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Diane Davis - Biography

Diane Davis, Ph.D., is an American critical rhetorician and post-structuralist thinker. Diane Davis is The Kenneth Burke Chair at the European Graduate School (EGS) where she teaches an intensive seminar on Jacques Derrida. Dr. Davis studied for her Bachelors of Arts at Midwestern State University, graduating in 1986 in English and Physical Education for which she received the Magna Cum Laude distinction. Diane Davis received a Master of Arts, also with distinction, at Indiana University at Fort Wayne in 1989 where she focused on American Literature and Rhetoric. In 1995 she received her first doctorate at the University of Texas at Arlington, in Humanities—Rhetoric, Composition, and Critical Theory, with a dissertation titled “Breaking Up [at] Totality: A Rhetoric of Laughter for Politics and Pedagogy" for which she got a distinction as well. Finally, she obtained her second doctorate from EGS in 2003, receiving the highest distinction (Summa Cum Laude) for her dissertation entitled Inessential Solidarity. She would go on to publish both of her dissertations, the first one in 2000 and the second one in 2010. Professor Diane Davis qualifies her research as follows:

My work is situated at the intersection of rhetorical theory and continental philosophy.

Doctor Davis is Director of the Computer, Writing, and Research Lab and Associate Professor of Rhetoric & Writing, English, and Communication Studies at the University of Texas, Austin. Working at the intersections of rhetorical theory, media theory, and poststructuralist philosophy, she is recognized for her investigations into radical exposure at the level of the 'creature', the brute fact of the incarnate being’s susceptibility and vulnerability, in the face of which human reason is mostly impotent. In her first book, for example, she explores the ways in which irrepressible laughter challenges the apparent mastery and unicity of the human subject. In the throes of a laughter she cannot control or contain, the laughter is overtaken by a force echoing from the 'noise' of physis (nature) rather than the melodies of nomos (law). To be possessed by laughter, Diane Davis proposes, is to be thrown into a petit mal (absence seizure) in which your capacity for meaning-making is suspended and your delusions of mastery and spontaneity are interrupted.

Professor Diane Davis’ work has also devoted many articles, three book reviews, and two edited collections to the work of Avital Ronell, frequently zeroing in on its affective charge:

It's not unusual to take tiny hits in a critical work that advances a specific position or viewpoint; however, the distinguishing feature of the Ronellian punch is that it's the effect of no positive knowledge claim. Ronell's critical texts operate not as formal arguments but as the obliteration of any possible argumentative ground, and that's what delivers the KO blow.

Diane Davis thus exposes the destabilizing force of Avital Ronell's extreme close-ups, noting that they institute a break, an interruption in inherited meaning. The “Ronellian punch", Diane Davis writes, takes place “in or as a devastating withdrawal of understanding that leaves you with no recourse to anything like counter-argument."

Diane Davis spotlights the affective charge of Avital Ronell’s unprecedented style: the jarring effect it can have on the reader when, for instance, this author abruptly breaks with 'the conventions of scholarly distance to speak to “you", addressing “you" directly and putting you on the spot, giving you the sense that she is suddenly “very close-range and onto you"–and you’re not ready for it because this was not supposed to happen to you in a scholarly work.

Diane Davis is the author of a number of essential books. Following is a quote about what she makes of the tasks of writing and reading, which gives us an insight into the originality of her position:

Writing and reading are functions of this pre-originary sociality; they are expositions not of who one is (identity) but of the fact that "we" are (community).

Some of her most acclaimed volumes include Inessential Solidarity: Rhetoric and Foreigner Relations (2010). In this work Diane Davis focuses on the intersections of rhetoric and solidarity so as to question and revise a significant number of traditional rhetoric’s basic assumptions. She does this by exploring a sort of commonality, oblivious to borders (débordement), that precedes and exceeds symbolic identification and therefore any prerequisite for belonging. She explains her project as such:

The Heideggerian insight is worth reiterating: thinking calls as and through the failure of hermeneutic appropriation. Thinking is not the same as knowing, and the challenge today, the social, ethical, and political challenge is to learn to think the sharing of community without effacing precisely this sharing by conceptualizing it, turning it into an object to be grasped and put to work.

