Fall SCoR Seminar at Baylor University

First SCoR Seminar West of the Mississippi

Sam Perry and his colleagues in the Department of Communication and the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core at Baylor University in Waco, TX hosted the Fall, 2013 Southern Colloquium on Rhetoric seminar, Friday, November 1, 2013. The topic wasAporia and the Obama Administration: Burdens of Representation in a Partisan Public.” The theoretical frame was provided by Jacques Derrida’s Aporias, and the text was Barack Obama’s second inaugural speech.

We find ourselves in a period where political discourse is particularly contentious. Repeated debates over raising the debt ceiling, a government shutdown led by Tea Party opposition to the Affordable Care Act, and general Congressional stalemate all serve as reminders that partisan politics run deeply divide the public sphere. In such a divided political environment, questions about burdens of representation and the believability of claims that propagate and maintain these political divisions arise. In this session we will identify and address some of these questions by looking at Barack Obama’s 2nd Inaugural Address and Jacques Derrida’s Aporias in relation to conservative rhetoric questioning Obama’s policies, rhetorical strategies, and his beliefs in American exceptionalism.

With the beginning of President Obama’s 2nd term many wondered if the politics of division that defined his first term would continue or whether the Democratic and Republican Parties might find a space for détente. However, it seems that rather than partisan animus relenting, more radical members of the Republican Party have doubled down on a politics of obstruction. The rhetorical strategies of opposition and obstruction range from policy based to more extreme ad hominem attacks offered with little evidence. For example, Representative Blake Ferenthold of Texas casually mentioned impeachment proceedings at a town hall meeting in Texas. Conservative authors and media pundits have accused Obama of being un-American, and author Dinesh D’Souza argues that Obama is an architect of American decline. Such criticism requires a suspension of disbelief or the rhetor to overcome aporia. It also creates different rhetorical and representational burdens for President Obama.

We will take up Obama’s 2nd Inaugural and Jacques Derrida’s Aporias with these conditions in mind. We will examine the address with some care to parse out Obama’s attempts to unify Americans and perform the conciliatory functions of an inaugural. We will also take up Derrida’s text as it examines the burdens of representation and borders of truth in rhetorical processes. This discussion relates to previous SCoR meetings including the
“Real Tea Party” held at Georgia State University and the “Rhetoric in a Rancorous Republic” seminar held at Furman University.

The theoretical reading for the seminar will be Jacques Derrida, Aporias. Trans. Thomas Dutoit. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993.

Click here for the text of Obama’s 2nd Inaugural.

Sam Perry, “We’re Not Ready to Believe You: Conservative Aprorias and Obama’s 2nd Inaugural”
4:00- 4:15- Break
4:15- Resume session and discuss Derrida reading and Obama Speech
5:00pm - Adjourn for supper