Beyond identity politics toward dialogic ethics: The letters of Mordecai Ben-Ami
AuthorDesser, Daphne Payne
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractFor many the study of rhetoric has become a study of dialogue and difference, of communication across metaphorical and literal borders, and of the ethics of such communication. Using letters written in French by my great-grandfather, Mordecai Ben-Ami, a Russian Zionist, journalist, and fiction writer, as a site for analysis, I argue that a dialogic ethic of response offers scholars and teachers of rhetoric and composition a way to move beyond identity politics in our writing classes and the oppression of the other in our scholarship. I suggest that some of this field's most common theoretical lenses and practical sites of analysis--historiography, identity construction, gender, and translation--can be complemented by the application of dialogic ethics. Using conceptions of discourse and dialogism in work by Bakhtin and the concept of an ethics of responsibility in work by Levinas, I demonstrate that an intersubjective understanding of ethics rooted in the necessity of response to the other can help us meet the challenges of multicultural dialogue. The letters date from 1924-1928 and originate from Milan, Berlin, Odessa, and Chaiffa, among others. The dissertation is organized in chapters that employ, examine, and problematize a different postmodern approach to rhetorical analysis. Each chapter begins with an examination of a theoretical approach in relation to the letters, then analyzes sample letters using that approach. Each chapter then examines the analysis to discuss particular strengths and flaws of the theoretical framework and to suggest how a dialogic ethics can complement it. The chapters discuss the following: the historical situatedness of the letters, the shifting constructions of ethnicity and identity in the letters and in the dissertation, the gendered aspects of the reading and writing processes of the author and the translator, and finally the cultural politics involved in the translation of Russian Zionist letters by a postmodern American.
Degree ProgramGraduate College