Kevin Cassell


PhD Student


In my dissertation, I draw on Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception, neuroscientific studies of situated cognition, and recent reinterpretations of the ancient Greek concepts of mimesis and metis to advance a praxis for multimodal composition and communication.Merleau-Ponty’s theories on our acquisition of habits, attitudes, and language through largely unconscious imitative processes, which in one essay he associates with a perceptual operation he calls “mimesis,” are nicely complemented by recent empirical studies of cognitive processes variously described as enactive, embodied, and situated.

Plato’s famous disparagement of mimesis as well as of stochastic knowledges categorically known as metis has historically marginalized experientially acquired intelligence in favor of conceptual intellectualism. But this paradigm is slowly shifting toward an understanding of “mind” as fundamentally embodied and experientially constituted. The related interrogation of transmission views of communication has inspired movements in rhetoric which are reconceptualizing the traditional canon to account for communication as mediated through our bodily engagement with technologies.

I conceive this engagement as simultaneously multimodal and mimetic and show how the fields of rhetoric, composition, and communication can benefit from such a theoretical framework. I apply this mimetic theory of rhetorical multimodal praxis pedagogically to university-level learning in both the liberal arts and professional, scientific, and technical disciplines.