Date of Award

8-2010

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design

Advisor

Vitanza, Victor J

Committee Member

Young , Arthur P

Committee Member

Feeser , Andrea

Committee Member

Hung , Christina

Committee Member

Gordon , Lewis R

Abstract

ABSTRACT
My research project, in fulfillment of the requirements for the dissertation in Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design, utilizes the schema or trope of the silhouette as a binding metaphor for black/white race relationships in America. Specifically, I argue that there is no better model for examining social interactions between the races than the back- and fore-grounding that is transacted through this primarily visual--but also verbal and oral--technique of profiling and outlining. This is particularly true given its origins in discriminatory practice, dating as far back as the literary iconismos and characterismos used to categorize Greek and Roman slaves, and the ethnic taxonomies perpetuated with Johann Kaspar Lavater's Essays on Physiognomy.
In locating the silhouette as a major trope in the discourses on race, I am adding to the rhetorical lexicon by coining the term manirhetorical, and applying it to illustrate the unique and adaptive features of the silhouette--its suitability to operate through various media and to accommodate multiple tasks. Thus, I examine the manirhetorical practices of two artists, one primarily literary--Flannery O'Connor--whose principled positioning in the Southern gothic tradition of grotesque literature comports accurately with the sense of privilege and entitlement that is examined in a focused way in the field of Whiteness Studies. The other artist considered in this study--Kara Walker--is primarily a visual rhetorical virtuoso, whose works with the silhouette are used to both develop and demonstrate her racial and feminist ethos. Both artists perform the recuperation and re/appropriation of the silhouette as manirhetorical trope of critique in the 'signifyin'' tradition described by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Both artists make multiple uses of the silhouette as verbal and visual representations for race relations, and for their accordant power dynamics--and in the process perform racial profiling.
My study has application for writing and other across-the-curriculum programs, as well as for theme-based and engaged learning models. This work involves multimedia as well as inter- and transdisciplinary content and methodologies.

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