[KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever

Clarke Rountree rountrj at uah.edu
Fri Oct 31 10:35:50 EDT 2014

Lee, I'm glad you chimed in! On Lee's bona fides: he was one of the
interviewers of Burke in the Iowa interviews and, as I recall, he elicited
one of the most original statements from KB when discussing Jesus's
functions in the theological framework as a substitute for the previous
Judaic tradition.


On Thu, Oct 30, 2014 at 10:55 PM, Cerling, Lee <cerling at marshall.usc.edu>

> Hi, all--
> I have lurked on this list for a long time without contributing, and I
> think maybe none of you know me except Clarke Rountree, who was my
> colleague at Iowa back in the day.  But this has been an intriguing
> discussion, and I would like to offer some friendly resistance to the flow
> of argument, to see how the argument plays out.  Whether it is a Burkean
> resistance or not, I don't know; you all know Burke much better than me,
> and you can judge.
> That said, I want to gently probe the concept of "sacred" texts as it has
> developed in this thread. It seems to me that a "sacred" text is a text
> that has won or earned "sacredness" by virtue of its constitutive
> power--that is, it functions as "sacred" to the extent that some community
> is self-consciously shaped and formed by it.  So "inspiration" or source of
> inspiration is not the key inflection point, but accreditation by a
> community.  In this view, "sacredness" is a matter of degree, and a text is
> more or less sacred depending on the degree to which some living community
> (or communities) are in some definable sense "constituted" by it.  By that
> standard, the Bible is an exceptionally sacred text in that innumerable
> communities past and present have been constituted by it; the Declaration
> of Independence is also sacred, but less so.  And the writings of Kenneth
> Burke are only very weakly sacred, in that this small community is very
> loosely formed by it; but not in the sense of its members being willing
> (for example) to suffer death for it, as is the case with more strongly
> sacred texts, such as the Declaration of Independence or the Bible or the
> Koran.
> And in this way of thinking, texts can lose their sacredness:  this has
> certainly been the pattern in Christianity, where the Bible may become less
> and less normative to successive generations, until it is effectively
> "desacralized"--no longer normative for a given community; no longer
> constitutive of that community.  (I am thinking of the movement from
> Puritanism to Unitarianism).  So for that community, it is no longer
> sacred; whereas for another Christian community (say, the Amish) its
> sacredness may be re-affirmed and even strengthened over time.
> My point is this:  I do think that texts which are significantly
> constitutive in nature, texts to which human beings have committed
> themselves, and especially those texts for which human beings have
> voluntarily undergone torture and death, are entitled to a special kind of
> respect and reverence in the academy and elsewhere.
> That said, I agree with what I take Greg to be saying below, that no text,
> regardless of its sacred status, is thereby exempt from criticism.  And in
> fact, precisely because of the extraordinary power that these sacred texts
> exercise over human beings, it may well behoove us to give them much more
> than an ordinary amount of critical attention.  (That is certainly what
> Augustine does in the first half of City of God--lavish devastating
> critical attention on the primary pagan sacred texts of his day.)
> And one last caveat:  I do think that criticism of a (sacred) text should
> focus less on "what it contains" than on "how it has been read."  So that I
> am not persuaded (at least, not yet) that the New Testament is
> anti-semitic; I am persuaded, however, that a strong and long and honored
> tradition of reading the New Testament, from Chrysostom to Luther (and
> beyond, in both directions) was deeply and repugnantly anti-semitic.  And
> in my view, at least, it is not the New Testament texts themselves that are
> to be censured, but that tradition of reading the text.
> All for now.  My apologies if this line of thought is too much at odds
> with the tenor of what has been a most interesting exchange.
> Best regards,
> Lee Cerling
> Sent from my iPad
> > On Oct 30, 2014, at 2:44 PM, Gregory Desilet <info at gregorydesilet.com>
> wrote:
> >
> > Yes, Ed, “metaphysical philosophy” isn’t a bad option, though it might
> be confused with “spiritual metaphysics”—which has been co-opted by New Age
> philosophy, where at “metaphysical bookstores” you will find all manner of
> occult and parapsychological writings (such as “Seth Speaks” etc.). As for
> those you reference as “untraditional mainline Protestants” and the
> potential problem of their belief in God, I don’t see a problem there in
> placing their approach in the philosophy category, since many philosophers
> also express a belief in God—sans any kind of sacred text. Though perhaps
> those in this group could be in a sub-category called “philosophical
> theism.”
