Course Information


  • Number: ENGL 655
  • Title: Rhetoric's Avant-garde
  • Term: Fall 2016


  • Name: Andrew Pilsch
  • Contact:
  • Office Hours & Locations:
    • Monday 12-2, Wednesday 12-1, LAAH 417

Course Description

This seminar will consider a number of “post-linguistic” turns (“visual,” “new media,” “nonhuman,” “digital”) in rhetorical theory in terms of and in conversation with the idea of an avant-garde. Borrowing the concept from modernist understandings of politically and formally experimental art, this seminar will explore what it would mean to think about the recent history of rhetoric within a framework of vanguard-led experimentation. As it happens, new terrain for rhetorical study—fields such as the digital or the visual—have often been introduced into the critical conversation via experimental scholarly practices that conform to prior notions of avant-garde art. To this end, we will read work from rhetoricians whose critical practice draws from an avant-garde legacy including Geoffrey Sirc, Victor Vitanza, Gregory L Ulmer, and Jody Shipka. Additionally, we will look closely at the rise of the webtext as a rhetorical phenomenon in journals such as Kairos and Enculturation. We will also engage with the avant-garde methods these practitioners outline.


Assignment Values

Assignment Due Date Value
Paper Proposal 2016-11-18 20%
Final Paper 2016-12-10 60%
Response Papers Continuous 20%

Assignment Descriptions

Paper Proposal

For this assignment, you will need to write a short (500 word) abstract for your proposed final paper. This abstract should state (briefly and clearly) what you are proposing to argue, how it contributes to the intellectual conversation surrounding your topic, and what previous scholarship it either refutes or extends.

In addition to the abstract, you will provide MLA citations for five (5) articles or books you propose using in your final paper. Along with each citation, provide a short (one to two sentence) description of the piece’s argument and its use to your proposed paper.

Final Paper

The final paper for this class may proceed along a number of paths. You may choose to write the standard seminar paper (20 to 30 pages) on a topic of your choosing that responds to or extends some element of class discussion or reading. Such a paper should advance a thesis and support it via argumentation and citation. You should further conform to MLA standards throughout the paper.

Additionally, you may choose to produce a piece of avant-garde writing using one of the forms we have explored in class (experimental poetry, écriture féminine, film, webtext, any of Ulmer’s electrolate forms, etc) accompanied by a (5-15 page) creator’s statement that explains the work. This statement needs to be both technical (“how I made this”) and critical (“how my work contributes to our understanding of my topic”). You should expect to cite at least five (5) sources in this statement. This statement should also contain some reflection on the process of your object’s creation: was it successful? if you were to do it again, would you do things differently? how do you see this project continuing in the future?

Response Papers

In addition to showing up for each seminar meeting, you are required to produce ~1 page of single-spaced writing in response to the week’s readings. These will be due an hour before our seminar starts to the week’s dropbox on eCampus.

We will begin seminar by going around the room, summarizing each person’s responses. These will form the backbone of our weekly discussion. As such, you will need to bring a version of your response with you to seminar (can be on a laptop or cellphone; do not feel required to bring a hard copy).

Books To Buy

Required Texts

You need to acquire a copy of the following four texts for this seminar. They are all available at the A&M bookstore.

Online Texts

Luckily, two of the books we will be reading this semester are available free as eBooks from the A&M library. If you are a print fetishist, however, you may wish to purchase the following two texts in addition to the required texts above:

Course Policies


I am available to answer email from 9:00am until 5:00pm Monday through Friday. Emails arriving outside of that time will be answered at my earliest convenience, but do not count on a quick answer to emails sent late at night or on the weekends.


Per university policy, I cannot discuss grades via email. Please drop by my office hours if you would like to discuss your grade on an assignment.

Grade Values

  • A 90-100
  • B 80-89
  • C 70-79
  • D 60-69
  • F 59 or less

Absence / Tardiness

Students are expected to attend all classes. Failure to do so, as part of a larger pattern of chronic tardiness and lateness, will result in consequences for your final grade.

Tardiness is defined as an arrival in class after the first five minutes of class. This behavior, while sometimes unavoidable, is disruptive. If you are running late, please do your best to enter the classroom quietly and find the first and most easily accessible seat available.

