More About the Author
Richard A. Lanham: Life and Work
I went to the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., and to Yale University. After taking my A.B. degree in English from Yale, I served a two-year stint in the U.S.Army and then worked for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington before returning to Yale for my Ph.D. I began teaching at Dartmouth, moved to the English Department at UCLA in 1965, and remained there for the rest of my career.
My teaching life found its center in Chaucer, Shakespeare, and literary rhetoric from classical Greece to the present day. From my earliest days at Dartmouth, also, I took a keen interest in student writing. I taught composition courses both at Dartmouth and at UCLA, and in 1979 I started the UCLA Writing Programs. The Programs began with thirty full-time lecturers hired in a single year, and they developed a set of pioneering courses across the curriculum. Many of the lecturers in the Programs have gone on to distinguished teaching, administrative, and business careers, both at UCLA and elsewhere. I've told the story of this start-up adventure in a chapter of my Literacy and the Survival of Humanism.
Where did my books come from? My scholarly career began with the Yale Press publication of my Ph.D. dissertation (Sidney's Original Arcadia) on rhetorical language in an Elizabethan prose romance. In my teaching I found that I was often using the Latin and Greek terms for rhetorical figures, and that students needed a guide to these terms. I started with a two-page list and this led to a longer list and finally to A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, which has been in print since 1967, in two editions, at the University of California Press. The book sets out the fundamental rules of formal rhetoric and has served many readers as an outline introduction to the subject.
From my interest in composition emerged a series of books and videos: Revising Prose, Revising Business Prose, The Revising Prose Video, The Revising Business Prose Video, Analyzing Prose, and Style: An Anti-Textbook.
From my literary teaching came: The Motives of Eloquence; Tristram Shandy: The Games of Pleasure; and a series of essays, Literacy and the Survival of Humanism, all of which explored the role of classical rhetoric in Western literature.
In the early 1980's, I became interested in how the written word was moving from the page to the computer screen, a transition I discussed in The Electronic Word. The volatility of the word on an electronic screen--its ability to move around, change shape, size, color, disappear and reappear, continually reach out to establish new connections--suggested different ways for writing to work, new ways that seemed to emerge spontaneously from an ever-changing medium.
This ever-changing electronic mixture led me to ponder spontaneous, emergent systems of order in other areas of life; biological evolution; its replication within computers--often called "artificial life"; problem-solving through computer-based evolution rather than propositional thinking; and, of course, the oldest of spontaneously evolving systems--markets. I pondered how classical rhetoric describes such a world in my The Economics of Attention, arguing that rhetoric supplied a fundamental economics for an information society such as ours. Published by the University of Chicago Press in 2006, it won the Media Ecology Association's Erving Goffman Award.
I have been an NEH Senior Fellow, a Senior Fellow in the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, Norman Freehling Visiting Professor at the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Michigan, the 1994 International Scholar at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y., and, in 1995, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor at Tulane University. In 2001-02, as a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, I lectured and met with students and faculty in two-day visits to nine U.S. college campuses
In 2010 I delivered the keynote address at the Council of Independent Colleges conference on how best to use the internet in undergraduate research. Also in 2010, I spoke at the Rochester Institute of Technology symposium on "The Future of Reading." And in March of 2012 I was a featured speaker at the Conference on College Composition and Communication.
Since 1971, I have also acted as a literary consultant and expert witness in over sixty copyright cases in the television and motion picture business. I have worked on cases involving King Kong, Jaws, Shampoo, Earthquake, Star Wars, Superman, and many other films. My television credits in this line of endeavor include The A-Team and Falcon Crest. Most recently I acted as an expert witness in a case involving a PETA campaign.