The Mind's Sufficient Grace: The Writings of Kenneth Burke, 1931--1941

Dissertation, City University of New York (2003)

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Kenneth Burke is often described as an idiosyncratic, if brilliant American thinker. Though he occasionally appears in the historiography of the nineteen-thirties as an unusually prescient and clear voice, the difficulty of his thought has previously consigned it to the province of literary theorists and the occasional literary historian, allowing him to be neglected by philosophers. ;Burke was an early proponent of rhetorical analysis and of situating opinion within its historical context, yet his contributions do not end there. This study shows him as a public intellectual on the left responding to modernity and then to the Depression, not merely by advocating a rhetorical view, or communism, but by also personally reconceiving a modern philosophic worldview that aimed to be morally and emotionally sustaining. Burke used theoretical expertise derived from his practice of literary arts, and from his tenure as a Dial critic and editor, to venture into traditionally philosophical issues. ;The study covers the first ten years of his complete or published books. The first chapter is a simple biography of Burke through the period under consideration. The second details Burke's intellectual interest in poetic Symbolism and his major experiment with alternative narrative forms in his novel Towards a Better Life , as well as his first comprehensive critical offering, Counter-Statement that expresses his novel rhetorical theory of form. ;The third chapter studies the recently published manuscript "Auscultation, Creation, and Revision," and several articles on politics and propaganda displaying Burke as an astute critic of Marxian concepts as well as a subtle analyst of rhetoric. The fourth chapter investigates his first try at a comprehensive theory, Permanence and Change , its characterization of human needs, and Burke's renovation of teleology. The next chapter examines Attitudes toward History and his picture of the development of societies. Finally, the sixth chapter focuses on Burke's theory of "symbolic action," his historical and metaphysical theory of language in contradistinction to the antihistorical views of the New Critics and the antimetaphysical views of the logical positivists. The study's purpose is to embrace Burke as a philosophical thinker, since this makes his work more coherent for readers
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