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FT-260316-18
Windows to Heaven: The Rhetorical Legacy of Byzantine Icons
Amy Anderson, West Chester University

Grant details: https://securegrants.neh.gov/publicquery/main.aspx?f=1&gn=FT-260316-18

The Ambient Rhetoric of Byzantine Iconography: What Byzantine Icons Can Teach Us About New Materialism (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: The Ambient Rhetoric of Byzantine Iconography: What Byzantine Icons Can Teach Us About New Materialism
Author: Amy Anderson
Abstract: In Ambient Rhetoric, Thomas Rickert offers a New Materialist approach to rhetoric and theorizes that rhetorical networks distribute agency between material and human actors. Rickert’s work not only gives material objects a new importance in rhetorical situations, but it also challenges the subject/object divide in traditional rhetoric. Although New Materialist approaches to rhetoric are a relatively new development in Western thought (Rickert’s text was published in 2013), the underlying principles have been operating in Byzantine Christian religious visual rhetoric for well over a thousand years. This presentation argues that the rhetorics of display that developed around Byzantine religious icons both challenge and reinforce traditional Western subject/object binaries and complicate our understand of ambient rhetoric. When displayed in cathedrals, Byzantine icons exemplify ambient rhetoric by inviting viewers into an interactive space that breaks down the both subject/object and material/spiritual barriers. I use Sicily’s twelfth-century Monreale Cathedral as a case study that demonstrates how icons surround the faithful with a great cloud of witnesses – a supernatural network – that they could experience with all five senses. This liminal space allows for a destabilizing reversal of the subject/object divide: icon viewers become a part of the images and are themselves transformed into religious subjects. As Kaufmann points out, however, contemporary experiences of religious sites are in no way equivalent to Byzantine experiences. Today, Monreale Cathedral is as much a tourist destination as a church. This presentation additionally considers how the frameworks of capitalism and tourism complicate both subject/object binaries and the notion of ambient rhetoric.
Date: 10/6/2018
Conference Name: Rhetoric and Religion in the Twenty-First Century


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