Thursday, 15 November 2007

The Rhetoric of Exorcism

Although peripheral to the traditional field of vampirology, it should be apparent from this blog that historically vampires and magia posthuma can not be disconnected from other beliefs and practices, including demonology, so some might find this extract from a paper entitled The Rhetoric of Exorcism by Hilaire Kallendorf interesting or even fascinating:

'No one has ever tried to write a rhetoric of exorcism. In fact scholars of previous generations have posted caveat emptor signs along the pathway we are about to take. One encounters warnings such as, "The actual scripts or texts of exorcisms are difficult to characterize... [M]any exorcisms are hybrid compositions." While it is certainly true that these texts are a synthesis compiled from Biblical, liturgical, and other sources, they also bear distinctive features that can and should be analyzed by rhetoricians. It is also true that exorcism manuals are not redacted carefully (for example, they are rife with errors of Latin grammar). After all, exorcism manuals are pragmatic collections of utilitarian documents (scholars speak of the "applied" nature of demonology). Their pages are meant to be aspersed with holy water, singed by the fire of the baptismal candle, clouded with the smoke of incense, and spat upon by seething demoniacs. But it is the case that most exorcism rituals are performed by reading aloud these texts of highly codified, formulaic discourse - many of which resemble each other or quote from each other extensively. So in theory it should be possible to analyze the language of these texts in a way that is general or all-encompassing enough to formulate some tentative conclusions about how exorcism "works" as a rhetorical phenomenon in the early modern period. Scholars in the field of demonology who are the most familiar with these texts make these generalizations routinely; rhetoricians may be permitted the same latitude. Establishing the classical foundation of Catholic exoristic rhetoric will then be seen to supply an important brush stroke for our emerging scholarly portrait of Christian humanism in the early modern period.'

The paper can be found in Rhetorica, Vol. XXIII, 3, pp. 209-237 (2005). Kallendorf is also the author of a book on the subject, Exorcism and Its Texts: Subjectivity in Early Modern Literature of England and Spain (Univ. of Toronto Press, 2003).

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