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Avian Rhetoric, Murmurations

Yang, Melissa (2019) Avian Rhetoric, Murmurations. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation explores the omnipresent role birds play in the English language and in Western cultural history. Reading and weaving across academic discourse, multi-genre literature, and obsolete and everyday figures, I examine the multiplicity of ways in which birds manifest and are embedded in modes and materialities of human composing and communicating.

To apply Anne Lamott’s popular advice of writing “bird by bird” literally/liberally, each chapter shares stories of a species, family, or flock of birds. Believing in the enduring rhetorical power of narrative assemblages over explicit thetic arguments, I’ve modeled this project on the movements of flocked birds. I initially proposed and now offer a prosed assembly of avian figures following each other in flight, swerving fluidly across broad and varied landscapes while maintaining elastic, organic connections.

My project opens on starling murmurations, and the second chapter follows skeins of geese to goose-quill pens. Chapter three homes in on pigeon deliveries, via pigeonholes and dovetails. I close with corvids, with so-called murders of crows and the legacy of a literary raven. Throughout this work, I emphasize the powerful poetics birds have inspired, juxtaposed with reminders of our frequent marginalization and elimination of these species as pests.

I hope such exhibits of human reliance on and exploitation of birds as materials of writing and rhetorics will help cultivate more mindful care and ethical treatment of the avian world, and the larger natural world.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Yang, Melissamelissatyang@gmail.commey32
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairHolding,
Committee CoChairVee,
Committee MemberBoone,
Committee MemberTrachtenberg,
Committee MemberWalsh,
Date: 25 September 2019
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 14 June 2019
Approval Date: 25 September 2019
Submission Date: 5 July 2019
Access Restriction: 1 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 1 year.
Number of Pages: 195
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Rhetoric, Composition, Creative Writing
Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2019 20:13
Last Modified: 25 Sep 2020 05:15


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