At the Feet of Rhetorica (Talk and Workshop by Debra Hawhee)

From the Sophists down to Plato and Aristotle, through the Scholastics and on to Kenneth Burke, rhetoric—understood not just as stylistic flourish, but as the communal process of knowledge making--has long been how humans debate and decide what it means to be human. And whether in speech or thought, the figure of the human can’t be drawn without reference to its binary opposite: the animal. Penn State professor Debra Hawhee’s upcoming talk and graduate student workshop, “At the Feet of Rhetorica,” will trace these intertwined relationships.

In her talk, drawn from the conclusion to her forthcoming book, Rhetoric in Tooth and Claw: Animals, Language, Sensation, Hawhee will examine an early seventeenth-century portrayal of Rhetorica, the classical female figure who holds a three-headed beast with a cord or leash. Her reading of the beast, which up until now has not been discussed in-depth, will work to underscore the constitutive work of animals in rhetoric and the broader humanistic arts. In particular, Hawhee will show how reference to the nonhuman, such as this three-headed beast, creates the conditions for what we now know as the human to emerge.

Hawhee’s activities at Pitt will also draw from work on performance, sensation, and the human body developed in her previous books, Bodily Arts: Rhetoric and Athletics in Ancient Greece and Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language. In the former, she details how, in classical society, athletics came to be rhetoric’s “twin art,” with both focusing on aspects of learning and performance. In the latter, she uses the thought of Kenneth Burke to follow the body’s relationship to the creation of meaning and the circulation of language. Taken together, these works present a vision of human being as embodied, in motion and thoroughly rhetorical. They invoke a variety of disciplinary perspectives to show how bodies merge with language in order to shape perceptions of the human across the arts, sciences, and humanities. Her discussion of the animal—and the animal body—will build on this legacy.

This event is also sponsored by the Department of English, the Department of Communications, the Humanities Center, and the Medieval Studies research group. For more information, contact Matthew Overstreet at


Friday, January 22, 2016 - 3:00pm

Location and Address

Humanities Center, 602 Cathedral of Learning