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A Compelling Case for Beauty: The Sophistic Alignment of Rhetoric with Aesthetic Power

Young, Birney (2020) A Compelling Case for Beauty: The Sophistic Alignment of Rhetoric with Aesthetic Power. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation argues that rhetorical power is analogous to aesthetic power. This power operates distinctly from others and deprioritizes strength, presence, and actualizable ability. By examining what some of the earliest thinkers of the discipline of Rhetoric, the Sophists, said concerning the power of their art, this more dynamic power emerges as not being subject to the possessor’s agency and can be simultaneously weaker than a strength-centered power yet able to overcome it at key moments. Sophistic thinking about beauty, personified by Helen, versus their thinking about strength, personified by Heracles, provides the evidence for this understanding rhetorical power as compelling but not compulsive.
The texts on Heracles find an admiration for what he stands for, raw strength as power, and makes use of it through analogy and subversion, making the mythic icon of deeds over words work to rhetorical ends by the juxtaposition of Heracles’ might to his well-known weakness for beauty. The Sophistic texts concerning Helen find much to admire in the power of her beauty, yet they often focus on the curious position she holds as the possessor of a beauty whose power she has no agency over. Rhetoric, the Sophists seem to suggest, contains the benefits of the power of beauty but, being a matter of art rather than nature, are controllable and deployable with the proper training. Rhetoric becomes a hybrid between active might and passive beauty, a middle-voice, capable of the power of the beautiful object but directed with an agency in line with that of the powerful subject.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Young, Birneybry7@pitt.edubry70000-0002-4275-7154
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairMarshall, Daviddlm91@pitt.edudlm91
Committee CoChairBromberg, Jacquesbrom@pitt.edubrom
Committee MemberMitchell, Gordon
Committee MemberBruce, Caitlin
Date: 16 September 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 24 June 2020
Approval Date: 16 September 2020
Submission Date: 22 June 2020
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 216
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: rhetoric, power, aesthetics, sophists
Date Deposited: 16 Sep 2020 15:34
Last Modified: 16 Sep 2020 15:34


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