Prof. Jon Smith (Simon Fraser University, Vancouver)

"A House Divided? Barack Obama and the U.S. Rhetorical Tradition" (November/December 2014)

Barack Obama has returned oratory - once considered integral to republican governance - to a level of cultural effectiveness not seen since the 1960s. This course dealt half with the U.S. rhetorical tradition and half with Obama s skillful use of it. In the first half, the course reviewed the rhetorical constructions of a national we in the works of Thomas Jefferson (the Declaration of Independence, draft and final form); James Madison (Federalist X); the speeches and writings of Abraham Lincoln (perhaps Obama s most important influence as a prose stylist), and Martin Luther King, Jr.; furthermore, examples of the jeremiad (Frederick Douglass' Fourth of July address, Malcolm X's The Ballot or the Bullet) were considered, a genre from which Obama has pointedly distanced himself. In the second half, the seminar considered Dreams from my Father (a major work), bits of The Audacity of Hope (more of a careful politician s book), and, most of all, Obama's speeches, especially but not only those from the 2008 campaign.

As is appropriate for a course that draws on rhetoric, cultural studies, American studies, and political science, among other fields, the critical methodology was eclectic, ranging, for example, from Aristotelian rhetoric to Habermas' notion of the public sphere to critical race theory to gender studies to psychoanalytic theory to work in American studies by such scholars as Donald Pease, Dana Nelson, Lauren Berlant, Eric Lott, and Garry Wills.

The Instructor

Jon Smith presently works chiefly on the U.S. South from postcolonial and cultural-studies perspectives. His essays and essay-reviews have appeared in American Literary HistoryAmerican LiteratureContemporary LiteratureThe Global South, and Modern Fiction Studies, as well as in several essay collections on topics ranging from Faulkner to alt-country. With Deborah Cohn of Indiana University, he coedited Look Away! The U.S. South in New World Studies (Duke UP 04), and, with Riché Richardson of Cornell University, he coedits the University of Georgia Press series The New Southern Studies. His own book, Finding Purple America: The South and the Future of American Cultural Studies, was published in that series in 2013. With Scott Romine, he is co-writing Against Cornbread Nationalism: How Foodways Partisans Misrepresent the South. (Homepage)