Kenneth Burke (1897–1993) is among the foremost literary and rhetorical critics of the twentieth century. His ideas transformed the field of rhetoric by redefining its scope, informed by his expansive theory of “dramatism,” or “language as symbolic action.” His work explores human motive in terms of the nature of language, drawing on traditions of thought ranging from classical and European philosophy, theology, social and political theory, linguistics, aesthetics, poetics, and psychology to rhetoric in its traditional sense as the study of persuasion and argumentation. In this seminar, we will read and discuss his major books (and some individual essays) in chronological order, following the progression of his thought toward an ethical rhetoric of human relations—with each other and with nature.
Since Burke exemplifies inter-disciplinary thought in its boldest form, and his ideas are often used methodologically to study symbol-using in the widest sense, graduate students with any special interest are welcome to join this seminar. In the spirit of Burke’s dialectical theory of perspectives, the more voices the better. Students will engage Burke’s ideas in short, weekly reading-response papers and apply his ideas to any issue in their respective fields in a research essay.