> >
> > At any rate, the important thing from my point of view is advocating the
> notion that “all texts are created equal” just as all persons are created
> equal. And, just as this does not entail that all persons are of equal
> influence, it does not entail that all texts are of equal influence. The
> primary thing is that no text be seen as inherently superior and
> unquestionable by virtue of a divine birthright or source. The merit of
> every text ought to be weighed by what it contains rather than by who wrote
> or inspired it. Currently across the world there are far too many people
> who believe in the inherent superiority of certain texts, regardless of
> what they actually say, and in many cases not even reading or fully
> understanding what is said in them. This is a state of affairs every
> communication, language, and rhetorical scholar should bemoan.
> >
> > Greg
> >
> >
> >
> >> On Oct 30, 2014, at 9:55 AM, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
> wrote:
> >>
> >> OK, Greg, howabout if we call the blanched, etiolated Christianity of
> the very liberal side of the Mainline Protestant Church "metaphysical
> philosophy"?  Burke calls metaphysical philosophy "coy theology."  Maybe we
> can find a measure of common ground with that linguistic accommodation.
> >>
> >> The only problem there is, such untraditional Mainline Protestants
> openly profess belief in a Power that can rightfully be called "God."
> They're not particularly "coy" about their theistic bent.
> >>
> >> I'll mull over your demurrers some more and maybe get back.
> >> '
> >> What I want mainly to do here is address Stan's term "psychotic
> entelechy."  I like it.  Maybe owing more to my dour, "morbid" Scaninavian
> personality, I've long since thought that Burke's dramatism, and what I've
> observed going on around me, had best be described as half insane.  I.e.,
> the "glory" and the "sickness" of the "symbol-using animal" (Burke), the
> "symbolizing animal" (Condit), or the "symbolic species" (Deacon) can
> legitimately be described as half amazingly wonderful and half bonkers.
> I'm talking about the "normal" human race.  People give evidence of being
> nuts whether that "entelechy" is being immanentized or transcendentalized.
> >>
> >> Whithout going into detail, how long do you think it will take this
> rapidly expanding species of animal life to despoil this planet's
> ecosystems irreparably, render this "Garden of Eden" half a wasteland,
> devoid of so very, very much of its rich biodiversity, and who knows what
> else?  Humans, in their entelechial quest for more and more "properties,"
> both tangible and symbolic, evince, in the large, no thought of the vast
> expanses of geologic time and their import.  In a mere ten thousand years
> since  the end of the last ice age and beginnings of urban living, homo
> sapiens (there's a joke for you) has already altered that brief Holocene
> Epoch into what earth scientists are now saying should be labeled the
> "Anthropocene," things are already getting that bad.  What are the chances
> of a turn-around?  What are things likely to look like in another mere one
> million eight-hundred-thousand years, the brief span so far of this, the
> eleventh period of the
> >> Phanerozoic Eon, the Quaternary?
> >> '
> >> Listen to Fox News, read the Wall Street Journal, watch China built
> another goal-driven power plant each week, read letters to your local
> newspaper or posts by the vox populi on the internet, pay even cursory
> attention to the campaign rhetoric now reaching a crescendo, and weep.  I
> see next to no chance, until things get so bad we're suffocating in our own
> effluvia.
> >>
> >> On the transcendental craziness, more later, if I can screw up the
> courage to risk offending some subcribers to  this list.  You know, the
> "free speech"/don't-"hurt"-the-feelings-of-others quandary.
> >>
> >> "Psychotic entelechy"?  Well, I guess.
