Friday, July 31, 2015

Identification and Consubstantiality, A Brief Summary of Chapter 11 of On Symbols and Society

11. “Identification,” “Identification and ‘Consubstantiality,’” “The Identifying Nature of Property,” and “Identification and the ‘Autonomous,’” in A Rhetoric of Motives, 19-27.

Burke begins on page 19 by seeming to say that a person’s motives can be revealed through identifications. Imagery reduces motives to terms because it reveals the entelechy of the motive. (I.e. Burkean form in Counter-Statement—when we want something, we do what we can to fulfill that desire.) Killing something is changing it into another state (at least in terms of the poem Burke is analyzing before this section). Burke proposes that rhetoric be thought about in terms of identification, a term of wider scope than simply persuasion. People do fight among one another, but they do so because of identification. It’s better to work with terms of wider scope in this case because we can do more with them.

Identification and “Consubstantiality”
Here, Burke explains identification in passages that I have read so many times I seem to have memorized. Identification is when A is like B or when A assumes that A and B are alike. Since identification brings A and B together as if they were one, their oneness is somewhat ambiguous because they’re one and the same in one sense, but they’re also not one and the same in another sense. They are consubstantial, or of the same substance. To be consubstantial is to act together. The Grammar was about substance. The Rhetoric is about identification. The Symbolic will be about unique individuals, acts, or perhaps even forms.

Identification implies division, since identification with one side involves division from another side. “Rhetoric is concerned with the state of Babel after the Fall” (23). [There are many famous and important passages here.] Rhetoric is what we have to deal with as human beings. It is about how we understand and misunderstand one another.

The Identifying Nature of Property
Our stuff—our property—tells us about ourselves. We identify ourselves with the things that we have. We have what we have because we’re “that kind of person.” Our purchasing of a thing was a particular action that we chose. Hence both Marx and Veblen can be considered as theorists of rhetoric. There could be no strife in absolute sameness and absolute separateness. It’s because we’re in the middle of the two that we have problems. Hence “the characteristic invitation to rhetoric” (25). Our acts assume identifications, and so our speech makes subtle arguments because of the principle of identification. Rhetoric and morality become fused when one attempts to show others identifications they have not considered (26). [In short, if I can take a little interpretive freedom, I’d say that we’re always making “arguments” no matter what we do. We’re promoting something and we’re saying that what we do is better than other things we could have done but chose not to. Burke doesn’t say this in this passage, but he does say something similar to it in Philosophy of Literary Form, page 148 in the essay called “Semantic and Poetic Meaning.” There is also that passage in the Rhetoric, a passage which is not cited in On Symbols and Society, which reads {and I quote from memory here}, “Wherever there is persuasion there is rhetoric, and wherever there is ‘meaning’ there is “persuasion.” And in Permanence and Change, “A way of seeing is also a way of not seeing. A focus on object A involves a neglect of object B.”]

Identification and the “Autonomous”

All actions identify. While we can talk about an action as being isolated from other actions, if we assume that it actually is, then we deceive ourselves. “Any specialized activity participates in a larger unit of action,” and “‘Identification’ is a word for the autonomous activity’s place in this wider context” (27). The shepherd may try to protect sheep from harm, but that shepherd could be identified with a project that is raising the sheep for purposes that don’t actually protect the sheep (but actually slaughter them!). In college education, the stress on the autonomy of a particular discipline privileges one class or discipline above another. Art is not autonomous. No discipline is. [Now Burke sounds like Cicero!]

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Scope and Reduction, Excerpts from A Grammar of Motives, in Chapter 10 of On Symbols and Society

10. Excerpts from “Scope and Reduction,” in A Grammar of Motives, 59-61, 77-85, 108-117.

The Representative Anecdote
The first 3 sentences allude to terministic screens. Vocabularies are reflections, selections, and deflections of reality. Terminologies are calculi. A representative anecdote is a part that actually does represent the whole. Like a case study.
The representative anecdote is a dramatistic approach to dramatism (60). The anecdote is “a summation, containing implicitly what the system that is developed from it contains explicitly” (60). Once we have a representative anecdote, we begin to wonder what its paradigm would be, its pure act, or the prototype of acts. The paradigm, whether it is real or not, is the Act of Creation.

