Discuss "Representative Anecdotes in General, with Notes toward a Representative Anecdote for Burkean Ecocriticism in Particular" by Robert Wess

Wess Essay

I want to comment in this post on the first part of Wess's essay, Representative Anecdotes in General, and then get around later to his application in the second half, where he offers Yamashita's novel as an appropriately representative anecdote for Burkean ecocriticism.

Wess is surely right on when he labels dramatism a realism. Walter Fisher and some others published an article in CSSJ decades ago advancing this theme. Bernard Brock modifies that characterization appropriately in his introduction to KENNETH BURKE AND CONTEMPORARY EUROPEAN THOUGHT, where he calls Burke a critical realist. Critical realism adds action, judgment, and interpretation on the part of the symbol-user to the mix, so as to distinguish it from representative realism (ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY, Vol. 7, pp. 77-83). I especially like Wess's reference to the real effects symbols impose on the sheer brute materials of the world as it is (GM), the recalcitrant (P&C) reality Burke emphasizes. I found most congenial, also, Wess's use of the term link[s] to underscore the relationship between the synecdochic part by which language refers to the whole that is beyond the capacity of symbols to represent with any thoroughness. I would interpret the notion of link by way of adjectives like referential and ostensive as fitting descriptives of Burke's philosophy of language (not interlocks with). Languarge directs the attention (Terministic Screens, LASA) of persons, often toward specific phenomena, as well as away from other parts of reality.

I personally prefer to call Burke an interventionist realist, after the distinction Ian Hacking makes in his book REPRESENTING AND INTEVENING. Language intervenes in the real world (take note of artifacts and the morally purposive action that produces them), and, reciprocally, the real world intervenes in language, forcing the symbol-user, often so tardily and reluctantly (PERMANENCE is so darn hard to CHANGE sometimes, if not most times), to modify her or his terminology. Burke's extreme example of the human bird who jumps off a cliff in P&C, then matures his descriptives of himself after the fact, comes to mind.

So Burke is not a constructivist in any pristine definition of the term, nor thoroughly Saussurean, like Derrida, with his dictum that there is nothing beyond the text, or Jameson, whose Prison House of Language metaphor Wess appropriately contrasts with Burke's position. Consistent with Wess's take in this essay, we could, I believe, denominate Burke as proto-postmodern in his early period, or quasi-postmodern, taking into account his career as a whole. Burke serves nicely as a bridge between traditional views of language and the Gadamer types, with, I would suggest, more of a pronounced tilt toward the postmodern than the traditional, much more.

(Parenthetically, I would assert that Burke's philosophy is not only realistic. It is also pragmatic, idealistic, materialistic, and mystical. It is, in my view, a mata-system that encomasses all the philosophic schools Burke teats of in the GRAMMAR.)

To be continued.

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