Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric and Technical Communication (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Humanities


Stefka Hristova


The persuasive power of music is often relegated to the dimension of pathos: that which moves us emotionally. Yet, the music commodity is now situated in and around the liminal spaces of digitality. To think about how music functions, how it argues across media, and how it moves us, we must examine its material and immaterial realities as they present themselves to us and as we so create them. This dissertation rethinks the relationship between rhetoric and music by examining the creation, performance, and distribution of music in its material and immaterial forms to demonstrate its persuasive power. While both Plato and Aristotle understood music as a means to move men toward virtue, Aristotle tells us in his Laws, through the Athenian Stranger, that the very best kinds of music can help guide us to truth. From this starting point, I assess the historical problem of understanding the rhetorical potential of music as merely that which directs or imitates the emotions: that which “Soothes the savage breast,” as William Congreve writes. By furthering work by Vickers and Farnsworth, who suggest that the Baroque fascination with applying rhetorical figures to musical figures is an insufficient framework for assessing the rhetorical potential of music, I demonstrate the gravity of musical persuasion in its political weight, in its violence—the subjective violence of musical torture at Guantanamo and the objective, ideological violence of music—and in what Jacques Attali calls the prophetic nature of music. I argue that music has a significant function, and as a non-discursive form of argumentation, works on us beyond affect. Moreover, with the emergence of digital music distribution and domestic digital recording technologies, the digital music commodity in its material and immaterial forms allows for ruptures in the former methods of musical composition, production, and distribution and in the political potential of music which Jacques Attali describes as being able to foresee new political realities. I thus suggest a new theoretical framework for thinking about rhetoric and music by expanding on Lloyd Bitzer’s rhetorical situation, by offering the idea of “openings” to the existing exigence, audience, and constraints. The prophetic and rhetorical power of music in the aleatoric moment can help provide openings from which new exigencies can be conceived. We must, therefore, reconsider the role of rhetorical-musical composition for the citizen, not merely as a tool for entertainment or emotional persuasion, but as an arena for engaging with the political.