Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Spectacle earns its special status by enthralling its spectators: It "speaks" to its audience in a language of hyperbole, magnitude, and wonder. Such strategies are designed, in part, to overwhelm viewers, mythologize the subject, and brand its representations as icons of power. At the same time, however, spectacle can serve to liberate the viewer's imagination, activate a group's collective memory, and embrace viewer, subject, and the objects represented in a coherent and collective identity. I will call these strategies Big Rhetoric, a discourse of outsized objects (or texts) and overwhelming events (or performances) that operates, alternatively, to aggrandize, captivate, and ennoble its audience. My use of the term Big Rhetoric differs from its use by rhetorical scholars who refer to the "rhetorical turn" in an assortment of disciplines. My discussion approaches the study of Big Rhetoric as a type of communication and a means of persuasion. The study aims to investigate the use of scaled objects as a disruptive form of rhetoric and links the dramatic expression of big objects in Hellenistic Rome with the novel strategies of representation cultivated by the "nationalizing" spectacle of the 19th century world expositions.
In Chapter 1 the concept of spectacle is discussed based on Guy Debord's theory of representation (having the characteristics of enslavement, domination, and separation). The underlying premise in Debord's work is that forms of spectacle in a capitalist society attempt to separate society from the real by transforming reality into a commodity. My dissertation complicates this one view of spectacle by introducing the idea of Big Rhetoric as an expression of magnitude and as an example of disturbance. I define the concept in the introduction and then apply it in each chapter by addressing such problems as how Big Rhetoric is made, the use of Big Rhetoric by political and other social institutions, and how Big Rhetoric and the practice of "speaking loudly" can be used to modify and reshape the built environment. Chapters 2 and 3 answer some of these questions by exploring the strategic use of the concept in two "golden ages": The golden age of Hellenistic Rome and the golden age of 19th century America, broadly considered. The two case studies provide especially rich sites for analyzing Big Rhetoric: these rhetorical texts upset expectations of normalcy and compensated for that disturbance with "delectare" (delight). For the penultimate section of this study, I provide a reading of Frank Gehry's proposed Dwight D. Eisenhower memorial in the D.C. National Mall, which based on the previous chapters, becomes an example of the persistent use of memorials as a medium for speaking loudly in a contemporary dialect. In examining western traditions of Big Rhetoric, this dissertation advances a theoretical framework for considering the rhetorical practice of magnitude that can be utilized in future rhetorical work.
Jonathan Mark Balzotti
Balzotti, Jonathan Mark, "Big rhetoric: The art and rhetoric of spectacle in classical and contemporary experience" (2014). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 13916.