Necessary evil: rhetorical violence in 20th century American literature
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Wayne Booth and other rhetorical critics have developed methods for examining the rhetorical aspects of fiction. In this dissertation, I examine, specifically, the use of rhetorical violence in American fiction. It is my premise that authors use rhetorical violence and the irrationality of violence created mimetically to construct ironic metaphors that comment on the irrationality of the ideology behind the violence, pushing that ideology's maxims to its logical ends. The goal of rhetorical violence, therefore, is to create the conditions for a transfer of culpability so that the act becomes transitive-transferable-loosed from its moorings. Culpability, if indeed it reflects something intrinsically awry with an ideology, becomes the fault of the ideology-ÃÂÃÂit becomes the perpetrator of illogic and the condemnatory force associated with the act of violence gets transferred to it. Hence, if the author has created an effective metaphor, when he or she flips the violent scene'ÃÂÃÂs "ÃÂÃÂvalue," the audience is willing to follow along. The violence remains a great evil, but the culpability for the act is shifted to a representative of the ideology in question-as-victimizer; nonetheless, that transfer can only occur inasmuch as the audience is willing to force-fit the incongruities of the metaphor.I examine this rhetorical phenomenon in the works of three modern American writers: Flannery O'Connor, Toni Morrison, and Chuck Palahniuk. I seek to examine the ideologies questioned in these works, the contradictory beliefs expressed by the authors, and to explicate primary episodes in the works of fiction wherein rhetorical violence functions in a rhetorical fashion to promulgate the author's ideology by emotionally jarring the reader loose from commonly-held ideological assumptions in three specific appeals: first, to negate one socially-held ideology in order to promote a conflicting one (Wise Blood); second, to elicit compassion for victimized characters representing social ills (Beloved); third, to call into question the validity of social institutions and practices (Fight Club).
Baker, James Andrew (2003). Necessary evil: rhetorical violence in 20th century American literature. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from