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The shield of Achilles and the War on Terror: Ekphrasis as critique

Christopher D Erickson, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation is guided by two central questions. The first question is "Is the War on Terror inevitable?" By comparing the language used by President Bush in a speech given on September 20, 2001 to the language used by Homer in the Iliad, particularly his depiction of the shield of Achilles in Book 18, the War on Terror can be recast against a backdrop of mythology rather than fact. It is a tale we tell ourselves about the world, and its status as inevitable is far less convincing. The second guiding question is "How is the appearance of inevitability to be mitigated or resisted?" The second stage of the dissertation addresses the concept of mimesis (representation) as it appears in Plato's Republic and in the work of Baudrillard, as means by which to resist the power of the shield. As critical tools, mimesis and simulacra extend the promise of critical distance, thereby allowing the "thus it is" claim to be understood as an illusion. However, mimesis and simulacra tend to maintain an underlying "thus it is" of their own. The thirds stage of the argument will challenge the "thus it is" through a discussion of Odysseus and Nietzsche, both of whom teach that life is poiesis. The final stage will turn to the concept of ekphrasis, the verbal representation of a non-verbal representation, in order to develop it as a tool useful for critical theorists. Ekphrasis has the advantage of both recognizing the power of mimetic representation and disrupting it. The dissertation will conclude with an ekphrastic reading of the September 20, 2001 speech.

Subject Area

Political science|Classical studies

Recommended Citation

Erickson, Christopher D, "The shield of Achilles and the War on Terror: Ekphrasis as critique" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3215770.