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Dreams, Visions, and the Rhetoric of Authority


John Bickley

In Dreams, Visions, and the Rhetoric of Authority, John Bickley explores the ways dreams and visions in literature function as authorizing devices, both affirming and complicating a text’s authority. After providing a framework for categorizing the diverse genres and modes of dream and vision texts, Bickley demonstrates how the theme of authority and strategies for textual self-authorization play out in four highly influential works: the Book of Daniel, Macrobius’s Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Love, and Chaucer’s Hous of Fame.

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Conclusion: The Rhetoric of Authority


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The Rhetoric of Authority

Harold Bloom argues that the great works of literature carve out their historical place through the “rhetoric of immortality”:

The deepest anxieties of literature are literary; indeed, in my view, they define the literary and become all but identical with it. A poem, novel, or play acquires all of humanity’s disorders, including the fear of mortality, which in the art of literature is transmuted into the quest to be canonical, to join communal or societal memory. Even Shakespeare, in the strongest of his sonnets, hovers near this obsessive desire or drive. The rhetoric of immortality is also a psychology of survival and a cosmology.1 (Introduction “An Elegy for the Canon,” 18)

Bloom’s famous literary psychoanalytics here reaches its apotheosis. The lasting power of a literary work—its potential either to be remembered or forgotten—is the “wingéd chariot” ever at the back of a writer’s mind. For Bloom, the “rhetoric of immortality” is the sublime language of literature: the great struggle to overcome the vacuum of forgotten texts. In fact, Bloom takes this all-encompassing rhetorical strategy one step further, enfolding the reader in the process. He argues that the primary power of literature is to help readers understand the “the proper use of one’s own solitude, that solitude whose final form is one’s confrontation with one’s own mortality.”2 Bloom uses the mysterious phrase “the authority of death”3 to describe something akin...

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