Like scope, circumference can be expanded and contracted. The bigger it is, the more we can do with it, but the more narrow it is the more it applies to specific situations. [We can expand it to include a creator?] Implicit in terms are circumferences of varying scope. “Motivationally, they involve such relationships as are revealed in the analysis of the scene-act and scene-agent ratios whereby the quality of the context in which a subject is placed will affect the quality of the subject placed in that context” (78). We should pay attention to how circumferences are defined because they are implicit but important. We should pay attention, even when it seems like it’s not a huge deal (like in scientific discourse).

Even behaviorists make circumferences, which change the scope, though they wouldn't admit it. Narrowing the circumference shifts emphasis from final cause to efficient cause. Selecting a circumference is an “Act of Faith” (84), so to speak, because it means choosing a starting point without knowing what is going to come out of it. 

Money as Substitute for God
Temporality and material calls for a reduction of the circumference. Inventing a machine is action. Feeding one is motion. Money is god-term, a summing up of material things.

The Nature of Monetary “Reality”
In one sense, money is an agency, a medium. But that’s not all it is. It’s also a ground for rationalizing action. If there’s no money, people think, there’s no freedom, nothing of anything else. When we owe money, we are in debt, and are guilty. We want credit, not debit. People start to believe that more money means a higher quality of life. Discussion of a loss of real things from a hurricane versus loss of non-real things from stock market crash. The things are gone, whereas the "things" that really weren't "things" are "gone," even though they weren't really "here" in the first place.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Excerpts from A Grammar of Motives, A Brief Summary of On Symbols and Society Ch. 9

9. Excerpts from A Grammar of Motives, xv-xxiii, 3-9, 15-20.

Introduction: The Five Key Terms of Dramatism

Here are the first two sentences of the book: “What is involved, when we say what people are doing and why they are doing it? An answer to that question is the subject of this book” (xv). A Grammar of Motives, takes a stab at answering those questions by discussing the “basic forms of thought” by which we exemplify or attribute our motives.

The key terms are act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose. The act is what happened. The scene is where or when it happened. The agent is who did the act. The agency is by what means the act was completed. And the purpose is why the act was accomplished. 

Burke’s method: showing application as argument (xv). These principles are easy, but useful. They’re always there for us, though we may take them far away from themselves. And just as a picture looks simple but becomes complex on analysis, so are the terms. [In my opinion, so is Burke—he’s easy to understand, but complex at the same time.]

The key terms can also be lenses, and are even treated as such in certain philosophic schools. Or at least the concepts are key concepts through which the world is seen, while certain philosophers themselves use different terms for the same concept. (On page xxi, Mead becomes act and Dewey Act + Scene.)

While perfectionists might try to use unambiguous terms or argue that a term is locked down to one meaning, as human beings, we can’t get away from ambiguity. Instead, however, since there’s something enigmatic about the universe anyway, this enigma will be revealed as we consider the terms for motives. The point is not to get rid of the enigma, but to use terms that “clearly reveal the strategic spots at which ambiguities necessarily arise” (xviii, italics in original). That is key. It also means we won’t be deceiving ourselves by thinking we're removing ambiguity when we really aren't.

Sometimes we’ll find a writer (or philosopher) who wants to destroy ambiguity so much that he traces a term and then blasts the term and its use because he wants to dissociate himself from some kind of a social or political situation in which the term was used. So there’s ambiguity in talking about ambiguity, “since he presumably feels purged and strengthened” (xviii). We can’t get away from some degree of ambiguity! There is always ambiguity! 

So, instead of saying that a term is ambiguous in order to relieve ourselves of its ambiguity, Burke wants to “study and clarify the resources of ambiguity” and “transformation” (xix), meaning how one term shifts through multiple meanings. We have to pay attention to that shifting so that we understand why we do the things we do. A transformation is when A becomes non-A. For example, the same word can mean something in one context but something slightly different in another context. When things are on common ground, they are potentially transformable [the principle of identification is implicit here, and is nearly everywhere in the Grammar].

Many things can be treated as if they were one of the five terms. War is an act, a scene, an agency, a purpose, and, if we talk about Ares or Mars, an agent or super-agent.

Terms are like fingers. Separate but one. In this book, the terms are fingers and the hand is Dramatism.

Dialectics and Metaphysics are not separate, but are necessary in any discussion of human motives. Motivation is a philosophy and can’t be solved by empirical science.

