Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Kenneth Burke ate my homework

I'd like to start off with my ability right now to identify with the frazzled ENG 103/104 student. I have been reminded of how tantalizing plagiarism looks when you must synthesize and respond to information that has not yet taken root in your mind's crevices. (Yet, you will know this is not plagiarized because the post will be largely incoherent.)

One particular thought/question I had while reading this week is this: why is Burke insistent on replacing the--during the time of his writing--traditional view of rhetoric as persuasion with his own view of rhetoric as identification?

It seems that, by promoting the idea of identification, he his describing a facet, a shade, a particular complexity of rhetoric, but I don't think his idea IS the definition of rhetoric. Maybe I'm misunderstanding him.

I do agree, however, with his idea of symbolic action--that humans respond to symbols, that we are symbol constructing and symbol manipulating agents who employ symbols in order to spark action from/in something or someone.

His idea of symbolic action jives nicely with I. A. Richards' beliefs about language and thought being separate, and that words don't have inherent meanings; instead, we as symbol making/manipulating agents impose meaning onto words and images so that they mean what we want them to mean.

I would probably, then, meld these two writers' ideas about rhetoric to produce my own, intertextual definition: rhetoric is understanding/studying/employing a particular set of symbols that are used to effect a particular behavior/movement/thought/act.

And as a quick-like-a-bunny conclusion, and in the words of that kid jacked up on dentist's anesthesia: IS THIS REAL LIFE?!


  1. I've also been thinking about identification this week. In The Writing Center I have been working with a com grad student who is revising a rhetorical analysis of Tina Fey's Bossypants. She argues that the convergence of feminist theory and humor helps Fey's audience identify with her narrative without being in-your-face about it. She spends a chunk of her analysis detailing three chapters, in which Fey identifies herself as a mother, comedian, and writer working in a male dominated industry. I mentioned our class' conversation about Newsroom to her and we had a nice chat about identification. Though she doesn't explicitly mention identification, that's a majority of what her analysis deals with.

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  3. It is hard to tell what Kenneth Burke's intentions were in building on his views of rhetoric to what had previously been said at that time, but in reading it, I was struck by how identification adds a new layer to the concept; for me it is thinking about audience and words' affect on audience in a nuanced way. I wrote a paper for a class I had last spring where I was analysing Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, and the topic of symbolism came up in the articles I was reading. I took my paper to the writing center where I was working and read over it with a coworker and attempted to explain the relationship between the signifier and signified. I think it worked because he got what I was saying even though I thought it was a little challenging to understand and explain.