This dissertation addresses the larger question of how we can move beyond the theoretical constraints of traditional approaches to rhetoric by drawing on the insights of complexity theory to redefine our concepts and explore new provinces of rhetorical practice amid the rich discursive networks of the 21 st century. Specifically, the project focuses on subjectivity as a province of rhetoric that continually emerges through the dynamic negotiation of enthymeme in ideological persuasion. Thus far, despite the postmodern recognition that subjectivity is discursive, rhetorical studies has not fully addressed interpellation as a process of persuasion, or subjectivity as a province of rhetorical study. Yet once we no longer assume the self-identical humanist subject who precedes the rhetorical situation, and instead consider how persuasion emerges through the open dynamic of collaborative meaning-making indicated by the concept of enthymeme, we can see how subjectivity is indeed rhetorical.
To explore the connection between persuasion and subjectivity, then, this project develops in three stages. First, the classical concept of enthymeme is redefined as a complex relational dynamic operating within systems of discourse to facilitate persuasion as an emergent phenomenon beyond the agency of any singular subject. Second, the study suggests that such a dynamic contributes to the interpellation of individuals within ideological discourses, following Althusser’s theory of subject formation. Identity emerges along with meaning through the various ways in which participants, ideas, and contexts converge through enthymematic assumption. Third, viewing subjectivity as a perpetual site of rhetorical negotiation further suggests how ideological change may come about without invoking the traditional autonomous agent. As this project concludes, through an analysis of the contemporary feminist discourse of Bust magazine, change may instead emerge through the cultivation of an open-ended enthymematic activity of “assuming differently” about ourselves and others, suggesting a potential art of rhetoric to be encouraged at the site of discursive production to affect social change.