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February 21, 2008

Burke and Hitler

Burke seems really fixated on Nazis. I suppose this is not surprising considering that Nazi ascension was propelled largely by rhetoric. I think (I don't know, he might get to this later or it might have just gone over my head) that he misses an opportunity to illustrate his theory of identification, at least the way that I've interpreted it from the readings and class discussions, by showing how the Nazis were able to take over Germany.

Germany has always been a divided country. Protestants were dominant in north and catholics in the south. Differences in tradition and history have always been present and Germany itself did not actually exist until the second half of the nineteenth century. These divisions were exacerbated by the political splintering that occurred after the first world war. The Germany that Hitler led had to be created.

Hitler did this with identification. He used consubstantiality, the idea of a "race" that all Germans belonged to, as a basis for his regime. This belief allowed the population to be manipulated and was at the root of many of the infamous actions that Germany perpetrated.


February 12, 2008

Burke and practicality

After reading Burke’s rhetorical analysis of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, a lot of his concepts suddenly became much more clear to me. It was nice to see parts of his conversation about language, ideas, and symbols put to practical use in his criticism. For example, his critique that Hilter “appeals by relying upon a bastardization of fundamentally religious patterns of thought? (230), makes use of his idea that symbols can be used and misused. This is similar to Campbell’s idea that “beauty? can be used as a rhetorical strategy. The power to use language and symbols (especially words and images that are already known in a society) in new ways can be an effective tool for persuading members of society. With Burke, we are now beginning to see the true power that words and images can have. It no longer seems to be just about rhetorical invention (i.e. Campbell) and/or rhetorical context (i.e. Bahktin and Richards). With Burke, it becomes how rhetoric can be used, created, manipulated, or situated in ways that make it have the most power.

Because we are “symbol-using animals,? Burke makes it clear that “rhetoric is not rooted in any past condition of human society. It is rooted in an essential function of language itself, a function that is wholly realistic, and is continually born anew; the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols? (188). Because language now has a function (beyond just being persuasive and contextual), it seems that past theories are almost synthesized. Granted, I do not have as vast a knowledge in rhetorical theory, but it seems like Burke’s Pentad and its ratios explains some of the debates that have been going on previously. For example, Burke claims that both “acts? and “agents? require “scenes? to contain them (152). When scene is interpreted as “rhetorical context,? then it highlights some aspects of Bahktin’s notion of context and Richards’ notion of the interinanimation of words. In order for an act to make sense, it would need to be placed in the context under which it will have the best outcome. Or, for an agent to act, they would need to choose their words for the particular scene they are in. This may seem simplistic, but one thing Burke was able to do for me was to bring my understandings of past theory into applicable light.


February 7, 2008

Burke and literature (Gusfield or Bizzell/Herzberg?)

Did anyone else who read or glanced through Gusfield's introduction notice that in one particular, it seems to contradict a statement made in The Rhetorical Tradition about Burke? On page 3, Gusfield says "Burke has denied the special privileged position of imaginative writing as a vehicle of study" while in their introduction to Richards, Bizzell and Herzberg note that literature is considered a higher form of rhetoric for both Richards and Burke. I think that these statements reflect each editor's motives. Gusfield wants to make sure that Burke fits into his camp of sociologists and so downplays his role as a literary critic, and wants to portray him as analyzing all sorts of "text." Since he is alongside so many other rhetors in their anthology, Bizzell and Hertzberg make note of how literature is more central to his work than for many other rhetors, thus distinguishing him from the whole without denying his place in it.

Given his tendency to use literature before other types of text, and what I read as his strong denigration of the semantic style (Can we assume that this roughly correlates with scientific or utilitarian writing?) on page 101, I would side with Bizzell/Herzberg. This makes me wonder if the Gusfield anthology has a strong sociological bias and if calling Burke a sociologist is a bit like calling Locke a rhetor. How do the other members of the class see him in this regard?


February 4, 2008

Richards and Language

I found Richards to be very interesting in several places. Something that I thought had particular resonance were the issues he explored toward the end of his appearance in Bizzell and Herzberg. It made me think of fairly everyday assumptions that I make which, under his analysis, seem rather spurious.

When Richards discusses the way we think of words as embodying something beyond their linguistic symbol (1291) I think he is describing an action that most of us take. Morphemes, sounds common to different words the describe a related meaning, make words seem like more than just linguistic representations. The "fl" sound he cites as being related to moving light is a good example. To us, this sound carries something more than a linguistic representation. Richards, correctly I think, points that this simply an artificial construct. We associate moving light with "fl" sound because it is the sound we often use to describe moving light in our language. Outside of our language, it doesn't have any meaning.

This passage made me think about something I once read regarding the man who invented shrapnel. He was actually named Shrapnel. The writer commented how the pronunciation of his name seemed to embody the different sounds that the artillery ammunition he invented made as it was fired. I've been wondering how specious this is.

It is unfortunate that we don't have a good record of how language evolved. It seems as though in early stages of verbal communication that the sounds of words might have been less abstract. Of course, this is probably again me falling into the trap that Richards describes.


The “rightness? of ambiguity

Richards states, “But where the old Rhetoric treated ambiguity as a fault in language, and hoped to confine or eliminate it, the new Rhetoric sees it as an inevitable consequence of the powers of language and as the indispensable means of most of our most important utterances – especially in Poetry and Religion? (pp. 980-981). I found this passage to be very illustrative of the generative (versus transmissive) view of rhetoric that we discussed in class. While acknowledging that ambiguity can be a nuisance, Richards appreciates the fact that through uncertainty can come discovery. It seems very important to him that we continually update our knowledge and question our terms of thinking.

I think that it is actually a very important lesson for those in academia – even scholars and students sometimes tend to strictly favor the “correct? reading of a certain text, forgetting that the meaning itself is ambiguous and, often, relative.

In fact, it is when we look at issues or concepts from different angles that we are able to learn more. As Richards states, “And thereby we rediscover the world – so far from being a solid matter of fact – is rather a fabric of conventions, which for obscure reasons it has suited us in the past to manufacture and support. And that sometimes is a dismaying discovery which seems to unsettle our foundations? (p. 981)