Kenneth Burke’s Theory of Attention: Homo Symbolicus’ Experiential Poetics

David Landes

11 November 2023

In light of cross-disciplinary interest in rethinking the conceptions of attention and attention economy, this paper conducts an archeology of Kenneth Burke’s concepts in order to construct a theory of attention implicit in his work.  First, I overview key parts of rhetorical studies calling for rethinking the idea of attention.  Then, I read Burke’s concepts for their implicit attentional aspects and implications. These findings are collected, listed into a glossary, and extrapolated into an account of Burkean attention, which I call “symbol-formed attention” to complement the reigning empirical theories of attention problematically borrowed from the sciences.  I conclude by suggesting how Burke provides a rhetorical idea of “attention” as a terministic screen adaptively reconfigurable to situation and strategy.

A Flash of Light to Blurred Vision: Theorizing Generating Principles for Nuclear Policy from The Day After Trinity to the Year 2021

Cody Hunter

This essay examines contemporary arguments for nuclear weapons rearmament and disarmament by theorizing generating and generative principles in terms of principles of use and principles of existence through Kenneth Burke’s temporizing of essence. The essay concludes with an audio/visual experiment that invites audiences to reconsider the generating principles implicit in their nuclear terms.

Kenneth Burke’s Late Theory of History: The Personalistic and Instrumentalist Principles

Michael Feehan

In his last published article, “In Haste,” Kenneth Burke outlined a new theory of history, a dialectical approach based on the two principles he had developed in the “Afterwords” to the third editions of Permanence and Change [PC] and Attitudes Toward History [ATH]: the personalistic principle and the instrumentalist principle. These two new principles were developed through the four loci of motives that Burke had created in the two “Afterwords” and which he sloganized as “Bodies That Learn Language.” The two principles differ from other similar principles dealing with intersecting developments between persons and technologies in that Burke’s principles arise through his theory of symbolic action, depending on his unique distinction between (non-symbolic)motion and (symbolic)action.

Kenneth Burke and the Gargoyles of Language: Perspective by Incongruity and the Transvaluation of Values in Counter-Statement and Permanence and Change

Jeremy Cox

Ideas of transgression and transvaluation were central to Kenneth Burke’s early writing and the development of his critical method of “perspective by incongruity.” During the 1930s, Burke was concerned with the impact that art and criticism could have on the tumultuous Depression-era politics in which he was living. For him, language in general—and literature more specifically—can provide a vital corrective for a society trapped within its own misapplied terminologies. While Permanence and Change is typically considered to mark a shift in Kenneth Burke’s interest from the socio-aesthetics of Counter-Statement to the critical inquiry of language itself, this paper argues that Burke’s method of perspective by incongruity links the two works together as parts of a common project. Reading these works alongside archival material from the intervening period between their publications shows that Burke’s initial concern with the radical potential of poetic invention evolved into a more general means of affecting social change.

A Survey of the Diverse Historical Uses of the Circumstantial Terms from Homer to Kenneth Burke and Beyond

Lawrence J. Prelli and Floyd D. Anderson

In this essay, we survey the diverse historical uses and functions of the circumstantial terms during more than three millennia of western thought and culture. In so doing, we reveal the originality and innovativeness of Kenneth Burke’s use of the terms. Our survey also supports Burke’s contention that the terms are “transcendental” because they represent “the basic forms of thought.”

A Technological Psychosis: The Problem with “Overfishing” in the Magnuson-Stevens Act

Karen Gulbrandsen

A group of scientists publicly advocated to remove the word “overfishing” from the Magnuson Stevens Act, calling its use metaphorical. I draw on Burke’s terministic screens and technological psychosis to trace the implications embedded in the term and show how a terminological screen can become entrenched in dialectics that substantiate technology and innovation. This case raises questions about how to counter-balance a technological rationality that continues to dominate our perspective on many public issues.

The Morality Martyr Homology

Lisa Glebatic Perks

This article explicates a “morality martyr” homology with three characteristics: amoral actions against “good” characters, introspection, and a fatalistic final act. Formal morality martyr patterns are analyzed in two characters from The Walking Dead. Exposing the morality martyr’s thinly-veiled suicide endorsement is an initial step in undercutting the deadly terministic cycle. Through comparison of the two characters, a merciful stretching of the formal pattern emerges, offering a set of values that preserve life through forgiveness.

Slaying the Vile Beasts Within: Theorizing a Mortification Mechanism

Floyd D. Anderson and Kevin R. McClure

We develop a mortification mechanism that complements Kenneth Burke’s scapegoat mechanism. Employing Edward M. Kennedy’s redemptive 1980 presidential primary campaign as our representative anecdote, we chart the stages of his mortification. Our findings show that self-victimage is more complex than scapegoating, has more ingredients and possesses paradoxical qualities.

Review: Philosophical Turns: Epistemological, Linguistic, and Metaphysical by Robert V. Wess

Cover of Philosophical Turns by Robert WessRobert Wess, Philosophical Turns: Epistemological, Linguistic, and Metaphysical , Parlor Press, 2023r. 288 pp. $34.99 (paperback); $69.99 (hardcover) $29.99 (PDF and EPUB)

Reviewed by Greig Henderson

Philosophical Turns is a tour de force, a sophisticated and erudite book that not only captures the cognitive and emotive rhythms of the contemporary philosophical conversation surrounding speculative realism but also becomes a distinctive voice within that conversation. A reviewer can but adumbrate and applaud the density, complexity, and richness of the arguments Wess prosecutes with rigor and artfulness, paying homage to him just as he paid homage to Richard McKeon, his mentor.