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Session Details

After “The Epistemic Music of Rhetoric”: Risks and Rewards Teaching Non/Object(ive), Dis/Sonic, E/Lectronic, Re/Embodied Sounds

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Session Code: A.31
Area Cluster: 13-Theory
Type of Session: Concurrent
Level: All
Abstract: This panel explores through pedagogical performances several dimensions of scholarship in “the episonic music of rhetoric."
Description: The relation between rhetoric and music has a long and checkered history in the West; and it is always related to teaching and learning. Plato and Aristotle ridiculed and/or tried to dismiss it in relation to knowledge, poetry, and rhetorical style as mere delivery; the sophists and (later) Cicero seem to have thought it central to physical knowing. Before the Newtonian revolution in science, music in rhetoric was reduced to figures of speech (by Ramus), and in tandem with the Enlightenment reasoning in philosophy and political reasoning, the music of rhetoric was formalized into exacting systems of methods of delivery by the Elocutionist (Sheridan; Austin), like John Bulwer before them, including systematic treatises on hand gestures and body movement. Following the reprise of the sophistic rhetoric in such philosophical greats as Vico, Hegel, and especially Nietzsche, in the second half of the twentieth century, composition studies (often counterbalancing Aristotelian rhetoric) brought attention to sound, voice, dissonance in writing (Elbow; Perl; Odell) and a rhetorical theorizing of music in reading and writing philosophy, pedagogy and practice (Katz).

But with the technological advent of social media, digital communication, electracy, and even object oriented philosophy, and perhaps ironically the turning away from the “linguistic turn” toward rhetorics of objects, it is the first decades of 21st century that have seen an eruption (diffusion) of rhetorics of sound. In these rhetorics, the ancient divisions of mind vs. body, reason vs. emotion, rationality vs. affect, and interior vs. exterior, are increasingly being challenged by musician-scholars working at the electronic intersection of rhetoric and music, where they are finding and modulating these dualities, and in the process changing not only the nexus of form and time, but also challenging basic conceptions of rhetorical theory and pedagogy—of audience, purpose, space, voice, sound, and the very act of writing itself. Multimodal composition in 'the music' of the new media has revealed new dimensions to the teaching of writing as “the rhetoric of cool” (Rice), a “happening” (Sirc), a “sonic remixing” (see Harlot #9 [2013]), a “sound ‘wordling’” (Hawk), a distributed Gesamptkunstwerk [“total art work”] (Rickert and Salvo), and most recently, as wholly present in “ambient” object-oriented environments (Rickert).

This panel will explore the risks and rewards of the next w/rave for the epistemic music of rhetoric and for teaching of writing. This panel will simultaneously interrogate and contribute to new instantiations of sonic rhetorical scholarship and performance in and through their own, specific performative work.

After a brief introduction by the Chair, Speaker 1 will present Term One & Term Two, hip-hop mixtapes that contain rap music and spoken word poetry comprised of original lyrics, original [and industry] beats, original video clips, and repurposed audio clips as specific responses to Histories of Rhetorics. The mixtapes are experimentations in form, as his past work has similarly experimented with different forms [poetry, prose, lyrics]. The necessity and prevalence of the composite structure lays the groundwork for an experiential approach to teaching and learning that is best exemplified by the products it creates. Building upon a foundation, much of which is laid by artists like Jay-Z, Common, and Kanye West, this approach to reading, teaching, understanding, and composing provides ways teachers, students and artists alike can engage in and continue necessary conversation about history, personhood, place, [in]equality, technology, and education [through the rhetoric of music and writing].

Speaker 2 will consider the paradoxical appeals of electronic dance music known as “dubstep” and “glitch hop” for the purpose of making metacommentary on academic discourses that would be experimental. These musical genres, which have recently enjoyed an unprecedented and near mainstream surge of international listenership, combine an emphasis of experimental timbres and textures with the consistency of rhythm needed for popular forms of dance. The suggestion is that this juxtaposition of experimentation and stability might be seen as a metaphor for an academic attempt to point toward the relatively unwieldy perceptual affordances of sound from within highly regimented structures of scholarly discourse and teaching. This speaker thus contributes to the conversation of scholars such as Katherine Fargo Ahern, Steven B. Katz, Jeff Rice, and Thomas Rickert, who deal with the actual aural or sonic qualities of music not simply as means of persuasion, but affective means to access, engage, know, and participate in the activities of academic interpretation. Specifically, this presentation acknowledges and caters to an oscillation of critical appetites, hopes, needs, and desires in its attempt to respond the ever present double bind currently highlighted in sonic rhetorics: stasis and the innovation necessary to move beyond rhetoric as purely argumentative or propositional.

Speaker 3 will probe how Punk Rock is commonly understood as a rhetorical genre of music characterized by a raw, minimalistic, and aggressive sound accompanied by outrageous stylistic aesthetics designed to provoke, shock, offend, and challenge mainstream culture. While these assumptions are not wholly inaccurate, they re-present but a small part of the rhetoric of punk and they lead to an incomplete rhetorical understanding of this subcultural phenomenon. Because punk rock was highly fragmented (from both a musicological and ideological perspective) and localized, any attempt to arrive at a comprehensive and unified definition is inadequate. This presentation will resist/rebel against the desire to arrive at any such definition. Instead, a complex rhetorical understanding of punk rock can only be achieved by allowing it to be what it desired to be: an open space of rhetorical/musical/visual play in the margins that was free to oppose/resist dominant culture through multimodal musical compositions. By coming to such an understanding, the rhetoric of punk rock (always already beyond definition) can become a tool to teach our students how to write alongside/against institutional constraints through embracing punk rock’s Do-It-Yourself (DIY) ethos. Punk is a pathway towards abandoning/rejecting pre-fabricated structures towards more innovative modes of composition that might aim to affect change in student’s unique and local institutional environments.

A student respondent will provide brief personal feedback on the risk and rewards of *learning* the episonic music of rhetoric, and frame some possible pedagogical questions for the audience.


  • Chair: Steven Katz Clemson University -
  • Speaker: A.D. Carson Clemson University - A Rap on Rap: hip-hop Cognition and Composition [one term at a time]
  • Speaker: Matthew Osborn Clemson University - Aural Rhetoric’s Double Bind, Sonified with Experimentation and Stability in Electronic Dance Music
  • Speaker: Michael Utley Clemson University, SC - Re-Writing the Riot: On Resisting a Definition for Punk Rock Rhetoric
  • Respondent: Data Canlas Clemson University -


  • Thursday 3/19 10:30 AM - 11:45 AM in Marriott, Marriott, Florida Ballroom IV, Level Two

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