Dolmage, Jay. “Metis, Metis, Mestiza, Medusa: Rhetorical Bodies across Rhetorical Traditions.” Rhetoric Review 28.1 (2009): 1-28. Print.


In this piece, Dolmage argues that we have constructed a particular history of rhetoric that allows us to ignore and undervalue the body. Built on a classical denials of the body and a rationalist tradition that places high value on the separation of body and mind, the rhetorical tradition we’ve constructed not only frequently discounts bodies that are perceived as weak or overly-embodied (e.g. the feminine body, the disabled body) but also allows us to maintain a belief in a fixed, immaterial “real.” Dolmage argues that we can respond to this continuing denigration of the body by reclaiming the Greek term metis and “making rhetoric significantly bodied” (4). He describes metis as a term that was often associated with the world of mythology, a term which denotes cunning, adaptibility, resourcefulness, cleverness. Moreover, it is a term that is significantly connected to the body, signaling an embodied response to ever-shifting contexts. As an example metis, Dolmage discusses Haphaestus whose feet were turned sideways rather than forward. Rather then being viewed as an impairment, Haphaestus’ extraordinary body was celebrated because of the particular qualities it gives him (in this case, the ability to move quickly from side to side). Dolmage argues that in response to a rhetorical tradition that discounts the “significantly bodied” as speakers, reclaiming metis allows us to see that “bodily difference fires rhetorical power” (8).

Dolmage locates the relationship between metis and the rhetorical tradition we’ve chosen in the myth of Metis. Known as Zues’ first wife and Athena’s mother, Metis played a crucial role in the defeat of the Titans by meeting Zues pure brute strength with her cunning and intelligence. Threatened by Metis’ power and worried that Athena might inherit her mother’s metis and overpower Zues, he swallowed Metis who survived within him as a voice in his head. Dolmage argues that in the myth, metis is taken from the feminine so that it could be appropritaed and controlled by the masculine. Drawing on this reading of the myth, he argues that rhetoric has likewise consumed the body. Of course, the division between those bodies that are consumed and those that hold rhetorical power is not incidental, and Dolmage contends that the continuation of this divide will continue to affect our understand of the rhetorical potential of bodies. Ultimately, he concludes by looking to Helene Cixous’ discussion of Medusa and Gloria Anzaldua’s discussion of mestiza consciousness  to locate two possible sites for creating a new mythology of rhetoric that deeply values embodied knowledge.

Dolmage’s discussion of metis in this essay offers a nice compliment to Debra Hawhee’s discussion of metis in Bodily Arts.