Course Description

We all use language, and our language use is always relational.

These are grand generalizations of the sort this class will invite you to question. Still, if you are reading this syllabus, which I have written, then here at least we are using language relationally—between students and teacher, between readers and writer—and we will continue to do so beyond these initial lines, over the course of the entire semester.

Through our pedagogical relation, we will make a critical project of interrogating the relationality of language. We will take up this project by engaging with the work of other thinkers. These thinkers have something to say about language and its uses in human relations. So one way we will engage their work is by asking, what do they say about language as relational? About how language is used within relations that are not only interpersonal, familial, professional, platonic/romantic, but also social, cultural, political, and historical? About how language partly constitutes those very relations? As writers, these thinkers also use language to constitute relations with their readers. A second way we will engage their work, then, is to ask what they do with language to enact such relations. How do they use language to relate with readers, both actual and imagined, and even unimaginable?

The most important thinking and writing in this class, however, is your own. The course will prompt you to consider and reconsider your responses to other writers and your effects on readers, to enact relations through your own use of language. The course will invite you to take risks with your writing, to experiment with new styles, genres, forms, and approaches. The course will also ask you to take risks with your thinking, contemplating a range of ideas about human relations—about not only language, but also race, ethnicity, class, and nation; the body and pain; history, gender, and sexuality. Some of these ideas and topics may be challenging or even discomforting. At its best, this sort of course challenges in ways that are intellectually stimulating, with students exploring difficult and interesting questions through the process of writing and revising.

We will spend the semester grappling with such questions. We are unlikely to reach any easy conclusions—in each essay, in the class as a whole—but if we are all willing to show up, engage with the course materials and each other, work hard, and take some risks, then I believe we will learn some interesting things about language, about relations between writers and readers, about human relationships period.

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