Huglen and Rountree: Toward the Next Phase

I think Mark and Clarke's inaugural, introductory essay is superb. They've touched most, if not all, the important bases. (With Burke, I guess, you can never say anybody's touched ALL the bases, but let's not get picky.) The "benchmark" motif from the 1990 New Harmony conference sounds just the right opening note, along with, of course, the parlor conversation metaphor. This scholarly enterprise will begin with Burke, draw on his thoughts and inspiration, ripple out, we hope, in more applied and theoretical dimensions than we can now imagine, then double back for a "reality check" (loosely speaking) with the master. Interpersonal communication is one domain the authors cite that's been relatively fallow from a dramatistic standpoint. There are others.

If there's one statement in the piece I'd quibble with, it's the expectation that one day Burke will be as famous as "Aristotle, Nietzsche, Marx, or Freud." Burke has, to be sure, something of the breadth of Aristotle, the prescience of Nietzsche, the politically critical outlook of Marx, and the paradigm-shattering potential of a Freud. (Who, for instance, had already set forth the most solid and perdurable contributions of postmodern philosophy of language thirty years before those that Burke's epigone, Harold Bloom, called, with just a bit of disdain, "the Frenchies"?) Burke's cast of mind was too mercurial, his style too elliptical and collage-like, his disregard for academic boundaries, which Mark and Clarke take due note of, too thoroughgoing for popular placement on that kind of pedestal. He'll endure, but as something of an intellectual guerrilla fighter, I believe, hurling thought grenades from the hills as much as the halls of academe

I'm running out of space, I think. I'll have more to say about this well-wrought overview later.\r\n\r\n In the meantime, "Onward, Outward, and Up" toward more impassioned and illuminating conversation a la Burke!

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Toward the Next Phase

Let me add a few more thoughts, and perhaps a question, to my earlier rant. I like Mark and Clarke's emphasis on this new journal's function as a "common meeting ground" for "multidisciplinary" applications of the thought of this unique "raw intelligence" that "devoured everything." It will help, we hope, "keep us abreast of all the uses to which Burke is put" in many fields.

Other observations and phrases that leaped out at me had to do with Burke as "a language strategy consultant" (we don't usually think of Burke as didactic, but he can be mined for implicit advice on how to communicate so as to temper conflict and enhance cooperation), "the blindness of worldviews" as a cautionary antidote to our multiple certainties, Burke as "offer[ing] a complex and productive account of our symbolic world," one that vouchsafes "no neutral vocabulary," indeed "the everyday difficulty of communication." Burke surely offers no easy answers to the relationship dilemmas that face the symbol-using animal, so "naturally" "goaded by the spirit of hierarchy" and "rotten with perfection."

Yet, Mark and Clarke place Burke in the hopeful company of William James (see Burke's treatment of James in ATH) in their assertion, "When we say that we can use Burke's teachings to 'make the world a better place,' we are referring to the initiation of productive [symbolic] projections--projections that will improve the human condition and our 'communion' and communication in human relationships."

How do you see it? How hopeful was Burke about the future prospects of the symbol-using-misusing animal? Or was he purposely ambivalent and ambiguous enough that we can't pin him down on this point? Not all Burke interpreters view the question the same way. What about you?

Pessimism and Change

Thanks for the invitations to conversation, Ed. And thanks to the editors and David Blakesley for a great first issue.

I'd like to respond to Appel's most recent post about Burke's views on the human and the future. Since I focus more on his 1920s and 30s writings, I see the conditions of emergence for his views on the "symbol using animal" as dire, leading to a profound pessimism. But it is exactly pessimism, crisis and the need for political change that should, according to Burke, incite artists and critics to shout back, to issue resolute counter-statements.

It's almost eerie how similar those days of crisis and tumult are to these--I'm thinking here of letters written by Burke that worry about "the bomb" and "the end of everything"--and Burke's call for critics and artists to find other ways of looking and responding to crisis and seeking change therefore seems all the more resonant.

While I wouldn't claim that "pessimism as incitement to change" is the dominant mode in Burke's work, it's certainly an element in his early writings that catches my attention (terministically? psychotically?) from a pre-election vantage point.

Inaugural Essay

On the question of Burke as optimist or pessimist in regard to humankind's future, I think Debra has hit the nail on the head with her aptly ironic phrase, "pessimism as incitement to change." Burke, I believe, was amiguous, perhaps unconciously ambivalent, on this issue in his books and pronouncements. Late Burke as well as early Burke harbored dark forebodings about what lay ahead, as men and women seemed to be laboring wordwide, "entelechially," to complete the technological trajectory they have been almost blindly pursuing since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. See the two endings to A GRAMMAR OF MOTIVES and Burke's Helhaven essays included in the recently published anthology, ON HUMAN NATURE.

Yet, Burke's whole project, from CS, P&C, and ATH in the '30's onward, has been one of trying to find a set of incongruous perspectives and a "comic corrective" to the technological tragedy he saw unfolding already in America and elsewhere between the wars.

Thus, Mark and Clarke's call for efforts to "make the world a better place" via "productive [symbolic] projections . . . that will improve the human condition and our 'communion' and communication in human relationships" is well justified as an enterprise faithful to Burke's philosophy and teachings.

This publication venture will, we hope, contribute to that goal.