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Modern Occult Rhetoric, Modern Occult Rhetoric, 0817314660, 0-8173-1466-0, 978-0-8173-1466-8, 9780817314668, , Rhetoric, Culture, and Social Critique, Modern Occult Rhetoric, 0817356568, 0-8173-5656-8, 978-0-8173-5656-9, 9780817356569, , Rhetoric, Culture, and Social Critique, Modern Occult Rhetoric, 081738541X, 0-8173-8541-X, 978-0-8173-8541-5, 9780817385415, , Rhetoric, Culture, and Social Critiqu

Modern Occult Rhetoric
Mass Media and the Drama of Secrecy in the Twentieth Century
Joshua Gunn

E Book
2010. 376 pp.
Price:  $49.95 d
Quality Paper
2010. 376 pp.
8 illustrations
Price:  $49.95 s

A broadly interdisciplinary study of the pervasive secrecy in America cultural, political, and religious discourse.

The occult has traditionally been understood as the study of secrets of the practice of mysticism or magic. This book broadens our understanding of the occult by treating it as a rhetorical phenomenon tied to language and symbols and more central to American culture than is commonly assumed.

Joshua Gunn approaches the occult as an idiom, examining the ways in which acts of textual criticism and interpretation are occultic in nature, as evident in practices as diverse as academic scholarship, Freemasonry, and television production. Gunn probes, for instance, the ways in which jargon employed by various social and professional groups creates barriers and fosters secrecy. From the theory wars of cultural studies to the Satanic Panic that swept the national mass media in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Gunn shows how the paradox of a hidden, buried, or secret meaning that cannot be expressed in language appears time and time again in Western culture.

These recurrent patterns, Gunn argues, arise from a generalized, popular anxiety about language and its limitations. Ultimately, Modern Occult Rhetoric demonstrates the indissoluble relationship between language, secrecy, and publicity, and the centrality of suspicion in our daily lives.


Joshua Gunn is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He is currently writing a book on the haunting of human speech in contemporary mass media technologies.

"Gunn has crafted an exceptionally fine book exploring discourse that hides, disguises, and occludes. He shows how central such discourse is in the world we live in. The book's linkage of 19th-century occult texts with the impenetrable books of today's fasionable postmodern gurus is especially valuable. Scholars across the academy will find that the book is indispensable."--Barry Brummett, author of Rhetorical Dimensions of Popular Culture

"Gunn's work is a comprehensive examination of society's hierarchies of mystery and elitism--a subject that has been largely ignored by rhetorical scholars--and Gunn tackles it with erudition, insight, and most importantly, humor. Modern Occult Rhetoric is original, provocative, extremely well written, and throughtfully argued."--Mark McPhail, author of Zen in the Art of Rhetoric

“Gunn’s case studies show how modern occult rhetoric matters, because it illustrates how difficult language is used to divide and unite readers, and how we ‘cannot help but play the game of secrecy, even in our contemporary age of abject publicity.’ [The] book deserves to be read and reread as a pathbreaking work not only within the specialized research of esoteric/occult studies, but in rhetorical theory and media studies also.”—Quarterly Journal of Speech

 “This book demonstrates Gunn’s ability to deftly navigate difficult theoretical debates by grounding these debates in interesting case studies, a clear and engaging style, and an amazing balance between witty levity and academic seriousness. reading the book is not only a productive intellectual endeavor but also a stimulating pleasure.”—Rhetoric & Public Affairs

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Edited by Kendall R. Phillips and G. Mitchell Reyes