[KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever

Gregory Desilet info at gregorydesilet.com
Mon Nov 10 13:06:11 EST 2014

Stan—I have to confess your last post genuinely surprised me. I did not at all realize you were so irritated with what I’ve been saying. And I was also a little surprised by your tone. I enjoy this KB forum because I see it as a kind of intellectual playground for the exchange of ideas and the airing of lines of thought in order to see how they fare in a community of other minds interested in exploring similar topics. I see us all as friends here and I don’t take myself or anyone else seriously enough in this “playground” to get too worked up about any responses. So, Stan, if you feel I’m out of line in how I’m reading you, feel free to just say: “Hey, Greg, time out. I think you’ve misread me here and there and that’s causing some problems in how you are going forward” instead of saying something like: “Who died and made you the arbiter of what faith is?” That’s a little off-putting and overly serious in tone for a playground like this—unless, of course, you are just poking fun at me, in which case in this written medium it would help for you to put a smiley face after that sentence. Also, it can be difficult when someone takes me to the woodshed, but especially so when it’s done based on bad misreadings of what I’ve said. But, no harm done. I don’t take offense easily and I continue to admire and respect you and your work as I have in the past. So I don’t go forward here to be nasty but rather because it would be rude and perhaps arrogant of me to say you have misread me badly and then not point out how. So here goes.

Example #1: You say: “Burke's entire methodology of bringing enlightenment to texts would be trashed, if you have your way.  There is no way that ANY text (whether considered sacred or secular) could be tested in a purely scientific (repeating, using experimentation) sense.”

As for Burke’s “bringing enlightenment to texts”—more on that later. I had to puzzle over the next sentence for some time before making some sense of it. Here’s what sense I make of it (let me know if I’m wrong): When I say, “The difference between the two faiths of science and religion” etc. you read me to be saying something about scientific approaches vs. religious approaches to WRITTEN TEXTS. Apparently you think I’m suggesting scientific testing and experimentation would be the preferable approach to texts.

If anyone other than you has read me this way, I would be very surprised. My comment about the “faiths” of science and religion was distinctly made in the context of Sam Harris’ book and his use of the term “faith” where I was suggesting even science (which Harris distinguishes from faith) was based on a kind of faith—faith in a particular mode of gathering evidence. So I was speaking of two different modes of evidence for understanding LIFE AND WORLD not two different modes of evidence for reading WRITTEN TEXTS. There is no suggestion here of interpreting written texts by way of the “testing,” as you put it, of scientific experimentation. The point of my comment concerned the notion of “faith,” not the process of interpreting texts.

Speaking of “faith,” Example #2: You say, “When I use the term "faith" to identify the objective of rhetoric, I mean ‘pistis' as Aristotle uses the term, not as you use it.”

I don’t know what, in anything I said, makes you think I was responding to your mention of Aristotle’s use of the term as “pistis.” I was keying off of your use of the term when you said this: “I personally critique Burke's interpretation of scripture, Aristotle, etc.  That does not mean that I am right and Burke is wrong, but, based on my argumentation, I have ‘faith’ that I'm right.”

In the context of your statement here, I don’t think it unreasonable of me to assume a meaning for your use of the word “faith” compatible with how I use the term (in example #1 above). The sentence previous to the one cited in example #2 is where you say, “Who died and made you the arbiter of what faith is?” I can’t, for the life of me, understand why you would read me as attempting to impose my use of the term “faith” on you. I was primarily keying on Harris’ use of the term, as is clear from the context of my comment. But I also did not see any alarming inconsistency in how you were using the term in the passage where you say, “I have ‘faith’ that I’m right.” I’m just really puzzled about how you could possibly read me in any way that would cause you to get so worked up about what I say here.

Example #3: You say, referring to me: “Why would you lump all students of biblical texts in a single category, such as those who determine meaning based on ‘the evidence of tradition, sacred texts, and transcendent personal experience (sometimes called direct divine communication or DDC).’”

I the first place, I obviously do NOT lump all students of biblical texts in the same category. I have been very careful to distinguish those who interpret the Bible as a non-divinely inspired text from those who interpret it as a divinely inspired text. As you even point out, there are members of the SBL who are atheists who do NOT regard the Bible as the written word of God. My line of argument depends on understanding this distinction because what I’ve said in this thread about sacred texts relates to understanding sacred texts as divine communication. In fact, at one point some ways back in this thread I defined my use of “sacred text” for purposes of this thread to include ONLY texts approached in such a way that they are regarded by those who champion them as divine communication. I realize there are many broader uses of the word “sacred” but for purposes of discussion in this thread I have used the word more narrowly.

Furthermore, regarding the process of determining meaning you mention, I can’t imagine how meanings in any sacred text (in the sense I use the term), the Bible for example, could be derived from any sources other than 1) “tradition” (which includes historical context and what other people say about the text), 2) the text itself, and 3) personal experience of a visionary or transcendent nature. What other sources of data are there? EVERY interpreter of the Bible has only one or more of these sources for “determining meaning” regarding the Bible.

I realize that you, Stan, do not view DDCs as acceptable means of gathering meaning (or whatever). But I am not directing my argument at you or at members of SBL. I have directed my argument only at THAT GROUP OF PEOPLE WHO BELIEVES A TEXT TO BE DIVINE COMMUNICATION. That set of people may be an empty set. It may contain ten people. It may contain millions (as I would guess). But my argument does not depend on this set having any real members. In that sense, it cannot possibly qualify as a “straw man.” For purposes of argument, it is a hypothetical category and applies only to those who would indeed fit the category, whether in real life that amounts to zero or millions. And this brings us to the next point.

Example #4: You say, “If Burke's approach to studying a text is not a valid approach to producing a more enlightened understanding of a text, then why are we discussing this matter on a Burke listserve?”

Which Burke are you speaking of here??? I’ve already mentioned that I see a big difference between early Burke and late Burke with regard to how Burke views the nature of language and the processes of interpretation. For example, there is the Burke of P&C who appears to make a case for how all language-using is fundamentally metaphorical. Then there is a later Burke who seems to believe in a sharp distinction between the literal and the metaphoric and between fact and interpretation (the “Fact, Inference, Proof” essay).

As for Burke’s various methods for analyzing a text, I doubt very much he would regard any of these methods as capable of guaranteeing a “more enlightened understanding of a text.” They are tools in the toolbox and will help yield different perspectives on a text but whether any of these tools used separately or all together produce a more “enlightened” understanding is likely a matter more one of “faith” than “validity.” And my “faith” concerning notions about language and interpretation still rests more with the early Burke than the late Burke, which is something I also mentioned earlier in this thread to provide a sense of what I mean when I say things like “what we (Burkophiles) know about language.”

As for the entire question in #4 above, I don’t understand why it would be in the least off-topic to discuss on a Burke listserve the possibility that “Burke’s approach to studying a text is not a valid approach to producing a more enlightened understanding of a text.” What better place to do so? Only that is NOT what I’m doing.

As for what I am doing, I jumped into this thread (which began with Ed’s discussion of the work of Deacon) by citing Burke on the connection he makes between religion and fascism in “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle”—attempting to make sense of what he’s getting at in that passage. And that’s a topic I’ve puzzled over for many years and the topic I thought we were on most centrally and I think it’s very appropriate for a Burke listserve.

I’ll end this now, hoping not to have bored everyone or alienated anyone—including Stan.



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