[KB] McGee and Burke

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Thu Dec 11 13:10:30 EST 2014

A marginal query. I always find the word "ideology" confusing unless the writer specifies his/her use of the word. It _seems_, in this post, to be a rough synonym for "theory"? Is that correct. I would use it, rather, as a synonym for "common sense," i.e., the knee jerk and mostly unconscious assumptions that derive from unanalyzed experience: for example, the widespread assumption that the word "race" names anything! Theories emerge from ideology and are consciously developed. Hence it makes sense to speak of conflicting theories, but "conflicting ideologies" lacks clarity.


-----Original Message-----
From: kb-bounces at kbjournal.org [mailto:kb-bounces at kbjournal.org] On Behalf Of Clarke Rountree
Sent: Thursday, December 11, 2014 10:53 AM
To: kb at kbjournal.org
Subject: [KB] McGee and Burke

Dear Burkeans:

I recently returned to reread Michael Calvin McGee's "Ideograph" essay and confronted, once again, his opening claim: "In 1950, Kenneth Burke, apparently following Dewey, Mead, and Lippmann, announced his preference for the notion 'philosophy of myth' to explain the phenomenon of 'public' or 'mass consciousness' rather than the then-prevalent concept 'ideology." (1). I always chafed at this interpretation of Burke's section in RM on "'Sociology of Knowledge' v. Platonic 'Myth'" (197-203). Admittedly, Burke does refer to Marxist ideology (and all ideologies) as "partial" (though he does hint at "ultimate" elements in Marxism's merging of the logical and the temporal in dialectical materialism's "principled" account of inevitable historical development and the participatory role of the proletariat). However, I never saw this particular application of positive, dialectical, and ultimate terms to Mannheim as expressing Burke's ultimate "preference" for myth in accounting for mass consciousness. Indeed, I assume that Burke would admit that much of what we experience in that form is a sort of "partial" understanding of the world got by our ideological commitments.

On the other hand, Burke does seem intrigued by the insights afforded by not simply mythic thinking, but a developmental (or experiential?) understanding of myth: "Only by going from sensory images to ideas, then through ideas to the end of ideas, is one free to come upon the mythic image... And the disciplined arrival at the mythic image through the dialectical transcending of sensory images and the dialectical critique of ideas, should be a protection against a merely literal interpretation of such a mythic image.... [If one interpreted a myth] as figuring a motive beyond the reach of ideology, the motive of the myth would be felt to lie beyond the motivational order treated in the competing ideologies. its motive would be 'ultimate' as the motives of the ideologies were not" (202).

Am I correct in assuming, contrary to McGee's claim, that this section does not represent Burke's final (or ultimate) word on mass consciousness or on a "public"? What should we conclude about Burke's enchantment with the mythic frame that results from this dialectical development?

(BTW, McGee was one of my professors at U of Iowa, so I got to chafe about this in person, though I never got a satisfactory response beyond being advised to read Burke more carefully.)

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday!



Dr. Clarke Rountree
Chair and Professor of Communication Arts
342 Morton Hall
University of Alabama in Huntsville
Huntsville, AL  35899
clarke.rountree at uah.edu

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