Theorizing Composition: A Critical Sourcebook of Theory and Scholarship in Contemporary Composition Studies

By Mary Lynch Kennedy | Go to book overview

B

BURKEAN THEORIES OF RHETORIC

Summary

Kenneth Burke developed his theory of language as symbolic action from the 1920s into the 1990s. This theory must be understood in the context of his theory on theory. It is critical to understand both as rhetorical theories before examining each and how they have influenced composition studies.

Burke's key term is rhetoric. This selection means that he deals with matters of doubt and uncertainty in human relations. He defines human beings as animal symbolicum, symbol-using, symbol-misusing, and symbol-abusing animals; in- ventors of the negative, we are separated from our natural condition by instru- ments we make, goaded by the spirit of hierarchy, and rotten with perfection (1966, 16). Burke's overall motive is to help people come to terms, not to war— ad bellum purificandum ("1945" 1962).

What follows from his definition and key term is, first, his attention to mo- tives, symbols and forms, scenes, and the consequences of symbolic actions and, then, his attention to the dialectical relationships among these terms. He as- sumes, simply and profoundly, that "getting along with people is one devil of a task, but that, in the last analysis, we should all want to get along with people (and do want to)" (1984, 1).


Burke's Theory of Theory

Burke's rhetorical approach to language in general, and theory in particular, reveals the following attitudes toward theory: No theory is true across all time, space, and cultures. Rhetors choose among theories in order to be effective in particular contexts. Theories are abstractions from situations and strategies for encompassing situations; in other words, they are motivated and purposeful ac-

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Theorizing Composition: A Critical Sourcebook of Theory and Scholarship in Contemporary Composition Studies
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • A 1
  • B 9
  • C 15
  • D 77
  • E 103
  • F 117
  • G 131
  • H 149
  • I 157
  • L 169
  • M 181
  • N 195
  • P 213
  • R 255
  • S 269
  • T 321
  • V 333
  • W 339
  • Selected General Bibliography 377
  • Index 379
  • About the Contributors 393
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