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PWR 2GMH: Risks in the Dark: Rhetoric at the Limit

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Catalog Number: PWR 2GMH

Instructor: Gabrielle Moyer

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: PWR 1, ESF, ITALIC 95W, or equivalent

Course Feature: WR-2 requirement


This course is dedicated to rhetoric that springs from limit situations—extreme situations of struggle, guilt, anxiety, fear. The loss of physical or political freedom, environmental catastrophe, the ongoing global pandemic offer examples; but it can also describe any time an individual comes face to face with the limits of their world view and finds they must chart a new way forward or fall. Such encounters can be at once terrifying and exhilarating and have been the catalyst for some of the most brilliant, if high-risk, rhetorical choices. In this course, students will study as well as generate their own rhetorical ‘breakthrough strategies.’ Some guiding questions for the course will be: What makes for a limit situation?  How do rhetoricians maneuver threats and poetry, danger and beauty, pain and imagination to arrive at greater clarity? How do they engage others in this process, reconceiving what is possible?

For their research projects, students will choose a historical limit situation or a limit situation of their own. In coordination with conferences, library visits and workshops, they will develop a research proposal that identifies written, oral, visual and/or performative response to that limit. A central part of this project will be to describe how a particular rhetoric exposes the limits of its worldview, on the way to insight. Students will present their research orally to the class as a staging ground for their ideas and, ultimately, develop a research paper that reflects the development of their thinking over the quarter. Some examples of rhetorical texts to research might be: Extinction Rebellion and its strategies in relation to external forces and to internal chaos, fatigue and fear; Malcolm X’s  break with non-violence in “The Ballot or the Bullet” and its relation to American Revolutionary texts and the appeals and consequences of alternate approaches (satyagraha); Adrienne Rich’s awakening as a feminist queer poet in “When We Dead Awaken,” and its strategies of personal and political reckoning.  

Major Assignments

Research Proposal

(5 minute live presentation; written text of 900-1200 words): In this first assignment, you'll propose a project for the quarter. Choose the central text you want to study (one that responds to a limit situation) along with 4 other texts that capture the rhetorical and epistemological traditions it is breaking with. These texts will form the foundation of your project. (Note: texts can be anything from painting to performance art, photograph to political speech, philosophy to film). The purpose of this assignment is not to present a thesis (yet) but, through your research and writing, to come to a complex question you want to investigate.

Delivery of Research

(10 minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support)  For this assignment you will be presenting your research and the insights you have come to. You can draw on several rhetorical models or one of your own making: you are welcome to incorporate any range of media (whiteboard, music, images, PPT, objects, handouts, etc). Conferences with me and with Oral Communications Tutors along with in-class workshops will help you with this process.

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages): This assignment builds on the first two assignments. Drawing on your multiple revisions, rounds of feedback, in class workshops and assignments, generate a research paper that comes to terms with the feasibility and daring of a particular rhetoric as it responds to a limit situation.

Genre/Modes Assignment

(600-900 words) Choose a text (in any genre/medium), that functions as a response to a particular limit moment; use your writing to richly describe its rhetoric. From this description, reflect on what you find both unsettling and compelling about it.