Ways of Placement
Container and the Thing Contained
The Scene—Act Ratio

The scene contains the act and the actors (agents), and there is a relationship between the two. [That’s so profound to me. Certain people are in certain places. And certain people do certain things in certain places. Certain things happen in certain places.]

Summary of Ebsen’s An Enemy of the People. Commentary on O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra. Hamlet: the scene influences us. Hardy. Virgil.
Acts are consistent with scenes. “Scene is to act as implicit is to explicit” (7). Characters can also be “scenes.”

The Scene—Agent Ratio
In this ratio, “the synecdochic relation is between person and place” (7). Certain people are in certain places. There is a margin of overlap between agent and scene. [Identification between the two (though Burke doesn’t use that term here).]

Range of All the Ratios
We’ve discussed 2 ratios, but 10 are possible. Since certain people do certain things, we should pay special attention. [That was, after all, Burke's opening question—“What is involved, when we say what people are doing and why they are doing it?” (xv).] 

Not only that, but whereas scenes contain agents and acts, the agent doesn’t really “contain” the act, except as if it were implicit. For Burke, the agent is the author of acts. [A certain kind of tree brings forth a certain kind of fruit, and a certain kind of fountain brings forth a certain kind of water.]

One may “deflect attention from scenic matters by situating the motives of an act in the agent” or by deriving an act from a scene. People do this all the time.
[It wasn’t the person, it was the weapon. Or it was the scene’s “fault.” Or it was the person. Or it wasn’t the weapon, it was the person. E.g. “Guns kill people.” “Guns don’t kill people, but people kill people.” “Only people from the bad areas of town own guns and kill people.” “It wasn’t the person's fault because anybody who {has x happen to him or her} would have done it.” etc.]

“In reality, we are capable of but partial acts, acts that but partially represent us and that produce but partial transformations” (19).

Attitude is [also] part of the agent (20).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"Ideology and Myth," A Brief Summary of Ch. 22 from On Symbols and Society

22.“Ideology and Myth," Accent 7 (Summer 1947): 195-205.

Ideology is to myth as rhetoric is to poetry. Just as rhetoric and poetic aren’t separated, neither are ideology and myth. Both adapt both for their resources.
Ideology, like rhetoric, “gravitates to the side of ideas,” while myth/poetry gravitates toward image and imagery.

We often use ideological terms when talking about things that are not real to us or that we can’t experience firsthand. [Burke talks about experiencing things through radio and television, but I’m sure this also applies to the internet. Ideology sounds to me like the semantic perspective or semantic meaning on page 196.]

The issue here is identification again. It’s as if Burke is again talking about the shepherd qua shepherd quote in RM, but using a different metaphor (here it’s the interests of nation and money on page 197). Then he talks about identification and religion on 197-198.

Stewart’s Myths of Plato, which treats “myth in terms of the traditional battle between Faith and Reason” (198). Plato’s dialogues have 2 parts: the myth and the dialogic conversation (which conversation is “ideological,” since it considers ideas in themselves).

For Stewart, “the highest purpose of poetry” is “the communication of ‘transcendental feeling,’” which Burke says is oneness with the universe. Faith comes from this vital force. Our innate desire in nature implies that life is worth living. The Good is the term for things that we desire. In other words, The Good is The Desirable.

So, where is the line between myth and ideology?

Political and social motives can’t be ultimate since they’re grounded in something other than political and social (199). Myth may be cultural manifestations of ideologies. Anywhere. [I’m suddenly thinking of Ironman and Batman and other superheros and popular culture. Also zombies. How do these things express our cultural ideologies, or zeitgeist, the spirit of the times?]

When people wanted to say that human beings were essentially something, they just had to say that the first people was something. If "man is essentially competitive," then we start by saying that the first men were always at war with each other. Starting points direct the attention.

