Oedipus, Runaway Planes, and the Violence of the Scapegoat: A Burkean Analysis of Catharsis in the Rhetoric of Tragedy
Committee ChairMountford, Roxanne
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractIn this dissertation, I develop a theory of rhetorical catharsis and apply this theory primarily to George W. Bush's rhetoric of the War on Terror in Iraq. Contrary to the standard Aristotelian perspective of catharsis as the "purging of pity and fear" that brings relief and resolution to an audience, I turn to Kenneth Burke's claim that catharsis is tied to the scapegoating process and argue that catharsis is the purging and projection of one's trauma to a victim who serves as the sacrificial vessel for one's pain. I thus redefine catharsis as the purging of trauma that plays a key role in catharsis and leads to the victimage and scapegoating of the Other in language and public life.To explore how rhetorical catharsis functions in language use, I analyze the concept of a rhetorical catharsis through literature, presidential rhetoric, and print media and show how catharsis operates in the rhetoric of war, particularly that of President Bush's war on terror in Iraq. In addition to Kenneth Burke, I draw on scholars such as Rene Girard, Deborah Willis, Terry Eagleton, Robert Ivie, Allen Carter, Robert McChesney, and Bartholomew Sparrow, among many others. I argue that communities experiencing tragedy use language to name people and entire nations as the scapegoat for their ills.By understanding how language makes possible the victimage and scapegoating of vasts groups of people and even entire nations in times of national trauma, I offer ways of speaking about trauma that may help redirect the violent impulse of catharsis.