Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Byron Hawk

Abstract

My dissertation examines the relationship between contemporary posthumanist discourse in rhetoric and composition and the Hegelian dialectic. My basic premise is that the ethical and philosophical aspirations of posthumanist discourse—embrace otherness, improve social relations, foster inclusivity—are undercut by a persistent conservatism and destructiveness that runs throughout the social body. This is a Hegelian point: one should not treat social ills, such as racism, sexism, or classism, as merely unfortunate, cosmetic side effects of social organizations, but rather as fundamental human tendencies. For Hegel, there is a tendency towards exclusion, towards negating otherness, that is inherent in human subjectivity, and which organizes the social field. In Hegel’s philosophy, humanity’s negative aspect is its constitutive condition—an irreducible problematic to be continually addressed rather than a problem to be solved or overcome. If the explicit, shared goal of contemporary rhetorical theory is the improvement of our ethical engagements with each other and with the world, then my contention is that scholars and teachers must continue to contemplate this constitutive problematic, rather than flee from the problem(s) of subjectivity in pursuit of a utopian ethics. For Fredric Jameson, Hegel is a philosopher of the inescapability of humanism, of the relative inevitability of certain tendencies, forms of thinking, forms of being, which makes him something of a diagnostician, rather than a celebrant, of representational or humanist thinking. I argue, alongside this revised vision of Hegel, that contemporary rhetorical theory often leaps prematurely to an exposition of possible solutions to humanist dogma, where the attention might be focused on the persisting conditions of possibility for humanism’s immanent expression.

Available for download on Thursday, May 15, 2025

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