Dissertation Abstract

In my dissertation, Parasitic Rhetorics, Rhetorical Parasites, I position rhetoric within the logic of the parasite, as an internal alterity whose function is interruption, in order to question how a parasitic rhetoric functions from within a diverse set of inseparable relations. I draw upon posthuman scholarship to describe a structure of persuasion that flattens the exchange between beings while attending do the differences in beings such as humans, the earth, cats and toxoplasma gondii, writing. I argue that different beings afford different possibilities for responsibility and response-ability, and I expose a system of relation built upon interruptive force where parasitic entanglement is at the core of rhetorical structure. Toward this end I draw Michel Serres’ parasite into and across rhetorical studies; in particular, I engage Serres’ parasite alongside Diane Davis’ rhetoricity to examine the very potential for relation as both necessarily interruptive and material. Further, I propose that rhetoricity is a condition of parasitism, an originary parasite that paradoxically functions both inside and outside, prior to and interruptive of any being. Throughout, I propose the conceptual parasite not as a means of accusation but instead as a model for exposing how relation functions prior to its constitutive elements. In addition to scholarship on rhetorical theory and posthumanism, this dissertation is positioned alongside current debates about new materialisms and environmental rhetorics.

My first chapter examines human/earth relations within the broad context of the Anthropocene and the current climate crisis. I argue that popular discourse surrounding climate change positions individual humans as responsible for climate change. I show how, contrary to this responsibility, the Anthropocene creates a “we” that stands accused prior to any individual self, and I argue that any singular response to climate change is a response to both this species-wide “we” and the earth itself as an interruptive force. By taking up up Derrida’s work on hospitality I reposition humans and the earth as oscillating hosts and guests within the same body, the earth and humans alongside an “I” and “we” altogether interrupting themselves.

My second chapter explores cats, Toxoplasma gondii, and humans not as a way to explain human behavior, but as a case study for examining how address doesn’t merely interrupt an audience. I argue that our behavior, that our selves, the “I,” is already the result of material interruption; it is always post-parasite. I read Serres’ parasite across Derrida’s animot from The Animal That Therefore I Am, and contrary to most readings of T.gondii I propose an “I” that whose behavior is not excused by foreign manipulation. This chapter confronts the human/animal relation in the face of the sixth great extinction, an anthropogenic extinction event, and counters any notion of human exceptionalism.

My third chapter examines plagiarism, writing, and ecocomposition. I argue that texts are built through citation, but that plagiarism can be taken up as a moment when the ordinary citation practices are interrupted and exposed. I read the rhetorical parasite across recent scholarship in ecocompostion, and I argue both that plagiarism is a form of exposed address that simultaneously elides and unveils the rich ecology that writing emerges from and brings into being. Ultimately I position plagiarism alongside the sublime, and I argue that persuasion in always interruptive and interruption is always persuasive.

In my conclusion I turn toward intra-human relations, particularly as they are situated within the seemingly unpersuasive discourse surrounding catastrophic climate change. I examine autoimmunity through the parasite and rhetoricity, and I highlight the danger and potential violence of the parasite. I further situate interruptive rhetoric alongside new materialist and environmental rhetoric to argue for a deepening of the relationship between posthuman scholarship and rhetorical studies.