Virgil’s Aeneid is a fitting prototype for the ideal myth. Burke cites Mackail’s The Meaning of Virgil for Our World of Today. Twelve points:

1.   National poem
2.   Interconnectedness of city to state/nation
3.   Links to Greek civilization and its greatness
4.   But emphasizes people as distinct
5.   Historic conflict
6.   Celebrate feats of heroes, etc.
7.   Romantic spirit, love and adventure
8.   Human interest, heroes
9.   Story connects with laws of nature, decrees of fate, workings of Providence
10.Exalts new regime
11.Ideal ruler
12.Touches deepest parts of religion and philosophy

Burke’s counterpoints for today—a new epic would do the following:

1.   Transcend nationalism
2.   Establish and vindicate cult of the region
3.   Establish interconnection between modern world and universal past
4.   Modern world not superior, but as containing motives which confront all ages
5.   Concerned with the momentous conflicts that center in technology and property
6.   Celebrates feats of heroes
7.   Love and adventure with modern psychology
8.   Heroic
9.   Connect figures with larger and more august issues: keeping in mind the general as well as the individual
10.Looks as towards a Savior or Messiah figure
11.Draw lineaments of ideal citizen

12.Think of human motives in the “most incisive and comprehensive terms, as regards both conscious and unconscious orders of experience” (205).

Monday, July 27, 2015

Notes from The Philosophy of Literary Form, in On Symbols and Society, Ch. 21

21.From The Philosophy of Literary Form, 39-51.

Aspects of the Scapegoat in Reidentification
Symbolic transformation involves killing. To “kill” (or should we say “die”?) is to change from one state to another. When killing (i.e. changing), there must be a scapegoat, a sacrificial animal, a vessel of unwanted evils, someone on whom the burden is placed. This becomes charismatic. This is tragedy. This vessel or animal or thing or god must be worthy of the sacrifice in 3 ways:
1.   Legalistically. Justice requires the sacrifice.
2.   Made worthy. Led to the sacrifice. Prophecies, omens.
3.   Poetic justice. Too good for this world.

Changing from old identity to new requires a rebirth, a change in substance. Charity, familistic consubstantiality.

The Sacrifice and the Kill

There’s a sacrifice and a kill in literary works, but some works stress sacrifice, while others stress kill. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Terministic Screens, A Brief Summary of On Symbols and Society Ch. 6

6. “Terministic Screens,” in Language as Symbolic Action, 44-55.

In my opinion, this is one the key essays to understanding Burke. It is worth reading and rereading. In the book Language as Symbolic Action, Burke places this essay as number 3 of what he calls “Five Summarizing Essays.” The first one is “Definition of Man.” The second is called “Poetics in Particular, Language in General.” The fourth is “Mind, Body, and the Unconscious,” and the fifth is “Coriolanus and the Delights of Faction.” Of these 5, in my experience, only “Terministic Screens” and the “Definition of Man” tend to be cited much more often than the other 3.

1.   Directing the Attention

So much good stuff here. Basically, words direct our attention to one thing or area rather than another. “Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality” (45). Words are like camera lenses. What they focus on changes what we see. Burke says that when he thinks about terministic screens, he is reminded of some photographs that he once saw. They were different photographs of the same objects, and they were different only because the lens on the camera was different.

2.   Observations Implicit in Terms

Not only do our terms influence what we see, but our terms also imply much. Each terministic screen reveals things about the person who chooses the terministic screen. To understand an author, one must follow the terministic screen to its logical conclusion by tracking down its implications. That is what the ancient authors meant when they said, “Believe, that you may understand.”

3.   Examples

So much of what we know comes to us through symbols. Burke actually quotes a key paragraph here from his essay on “Definition of Man”:

[C]an we bring ourselves to realize just how overwhelmingly much of what we mean by “reality” has been built up for us through nothing but our symbol systems? Take away our books, and what little do we know about history, biography, even something so “down to earth” as the relative position of seas and continents? What is our “reality” for today (beyond the paper-thin line of our own particular lives) but all this clutter of symbols about the past, combined with whatever things we know mainly through maps, magazines, newspapers, and the like about the present? In school, as they go from class to class, students turn from one idiom to another. The various courses in the curriculum are in effect but so many different terminologies. And however important to us is the tiny sliver of reality each of us has experienced firsthand, the whole overall “picture” is but a construct of our symbol systems. To meditate on this fact until one sees its full implications is much like peering over the edge of things into an ultimate abyss. And doubtless that’s one reason why, though man is typically the symbol-using animal, he clings to a kind of na├»ve verbal realism that refuses to let him realize the full extent of the role played by symbolicity in his notions of reality. (48)

4.   Further Examples

We can’t not use terministic screens, since we’re symbol-using animals. All of our words involve choices, and when we choose something instead of something else, we are essentially choosing something over something else.
There’s the physical realm and the symbolic realm. Words straddle the line between the two. When we move around in the physical realm and bump into something, we can move it out of our way physically. But in the social or symbolic realm, we “bump” into people, and the way we move others is with rhetoric. Rhetoric tries to move people (there’s a great passage in A Rhetoric of Motives about this that I can see in my mind but that I’m not going to quote right now).

