Date of Award

Summer 8-9-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. David Cheshier

Second Advisor

Dr. Tim Barouch

Third Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Barker

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Patrick Wade


Rhetorical Theory and Criticism primarily features modes of close reading that reconstructs the meaning of a text by constructing meaning through contingent textual moments within a theoretical perspective, typically ideological criticism. The dominant mode of ideological critique projects ideology as an anterior and universal cause; this projection strips individual and group agency from within various systems by totalizing them under one system. I strive to answer how we can preserve descriptive acuity while opening and exploiting contingent gaps to make scholarship more efficacious for social justice. Chapter one explores the inevitability of infinite regress in response to problems of vagueness endemic to the philosophical enterprise. Chapter two explores Bergson’s Retrospective Illusion: strict modes of ontological necessity in a transcendental reasoning pattern produce tautological ontologies in which an effect becomes projected backwards as universal but, ultimately, illusory cause. Chapter three maps out Bergson’s solution to the “Retrospective Illusion” and names it the “Prospective Illusion.” In short, chains of sufficient reasoning are projected out towards tendencies in becoming such that universals are always in construction and never fully actual. Ontologies founded upon spatial necessity are replaced by a process ontology closely attuned to scientific process that folds space and time topologically into tendential becoming. Chapter four applies both illusions to rhetorical theory in its ideological and new materialist modes to argue for the usefulness of both models in breaking rhetorical theory out of its tacit methodological reliance upon reconstructive close reading and by re-evaluating some of rhetorical theory’s ontological assumptions. The project concludes with prospective directions in methodology.


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