Seminar in Kenneth Burke: Rhetoric, Poetics, and Culture
Students in this seminar will explore the work of the most important American rhetorical theorist and a provocative interpreter of our culture. We will investigate Burke’s overriding interest in how language works — what effects texts (of all kinds) can have and how they create these effects. While we will be attending to the canonical Burke (with particular emphasis on his writing before 1940), the course will also introduce students to little-known or little-read Burke materials (including magazine articles and short stories) and samples of his understudied archival material (including samples from his massive correspondence and project notes/drafts). This course problematizes the standard representation of Burke as the eccentric hermit of Andover farm. It also argues that while it’s important to study Burkean theory as theory, it’s also important to study his theory as addressed—that is, as a rhetorical act—and to explore why he wrote the kind of theory he did given his particular scene(s).