ENGL 509A: Being a Person in the Age of Health Itself

Instructors: Judy Segal
Section: 001

Term: 2
Meets: Monday 1-4pm

This course will formulate, and respond to, questions of how public values about health and illness get taken up in individual bodies. It will track the ways people are well or ill in the terms available, at a time and a place, to be well or ill in. Readings will take up three kinds of theory, primarily. The first is theory connected to Jonathan Metzl and Anna Kirkland’s “against health” thesis—the idea not that health is bad (obviously), but that health is a “prescribed state and an ideological position”: a “normativizing rhetoric” (Against Health 2). The second is theory from Ian Hacking’s “dynamic nominalism” and his account of “making up people.” “In some cases,” Hacking says, “our classifications and our classes conspire to emerge hand in hand, each egging each other on” (Historical Ontology 107). The third is rhetorical theory, and the course will serve as an introduction to a rhetorical approach to discourses of health and illness. A rhetorical approach invites us to consider who is persuading whom of what, and what are the means of persuasion. The course will specify what a rhetorical theorist/critic has to offer the interdisciplinary study of identity for a western culture that is in the grip of a discourse on health.

Some “kinds” (Hacking) of people that the course will be interested in are these: people who are pregnant, people in pain, people with cancer, people who are old, people with mental illness, people with contested illness, people with disabilities. Readings will include scholarly contributions from historians, philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, and, especially, rhetorical theorists. Readings will also include contributions from the popular press and from blogs and social media, as it is a good idea, when discussing public discourse, to pay attention to public discourse. Following is a tentative and partial list of scholarly readings:

Brenda Jo Brueggemann. Excerpt. Lend Me Your Ear: Rhetorical Constructions of  Deafness (1999)

Margaret Cruikshank. Excerpt. Learning to Be Old: Gender, Culture, and Aging (2013)

Lennard Davis, Excerpt. The End of Normal: Identity in a Biocultural Era (2013)

Hacking, Ian. “Making Up People.” In Historical Ontology (2002)

Jain, Lochlann. Excerpt. Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us (2013)

Keränen, Lisa. “’This Weird, Incurable Disease: Competing Diagnoses in the Rhetoric of Morgellons.” In Health Humanities Reader (2014)

Joanna Kempner. Excerpt. Not Tonight: Migraine and the Politics of Gender and Health(2014)

Emily Martin. Excerpt. Bipolar Expeditions: Mania and Depression in American Culture(2007)

Jonathan Metzl and Anna Kirkland, eds. Selections. Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality (2010)

Judy Z. Segal. “Breast Cancer as Public Rhetoric: Genre Itself and the Maintenance of Ignorance.” Linguistics and the Human Sciences (2008)

Seigel, Marika. Excerpt. The Rhetoric of Pregnancy (2014)


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