Feminist or postmodern critiques of Kenneth Burke?

One of Becky's recent posts inspired me to ask the question: Why aren't there more feminist or postmodern critiques of Burke? Celeste Michelle Condit's essay "Post-Burke: Transcending the Sub-Stance of Dramatism" is the only one I can think of (it's in Landmark Essays on Kenneth Burke. Years ago, I took a seminar on Burke and wrote a paper attempting a genealogy of his theory of form (form is the creation and fulfillment of desire in the audience, and I wanted to problematize Burke's use of "desire." Where does desire come from?) . Regrettably, I tried to use it as a chapter in my master's thesis, which was primarily about Donna Haraway and how composition theorists have used cyborg theory. To this day I call the chapter on Burke the cuckoo in the nest that is my thesis. Anyway, back to the lack of feminist critique of Burke. I will admit, I have no desire to engage Burke, not when Judith Butler, Judith Halberstam, Joan Wallach Scott, Michel Foucault, and so many others are out there. Perhaps I just don't get it...but after a whole semester of reading and discussing Burke's corpus of work, I still don't really see much value in it, and I don't think that's just because I'm an angry feminist. Okay, there is one little section of A Rhetoric of Motives on "Marx and Mystification" that, in my opinion, makes a real contribution to theory, but I can't think of anything else.

Well: here are some quotations, the first from the man himself:

Man is

-- the symbol-using (symbol-making, symbol-misusing) animal

-- the inventor of the negative

-- separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making

-- goaded by the spirit of hierarchy

-- rotten with perfection.

Consider Condit's "definition of woman" in Burke's scheme:

Woman is

the symbol-receiving (hearing, passive) animal

inventor of nothing (moralized by priests and saints)

submerged in her natural condition by instruments of man's making

goaded at the bottom of hierarchy (moved to a sense of orderliness)

and rotted by perfection.

Then Condit has a post-Burke definition of people--very influenced by Foucault, de Certeau, Lyotard, and other postmodern theorists:

People are

players with symbols

inventors of the negative and the possibility of morality

grown from their natural condition by tools of their collective making

trapped between hierarchy and equality (moved constantly to reorder)

neither rotten nor perfect, but now and again lunging down both paths.

Maybe someone will humor my questions: What is Burke's place in rhetorical scholarship? Is it as an historical figure, like, for example, George Campbell? Someone you have to study so that you can discuss the rhetorical tradition in a coherent manner? What am I missing?


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Unfortunately, I have no answ

Unfortunately, I have no answers for you. I'm still very much a "baby" when it comes to my rhetoric knowledge. I do find your perspective on him interesting. Everyone up here LOVES Burke -- and my prof keeps warning me of the pitfalls of ideological criticism and worldviews (such as feminism).

The segment from Condit is interesting to consider -- and I'm finding that I agree with her and her tweaked definition!

Next term I'll be submerged in Kenneth Burke, so hopefully then I'll have something more intellectual to contribute. However, I'm glad that I can see the perspective of someone else other than a Burke-worshipper. Plus it's nice to visit here and vicariously live through a PhD in Rhetoric. :)

Well, I think Burke's critici

Well, I think Burke's criticism is very much ideological! In, I believes, Counter-Statement, he talks about how it's stigmatized in the United States to be "on the dole," but it shouldn't be. I'll look it up later. I also think everyone's criticism is ideological; some people just say theirs isn't. I agree with a lot of what Burke says and implies about class, but I am more than a little troubled that the only women whose work he engages--that I know of, and we read Counter-Statement, The Philosophy of Literary Form, A Grammar of Motives, A Rhetoric of Motives, The Rhetoric of Religion, and Language as Symbolic Action--are Marianne Moore and Djuna Barnes in one short essay about each.

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