E13: How do bodies do rhetorical work? (w/ Dr. Stephanie R. Larson)


This episode contains graphic language depicting instances of rape and verbal imagery illustrating acts of sexual violence.

On today’s episode, Calvin and Ryan sit down with Dr. Stephanie Larson, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon, to discuss her recent publication in the Quarterly Journal of Speech (QJS), “‘Everything inside me was silenced’: (Re)defining rape through visceral counterpublicity.”

This article is part of Professor Larson’s larger body of work on contemporary rhetorics of rape culture. We discuss two of her case studies: a publicly delivered letter by Emily Doe and a multimodal art piece employed by Emma Sulkowicz, both crafted to call attention to the actions of the men who raped them. In her analysis, Stephanie aims to answer questions such as: How do women discuss acts of sexual violence committed against them after legal discourse fails to recognize these acts as criminal? She theorizes that victims use visceral language to call attention to their physical bodies, specifically their points of violation, thus inciting empathetic and emotional responses from the audience. She goes on to argue that this type of public performativity has the potential to shift public standards of judgment in cases of sexual violence.

The episode closes with Stephanie’s thoughts on feminist magnitude and how it has shaped the #MeToo movement in online discourse. She also offers her take on why Christine Blasey-Ford’s testimony in the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh did not capture audiences in the same way, suggesting that the use of online platforms and collective sharing of personal testimonies facilitates more affective and effective engagement with audiences.

Works & Concepts Referenced in this Episode:

Emily Doe’s publicly-read letter to Brock Turner

Emma Sulkowicz’s Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) Overview

Wikipedia page for Emma Sulkowicz’s Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol (“This is not a rape”) performance

*Content Warning*: This performance contains an explicit, performative depiction of a rape.

Ahmed, S. (2013). The cultural politics of emotion. Routledge.

Aristotle. (1898). Poetics. Trans. S.H. Butcher. Macmillan.

(discussion of megethos or “magnitude” can be found in Sec. 1, Part VII)

Berlant, L. (1999). “The Subject of True Feeling: Pain, Privacy, and Politics,” in Cultural Pluralism, Identity Politics, and the Law, eds. Austin Sarat and Thomas R. Kearns. University of Michigan Press.

Butler, J. (2006). Precarious life: The powers of mourning and violence. Verso.

Gilmore, L. (2017). Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say about Their Lives. Columbia University Press.

Hawhee, D. (2015). Rhetoric’s Sensorium. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 101(1), 2–17.

Johnson, J. (2016). “A man’s mouth is his castle”: The midcentury fluoridation controversy and the visceral public. The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 102(1), 1–20.

Larson, S. R. (2018). “Everything inside me was silenced”:(Re) defining rape through visceral counterpublicity. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 104(2), 123-144.

Larson, S. R. (2018). Survivors, Liars, and Unfit Minds: Rhetorical Impossibility and Rape Trauma Disclosure. Hypatia.

Scarry, E. (1987). The body in pain : the making and unmaking of the world (Oxford University Press pbk.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Weheliye, A. (2014). Habeas Viscus : Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human. Durham: Duke University Press.

Alex Helberg