SOAS University of London

Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS)

Sarah Doebbert Epstein

BA (Smith College, Massachusetts), MA (London)
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Ms Sarah Doebbert Epstein
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Thesis title:
The Ethics of Alterity: A Comparative Critical Approach to Language, Subjectivity and Agency in Arabic Rhetorical Theory and Poststructuralist Thought
Internal Supervisors

PhD Research

Though extensive research has been done in European critical theory and in classical Arabic rhetoric, little research has been done to examine the potential intersections between the two – or the implications of those intersections upon conceptions of language, subjectivity and agency articulated in contemporary Arabic literature.

Classical Arabic rhetorical theory doesn’t correspond in every way to deconstructive criticism, nor do the two branches of thought articulate concepts and questions in the same way. However, both offer significant insight into the possibilities and limitations of language. I will thus explore how using Arabic rhetorical techniques can provide concrete approaches to articulating new forms of textual resistance in light of problems posed by deconstructive criticism.

In particular, how do we conceptualize resistance or political agency within the very linguistic and discursive structures which both subjugate us and enable us to constitute our subjectivity?  How do we subvert language from within, creating openings for departures within enclosed discursive spaces?  What is the relevance of Arabic rhetorical theory and practices to the challenges of language and political agency posed by poststructuralist thought?

To my knowledge, this project is the first of its kind to systematically examine the analytical connections between Arabic rhetorical theory and deconstruction in the context of a close reading of an Arabic literary text, and the questions it poses about language, subjectivity and agency. The project thus promises a first and well-conceived poetics equally rooted in Arabic rhetorical theory, poststructuralist thought and political philosophy.