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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.

~Emily