Burke’s Counter-Statement

Kenneth Burke
Area: Rhetorical and Critical Theory
From Joshua Gunn’s summary

•    There can be no objective rule of taste which will determine by concepts what is beautiful. For every judgement from this source of taste is aesthetical; the feeling for the subject, not the concept of the object, is its determining ground. To seek for a principle of taste which will furnish, by means of definite concepts, a universal criterion of the beautiful is fruitless trouble, because what is sought is impossible and self contradictory” (par. 232).
Chapter One: Three Adepts of ‘Pure Literature’
•    A. Useful background: Burke discusses Gustave Flaubert, Walter Pater, and Remy de Gourmont
•    Pater is allied with Nietzsche in “one respect”: “both kept the theme of transvaluation [of values] well within the sphere of ceremony”(15), meaning that Pater preferred “ceremony” to “information.” Burke later seems to relate ceremony to the psychology of form.
•    “Art was ‘justified’ because art was an appetite – in being desired it found its ample reason for existence. Art did not require defense as an instrument of political or social reform. Art was purely and simply a privilege, to be prized as a cosmic exception” (16-17).
•    A method of analysis termed “dissociation,” which divides a concept “which we usually take as a unit” in order to draw out associative relationships that inhere in “desires” and “interests” (23).
Chapter Two: Psychology and Form
•    Form: “form would be the psychology of the audience. Or, seen from another angle, form is the creation of an appetite in the mind of the auditor, and the adequate satisfying of that appetite” (31).
•    Psychology of information: displaces the psychology of the audience with the psychology of the “hero” or subject; specific details and bits of information are valued over that of the whole. From this perspective, “one might denounce Cezanne’s trees in favor of state forestry bulletins” (32).
o    a) “Under such an attitude, when form is preserved it is preserved as an annex, a luxury, or as some feel, a downright affectation” (33).
o    b) The corresponding methods of sustaining interest “are surprise and suspense” (37).
•    Music is offered as the example par excellence of the psychology of form: “Here form cannot atrophy. Every dissonant chord cries for its solution, and whether the musician resolves or refuses to resolve this dissonance into the chord which the body cries for, he is dealing with human appetites” (34).
Chapter Three: The Poetic Process
•    Burke invokes the principle of crescendo (or “a general rise to a crisis”) as a chief characteristic of art: “Over and over again in the history of art, different material has been arranged to embody the principle of crescendo” (45). He then confidently asserts that the “work of art utilizes climatic arrangement because the human brain” has the potential to respond (“arrested, or entertained”) to climax.
•    However, the principle or concept of crescendo needs to be “individuated” in a particular work of art in order to evoke emotion.
•    Burke then glosses Plato’s theory of the forms as an illustration, and discusses the nominalist philosophy (which holds all one can know are “particulars”). Burke corrects the nominalists by modifying Plato’s conception of the universal forms – he sticks them in the mind: “So eager were the nominalists to disavow Plato in detail that they failed to discover the justice of his doctrines in essence. For we need but take his universals out of heaven and situation them in the human mind …, making them not metaphysical, but psychological” (48).
•    Thus, “we have the original emotion [or mood] which is channelized into a symbol. This symbol becomes a generative force, a relationship to be repeated in varying details, and thus makes for one aspect of technical form” (61). In other words, the consistency required by emotional form, once symbolized, requires a “logical consistency” too, which in turn is part of technical form.
Chapter Six: Program
•    The Thesis: “The present Program speculates as to which emotions and attitudes should be stressed, and which should be slighted, in the aesthetic judgment to the particular conditions of today” (107). What are these conditions?:
•    Mechanization and industrialism, which “affects our political institutions, as it alters our way of living … ” and so on (107).
•    A symbolic of the “past” and “future,” as represented by the “Agrarian” and the “Industrial.”
o    The Agrarian is the “morally conservative.”
o    The Industrialist is the progressive, yet the progressive whose agenda solidifies rather quickly and, though open to innovation “will usually be found to harbor a set of cultural retentions which completely undo” innovation (109).
o    The artist must play the intermediate.
Chapter Seven: Lexicon Rhetoricae
•    The Nature of Form: “Form in literature is the arousing and fulfillment of desires.” There are five aspects of form
