Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Burke helps us make sense of methodologies from the past as well as those of the postmodernity. For if we jump on board with Burke’s method, if we agree that “Terministic Screens” are not just an impressive idea, but represent a real-world truth about how humans make meaning of our world, and of ourselves through language, then Burke’s method is more than a mere method: it is a discovery. And if we decide it is a discovery--an uncovering or exposing of a “universal” human truth--that we are symbol using animals--then even those rhetoricians who predate him are symbol using animals, whose terministic screens reveal their worldviews which help us to understand their theories as well as their exigencies.
Of course, placing Burke at the end of our course does not make sense by the strictest, most confining measurement, that of chronology. Our “Modern” time period does not encompass Burke, and yet Burke’s ideas about language would challenge our use of the artifice of “Modern,” a terministic screen in itself.
Conversely, many of the rhetoricians we’ve read and the methodologies and theories we have considered are constrained by cultural, social, economic, and political structures of their time (as are we all). Ida B. Wells, for example, writes about a temporal crisis, as do Margaret Fell, Maria Edgeworth, Grimke, Harper, and Cooper. Arguably, so do the Scots, Campbell and Blair. Each of these other rhetoricians write in response to an exigence, and they attempt to offer, through their theories, some resolution to a problem, or a method for approaching and understanding shifts in some social order. Granted, we can trace their rhetorical theories in their writing, and we can apply these theories to our understanding of logic, thought, style, and how these pertain to writing or addressing an audience, especially their audiences and their specific needs. Burke, on the other hand, offers a theory for understanding language and its use, a lens through which all of these other theories can be understood in ways that need not be linked to any single exigence. For Burke, it seems, the exigence is communication on all levels and for every purpose.
Perhaps if others were to view our course they might first notice the inclusion of Burke and question his inclusion because they might also look at the timeline and see the gap. With further consideration, however, his inclusion makes sense because his theories help us make sense of the ways we understand everything--not just the crises--in our world/s because we are symbol using animals.