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The Ends of Words: Mystic Practice and Rhetorical Limit Experience

Workshop Leader: Richard Doyle, Penn State University

Workshop Leader:

Richard Doyle, Penn State University

“The old writer couldn't write anymore because he had reached the end of words, the end of what can be done with words. And then?”  William S. Burroughs, The Western Lands

Writer Alan Watts once described himself as being in the business of "Effing the ineffable" - putting the unspeakable into words. This workshop will explore the tensions endemic to effing the ineffable. Mystic rhetorical practices are collectively defined by this paradoxical attempt to describe the indescribable, and in so doing they explore the rhetorical limits of any given historical moment or domain. And mystic texts, while often well out of the mainstream in their content and style, are hardly marginal in the usual sense; perhaps precisely because mystic writers must explore the very limits of discourse, mystic texts are at the core of many rhetorical traditions, where they explore the limit experience (Bataille) of language in the space of all possible rhetorical practices. And this “end” of words can at times also be their very telos, as in the eighth century Sanskrit chant “Nirvana Shatakam” or the fourteenth century English mediation manual the “Cloud of Unknowing”. Exploring an itinerary from these early texts to twentieth century science fiction writer Philip K. Dick’s The Exegesis, the workshop will collaboratively map some rhetorical domains of what is possible, and not possible, to "eff."


Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing ( short selections)
De Certeau, Michel. Mysticism
Dick, Philip K. The Exegesis (short selections)
Leonard, Ron. The Transcendental Philosophy of Franklin Merrell-Wolff ( pp. 107-155)
Merrell-Wolff, Franklin. Transformations in Consciousness (short selections) Adi Sankara, “Nirvana Shatkam

Questions should be directed to Richard Doyle at

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