. “Four Master Tropes,” in A Grammar of Motives, 503-517.
article is, in my opinion, a key to understanding Burke. I have read it many
times, and the more I read it the more it makes sense. I highly recommend it.
there are four master tropes: metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony. In
this essay, Burke is particularly interested in their epistemological
functions, and not just how they function as rhetorical figures. In other
words, how do these tropes help or enable us to discover what we know? The
tropes “shade into one another,” and if a person has one of them, he or she can
derive the other three. How do the 4 master tropes appear in the real world?
we talk about what we know, we use words that correspond with the four master
tropes. For metaphor we use perspective; for metonymy, reduction; for
synecdoche, representation; and for irony, dialectic. Or, at least, we could
substitute one of these words for the other. They are the realistic
counterparts or applications for the four tropes. Just as the four tropes shade
into one another, these terms also shade into one another. So it looks like
Burke will, in the rest of this essay, argue for his use of the interchanging
of these terms: metaphor and perspective, metonymy and reduction, synecdoche
and representation, and irony and dialectic.
sees something in terms of something else. It sees some aspect of a thing’s
character that it brings out, and sees it from the point of view of another
character. “And to consider A from the point of view of B is, of course, to use
B as a perspective upon A” (504). The
fact that we can have multiple perspectives doesn’t mean that everything is
relative. On the contrary, we can only see the totality of everything insofar as we do have differing
perspectives. If we don’t know what a thing is, for example, we try to look at
it from a variety of perspectives. We taste it, smell it, see it from all
angles, touch it, listen to it, etc.
understand Burke to be saying here that the degree to which we perceive a thing
is the degree to which the thing is to
us. What we know a thing to be is the totality of our understanding of that
thing, an understanding of a multiplicity of different perspectives that we
have of the thing. The coming together of this variety of perspectives is what
Burke calls poetic realism, to which Burke opposes scientific realism. Things
are not just one thing and not everything else that they are said that they are
“not.” Things are more than we think they are, and the more we learn about a
thing the more we discover how little we really know. Plants “are” more than minerals, animals more than
plants, and humans more than animals, though humans are also animals, and
animals, plants, and minerals have things in common.
says he’s developed the relationship between metaphor and perspective at
greater length in Permanence and Change in
his discussion of what he calls perspectives by incongruity. He comments by
saying that seeing “something in terms of something else involves the
‘carrying-over’ of a term from one realm into another” (504). This process
brings the realms together in one sense, although the realms aren’t the same.
But it isn’t necessary to recreate everything Burke has already discussed in Permanence and Change because, since the
tropes all shade into one another, we can simply move on to the next pair and
carry this pair with us.
words came from using words for physical things to indicate spiritual things.
Tangible is a substitute for the intangible. Metonymy is when this process is
reversed and spiritual things are substituted for physical senses. So, first we
go from spiritual to material, and second, from material back to spiritual.
is the poetic counterpart of a scientific reduction. Metonymy discusses the
intangible in terms of the tangible, the incorporeal in terms of the corporeal.
It is like saying “the brain” instead of “the mind” or “the heart” instead of
is concerned with correlation and not motivation (at least in the sense that
correlation is observable and motivation is “not”). Pure science would abstract
itself from humanity and the social realm. Science is a reduction. Science is
real. Poetry, however, is metonymy. Poetry is seen as being “not real.”
poet offers his or her metonymy as a reduction of something to a word, knowing
that it’s necessarily a reduction. The scientist offers his or her reduction
“as a ‘real’ reduction,” though not as a scientist but as a human being.
reduction is a representation, so metonymy shades into synecdoche. For example,
a map of the United States is a reduction, but it’s also a sign for the thing
signified. Synecdoche is just that: a part for the whole, a whole for the part,
a container for the thing contained, a sign for the signified, and, which
brings us close to metonymy, a material for the thing made. Leibniz uses the
term representation when he discusses
a synecdochic relationship in his monadology.
can mean to be identified with something. [That’s important!]
have politicians who “represent” us. Our senses are also representations.
Metonymy is like a special type of synecdoche. The terms we choose should be
representative and not reductive. And that brings us to irony and dialectic.
soon as we say that a thing is
something, we’ve also said what it is not
because we can’t sum something up into what we’ve just summed it up into! When
we have a summing up or a perspective of perspectives, we have to say that that
perspective of perspectives includes all perspectives, but that each individual
perspective is not the same thing as the perspective of perspectives.
what goes forth as A returns non-A.
That's it for now. I honestly can't do the essay justice. But it's a lot of fun to try. :)
Labels: Brief Summaries, Kenneth Burke, On Symbols and Society, Rhetoric