[KB] Incomplete Nature

Edward C Appel edwardcappel at frontier.com
Thu Aug 7 16:27:22 EDT 2014

Hello, Ronald,

Thanks so much for your incisive and supportive response!  As you say, Deacon's very well received book not only opens a door for conversation between Burkeans/rhetoricians/literary scholars and anthropologists, even biological anthropologists like Deacon.  His book gives hope, if even a small one, of being a game-changer in the call for some hint of "conscilence" among the hard and social sciences and the humanities.  C. P. Snow voiced that hope in 1959.  E. O. Wilson echoed that cri de coeur in the late 1990s.

Thanks again, and enjoy your vacation!


On Thu, 8/7/14, Ronald Soetaert <Ronald.Soetaert at UGent.be> wrote:

 Subject: Re: [KB] Incomplete Nature
 To: "Edward C Appel" <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
 Cc: "Clarke Rountree" <rountrj at uah.edu>, "kb at kbjournal.org" <kb at kbjournal.org>
 Date: Thursday, August 7, 2014, 3:20 PM
 Dear colleagues, 
 I couldn’t agree more with
 Ed Apple’s plea for reading Terence Deacon and linking his
 ideas with Kenneth Burke’s perspective on humans as symbol
 using animals. Just for your information this link was a
 central topic in our presentations in two conferences we
 (Kris Rutten and I) attended: The Generative Anthropolgy
 Summer Conference 2014 (June, 19-22 -Victoria. Canada) and
 KBS 2014: Attitudes Toward Technology/Technology’s
 Attitudes (July, 17-22 St Louis). I learned about the work
 of Terence Deacon from Richard Van Oort (see his book ‘The
 End of Literature’). At that moment I was working on a
 presentation (as part of a price I received in Belgium)
 about the future of the humanities. Because I also wanted to
 convince my colleagues from the ‘hard sciences’ I
 started with the work of Deacon and the importance of the
 concepts sign-symbol.
 Again, it was Richard Van Oort who introduced me in
 Deacon’s perspectives (from his work The Symbolic
 Species). As Ed Apple has argued, we were also intrigued by
 the possibility of linking ideas from Deacon (biology) and
 ideas from Burke (rhetoric). So we mailed Richard Van Oort
 to invite him for our panel during the Burke Conference in
 St Louis (meanwhile we had discovered that although Richard
 would not describe himself as a Burkophile, he is certainly
 also fascinated by the work of Burke – see his review of
 Burke’s essays on Shakespeare). Richard agreed to come to
 the Burke conference (with a contribution in our panel
 “Bodies that learn language”: Rhetoric, Education and
 Anthropology). But before the Burke conference he invited us
 ‘his’ conference: The Generative Anthropolgy Summer
 Conference 2014 (June, 19-22). Victoria. Canada http://web.uvic.ca/gasc2014/index.html
 Part of our abstract,
 illustrated what we tried to do: “The major question of
 our research is what we might learn from ‘works of
 imaginative literature’ (Gibson 2007: 1), or other
 cultural artefacts such as films, games, cartoons and
 graphic novels. We also concur with Richard van Oort (2004:
 622) who suggests that an anthropological perspective causes
 an increasing focus in literary studies on culture as an
 object of symbolic interpretation: ‘For who is better
 trained than the literary critic in the exercise of
 searching for symbolic significance, of reading beyond the
 literal surface to see the deeper, more sacred meaning
 beneath?’ etc.”
 the presentation (in Vicoria and St Louis), described turns
 in the humanities/social science and analysed the role of
 rhetoric as a major perspective. Therefore we suggested that
 the symbolic turn could be a major perspective. So we tried
 to link rhetorical perspectives with anthropological
 perspectives (referring to the work of Van Oort). We
 suggested we should enter into a dialogue with
 biology/science (see Deacon). But we also suggested we
 should try to defend the importance of the humanities.
 Therefore we quoted Van Oort: “it is literally quite true
 that without the mediating presence of the originary scene
 of symbolic representation—‘textuality,’ if one
 likes—there is no humanity and therefore no object of
 Again, I would
 like to link this with the review and suggestions of Ed
 Apple. By the way: also my thanks to Ed Apple for sharing
 his thoughts.
 Of course we
 could elaborate more on all this but Kris and I are on a
 holiday now, but I could not resist to send a quick mail
 with some information of our work and plans. And of course
 agreeing with Ed Apple's suggestions. 
 In fact Kris Rutten and I were planning to
 make this perspective a central theme for a follow up
 conference in Ghent…  Ed Apple’s mail convinces us this
 could be an interesting perspective. 
 Ronald Soetaert

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