5.   Our Attempt to Avoid Mere Relativism

Are all things mere terministic screens? Or is there some common ground between all symbol-users? Burke seems to say yes to both questions. There are things that act and things that are acted upon. People act, and we experience each other as people, as human beings.

My brief summary/discussion of this essay doesn’t do it justice. Go read it! :)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Excerpts from Permanence and Change, from On Symbols and Society, Ch. 7

7. “Motives Are Shorthand Terms for Situations,” in Permanence and Change, 29-36.

Life (drama) is more complex than the laboratory (science). For the one encompasses the other, while the other is a subset of the one.

Motives are patterns of experience—forms. “Duty” involves a different form than “love.” Each motive or pattern has within it a whole set of assumptions, terministic screens, if you will. Some things happen in spite of others, others because of others, and others regardless of others, and if we knew everything we’d probably get rid of “in spite of” and “regardless of.” 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Selections from "Lexicon Rhetorica," A Brief Summary of Chapter 5 of On Symbols and Society

5. From “Lexicon Rhetoricae,” in Counter-Statement, 149-158.

Patterns of Experience
What are symbols and experiences?

17. Universal Experiences
Universal experiences are those which all human beings are capable of experiencing. Their names and types don’t matter so much as their function.

18. Modes of Experience
The universal becomes specific in the relationship between the human being and its environment. Two different people living in two different places can derive different universal experiences from a similar event. “The same universal experience could invariably accompany the same mode of experience only if all men’s modes of experience were identical” (150).

19. Patterns of Experience
A person’s adjustments or adaptations depend to a degree on the environment. Environments entail certain types of beings. “They distinguish us as ‘characters’” (151).

20. The Symbol
“The Symbol is the verbal parallel to a pattern of experience” (152). It is “a complex attitude,” or something invented by the artist to convey an experience (153). It is a formula—a form.

21. The Appeal of the Symbol
The symbol is more powerful and influential when the reader and writer’s experiences overlap.

A Symbol appeals:
As the interpretation of a situation.
By favoring the acceptance of a situation.
As the corrective of a situation.
As the exerciser of “submerged” experience.
As an “emancipator.”
As a vehicle for “artistic” effects.
The symbol orients and/or adjusts to a situation.

22. The Symbol as Generating Principle

The Symbol is also a generating or guiding principle. There are symbols within symbols within symbols. Symbols convert experiential patterns into formulae for affecting an audience.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Semantic and Poetic Meaning, A Brief Summary of On Symbols and Society Ch. 4

4. “Semantic and Poetic Meaning,” in The Philosophy of Literary Form, 138-167.

There are two kinds of meanings: semantic meaning and poetic meaning, which, though they seem separate, they do, to some degree, overlap.

Semantic meaning is like a street address. It assumes the existence of an organization, and its logical extreme attempts to give a name and an address to everything and every event in the universe. Semantic statements are good only insofar as they are true. In other words, semantic meanings work insofar as the street address gets a person to that desired location.

Poetic meaning, on the other hand, is concerned with attitudes. Attitudes are incipient acts or “implicit program[s] of action” (143). Pointing to a chair and saying, “Faugh!” “Ho, ho!” or “Might I?” is poetic because it includes a certain kind of an attitudes. Semantically, the statement “New York City is in Iowa” is not true. But poetically, it is true because a railroad is like an arm of the city that brings New York City into Iowa. Poetic meanings cannot be just true or false, but they have degrees of trueness and falseness. They are related to each other and are good based on how much one can do with them. Thus, poetic meanings are better (truer?) insofar as one can do more with them (146).

Poetic meanings also have moral and ethical implications. Whereas the semantic ideal would try to describe by eliminating attitude and assume that a statement cannot have moral implications, the poetic ideal “would attempt to attain a full moral act by attaining a perspective atop all the conflicts of attitude” (148). 

Hence Burke says that a fully moral act is an act now, an act which asserts and enacts its attitudinal meaning. The style selected will mold the character of the selector, and each brand of imagery contains in germ its own logic.

Semantic avoids drama, but the Poetic goes through drama. Poetic is aesthetic; semantic is anesthetic.

