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Workshop 20: Rhetoric and Life Writing

Primarily Synchronous (June 1-4)

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Workshop Leaders:

Jonathan Alexander, University of California, Irvine:
Katherine Mack, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs:

This workshop begins with the idea that life writing matters deeply to the practices and study of rhetoric, particularly now. In the post-truth era, wherein personal experience and opinion influence deliberation and decision-making as much as, if not more, than expert opinion and data, and technologies enable their proliferation and circulation, life writing takes on particular rhetorical force. In its production and uptake, life writing in its various forms grapples with the status of the self and subjectivity as evidentiary fodder for social, cultural, and political concerns.

Over the course of our two-and-a-half days together, we will interrogate the claims that life writing is inherently rhetorical, and that its study is kairotic. We will examine existing bridges between canonical scholarship in life writing and rhetorical studies (perhaps through the recent work of Amy Robillard, but also by revisiting and reassessing older scholarship, such as that of Candace Spigelman), while hoping, with our participants, to construct new ones. We are particularly interested in examining the rhetoricity of life writing, both in academic work and in larger public debates, as it is mediated textually and/or multimodally. We invite participants doing rhetorical critical and interpretive projects about life writing as well as those doing rhetorical scholarly projects that incorporate life writing as evidence.

Jonathan Alexander Jonathan Alexander is Chancellor’s Professor of English at the University of California, Irvine, where he is also associate dean in the Division of Undergraduate Education. The author, co-author, or co-editor of sixteen books, Alexander is committed to interdisciplinary troublemaking, and works generally under the rubric of “writing studies” to explore the creation and uptake of “texts” as they perform different kinds of ideological work in specific contexts. His work has primarily focused on written and digital production in the extra-curriculum, such as self- and collectively-sponsored multimodal forms of composition, including “fan texts.” More recently, he has turned his attention to many varied forms of life narrative as a rich mode of rhetorical and political engagement. In 2018, his critical memoir, Creep: A Life, a Theory, an Apology, was a finalist for a 2018 Lambda Literary Award (Gay Memoir category).

Katherine MackKatherine Mack: I am an associate professor and chair of English at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. I am broadly interested in how rhetorics of the self and the evidence of personal experience influence how we live, feel, and relate to ourselves and others; to social and political movements; and to institutions. My research sites are wide-ranging, encompassing truth and reconciliation efforts in South Africa, the legitimizing rhetorics of single mothers in the United States, and rhetorical pedagogy in the post-truth era. Across these disparate sites, I aim to illuminate how life narratives figure centrally and function rhetorically, in ways that are both productive and problematic.

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