Notes: Pamela VanHaitsma, “Queering the Language of the Heart: Romantic Letters, Genre Instruction, and Rhetorical Practice”

VanHaitsma, Pamela. (2014). Queering the language of the heart: Romantic letters, genre instruction, and rhetorical practice. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 44.1, 6–24.

Summary:

VanHaitsma, in studying 19th Century letter writing manuals and letters, argues that these genre instruction manuals taught heteronormative rhetorical practices of letter writing, but in this instruction created moments of queer repurposing or adaptation.

Keywords: genre, queer, queer rhetorics, rhetoric, writing studies

Quotations:

“In teaching ways of being, genre instruction in the romantic letter was heteronormative insofar as it systematically normalized opposite-sex relations—and, just as importantly, particular versions of them” (p. 8).

“Yet, even as manuals taught a heteronormative conception of romantic relations, they provided resources for composing queerly gender-crossing forms of address” (p. 10).

“Manuals did not teach that writers compose romantic letters simply to develop romantic relationships, or to develop conversations within romantic relationships about a range of topics, such as politics. Instead, manuals taught that the purpose of romantic letters was to court or be courted in pursuit of marriage between a man and a woman” (p. 16).

“Yet even as manual instruction was mainly heteronormative, it taught the romantic letter genre as open to nonnormative adaptation through gender-crossing address, unrestrained outbreaks, and queer repurposing. In other words, however normative genres and genre instruction may be, they are not entirely settled; they are flexible and susceptible to queer challenge and repurposing” (p. 20).

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