English 250

Research Seminar: The Rhetoric of Technique

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
4 Spring 2018 Lavery, Grace
Thurs. 3:30-6:30 107 Mulford

Book List

Butler, Samuel: Erewhon; Eliot, George: Romola; Hardy, Thomas: Jude the Obscure; Johnson, B. S.: Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry; Miller, D. A.: Place for Us; Preciado, Paul B. ["Beatriz Preciado"]: Testo Junkie; Rose, Gillian: Love's Work


“Sex is boring,” Foucault declared in an interview published posthumously in 1986, before expressing his interest in those “intentional and voluntary actions by which men […] make their life an oeuvre that carries certain aesthetic values, and meets certain stylistic criteria,” actions that he called “techniques of the self.” A particular sexual habit or lifestyle might indeed exemplify such a technique, but so might bonsai gardening, crossword puzzles, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, “weird Twitter,” or slam poetry. Yet although such techniques raised, for Foucault, the utopian possibility of stylistic individuation – of “coming into one’s own” – we know, too, that anything that can be improved can be monetized. Under the conditions of capitalist modernity, the drive to perfect the technical dimension of labor both accelerated the expropriation of surplus values from laboring bodies, and further muted what Marx and Engels called the “charm” of pre-capitalist labor. In the modern sense, then, we might understand technique as the product of a collision between these two contradictory compulsions: style (understood as nonscalable, free, and self-creating), and efficacy (understood as measurable, exchangeable, and generic). In this class, we will examine the development of a modern, aesthetic sense of technique through a range of literary and narrative objects, from the mid nineteenth century through until the present day, in a diverse range of genres and texts. 

In addition to the usual suspects, reading for this course will likely include: Roland Barthes, Cleanth Brooks, Thomas De Quincey, George Eliot, Charles Fourier, Thomas Hardy, L. Ron Hubbard, Henry James, B. S. Johnson, Walter Pater, I. A. Richards, Gillian Rose, John Ruskin, and  D. W. Winnicott.

This course satisfies the Group 4 (Nineteenth Century), 5 (Twentieth Century), or 6 (Non-historical) requirement.

Other Recent Sections of This Course

Back to Semester List