KBS 2014: Attitudes Toward Technology/Technology's Attitudes


Fast Facts

Conference Dates: July 17-20, 2014
Proposal Deadline: February 14, 2014
Submit Proposal to: kbsconference2014@gmail.com
Acceptance Notification: March 14, 2014
Please note that acceptance notifications went out March 14, 2014. If you haven't heard from us, please email the conference organizers right away.
Registration Window: April 1, 2014 to July 1, 2014. Register Here (Late registration will begin July 2, 2014.)
Conference Website: http://kbjournal.org/kbs14
Conference Chairs: Paul Lynch (plynch11@slu.edu) and Nathaniel Rivers (nrivers1@slu.edu)
Conference Keynotes: Jodie Nicotra will present "Compulsion and 'Transcendence Sideways': Burke’s Technological Attitudes," and Thomas Rickert will present "Making Hope Out of Nothing at All: Amechania in Burke, Nietzsche, and Parmenides." Both talks engage the conference theme of Attitudes Toward Technology/Technology’s Attitudes. Find abstracts here.
Conference Seminars: For a complete list (and descriptions) of seminars click here.
Conference Poster: Click Here. (Poster designed by Nathaniel A. Rivers. Animated gif generated by Chris Lindgren)

Conference Program

Call for Nominations for the 9th Triennial Kenneth Burke Society Awards

KBS 2014: Conference Paper Awards

Conference Theme

Attitude mediates action and motion. Attitude is incipient action. Media have attitudes. Media are incipient. We act through media and media act through us. This dance of attitudes, both human and nonhuman, shapes action. Action is always in media res.

Taking both Burke’s attitude and his rhetorical philosophy of technology as points of departure, The Ninth Triennial Conference of the Kenneth Burke Society welcomes proposals that focus on attitudes toward technology and technology’s own attitudes. We also welcome proposals that focus on any Burkean subject. The conference will be hosted by Saint Louis University in historic Midtown, home of the Grand Center, the place for the arts in St. Louis, from July 17-20, 2014. Saint Louis University is also home to the Walter J. Ong, SJ, Center for Language, Media and Culture as well as the Ong Archives. In the middle of the country, in the middle of the city, we will grapple with being in media res.

In a retrospective to Attitudes Toward History, Burke defines attitude as “the point of personal mediation between the realms of nonsymbolic motion and symbolic action” (394). For Burke, these realms are tightly knitted, and as Debra Hawhee reminds us, we should see them as “an irreducible pair, contiguous but distinct” (Moving Bodies 158). Stuff and story dance in attitudes.

In his reexamination of Burke’s status as a luddite, Ian Hill reminds us that “Burke’s writing was fraught with technological anxiety, and his negative attitude toward technology developed over many decades.” Nevertheless, Hill demonstrates how Burke developed a “rhetorical philosophy of technology.” “Burke’s concept of technology entailed that rhetoric motivates technology, and that technology motivates behavior. For Burke, the realms of technology and rhetoric are inseparable because technology and motivation are fundamental conditions of human existence.”

The Kenneth Burke Society conference welcomes not only those who are particularly invested in Burke but also those who ask the same sorts of questions, explore similar avenues of scholarship, and see rhetoric as tightly knit to symbols, bodies, and environments. We are building a big tent in St. Louis. The Ninth Triennial Conference will feature participation by students and scholars from a wide range of fields, and we welcome proposals that address topics of continuing relevance in Burke studies, including Burke and his circles; archival research in the Burkean corpus; the meaning and relevance of particular Burkean texts; Burke in the fields; the future of Burkean studies; and new applications of Burke’s insights to contemporary issues. We especially encourage those proposals that focus on attitude and technology: the range of conceivable connections and potential points of departure is limitless.

The theme of attitudes toward technology and technology’s own attitudes calls on conference participants to engage Burke in a contemporary scene increasingly saturated and mediated by technology:

  • In what ways can we revisit, challenge, or augment Burke’s work in light of contemporary, digital technology?
  • In what ways has Burke’s work (in particular, his notion of “technological psychosis”) been prescient of contemporary popular treatments of technology (What Technology Wants, Alone Together, The Shallows, You Are Not a Gadget)?
  • How might Burke’s thought anticipate or inform rhetorical theory and related areas as it rethinks the place of the material and of objects in rhetorical activity? Recall Burke’s discussion of air conditioners in “(Nonsymbolic) Motion/(Symbolic) Action”: “Such bodily responses as increased warmth and accelerated respiration place a greater burden upon the air conditioning device, which is equipped with mechanical ‘sensors’ that register the change in conditions and ‘behave’ accordingly” (834).
  • How might Burke’s interest in the body inform discussions of race and gender in digitally mediated environments? Likewise, how might contemporary scholarship in these areas inform Burke (challenge, discount, or otherwise augment him)?
  • How does Burke’s focus on the nonsymbolic resonate with new materialist and feminist new materialist approaches (e.g. Jane Bennett, Karan Barad)?
  • How do the above questions expand Burke’s circles? How can we use such questions to bring new thinkers into the Burkean parlor?