o    Syllogistic progression (sub. of “progressive form”):” the form of a “perfectly conducted argument,” where, “given certain things, certain things must follow, the premises forcing the conclusion” (124).
o    Qualitative progression (sub of “progressive form”): the more subtle sort of progressive form, where “the presence of one quality prepares us for the introduction of another,” yet we only recognize the whole (“its rightness”) after the progression is complete. (124-125).
o    Repetitive form: “the constant maintaining of a principle under new guises. It is the restatement of the same thing in different ways” (125).
o    Conventional form: “involves to some degree the appeal of form as form.” There is an “element of ‘categorical expectancy,’ such that the gratifications of the reader are “anterior” to the reading” (126). Seems like the most basic of forms, simply expectations of the audience.
o    Minor or incidental forms: smaller sorts of form, such as “metaphor, paradox, disclosure, reversal, contraction, expansion, bathos, apostrophe, series, chiasmus … ” (127).
•    Burke then proceeds to further clarify (that is, complicate) the five aspects (or types) of form:
o    Interrelation of forms: The forms overlap and are not necessarily distinct in any one work (128).
o    Conflict of forms: The forms can compete, for added or destructive effect (129).
o    Rhythm, Rhyme: Burke identifies rhythm and rhyme as chiefly categorizable under the heading “repetitive form,” although can be described with the other sorts of forms too (130).
o    Significant Form: Forms are not necessarily wed to any one theme; that is, there is no essential correspondence between the peticularies of the subject matter and form. “In most cases we find formal designs or contrivances which impart emphasis regardless of their subject” (135). Burke shows how “talking at cross-purposes,” as a formal contrivance, yields different emotional effects in selections taken from Wilde, Wordsworth, and Racine (the former two for humor, the later for “tragic irony”).
•    The Individuation of Forms: In this section, Burke further elaborates and traces how form gets individuated (as he outlined in the “Poetic Process”).
o    Appeal of forms: Form is successful, or “‘correct’ insofar as it gratifies the need which it creates. The appeal of the form in this sense is obvious: form is the appeal” (138). Burke then discusses the five aspects of form in turn, fixating on the minor: ” … since the single sentence has form, we are forced by our thesis to consider the element of gratification in the sentence apart from his context” (139).
o    A special status is afforded to form as “exemplified in rhythm,” because “rhythm is more closely allied with ‘bodily processes.’ Systole and diastole, alternation of the feet in walking, inhalation and exhalation, up and down, in and out, back and forth, such are the types of distinctly motor experiences ‘tapped’ by rhythm” (140).
•    ‘Priority’ of forms: Though forms are not necessarily “prior to experience, they are certainly prior to the work of art exemplifying them.” (141). This seems to contradict the psychological universals he posits earlier, so he poo-poos the question by saying, “so far as the work of art is concerned they simply are … ” (141).
o    He then returns to his emphasis in earlier chapters on “capacities” (as “a command to act in a certain way”). Peculiar, confusing distinctions like this were sure to cause ire of many an analytical philosopher.
o    “The forms of art, to summarize, are not exclusively ‘aesthetic.’ They can be said to have a prior existence in the experiences of the person hearing or reading the work of art. They parallel processes which characterize his experience outside of art” (143).
•    Individuation of Forms: Further explanation. “A ‘metaphor is a concept, an abstraction – but a specific metaphor, exemplified by specific images, is an ‘individuation.’” (143).
•    Form and information: Because form is “embodied” or clothed by subject-matter, certain “diseases of form” can occur. These diseases come about when the subject-matter obscures the form or out-strips its “functional uses.” A balance must be struck between the intrinsic interesting effect of “information” and formal method/technique. Burke revisits the “psychology of information” and “psychology of business” stuff here. (144-145).
•    Form and Ideology: Burke vacillates between description and proscription. Ideology, because it shifts “from age to age” as well as “person to person,” can render the formal universals ineffective if not used and manipulated by the artist carefully. The artist often must appeal to ideology in order to individuate form (and thereby evoke the desired emotion). (146-147).
•    Re-individuation of forms: Burke maintains that re-individuation is the “best proof that there is ‘individuation’ ….” He offers the example of a “literal translation,” which basically rearticulates the form “with a complete change of matter [words].” Burke offers Joyce’s Ulysses as the “most elaborate re-individuation” of The Odyssey (148-149).


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