Here is a table that sums up differences between semantic and poetic meaning:

Semantic Meaning
Poetic Meaning
Street address
Heaping up all brands of emotional imagery
“Bad” style
“Good” style
“Doesn’t judge” but describes places
Invites judgment
Isolates individual
Brings people together
Good if true. 
Bad if not true.
Good to the degree that we can do more with it

Bad to the degree that we can do less with it

Of course, this table unfortunately oversimplifies the issue: semantic and poetic meaning do to some degree overlap, and they are not polar opposites or antitheses.

Ultimately, semantic seems to be an attitude that tries to pretend that it’s not an attitude.

There is nothing wrong with a street address, of course, but, as Burke writes at the beginning of the article, “This essay . . . is intended to give support, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, to the thesis that the ideal of a purely ‘neutral’ vocabulary, free of emotional weightings, attempts to make a totality out of a fragment, ‘till that which suits a part infects the whole’” (138).

In short, for Burke, no vocabulary is neutral. The style selected will mold the character of the selector, and each brand of imagery contains in germ its own “logic.”

Monday, July 20, 2015

Dramatism, A Brief Summary: From On Symbols and Society, Ch. 19

19. “Dramatism,” from International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Ed. David L. Sills, Vol. 7, p. 450-451. 1968.

Remember, Burke is trying to understand human beings as actors on the stage of life: that's the basis of dramatism. He is trying to understand drama and story and myth and religion all at the same time. Why, for example, are the greatest dramas tragedies, and why do the great tragedies involve death and victimage? Often, the great tragedies involve the death of the main—and titular—character. This principle of death and sacrifice is part of what it means to be human. Ancient people were motivated to sacrifice animals. Since the history of thought went from magic and myth to religion and from religion to science, dramatism wants to know how the forms of magic and religion are changed into different forms in a scientific culture.

Burke is always interested in discovering a new answer to the question, “Why do we human beings do the things that we do?”

Dramatistic Analyses of Order
The idea of order implies a corresponding idea of disorder. (If we know what one is, we also assume that we know what the opposite is.) On the side of order there is belief and reason. On the side of disorder there are the senses and the imagination, since these things don’t totally gratify our impulses.

Between order and disorder, there’s the will—the place where one may say yes or no to a thou-shalt-not. “Ontologically, action is treated as a function of the will. But logologically the situation is reversed: the idea of the will is viewed as derivable from the idea of an act” (450). Will thus becomes the futuristic version of an action. (And, while Burke doesn’t actually say this, this is what the word will used to mean.)
There is a sacrificial principle implicit in all of this. We sacrifice something for something else and order is restored. When two people fight, for example, order is restored when an apology is made, though an apology assumes a sort of “sacrificial” humility.

In symbol systems, we often use the principle of substitution as a resource. Thus, vicarious sacrifice is the ultimate fulfilment of sacrifice. If there is order, then there is also guilt because there is no perfect order. Guilt is also a version of disorder. If there is guilt, then there is a need for redemption. Any redemption would be victimage. “Or: If action, then drama; if drama, then conflict; if conflict, then victimage” (450). Hence the scapegoat principle.

In short, because human beings are symbol-using animals, and since symbols involve using one thing to mean something else, we can explain some of the drives people have.

[It seems to me that Burke comes upon dramatism as if he was doing a sort of grounded theory. We are the actors in our dramas of life.]

“A dramatistic view of human motives thus culminates in the ironic admonition that perversions of the sacrificial principle (purgation by scapegoat, congregation by segregation) are the constant temptation of human societies, whose orders are built by a kind of animal exceptionally adept in the ways of symbolic action” (451).

Friday, July 17, 2015

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose / Transcendence, A Brief Summary of On Symbols and Society, Ch. 18

18. “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose,” and “Transcendence,” from Attitudes Toward History, 260-263, 336-338.

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose
This is, Burke writes, “A device whereby, if things turn out one way, your system accounts for them—and if they turn out the opposite way, your system also accounts for them” (260). Is it a way of discrediting an argument? Or is there any other possible way of thinking? Burke says that at first he thought so, but over time he thinks we can’t get around it. Instead, we should ask the thinker to cooperate with us in tracking down his or her particular variant of the strategy. Our cards should be face up on the table.

When we choose to believe certain things, we act in faith—we “vote” for something and go with it.

