At the request of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities director, my two blogging reading group participant colleagues (Cara Finnegan and John Murphy) and I will be blogging the activities of the Rhetorical Studies Reading Group, which is funded by IPRH and is in its third year running. This year it is being coordinated by our colleague Ned O'Gorman (go Ned!). This is a large group that involves, all told, 25-30 people and that investigates the state of rhetorical studies. We have become quite good at linking in with visitors to campus whose research is related to rhetoric. We tend to read work by that visitor and then spend an hour or two with that person to talk about their research. This sort of informal format allows for a nice combination of discussion about theory and method, as well as a behind-the-scenes account of how research gets produced.
So good have we become at linking to visitors and at using the modest funds allotted by the IPRH for our reading group, that this year we are only going to be reading work of scholars visiting our campus. Past guests have included Jason Black, who studies American Indian rhetorical history; David Fleming, who publishes on classical rhetoric and on contemporary cities; Blake Scott, who studies rhetoric in the context of transnational pharmaceuticals; John Sloop, who theorizes sexuality, identity, and also communications technologies; and Phaedra Pezzullo, whose work on toxic tourism and environmental rhetoric keeps on raking in awards. This year we hosted Kirt Wilson from Minnesota back in September. While scarfing down Antonio's pizza, we got to talk with Wilson about his articles on Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and a truly brilliant study of mimesis in the African-American tradition.
Last night we hosted Anthony Corbeill, a classicist from University of Kansas whose book Nature Embodied, in addition to having one of the coolest cover images, like, ever, is a remarkable and wide-ranging study of gesture in ancient Rome.
We were delighted that in addition to our usual suspects from English and Communication, Corbeill also drew faculty and grads from Classics and Art History. If the book spans five centuries of textual and artifactual evidence, our group blew that open, and the discussion spanned more than 2500 years. At one point it occurred to me that in addition to all the disciplinary affiliations, we had at the table an expert in just about every traditional historical period, and so what this meant was we were able to pool our collective knowledge to think even more broadly about rhetorical gesture.
In addition to excerpts from Nature Embodied, we also read an article of his on the relationship between grammatical gender and sex. This piece*, which appeared just this year in Transactions of the American Philological Association, consults with the Latin grammarians to locate the onset of compulsory heterosexuality in increasingly restrictive practices around the gendering of ambiguously gendered nouns. Nouns, he suggests, not only have gender, but they have sex, and he means that, wildly, in both senses of the phrase. It's a delight to encounter Judith Butler and Monique Wittig in a TAPA article, but it's altogether mindblowing to read hints about words copulating and reproducing. Josh Gunn, you would love this piece.
Corbeill was funny, engaging and (too) modest, and he displayed an astonishing ability to pull examples out of his brain files, many of which contain roman jokes (his first book was on laughter). It turns out Cicero was a funny guy with a butch daughter. For those of you on campus, Corbeill is presenting a talk today** on weeping statues. Given that my Aristotle class is smack in the middle of book 2 (and therefore smack in the middle of emotions) I'm a little weepy that I won't be able to make it. Please! Go! You won't be disappointed.
*Corbeill, Anthony. "Genus quid est? Roman Scholars on Grammatical Gender and Biological Sex." Transactions of the American Philological Association 138 (2008): 75-105.
**The Department of the Classics takes pleasure in announcing a lecture by Anthony Corbeill, Professor of Classics at the University of Kansas, on Friday, October 17, at 2:30 PM, in Room 223, Gregory Hall. The lecture is entitled "Weeping Statues, Weeping Gods, and Prodigies from Republican to Early-Christian Rome.