Hunting the self : repression, projection, and persecution in the contemporary United States



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This thesis offers a rhetorical re-conceptualization of witch-hunting as one manifestation of a form of persecution that repeats, in different contexts, throughout history. Understanding witch-hunting as form is a useful heuristic that frees the hunt from the confines of one specific historical context (such as the early modern era, or colonial America), and allows the critic to examine a number of present-day persecutory phenomena in terms of the underlying formal characteristics that define them. Chapter one outlines a theoretical framework for understanding witch-hunting in terms of form, specifically as it operates through the unconscious mechanism of projective identification. The next three chapters are individual case studies that explore the rhetoric of persecution in the contemporary US. In chapter two, rhetorical homology theory is used to connect a seventeenth century witch-hunt in northern Spain to the 1993 investigation and trial of three teenagers in West Memphis, Arkansas. Chapter three compares the rhetoric of demonic heteronormativity in early witch-hunt treatises such as the Malleus Maleficarum to the US military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and shows how the policy is an example of a witch-hunt-style persecution that targets the GLBTQ community today. Chapter four examines the function of persecutory texts in postmodernity, through an analysis of artifacts that demonize President George W. Bush. The concluding chapter offers directions for further study and considers how communities might lessen the violent effects of this persecutory form.