The rhetoric of authority and the death metaphor
Noel, Deborah Ann
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In this dissertation, I reexamine the "death of the author" critical phenomenon and argue that literary theory in this vein is less about the author than it is about authoritative discourse, which is very different. I use the death-as-absence and writing-as-death metaphors and a poststructuralist critique of authoritative discourse to investigate ways in which Anglo-American literary theorists, poets and writers of fiction have often posited metaphysical authorities as origins for their art in an attempt to remedy the absence signaled by writing. Building on theories suggested by Jacques Derrida and Mikhail Bakhtin, I examine ways in which some literary texts confront the challenge posed by the association of writing with absence while remaining skeptical of authoritative discourse. I argue that James Fenimore Cooper's The Pioneers, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, and Toni Morrison's Beloved can be characterized as American historical romances that challenge the logocentric assumptions of the realist novel tradition and portray authoritative discourse as a repressive social force. All four of these works use metaphors of death and feature epitaphs that symbolize the relationships among death, absence, writing and historiography.