Aside on Rhetoric and Sentimental Discourse

[This post is an aside to another post on composition pedagogy.]

I've been in conversations lately with students of literature who are studying the political impact of the sentimental novel. For some time, I'd listen to them talk about their work, but I was still confused; I still couldn't quite see the connection between the political and the sentimental. I thought about it some more and finally summoned an example from among the literature I've read that cleared it up for me: It's like Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, no doubt a sentimental novel that had a huge political impact on the abolitionist movement, in no small part because the sentimental discourse and affective bonds portrayed in the novel helped readers to identify with Tom. I realized how connected this work on sentimental discourse is with Burke's theory of identification, how identification as Burke theorizes it is the mechanism through which sentimental discourse does its work:


a. As different than persuasion: consubstantiality (compensation for
division; still within the terms of the logology).

b. As a concern which more fully involves non-public modes.

c. A new definition for Rhetoric? The generation and fulfillment of
expectations through the use of symbols (forms)

Rooted in the notion of substances (physical objects, occupations, friends, activities, beliefs, values)

which we share with those with whom we associate. Sharing substances makes us consubstantial with others.

There are various possible substantial connections among and between interactants. Our symbolic ways for

marking consubstantiality are
identifications, upon which rhetorical action is based: "you persuade a man only insofar as you can talk

his language by speech, gesture,
tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, IDENTIFYING your ways with his." Here, identification is a

supplement to persuasion. Burke puts this more strongly--he might say that identification replaces


d. Three ways to use identification

i. as a means to an end

ii. to create antithesis (against some common foe)

iii. unconsciously and/or out of the conscious awareness of sender and/or receiver

I'm impressed. This is something I'd be interested in bringing into my pedagogical practice somehow. Last Spring, I took a modern rhetorical theory seminar with Art Walzer, who one day in class speculated on how different the study of rhetoric would be if identification, not persuasion, were the focus. The idea has stuck with me, and I'd like to see how scholars of sentimental discourse take it up, whether they do so in an explicitly Burkean framework or not.


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sentimental discourse

judith fetterly did some work a while back on the sentimental novel--can't remember the reference off the top of my head--that might be worth looking up.


I'll look into it!

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