Ratcliffe, Krista. “Review: Material Matters: Bodies and Rhetoric.” College English 64.5 (May 2002): 613-23.


This piece is a review of three texts focused on material rhetorics and the body: Rhetorical Bodies, The Rhetoric of Midwifery, and Body Talk. Throughout her review of these three texts, Ratcliffe provides an important synthesis of the methodological and disciplinary concerns that these there texts (all published within the span of two years) raise together. Central to this synthesis is Ratcliffe’s discussion of the multiple meanings terms like “the material,” “materiality,” and “the body” can take on, as well as the different ways in which the material has been philosophically engaged through history. Ratcliffe locates the texts under review within what she identifies as the specific constribution 20th century theorists have made to the study of materiality–that is, the move towards complicating the relationship between the material and the discursive. To the extent that the three texts under review represent significant interest within the field about the relationship between bodies and language, Ratcliffe argues that this particular body of scholarship revolves precisely around the questions of what we mean when we talk about materiality and of how we are to understand the complicated relationship between language and the material. In their uptake of these questions, Ratcliffe contends, these texts highlight the fact that our necessary connection to the material makes material rhetoric an important and rich site of critical inquiry.

Quotable Quotes:

“No longer is language imagined as a transparent tool that anyone may use, first, to demystify reality and, second, to explain it clearly; instead language is imagined as ideologically implicated in its historical grounding, not simply representing reality but constructing (in varying degress) our perceptions of reality.” (616)

“We cannot escape materiality. We can only better define it, better critique it, and better engage it.” (623)