Feb 6, 2014
How did dissapointed poet who got kicked out of a communist meeting become one of the founders of contemporary rhetorical theory? Today we talk about the many facets of Kenneth Burke, aka Kenny B.
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a Podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, terms, and movement, that have defined the history of rhetoric. Sponsored by the University of Texas, Student Chapter of the Rhetoric Society of America. I'm Mary Hedengren and today we're talking about Kenneth Burke. Kenneth Burke was a major rhetorician who lived from May 5, 1897-November 19,1993 Also, his middle name was Duva, and grandson wrote this song Which isn't to say that Kenneth Burke was a bad father, I think he was just a better musician. But Burke didn't always want to be a Rhetorician. In fact, Rhetoric was kind of out of favor when he was academically coming of age. So it wasn't really something that he thought he could be doing. He wanted to be a poet, or maybe just a marxist bohemian living in Grenich Village. But events conspired to develop Burke into a Rhetorician. For one thing, he got the marxist's mad at him, when he suggested that they use the word "People" instead of "Worker" They almost threw him out of the entire meeting. Also, his poetry wasn't taking off. That made him begin to move away from politics and the production of poetry, and start thinking more about criticism. Burke's first critical work, Counter-statement, is still powerful today, as a response to new criticism, and the art for art sake crowd. Here he demonstrates the power of art on an audience, the rhetorically of art. In Gregory Clark's words, here he is less "concerned with seeing the arts thrive, than helping the people on the people on the other end of the art" As the form is received by the reader. He developed his aesthetic rhetorical connections when he wrote extensively on how literature is a sort of equipment for living, his phrase, giving the people the models of action, wisdom, and experimentation, that helped him deal with reality. From this auspicious start, Burke's importance for rhetorical studies, only took off more. His redefinitions of rhetoric as "symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that, by nature, respond to symbols" broke rhetoric out an arestaline understanding of rhetoric that had dominated for millenia. Burke's a Grammar of Motives, has as his epigraph adbellum, perafantum. I'm butchering the latin here, but you get the idea, toward the purification of war. He supposedly hand wrote the saying, mounted over his window frame where he worked in an obscured New Jersey farm house, far from typical academic hub bub. It's possible that what he meant by purification of war, is what, according to Burke scholar, James P. Zapen, Micheal S. Haleran, and Scott Wilbs, a gloss of a grammar of motives, studying, "the competitive use of the cooperative" which helps us to take delight in the human barnyard, on the other hand, and transend it by appreciation on the other. So, transcending binaries was a really big deal for Burke. One of his biggest ideas, in fact, was the Burkeian third term. So, for his purification of war let's imagine a war, a sandwich war. So you really really really want tuna sandwiches for lunch, and I think tuna fish is gross, I don't, but that's what makes it hypothetical. I want peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches for lunch. But you think they're too high in calories. We can argue all day, through lunch, and on empty stomach's, about which sandwich is better. But Burke would remind us that there is a third term that unites us. Sandwiches. We can both see eye to eye about sandwiches. The ability for people to connect and divide over similarities and differences, was fascinating for Burke. In fact, that leads us nicely to another one of his main ideas. Identification. In a Rhetoric of motives, not to be confused with a grammar of motives, or the never published, symbolic of motives. Burke describes how symbols don't just persuade people to do things, they also persuade people to an attitude. So when I tell you, well, at least we both agree on sandwiches for lunch, we haven't changed anything about our inability to choose a sandwich, but maybe i've changed your attitude, to me, to our lunch, to arguments in general. If i'm able to talk your language by speech, gesture, tonality, order image, attitude, idea. I'm doing what Burke calls, Identifying my ways with yours, and in that moment, we become consubstantial. Part of me is you, and part of you is me, as we engage in this identification. We are both "joined and separate, at once, a distinct substance, and consubstantial." Another big thing is Burke's pentadad. This way to interpret motives and intention is described in depth in a grammar of motives. The pentadid is this, One, act. Two, scene. Three agent. Four, agency. and Five, purpose. There you go, five major ideas, the pentadid. Later Burke would say that he wished he had added attitude as a sixth. But then it would have been like the sectadid, or something. Anyway, the example Burke gives is this. Say a guy trips you with his legs on the bus. Do you get angry? Well you might. But what if the guy had a broken leg? That changes the agent and the agency. Maybe he couldn't help. Maybe he's not such a bad guy. And if the purpose wasn't to humiliate you, but on accident, you might not think of it as insult. So in this sense, the pentadid, can impact human actions, communication. Was being tripped a deliberate, rhetorical insult? or wasn't it? The last big idea of Burke's is the terministic screen. This is the way we use language. Especially poetic language, and it determines how we see the reality around us. If we're used to seeing the world through certain terms, war, sandwich, bus. We'll only see those terms. Those terms, to use a catchphrase, both reflect and deflect the reality around us. So this is only a brief introduction Kenneth Burke, and there's lots more to say about him and his influence on rhetoric. I recommend checking out KBjournal.org, which is a free resource of Kenneth Burke Scholarship, for more information. You also might want ot check out the work of some of the biggest Burke scholars. Jack Seltzer, at Penn State, and George at Texas Christian University. Gregory Clarke, who I quotted here, and who was one of my teachers back at Brigham Young University. And Elizabeth Wizer, who's at Ohio State. If you have any experiences with Kenny B, as I think we can call him now, or if you would like to another podcast about one of Burke's theories, please email me. My email address is just firstname.lastname@example.org. That's email@example.com. Until next time. Remember, Rhetoric is just more of prejoritave. It's a way to encounter life.