ENGL 655 Rhetoric's Avant-garde
ENGL 655 Rhetoric's Avant-garde

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ENGL 655 Rhetoric's Avant-garde

Course Description

This seminar will consider a number of “post-linguistic” turns (“visual,” “new media,” “nonhuman,” “digital”) in rhetorical theory in terms of and in conversation with the idea of an avant-garde. Borrowing the concept from modernist understandings of politically and formally experimental art, this seminar will explore what it would mean to think about the recent history of rhetoric within a framework of vanguard-led experimentation. As it happens, new terrain for rhetorical study—fields such as the digital or the visual—have often been introduced into the critical conversation via experimental scholarly practices that conform to prior notions of avant-garde art. To this end, we will read work from rhetoricians whose critical practice draws from an avant-garde legacy including Geoffrey Sirc, Victor Vitanza, Gregory L Ulmer, and Jody Shipka. Additionally, we will look closely at the rise of the webtext as a rhetorical phenomenon in journals such as Kairos and Enculturation. We will also engage with the avant-garde methods these practitioners outline.

Course Overview

Welcome to Rhetoric’s Avant-Garde. This seminar will explore the relationship between rhetorical theory in the 20th century and various avant-garde movements in the arts. Generally, the class will explore the relationship between experimental composition in the arts (film, text, hypertext) and the expansion of rhetoric and composition as a discipline, especially in the last 50 years.

The seminar will begin by exploring the notion of the avant-garde through literary theory and, mostly, through the authors who stand as an influence on the avant-garde threads in rhetorical theory. From there, we will move into an exploration of the arrival of various “turns” in rhetoric and composition, specifically the poststructural, multimodal, and inhuman moments in theory.

Seminar participants can expect to explore the variety of texts being read as both formal objects and theoretical allies in an exploration of recent history in rhetorical thought.

Learning Objectives

Completing this seminar, participants can expect

  • To explain the role of form in critical and experimental writing.
  • To understand the arrival of poststructural and multimodal ideas in rhetoric and composition.
  • To learn about the role experimentation has played in shaping the recent history of scholarship in rhetoric and composition.


You should be a member of our class’s eCampus shell. There you will find the course readings as well as submission boxes for all course work. Please contact me if you are not added to the course shell.