Rhetoric, death, and the politics of memory

Martin, James. 2023. Rhetoric, death, and the politics of memory. Critical Discourse Studies, 20(5), pp. 477-490. ISSN 1740-5904 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This article develops a view of collective memory as a rhetorical practice with an intimate connection to death. Drawing on the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, I argue that memory is inhabited by death – the loss of a living presence which, nonetheless, is the very condition for recollection and communication. Memory can never retrieve presence, for time is discontinuous, disjointed rather than linear. Instead, memory is presented as an ‘impossible gift’, a form of inheritance that charges us to remember anew. These motifs, I argue, are central in epideictic rhetoric which, by dwelling on the present, invites collective recognition and affirmation concerning what fundamentally is. In the genre of the eulogy, especially, the event of death is encountered by reference to the fracturing of time, the experience of the gift, and the question of inheritance. Eulogy rhetoric, I suggest, is a powerful mode of collective memory that captures much of how we remember.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):



Death, Derrida, epideictic, eulogy, memory, rhetoric

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Politics > Research Unit in Contemporary Political Theory (RUCPT)


14 June 2022Accepted
22 June 2022Published Online

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

14 Jun 2022 10:16

Last Modified:

10 Aug 2023 13:59

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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