An Existentialist Approach to Teaching Writing: Anguish, Bad Faith, and Seriousness in Composition

Andreas Peter Herzog, University of South Carolina - Columbia


This dissertation aims at developing a model concept for the teaching of ethics in the composition classroom through the use of existentialism in the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre. Overall, the gap I am trying to fill with my dissertation is a lack of awareness of how much Sartre actually fits rhetorical theory and composition. Ultimately, this dissertation is the attempt to develop an ethic that is universally applicable in the teaching of composition, without the need for a service learning environment or additional resources outside the university itself. To provide an overview of the project, the approach will be illustrated with three case studies that focus on different ethical issues in writing that are central to first-year composition courses. The first case study looks at a conflict between a professor and a graduate student that involved the discussion of heated topics and power relationships in the classroom. The second case study looks at cases of plagiarism on the highest level, in dissertations. Several German politicians had to resign from their offices because their dissertations contained plagiarized passages, and their reactions sparked controversial responses from both the general public, the media, and academic institutions. The third case study looks at service learning and the encounter with marginalized groups – what could be called the encounter with the Other. Students do not always show an authentic ethical reaction to what they experience. The project will conclude with a discussion of how these cases and Sartre's work might be deployed in the context of a first-year composition syllabus with three main thematic units.