On Monday, 9/10, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Alumna Debra Hawhee will give a talk on “Aristotle’s Tired Audience,” from 3:30-5:00pm, in 1210 McClung Tower. Hawhee is the McCourtney Professor of Civic Deliberation at Penn State. She studies and teaches histories and theories of rhetoric with a focus on how rhetoric moves bodies and activates sensation. She is the author, most recently, of Rhetoric in Tooth and Claw: Animals, Language, Sensation(U of Chicago Press, 2017), which received the 2018 Book Award from the Rhetoric Society of America.
Few things matter as much to rhetorical theory and pedagogy as audience. Most comments about audience presume the importance of catching and holding an audience’s attention. Curiously, underwriting theories of audience is a number of references—many made in passing, most offered as cautionary—to the tired, nodding, or sleeping audience, even to the audience member or two who loses consciousness. Hawhee’s talk will begin by sharing passages in which pre-modern writers from Aristotle to Chaucer invoke depleted audiences. It will then settle in with Aristotle’s Rhetoric and reflections found in his biological treatises (“On Sleep and Waking” and “Generation of Animals”) on the physiology of sleep. For Aristotle, sleep, as an intermediate state, happens in “a borderland between living and not-living,” and sleep, he writes in Generation of Animals, is the blocking of sensation. At stake in considering the metaphysics of sleep in the context of sleep-inducing oratory is a conception of rhetorical energy as the very force that constitutes and sustains—gives life to—rhetoric itself. By dwelling on the analogies and presumptions in the depletion passages, this talk will begin to sketch an Aristotelian theory of attention management that depends on alertness, stimulation, and the senses.