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> Ed
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> Ed
> >>
> >>
> >> ----- ---------------------------------------
> >> On Thu, 10/30/14, Gregory Desilet <info at gregorydesilet.com> wrote:
> >>
> >> Subject: Re: [KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever
> >> To: "Ed Appel" <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
> >> Cc: "Stan Lindsay" <slindsa at yahoo.com>, "kb at kbjournal.org" <
> kb at kbjournal.org>
> >> Date: Thursday, October 30, 2014, 3:40 AM
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> Many good points have been made by
> >> several
> >> persons, so there is much to respond to and if I do not
> >> touch on someone’s
> >> point here that will be because of my limits as a mere human
> >> and not because I
> >> view a particular point as not meriting a response. Turning
> >> to Ed’s comments
> >> first, he points out that his definition of “religion”
> >> is different from mine.
> >> But I think this kind of response gets off on the wrong foot
> >> with regard to the
> >> thrust of what I’m attempting to say. Granted, it is
> >> perfectly sensible and
> >> legitimate in a discussion of religion to say, “this is
> >> what I mean by
> >> religion.” But when Ed says “Greg means something
> >> different,” I believe more
> >> than that is going on. True, we can each have our different
> >> definitions of
> >> religion and go our separate ways, but what I’m attempting
> >> to do is argue
> >> (persuade) others that the term “religion” ought not to
> >> be applied in certain
> >> ways due to the circumstance that it thereby loses much of
> >> its usefulness as a
> >> term. For example, if we call every bright light in the sky
> >> a “star,” that’s
> >> okay but there is benefit to be gained by refining our
> >> distinctions to separate
> >> out stars, planets, comets, galaxies, etc.Ed has seemingly accepted my
> >> challenge to distinguish
> >> religions that abandon the sacred text notion from
> >> philosophical study and
> >> inquiry by offering the following:I regard its [religion’s] primary
> >> reference as
> >> characteristic of one who believes in an Originary Power we
> >> can rightfully call
> >> "God."  For me, as a Burkean, I would reductively
> >> define that
> >> Power as the "Great Potential."In other words, divinity or God
> >> becomes the
> >> “Great Potential.” All such reasoning is well and good,
> >> but what becomes of the
> >> status of what have been called religious texts by way of
> >> such a view of
> >> religion? Are these texts in some way the “voice” of the
> >> “Great Potential”? Or
> >> as Stan says, are they wholly inspired, substantially
> >> inspired, or only
> >> partially inspired by the Great Potential? And what makes
> >> these religious texts
> >> substantially different from other texts such as those
> >> written by Plato, Aristotle,
> >> Descartes, Spinoza, etc? Are not these latter texts also
> >> inspired by the “Great
> >> Potential”? In fact, is not EVERYTHING inspired by the
> >> “Great Potential”?When we humans sever, cloud, or
> >> muddy the link
> >> between a text and a divine source of that text, we in
> >> effect place that text
> >> alongside all other texts composed by human hands. Who is to
> >> say, for example,
> >> that Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis” is not as much or
> >> more divinely inspired than
> >> any text of the Bible—if the divinity is regarded as the
> >> “Great Potential”? The
> >> problem is that deciding if texts are religious in nature
> >> and in inspiration
> >> becomes a very arbitrary issue. From within this view, we
> >> may as well call every such text “religious” or
> >> every such text “secular” because there is no longer a
> >> distinction between the two
> >> that can be convincingly defended. At least I am not
> >> convinced and I hope I
> >> have convinced others not to be convinced.As soon as we no longer have
> a very
> >> direct and
> >> clear link to a divine source (a higher being), manifested
> >> decisively in some
> >> texts and not in others, we have a situation where every
> >> text discussing the
> >> nature of “life” effectively reduces to the category of
> >> philosophy. Some of
> >> these texts may be valued more than others by particular
> >> individuals but none
> >> of these texts any longer have a source or origin
> >> unquestionably superior to
> >> any other. The benefits of each text must be constantly
> >> ARGUED and not assumed.
> >> This attitude toward texts makes a big difference in how
> >> texts are approached
> >> and in how they are valued. I believe the use of the term
> >> “philosophy” to
> >> describe such texts and associated practices is better than
> >> “religious” because
> >> it reduces the chances for conveying an authoritarian
> >> quality in the text—the
> >> quality traditionally associated with so-called religious
> >> texts.
> >> Greg
> >
> >
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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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