The postmortem gaze: material rhetoric and viewing practices of the transgressive body
My dissertation works within the framework of visual rhetoric and material rhetoric to critique the looking practice of what I term the postmortem gaze. This particular way of viewing the deceased and its representation is both a habitual action and a framework for critical pedagogy that emphasizes embodiment, materiality, and context. The gaze seeks to understand how transgressive postmortem bodies on display can be seen through an amalgamation of the lens of spectacle, education, and commodification, ultimately leading to the transformation of the body into an object. I examine the decedent corporeality of the transgressive based upon age, gender, race, socioeconomic class, nationality, disability, and criminality through such diverse places as the nineteenth century circus sideshow, postmortem photo lockets, and medical school portraiture, to more contemporaneous examples, like the Body Worlds traveling museum of plastinated cadavers and a traveling mummy exhibition. Using a schema of perception, I analyze how culturally constructed abject bodies are perceived through embodiment, materiality, and context. I situate rhetoric within a mediated physical component and simultaneously intervene in a reductionist view of rhetoric rooted within the linguistic turn that applies textual analysis to images. Through this application of material rhetoric, I use the postmortem gaze to investigate the interstitial space of the corpse as a rich source of rhetorical investigation and knowledge construction.