Significantly, she manages to powerfully suggests that it is not ontology, epistemology or ethics that is most fundamental but that it is in fact rhetoric that comes prior, thus it is most important to examine affectability, responsibility and persuadability, which are more deeply fundamental. Put in another way, she attempts to expose an originary (or pre-originary) rhetoricity–an affectability or persuadability–that is the condition for symbolic action. For there to be any sharing of symbolic meaning, any effective use of persuasive discourse at all, she proposes, a more originary rhetoricity must already be operating, a constitutive persuadability and responsiveness that testifies, first of all, to a fundamental structure of exposure.

If rhetorical practices work by managing to have an effect on others, then an a priori openness to the other's affection is its first requirement: the 'art' of rhetoric can be effective only among affectable existents, who are by definition something other than distinct 'individuals', intentional subjects, or self-determining agents, and whose relations necessarily precede and exceed symbolic intervention. In her own words:

Is there a way to activate a sense of solidarity among singularities—a way to say ‘we’—that doesn't simultaneously give the other the squeeze, that doesn't feed this craving for communion, in the name of which any number of ‘we’s have committed the most horrific atrocities in recorded history?

In Breaking Up [at] Totality: A Rhetoric of Laughter (2000) Professor Davis challenges traditional theoretical conceptions of rhetoric. Not surprisingly, her work is inscribed in that of post-structuralist thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous. Diane Davis manages to disturb the “either/or" binaries in language. She is interested in something other, a third, which is an excess to any binaries in a language that is typically of constructed of opposites. In this volume laughter becomes this third and thus the subject of her deconstructive analysis.

Victor J. Vitanza, another professor at the European Graduate School, has written the following insightful review of the book:

D. Diane Davis has written a performative book at the end of the old and the beginning of the new millennium. It's a transitional, yet disruptive book about thinking-writing, theorizing(seeing)-writing, and learning(teaching)-writing. It's a book that hacks into and recodes the cultures of writing by perpetually deterritorializing writing theories and pedagogies. If you read no other book in the next millennium, you must read this book! For if you do not, you will remain in whatever previous century you last thought in and by way of.

She is co-author of Women’s Ways of Making It in Rhetoric and Composition (2008), with Michelle Ballif and Roxanne Mountford, and editor of The UberReader: Selected Works of Avital Ronell (2008) and Reading Ronell. Professor Diane Davis has also written many insightful articles, including: “Greetings: On Levinas and the Wagging Tail" in JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory (Special issue on Levinas) 2009. “Identification: Burke and Freud on Who You Are" in Rhetoric Society Quarterly (2008). “The Fifth Risk: A Response to John Muckelbauer's Response" in Philosophy and Rhetoric (2007). “Addressing Alterity: Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and the Non-Appropriative Relation" in Philosophy and Rhetoric (2005). “Finitude's Clamor; Or, Notes Toward a Communitarian Literacy" in College Composition and Communication (2001). “Author's Response to Melinda Turnley" in Dialogue: A Journal for Writing Specialists (2001). “Toward an Ethics of Listening" with Michelle Ballif and Roxanne Mountford in: JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory (2000). “Negotiating Feminist Difference/ Différance: A Trilogue" with Michelle Ballif and Roxanne Mountford in JAC: Journal of Composition Theory (2000). “Confessions of an Anacoluthon: Avital Ronell on Writing, Technology, Pedagogy, Politics." in: JAC: Journal of Composition Theory (2000). “Addicted to Love; Or, Toward an Inessential Solidarity" in JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory (1999). “Agonizing [With] Chantal Mouffe" in JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory (1999). “Laughter; Or, Chortling into the Storm" in Pre/Text (1997). “Writing [at] the End of the Millennium: Some [Dis]Connections" Pre/Text (1995). “Breaking Up [at] Phallocracy: Post-Feminism's Chortling Hammer" in Rhetoric Review (1995). “The Power of Language to Efface and Desensitize" with Eve Duffy in Rhetoric Society Quarterly (1990).

Diane Davis is a Professor of rhetoric and philosophy at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where she teaches an Intensive Summer Seminar on Jacques Derrida.