Excused Absences

Student Rule 7 covers the cases in which absences will be excused and in which late work will be tolerated. The following conditions will be excused:

  • Participation in an activity appearing on the university authorized activity list. (see List of Authorized and Sponsored Activities)
  • Death or major illness in a student’s immediate family. Immediate family may include: mother, father, sister, brother, grandparents, spouse, child, spouse’s child, spouse’s parents, spouse’s grandparents, stepmother, step-father, step-sister, step-brother, step-grandparents, grandchild, step-grandchild, legal guardian, and others as deemed appropriate by faculty member or student’s academic Dean or designee.
  • Illness of a dependent family member.
  • Participation in legal proceedings or administrative procedures that require a student’s presence.
  • Religious holy day. (See Appendix IV.)
  • Injury or Illness that is too severe or contagious for the student to attend class.
  • Required participation in military duties.
  • Mandatory admission interviews for professional or graduate school which cannot be rescheduled.
  • Mandatory participation as a student-athlete in NCAA-sanctioned competition.
  • In accordance with Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, Texas A&M University shall treat pregnancy (childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy and recovery therefrom) and related conditions as a justification for an excused absence for so long a period of time as is deemed medically necessary by the student’s physician. Requests for excused absence related to pregnancy should be directed to the instructor; questions about Title IX should be directed to the University Title IX Coordinator.

Note About Excused Absences

In the event of a chronic illness or other sudden condition that will result in significant time away from class, please inform me of the situation before you return to class, so that we can work out how to handle the situation before it becomes an issue.


In the 21st century, it is unreasonable to accept “my computer died” as an excuse for late work. If you are working on assignments on a computer, please back up your work offsite. Sites such as Dropbox and Google Drive provide space for storing copies of your work; even a USB drive can be enough. I have recently started using BackBlaze and found it to be a great and inexpensive online, automated backup. Save multiple times throughout each work session to both your backup and your computer’s copy. In this class, I hold you accountable for making sure your technology is working correctly.

Late Work

Under Student Rule 7.4, I am under “under no obligation to provide an opportunity for the student to make up work missed because of an unexcused absence.” However, I do accept late work and will take off 5 points for every day late. These points are removed after the paper is graded, such that a paper that would have received an 85% that was 3 days late will receive a 70%.

Additionally, if you are falling behind on a project and feel that you are not going to finish on time, email me 24 hours before the assignment is due to request an extension. In this email, propose how many additional days you will need to finish the assignment. Requests for extension that do not contain this information will not be honored.

Academic Integrity

Aggie Honor Code.An Aggie does not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do.” It is the student’s responsibility to know the Aggie Honor Code and to understand what constitutes scholastic dishonesty and to avoid it all costs. Anything (particularly plagiarism and cheating on quizzes or projects) that appears to be a violation of the Aggie Honor Code will be reported to the appropriate authorities. For additional information please visit:

American with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities. If you believe you have a disability requiring an accommodation, please contact Disability Services, in Cain Hall, Room B118, or call 845-1637. For additional information visit


Week 1 – Introduction

Fri 09/02

Week 2 – What Is the Avant-Garde?

Fri 09/09

  • Peter Bürger, Theory Of the Avant-Garde

Week 3 – Modernist Avant-Gardes

Fri 09/16

Week 4 – Antecedents: Derrida

Fri 09/23

Week 5 – Antecedents: Cixous

Fri 09/30

  • Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa”
  • Hélène Cixous, “Sorties: Ways Out/Attacks/Forays”
  • Lynn Worsham, “Writing Against Writing: The Predicament of Écriture Féminine in Composition Studies”

Week 6 – Antecedents: Burroughs

Fri 10/07

Week 7 – Vitanza

Fri 10/14

  • Victor Vitanza, Negation, Subjectivity, and The History of Rhetoric

Week 8 – Ulmer I

Fri 10/21

Week 9 – Ulmer II

Fri 10/28

Week 10 – Sirc

Fri 11/04

Week 11 – Film Composition

Fri 11/11

Week 12 – Shipka

Fri 11/18

Week 13 – Thanksgiving Break

Fri 11/25

No Class

Thanksgiving Break

Week 14 – Flusser

Fri 12/02

  • Vilém Flusser, Does Writing Have a Future?

Week 15 – In-Class Presentations

Mon 12/05

Redefined Day

  • In-Class Presentations
    • 5-10 Talk About Your Paper (Maybe Read the Introduction?)
    • Come Prepared To Offer Feedback
  • Final Paper Due 12/10