This past summer, I took an ‘all-Kenneth-Burke-all-the-time’ course with Tomas Tobako. It was fun. It was drudgery. It was enlightening. It was soul crushing. Burke has a lot to say. Reading him is like going on a walkabout where you’re walking uphill at a VERY steep incline about 90% of the time. It’s hard.
Which is kind of why I’m not a fan of Foss, Foss, and Trapp’s summary of all of Burke in 30 pages. I really did enjoy reading Burke, and even though he’s a terrible poet, his prose is actually pretty fun to read. Who knew someone could be so obsessed with Coleridge and his drug habit? Also, I’m pretty sure Burke only ever says about 4 things: we are all specks in history and our identity hinges on what we know about our situation; language is a construct; there is nothing natural in humanity as long as we use symblos; words are rad. But he says these things in about 100,000 different ways and in different contexts – and he creates the Pentad (scene, act, agent, agency, purpose) to test it all out.
When I sat down to read the first bit of Rhetoric of Motives again, I had my notes open and read my own thoughts along with the excerpt provided. The following is what I gleaned this time around both from my re-reading and the Foss, Foss Trapp summary, which I admit, that while I wasn’t a fan, it was still quite useful:
We create the majority of our identities based on division. Sure, Burke and I are both human. We both have hair, as you can see below, and we both identify as American. But what makes me Valerie, and Burke Burke, are the divisions between us. I am a woman. He was a man (he’s dead). He was a genius. I’m working on fooling people into thinking I’m a genius. But even more interesting is that these negations – talk about what I am ‘not’ are a creation of language. Negation is based on symbols. Without negation, I’m not certain we can have the construct of hierarchy either. My place in a given system can be defined by what my place is ‘not.’
So might I me able to conclude that if we were somehow able to escape the confines of language (which Burke tells us we can’t), could be then also be able to slough off the hierarchical systems we are bound to? In thinking about the ‘natural’ order of things (biology, not humanity), it seems impossible. Animals also create hierarchical systems, don’t they?
I’m really curious to see what others in the course think about what they read this weekend, and look forward to linking in everyone else’s blog.