Reading Response: Rhetoric and Competition by Linda Hutcheon

Rhetoric and Competition is an essay by Linda Hutcheon in 2002. Hutcheon is a Canadian academic working in the fields of Literary Theory and Criticism, opera and Canadian Studies and works as a professor in the Department of English and of the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto. In her essay, Hutcheon discusses the evolution of academic discourse. She argues that modern day academy has declined into highly aggressive competition instead of a collaborative effort, describing it as more of a “snake pit than an ivory tower”.  Observing a philosophy lecture in her University, Hutcheon noticed this first hand as most of the questions asked or points made, were aggressive attacks followed by counter arguments all meant to shatter the speakers argument.

Hutcheon’s argument is similar to Bateson’s in that it criticises the extensive prevalence of competition in our society, be it in the classroom, in research or anywhere in ones professional life.  Despite this, Hutcheon mentions William Blake’s book: Embracing Contraries, acknowledging that some contrary thought is positive for progression. As with Bateson’s speech, Hutcheon’s essay differs greatly from Werron’s publication on the Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory. His work is far more research intensive and aims to provide the readers with an analysis of modern forms of competition instead of believing in it or criticising it.

In her essay, Hutcheon challenges the modern day conception of the ancient Greek idea of the agon, hoping to restore it as a “gathering place, rather than a place of contest and conflict”. She argues for “counter-discourse” in order to provoke critical thinking and to expose any weaknesses of the dominant discourse. Hutcheon encourages the academic community to pursue new, more cooperative ways of thinking and interacting, while trying to prevent the excess in aggressive competition to grow any further.

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