For surely, the most highly alembicated and sophisticated work of art, arising in complex civilizations, could be considered as designed to organize and command the army of one’s thoughts and images, and to so organize them that one
“imposes upon the enemy the time and place and conditions for fighting preferred by oneself.”
Kenneth Burke [Literature as Equipment for Living, 1941]
What it’s like to be a literary theorist in the summer
I spent the entire morning writing this half of my intro paragraph:
What I hope to demonstrate by quickly reviewing some possible points of analysis here is that the reaction gif is, first of all, a poetic response in the digital parlor, but like the poetry of the Romantic period, it is also one that is informed (in-formed) by a motive of identification. More importantly, its expression of that motive on Tumblr relies on an exploitation of a middle space of the action/motion dialectic that Burke scholars have been poking at for years: an e-motion or a re-action that does not symbolize motion–as Brian Crabble argues–but which motionizes action, privileging the body’s feels over the mind’s terminologies.
The progress of humane enlightenment can go no further than in picturing people not as vicious, but as mistaken. When you add that people are necessarily mistaken, that all people are exposed to situations in which they must act as fools, that every insight contains its own special kind of blindness, you complete the comic circle, returning again to the lesson of humility that underlies great tragedy.
“We like to forget the kind of relation that really prevails between the verbal and the nonverbal. In being a link between us and the nonverbal, words are by the same token a screen separating us from the nonverbal–though the statement gets tangled in its own traces, since so much of the ‘we’ that is separated from the nonverbal by the verbal would not even exist were it not for the verbal . . .”
“Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion has already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers;you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late,you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.”
The point of view might be phrased in this way: Proverbs are strategies for dealing with situations. In so far as situations are typical and recurrent in a given social structure, people develop names for them and strategies for handling them. Another name for strategies might be attitudes.
… A work like Madame Bovary (or its homely American translation, Babbitt) is the strategic naming of a situation. It singles out a pattern of experience that is sufficiently representative of our social structure, that recurs sufficiently often mutandis mutatis, for people to ‘need a word for it’ and to adopt an attitude towards it. Each work of art is the addition of a word to an informal dictionary[.]
… Art forms like 'tragedy’ or 'comedy’ or 'satire’ would be treated as equipments for living, that size up situations in various ways and in keeping with correspondingly various attitudes.
Kenneth Burke, “Literature as Equipment for Living” (1938) in The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action (1941), 3rd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 296-97, 300, 304.
At first, law is hardly more than the codification of custom. But its formulation probably occurs because the customs are ceasing to possess unquestioned authority among the group as a whole, whereas a fraction of the group would greatly profit by the continuance of the old habits. Law is thus an educative, or manipulative device. It begins as theological law, still close to its “magical” origins – but as it develops and proliferates, a new situation arises: though it was originally a mere codification of custom, it now becomes an implement for the molding of custom. The popular resentment at lawyers, as symbolized in the play by Moliére, may derive in part from the fact that their prestidigitation is fundamentally impious, manipulating the abstractions of legal fiat until the commands of law have diverged farther and farther from the commands of custom, and eventually threaten to throw custom into confusion. Law becomes incongruous, except insofar as people can alter their customs to fit the liquid, constantly shifting alterations of law.
Kenneth Burke, Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose 186-7, n 2.
so i’m just starting to read some Burke and i’m actually a huge fan of the way that he bases a philosophy on rhetoric and the ways that people rhetorically understand the world, themselves, and each other