Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This dissertation argues that Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy generates unmanageable rhetoric or what I call textual waste. Whereas many premodern systems take as their fundamental template the classical body and, therefore, methodically exclude from their homogeneous, functional field the heterogeneous, The Anatomy challenges the integrity of Renaissance systematicity by disfiguring and abjecting the classical body. Examining the complex correlations between medical and rhetorical discourses, economies concerned with regulating a system, this study demonstrates how Burton deviates from a rhetorical economy that handles the text as if each part efficiently functioned in an overall corporeal order. The Anatomy is a system of waste. By no means immaterial to Renaissance learning, The Anatomy's waste bears witness to the end of Humanism: striving to know both the human body and the human text, Humanism's epistemic telos loses its bearings in an apparently endless proliferation of knowledge. Humanist scholars often regard the trope of digestion or assimilation as central to understanding the past, but rarely acknowledge the excremental dimension to textuality. Thus I argue that waste's exclusion is the condition of possibility for epistemological systematicity, and its visibility marks the disintegration of identities precious to Humanism--"man" and the book.;The first chapter claims that the "cento"--the genre known as a patch-work cloak--adequately accounts for the text's generic waste. Focussing on the interpenetration of the symptomological and the rhetorical, the second chapter traces the way periphrasis breaks down the text's and the body's ability to communicate. The third chapter distinguishes anatomical discourse from Burton's monstrous disposition, because rhetoric's bodily disposition operates according to the dialectic of anatomization and incorporation. In contrast, The Anatomy, painfully aware of the classical body's failure to structure knowledge comprehensively, deconstructs the relationship between the part and the whole. Building on the text's divergence from Renaissance anatomical discourse, the fourth and fifth chapters explain through psychoanalytic theory the threat waste poses to subjectivity. And the epilogue situates Burton's rhetorical movements within the great modern system of waste that emerges in the Renaissance: the library.



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