fall 2004 courses, revisited

Posting in a hurry: Okay, I’m not teaching a course on the eighteenth-century novel. Rather, I’m teaching the second of our composition courses. Like Chuck, I’d like to design an election-themed course, and I would also like to incorporate some student blogging. I’m thinking of using linguist Deborah Tannen’s book Argument Culture: Moving from Debate to Dialogue. (Booksense) My training in teaching composition is mostly in rhetoric with a smidgen of linguistics (thanks to Linda Coleman and Jeanne Fahnestock). Thus, I do not intend to offer expertise on politics or policy issues because my knowledge of these things is no greater than the average citizen’s. Instead I will focus students’ attention on the discourse of the campaigns, the news outlets, and the various commentators, and I will provide students with a variety of critical tools for analyzing that discourse. My own take (not particularly original or especiallly insightful, I’ll admit) is that American citizens are not well served by the prevailing political discourse, which is more focused upon scoring quick points with the media than it is with thoughtful consideration of the issues.

  • Does it have to be this way?
  • Can we understand how this situation came to pass?
  • What might we do to remedy the situation?

I welcome all input for planning this course. And, although I’m still not sure about this idea, can anyone suggest some election-themed fiction? Works do not have to be contemporary.

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7 thoughts on “fall 2004 courses, revisited

  1. There’s always the Reese Witherspoon/Matthew Broderick film, Election. I think it might be a useful satire of some of the problems you’re describing. It’s also based on a novel, if I’m not mistaken, so if you’re wanting actual written fiction, there’s an alternative.
    Bulworth might also work well in this conext, and so could Robert Redford’s The Candidate or the Robert Altman mini-series, Tanner 88. I’ll try to come up with a couple of novels, too, but I may try to introduce some of your questions in my class as well.

  2. You might want to look at the Allen Drury novels – they’re a bit dated but deal with some current issues. The start with “Advise and Consent” and go through “A Shade of Difference”; “That Summer”; “Capable of Honor”; “Preserve and Protect”; “The Throne of Saturn” to “Come Ninevah, Come Tyre.”

  3. What about Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah? I have not read it, but I think it concerns an election and that the main character is supposed to be modeled on James Michael Curley. Have you thought about looking at the rhetoric of eighteenth and nineteenth-century elections to see if the present situation represents a situation much worse from the past? Finally, do you think Hogarth’s election series and later representations of elections by artists like George Caleb Bingham might add something?

  4. Thanks, Eric. Yes, I did think about considering the rhetoric of elections in previous centuries, but I hadn’t thought about visual representations. That’s something I’ll seriously consider.

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