.M. Cioran, Roger Scruton, John Gray, Tali Sharot, Thomas Ligotti, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Eugene Thacker.
Internet technologies have promoted a veritable explosion of life writing online in new media genres such as the personal homepage, blogs, and social networking platforms. As much as new media scholars interest themselves in understanding the writing genres and social selves created through these technologies, scholars in autobiography studies seek to bring their expertise to bear on theorizing these new modes of self-narration.
These two fields—new media and autobiography—increasingly intersect, asking questions best answered with both an eye to the history and theory of life writing and to the practices and technologies of new media. Our theoretical readings will focus on poststructural understandings of the self, and we will examine these in light of how they have been taken up by both new media and autobiography theorists and practitioners.
This course challenges students to think about the mediation of urban spaces since the turn of the Industrial Revolution, when condensed populations and the dawn of a new city-based lifestyle began to be recorded in new technologies such as photography and film. By discussing how the imagined and imaginary “city” thus came to be shaped discursively through media, this course considers various media forms and related cultural texts that have narrativized public spaces and their experience. Combining theory and practice, we will explore short stories, novels, films, artwork, digital tools, and interactive digital media (including popular platforms such as Instagram).
This course is an introduction to research methods used in rhetoric and writing studies. Emphasis is placed on research ethics, the fit of method to research design, and the development of a research proposal. Students will become familiar with a range of methods, including interviews, case studies, ethnographies, archival research, oral histories, mixed methods, rhetorical field methods, as well as indigenous research methodologies (i.e., decolonizing the interview).
Blake is known for his exaltation of the “Human Form Divine”. However, his works abound with other living things – plants, insects, animals, angels, devils, various mythological beings – all endowed with kinds and degrees of agency in creation and destruction, connection to and alienation from the divine. This course will explore the diversity of beings in Blake’s visual and verbal productions, focusing on selected Illuminated Books. We will consider in tandem Blake’s radical reimaginings of the relations of human and non-human and of image and text where (for example) vines become letters, and a Dragon-Man, a Viper, an Eagle, fiery Lions, and Unnam’d forms are all workers in the Printing house in Hell.
Percy Shelley’s experimental poems and Mary Shelley’s speculative fictions are committed to the rhetorical value of imagining radically different futures, from political utopia to ecological disaster. This course will examine works such as The Mask of Anarchy, Prometheus Unbound, Frankenstein, and The Last Man in two different ways: theoretically, as an engagement with philosophical, literary, and political approaches to the “speculative;” and historically, as an entry point into specific Romantic concerns for social change, on subjects including imperialism; techno-futurism; nonviolent protest; animal rights and vegetarianism; and the future of the planet (variously imagined as sustainable paradise or mass extinction).
Many of the popular fiction and television genres we know today, from romances to police procedurals, developed in American pulp fiction magazines. Flourishing throughout the early 20th century, the pulps were made possible by social and technological developments that created both cheap magazines (made from “pulp” paper) and the readers to support them.
The advent of cheap fiction magazines was perceived as threatening by cultural elites, who feared its potential negative influence on the morals and work ethic of the people who read them. Produced primarily for pleasure and in quantity, the pulps violated literary ideals such as originality and complexity. Denigrated and ephemeral, pulps were threatened with extinction until digital technology made it easier than ever to recover, study, and preserve pulps.
Rather than dismiss pulp as “trash,” a central concern of this course is to develop appropriate methodologies for preserving and studying pulps in ways that take seriously their contexts, producers, and readers. You will also have an opportunity to make your own contribution to pulp preservation by “rescuing” and digitizing a pulp magazine issue.
In 1948, M.I.T. mathematician Norbert Wiener coined the term “cybernetics” to describe a new techno-scientific discipline invested in large-scale, high-speed data processing and feedback response mechanisms. By creating “cybernetic machines” that could “learn” from the past—like anti-aircraft guns and automated chess-playing devices—cyberneticians sought to harness the power of statistics in an information-saturated world. In this course, we will explore cybernetics as part of an emergent twentieth-century culture of information management that boasts not only technological, but also aesthetic dimensions. We will track “cybernetic aesthetics” as it appears in experimental modernist literature that invites readers to cultivate information-processing capacities.
This course will introduce you to the field of writing studies, pedagogies for which the field has historically and currently advocates, as well as current debates in the field.
Utilizing methodologies of rhetorical critique, in this course we will explore how the modern University came to be, what it has come to represent, what it is an instrument of, and how it might be transformed. In what ways has higher education shaped the possibilities for rhetoric, how has rhetoric shaped higher education, and to what uses might rhetoric be put in building or dismantling academia moving forward?
