Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design

Committee Chair/Advisor

Haynes, Cynthia

Committee Member

Vitanza , Victor J.

Committee Member

Lauritis , Beth

Committee Member

Scott , Travers


Beginning with the foundation that rhetorical devices are often inherently defamiliarizing, often to productive ends, this study explores the theories, ethics, and praxis behind defamiliarizing rhetorical tactics. Because of the cultural shift toward increasing novelty within 21st century media production, it is progressively difficult for the contemporary writer to speak into the boisterous public sphere, which in turn creates a growing need for uniquely unfamiliar modes of rhetorical intervention. Strangeness offers a lens for seeing deliberate stylistic choices within the information flood; additionally, it asks us to consider how we can compose for potentially disinterested audiences. The examination also suggests that strange composition requires a readership that is ethically hospitable to the other, the stranger, and the foreigner. Meanwhile, the concept of strange rhetorical strategies is traced back through classical rhetorical moves outlined by figures such as Quintilian, Cicero, and Aristotle, who analyzed the ability of distinctive tropes to make messages strange and, as a result, potentially interesting. This perspective shows students how to interrogate expectations of standardized writing by seeing both potential and problems in following norms or breaking conventions. Working through rhetoric and composition, philosophies of aesthetics, and new media studies, this analysis draws upon a number of theoretical concepts including Freud's unheimlich, Shklovsky's defamiliarization, and Derrida's differance. These thinkers and others help show how strange composition strategies are integral for both reading and making inventive work across several kinds of old and new media. The theory is then applied to seven different, updated rhetorical figures: shapeshifting, time travel, replacement, addition/subtraction, negation, glossolalia, and exponentiation. These seven figures are each investigated heuristically through composition experiments, experiences with strangeness, curated examples of defamiliarizing rhetorical gestures in four areas: literature, art, cinema, and electronic media, and ultimately assignments that practice each of the figures. In short, the study explores--in theory and practice--how particular stylistic methods of invention inform composition across media. As contemporary culture is facing the challenges of media saturation, defamiliarization is shown to function rhetorically and epiphanically across media as a way of waking up audiences, as well as interrogating conventions of various forms.



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