In addition to the heads I win, tails you lose argument, there’s the Master Metaphor, there are key terms, or god-terms, the terms which a speaker or writer values above all else. Our choice of terms makes implicit observations, and we must keep the same metaphor if we will be consistent with ourselves.


While A and B may be opposites approached from a certain point of view, the act of transcendence sees both A and B where they cease to be opposed to one another. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

More on Dramatism, from On Symbols and Society, Ch. 8

8. “Dramatism,” from International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Ed. David L. Sills, Vol. 7, p. 445-447. 1968.

“Dramatism is a method of analysis and a corresponding critique of terminology designed to show that the most direct route to the study of human relations and human motives is via a methodical inquiry into cycles or clusters of terms and their functions. The dramatistic approach is implicit in the key term ‘act.’ ‘Act’ is thus a terministic center from which many related considerations can be shown to ‘radiate,’ as though it were a ‘god-term’ from which a whole universe of terms is derived” (445).

In short, dramatism starts from action. Human beings are beings that act, and from that premise, all else is derived. Acts assume actors, which are agents. Agents act in scenes, and those agents also have purposes and means, or agency. These five, act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose, are called the dramatistic pentad, but the pentad implies a hexad which would add attitude as incipient action. We can talk about Hamlet and his father in one single scene, or we can talk about the drama of Hamlet as a whole. We can talk about Jarron's actions during this hour or this day, or we can talk about Jarron's actions during his life as a whole. Thus, the drama analyzed can have large or small scope. The terms themselves are capable of relations with one another. These ratios are sometimes used to explain an act, other times to justify it. Identifying one of the 5 terms with another of the 5 terms is the ratio between the terms. If they are together in the same drama, then they must have something to do with one another.

These 5 terms come from medieval questioning: quis (agent), quid (act), ubi (scene defined as place), quibus auxiliis (agency), cur (purpose), quo modo (manner, “attitude”), quando (scene defined temporally) (447).

That moves right into the next chapter.

From The Philosophy of Literary Form, in On Symbols and Society, Ch. 3

3. The Philosophy of Literary Form, p. 1-3, 8-18.

Situations and Strategies
Words assume more than just the words themselves. They depend on and exist in situations and strategies. They depend on and exist in contexts and motives. The particular, insofar as it is particular, relates to the universal because it is a part of the whole. Situations also overlap with one another. Proverbs, for example, are strategies that apply in specific instances but are "universal" because they can apply in many different  contexts. “And in all work, as in proverbs, the naming is done ‘strategically’ or ‘stylistically,’ in modes that embody attitudes, of resignation, solace, vengeance, expectancy, etc.” (3). Speech carries with it attitudes.

Symbolic Action
Any verbal act is symbolic action. “The symbolic act is the dancing of an attitude” (9). Our body reveals who we are. The entire body acts. Richard Paget: when we grip something with our hands, if we really grip it, we grip it all over our body. The dentist: a man was "dancing" calmness as he sat in the dentist chair, but his glands betrayed his nervousness, and the dentist saw. Even the way we speak and use words is influenced by our attitude. Even our accent gets involved. Style is symbolic of burdens and burdens of style (17). 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Definition of Man, from On Symbols and Society Ch. 2

This post is a couple of brief notes from Burke's “Definition of Man,” in Language as Symbolic Action, pages 3-20, an article which is excerpted in Joseph Gusfield's On Symbols and Society, Chapter 2.

A human being is
        the symbol-using (symbol-making, symbol-misusing) animal
                who is
        inventor of the negative (or moralized by the negative)
        separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making
        goaded by the spirit of hierarchy (or moved by the sense of order)
        and rotten with perfection.

So much of what we know comes through symbols, and the things which we do are also symbolic.

Focus on one thing is neglect of another thing, so the ability to use words and say something implies also not saying something else.

Our symbol-systems result in the creation of technologies that move us away from our natural condition, our state of nature.

The capacity to use symbols combine with the use of the negative. If things can be negative, we want them to be positive and orderly. We like things that are in order more than things that are not. We like to classify.

We also want things to come to their completion. We like things that sum other things up. This also goes along with our desire to classify and have things orderly. We want things in “perfect” order. This principle of perfection is Aristotle’s principle of entelechy. 

Book Review: The Rhetoric of American Civil Religion

I've recently received word from Taylor & Frances Online that a book review I wrote was published in the Journal of Religious and Th...