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Medieval rhetoric and civic identity

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Rhetoric has traditionally enjoyed a close connection with ideals of citizenship. Yet, the rhetorical traditions of the medieval period have generally been described as divorced from civic life, concerned instead with theories of composition in specific genres (such as letters

Rhetoric has traditionally enjoyed a close connection with ideals of citizenship. Yet, the rhetorical traditions of the medieval period have generally been described as divorced from civic life, concerned instead with theories of composition in specific genres (such as letters and sermons) and with poetics. This view is the product of historiographical approaches that equate rhetoric either theories and practices of speech and writing intended for state-sponsored civic forums, or alternatively with rules governing future speech or literary production. Consequently, the prevailing view of the medieval period in rhetorical studies is a simplified one that has not evolved with changing practices of analysis in the field of rhetorical studies. This dissertation contends that by employing alternative modes of historiography, historians of rhetoric gain a more accurate conception of medieval rhetoric’s civic roles, revealing the discipline’s role in shaping the individual and their relationship to civic and political institutions.

Organized around an introduction, a broad discussion of later medieval rhetoric and political thought (950-1390), four case studies, and a conclusion, this dissertation begins by identifying historiographical trends that have associated medieval rhetoric with technical treatises, minimizing connections to civic life. Challenging these assessments through a close reading of texts of rhetorical theory, political philosophy, and technical treatises, it contends that medieval rhetoric influenced activities such as grammatical education, didactic art, and political theory to inform practices of citizenship. Focusing specifically on representations of labor, this dissertation show that these venues idealized the political participation of manual laborers within an otherwise discursive theory of civic life that drew from both Aristotelian and Ciceronian sources.

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2017

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Embodied Persistence: Corporeal Ruptures in Modernist Discourses of Material Language and Cultural Reproductive Futurity

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This dissertation is an examination of a modernist desire to construct future materiality via material language, which represents a desire to overcome biology and the biological body. As such, modernist discourses of material language must be understood within their broader

This dissertation is an examination of a modernist desire to construct future materiality via material language, which represents a desire to overcome biology and the biological body. As such, modernist discourses of material language must be understood within their broader historical context, as these textual constructs developed against a cultural backdrop replete with eugenicist ideologies. Modernists wielded discourses of material language to determine via cultural reproduction which futures might materialize, as well as which bodies could occupy those futures and in what capacities. This dissertation argues that these modernist constructs contain their own failure in their antibiologism and their refusal to acknowledge the agency of corporeal materiality before them. Unlike language, the body expresses biopower through its material (re)productivity—its corpo-reality—which, though it can be shaped and repressed by discourse, persistently ruptures through the restraints of eugenicist ideologies and the autonomous liberal model of white masculine embodiment they uphold. This work analyses sexually marginalized bodies in texts by Mina Loy, Djuna Barnes, Nathanael West, and Ernest Hemingway that, through their insistently persistent biological materiality, disrupt modernist discourses of material language that offer no future for feminine, queer, and disabled corporeality. By exploring how intersecting issues of gender, sexuality, and disability complicate theories of language’s materiality in modern American literature, this dissertation brings attention to writers and texts that challenge broader attempts in the early decades of the twentieth century to subvert the biological body through eugenicist projects of cultural reproduction.

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2019