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Fall 2007, 37:4, pages 423-451

The "Parrhesiastic Game": Textual Self-Justification in Spiritual Narratives of Early Modern Women

Abstract: Though scholars debate whether Foucault offers a viable theory of resistance, his analysis of parrhesia (fearless speech) poses and problematizes an oppositional rhetoric of truth-telling. Fearless speech challenges regimes of power/truth; spiritual narratives of Early Modern women challenge cultural norms to justify their right to speak. The rhetorical strategies that women use to authorize their writing - performing a struggle between God and Satan, recording revelation, and reinterpreting scripture - make them vulnerable to stereotypical criticisms of madness and witchcraft. Nonetheless, female spiritual narratives courageously critique religious and social culture, playing Foucault's "parrhesiastic game": these texts break silence to tell truth. A notion of a contemporary rhetor-as-parrhesiastes reflects the historical evolution of parrhesia towards critique and self-questioning. A contemporary parrhesiastes interrogates guises of generalized Truth to give voice to experiential, localized, multiple truths.

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