In this course we will explore recent writings about the Anthropocene— the era in which “humans act as a main determinant of the environment of the planet” (Dipesh Chakrabarty)—in conjunction with texts and concepts drawn from critical race theory and the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School (Max Horkheimer, Th. W. Adorno, and Walter Benjamin). Theorists of the Anthropocene and eco-critical thinkers have especially taken note of the Frankfurt School’s critique of “instrumental reason” and modernity, with its notions of development and techniques of domination over both nature and parts of humanity. These and other features of Frankfurt School Critical Theory have also become increasingly relevant in recent critical black studies, where scholars reflect on the relation between modernity and the slave trade, and the concomitant development of notions of blackness that continue to mark our present. We will look at this critical juncture between three important theory formations in the wider context of theories of postcoloniality and non-domination. Some literary texts will serve as test cases, while students are invited to propose additional works for examination in these theoretical contexts for their final project.
“In the plays of Shakespeare,” Coleridge wrote, “every man sees himself” (and, we may add, every woman herself). For most of the twentieth century Shakespeare was celebrated as a secular writer par excellence, one whose skepticism in matters of religion miraculously mirrored that of many of his modern Western readers. In the twenty-first century, however, as religious extremism has changed the conversation in a post-9/11 world, religion has emerged as a central interest of Shakespeare studies. Shakespeare has been reinvented as a writer marked by both the knowledge of religion and a religious sensibility – though exactly what constitutes the latter remains the subject of lively debate. In this class we will join in this debate, asking what religion in Shakespeare meant then, and what it means now.
793: Turtle Island Diplomacy: Rhetoric of Aboriginal, Metis & European Negotiations in Canada's Long 19th Century (LIT/RCD/XDM) - Hulan
This course examines diplomacy as practiced on Turtle Island (North America) among Indigenous peoples and (post-contact) between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The OED defines diplomacy as “The management of international relations by negotiation; the method by which these relations are adjusted and managed by ambassadors and envoys; the business or art of the diplomatist; skill or address in the conduct of international intercourse and negotiations.” Key questions that will inform the class include:
• Who practices diplomacy and where?
• What are the spaces of diplomacy—that is, where does diplomacy take place?
• Do different groups conceive different spaces as places where a nation-to-nation negotiation does or should take place?
• What are the conditions needed for diplomacy to take place?
• Does diplomacy end? If so, when, where, and how?
• What is my role in Turtle Island diplomacy?
The idea that Indigenous literature is and always has been a form of diplomacy informs the course.
Computational rhetoric is a new-ancient way to investigate the symbol systems that we use endemically as social organisms. We want people to like us, to understand us, to cooperate with us; and that's what they want from us, too. Rhetoricians have been charting our reciprocal suasions for millennia, but now there are new genres, new media, and new analytical tools, all of them heavily implicating computation. We will consider micrographics and psychographics as new, algorithmic methods of audience analysis, the digital curation of ethos on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and the colonization of the Twittersphere by chatbots. But our centre of gravity will be The Rhetoricon, a uWaterloo web resource for research into rhetorical figures.
The Canadian Digital Media Network (CDMN) has proclaimed Waterloo Region as the "tech capital of Canada," based largely on economic activity generated by Blackberry, a culture of tech startups, and tech-oriented research and education based at local universities. Whether or not this claim is accurate, it points to a glaring irony: Waterloo Region is also the "Old Order Mennonite capital of Canada," and the tech hub of Kitchener/Waterloo is surrounded by communities that rigorously limit the use of technology in their homes. Why would an individual--or a whole community for that matter--abstain from the use of advanced technologies? This question, which is central to this course, is posed not just in the context of Old Order Mennonites, but applies equally to contemporary trends in "unplugging," from Digital Detox retreats in California to the recent movement by French unions to ban e-mail communication for tech workers after 6:00 p.m.
For some, the growing ubiquity of digital media represents a great achievement in human history, or even a turning point in human evolution. But there exists a persistent desire to unplug from our wired world, especially in response to information overload, the spectre of surveillance, or even as a form of resistance to what might be called the relentless tyranny of social media. There is even a subfield of Human-Computer Interaction dedicated to “non-use,” which applies design methods to help mitigate the causes of unplugging. In this course, students will seek to understand why and how digital abstinence is observed in the Western World. We will begin by evaluating the attempts of various individuals and communities to observe digital abstinence, tallying their successes and failures. We will conduct our own experiments in digital abstinence, and ultimately create projects that (perhaps ironically) engage with digital abstinence for the sake of promoting the concepts of ritual, mindfulness, privacy, contemplation, community, and presence, among others.