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In(di)visible dream: Rhetoric, myth, and the road in America

Raymond L Blanton, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation takes a rhetorical approach in exploring the mythology of the road in American culture, and in particular the road as an encounter with the other. Specifically, I argue for the road as a mythic archetype, developing an ultimate vocabulary of the road as an Upward/Downward Way in an effort to transcend the dialectical tensions inherent in extant discourse of the road as rebellion. I begin by situating the road as psychagogic rhetoric, a leading of the soul, in Plato's Phaedrus, to delineate a fixed and reasoned progression of an ultimate order of the road. Then, I extend these considerations to the road in American culture. From there, I substantiate these claims in two distinct but interrelated case studies, each a demonstration of the Upward/Downward Way in relation to particular periods, places, people, and poetry in twentieth-century American culture. In my first case study, I focus on the archetype in American folk music, attending to the road as a rhetorical encounter with the other in the fieldwork of folklorist Alan Lomax in the Mississippi Delta. In my second case study, I explore the archetype in public discourse, centering on the road as a rhetorical encounter with the other in the civic and sermonic discourse of Martin Luther King Jr. in the American civil rights movement. Throughout this study, I bring elements of rhetoric, myth, and the road in American culture into critical focus, employing John Durham Peters' "hermeneutic principle of retroactive enrichment," I reread aspects of rhetorical history and American culture. Furthermore, I build on ideas in Richard T. Hughes' critical work on myth in America and Kenneth Burke's mythic methodology to substantiate my claims. My ultimate objective is to emphasize the archetypal (Upward) and ethical (Downward) dimensions of an ultimate order of the road as an encounter with the other, with the aim of equipping scholars of rhetoric, media, and culture with a new critical lens for understanding how the road functions rhetorically, mythologically, and poetically in American culture.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Blanton, Raymond L, "In(di)visible dream: Rhetoric, myth, and the road in America" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3689618.