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Securing the State: Political Legitimacy and the Rhetoric of Negative Aesthetics

Stoneman, Ethan (2014) Securing the State: Political Legitimacy and the Rhetoric of Negative Aesthetics. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This study aims to make a rhetorical intervention in the aesthetics of politics and political legitimacy. Much of the research on this topic suggests that politics is unavoidably aesthetic and, on this basis, conceives of the state’s political legitimacy in terms of the capacity to elicit broad-based aesthetic approval. What this research has yet to address is the likelihood that members of a given society will disagree over what is deserving of aesthetic praise combined with the tendency of aesthetic feeling to degenerate over time. These tendencies, I argue, indicate that the problem facing political legitimacy is primarily a matter of overcoming a rhetorical crisis in the aesthetics of politics. My central idea is that the state can regain aesthetic control by circumventing or transcending beauty altogether. This strategy comprises rhetorical maneuvers that exploit the emotive power of aesthetics without appealing to beauty itself or inducing in citizens their feeling for the beautiful. By interrupting beauty as both a point of contention and a source of entropy, these circumventing tactics enable the state to pull off what would otherwise remain a pipe dream—the acquisition of aesthetic value without the rhetorical limitations imposed by direct appeals to beauty.

In Chapter 1, I examine how the state employs rhetorical techniques that transform perceived aesthetic disturbances into opportunities for engendering and maintaining diffuse subjective adherence to the state. Chapter 2 frames Aristotle’s theory of tragic catharsis as a mode of persuasion useful for renewing a community’s political identity and strengthening its commitment to the task of constitutional preservation. In Chapter 3, I show how Kant’s aesthetics provides a model for conceiving of the sublime as a rhetorical operation that can transfigure overwhelming, fear-inducing appearances into an experience of freedom that is nevertheless caught up in a relationship of political dependence. In Chapter 4, I look at how the state creates and maintains a sense of the Freudian uncanny, exploiting figures of an omnipresent, malefic Other to recreate a disposition favorable political legitimacy. I conclude by highlighting the implications of these rhetorical strategies for the nature of political order as such.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Stoneman, Ethanews12@pitt.eduEWS12
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairPoulakos, Johnpoulakos@pitt.eduPOULAKOS
Committee MemberLyne, Johnjlyne@pitt.eduJLYNE
Committee MemberBialostosky, Dondhb2@pitt.eduDHB2
Committee MemberMitchell, Gordon Rgordonm@pitt.eduGORDONM
Date: 30 May 2014
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 6 December 2013
Approval Date: 30 May 2014
Submission Date: 17 April 2014
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 256
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Aesthetics, Aristotle, Beauty, Freud, Kant, Legitimacy, Persuasion, Politics, Rhetoric, State, Sublime, Tragic, Uncanny
Date Deposited: 30 May 2014 12:29
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:19


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