Over the course of the conference, a combination of keynote speakers, featured presenters, and seminar leaders will explore our attitudes toward technology and technology’s own attitudes. Keynote speakers, seminars, and seminar leaders will be announced in January 2014.

We invite individual presentations, panels, and seminar topics exploring the above sets of concerns. Proposals should be submitted via email to kbsconference2014@gmail.com. The submission window runs from October 1, 2013, through February 14, 2014. All proposals are due by 11:59 p.m. on February 14, 2014. Proposals for individual presentations should be 250-350 words in length. Proposals for panels or other formats may be up to 500 words in length. Acceptances will be announced by March 14, 2014.


Attendees may register for the conference online starting March 17, 2014. As with past conferences, affordable registration fees will include all meals and special events. Further details will be published on the conference website from now until the conference.

The Venue

Saint Louis University is located in St. Louis, MO. The Busch Student Center is located in bustling Midtown St. Louis. For a list of dinning options in and around campus click here. On-campus lodging is available at the recently built Hotel Ignacio, the Water Tower Inn, and in the recently renovated Marchetti Tower West.


The Hosts

The conference chairs are Paul Lynch (plynch11@slu.edu) and Nathaniel Rivers (nrivers1@slu.edu). The conference is sponsored by Saint Louis University, the Walter J. Ong, SJ, Center for Language, Media and Culture, and the Kenneth Burke Society.

Transportation from Lambert Airport

There are multiple ways to get from the airport to the conference site/residence hall. St. Louis Metrolink will take you to the Grand Avenue stop, which is about about half a mile south of Marchetti Towers (3530 Laclete) and the Busch Student Center (20 N. Grand), and about a mile north of the Water Tower Inn (3545 Lafayette). If you prefer to take a bus from the Grand Stop to either location, you can take the 70. The Metro Link Trip Planner can be found here.

If you prefer an airport shuttle, here is GO Best Express. A cab from Lambert to the SLU campus will run approximately $38.00.

On site transportation will be provided for those attendees staying at the Water Tower Inn

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KBS 2014: Keynote Announcement

We are please to announce the keynote speakers for the Ninth Triennial Conference of the Kenneth Burke Society. Jodie Nicotra will present "Compulsion and 'Transcendence Sideways': Burke’s Technological Attitudes," and Thomas Rickert will present "Making Hope Out of Nothing at All: Amechania in Burke, Nietzsche, and Parmenides." Both talks engage the conference theme of Attitudes Toward Technology/Technology’s Attitudes.


Jodie Nicotra, University of Idaho. "Compulsion and 'Transcendence Sideways': Burke’s Technological Attitudes"

Burke makes no bones about his fear and loathing of the symbol-using, symbol-used animal’s “technological psychosis.” Unless remediated by symbolic action in the form of the comic frame and perspective by incongruity (something to which he arguably devoted his entire lengthy career), Burke believed, the pervasiveness of the technological attitude would, by the logic of entelechy , bring a bad end: in the form of an Earth made unlivable by contamination from technological processes or in nuclear destruction.

While Burke argued that all things related to humans could be categorized as either symbolic action or nonsymbolic motion, it’s clear that technology presented an unusual and troublesome case, belonging comfortably to neither realm. As he wrote in one of his attempts to apply a comic corrective to the potential harms of the technological attitude, “the compulsiveness of man’s technologic genius, as compulsively implemented by the vast compulsions of our vast technologic grid, makes for a self-perpetuating cycle quite beyond our ability to adopt any major reforms in our way of doing things”(“Helhaven” 19). Here it’s clear that Burke sees technology as having its own sort of agency, one that might rival symbolic action; he would certainly have appreciated Donna Haraway’s observation that “Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert” (Simians, Cyborgs, Women 152). This language of compulsion (which crops up frequently in reference to technology in his works) also aptly characterizes Burke’s own attitudes toward technology. In a different essay, he confesses that for years he had been “compulsively taking notes on the subject of technological pollution,” even as he loathed the notes and wanted to “get shut of the whole issue...But it goes on nagging me” (“Why Satire,” 312).

Yet at points within Burke’s corpus appear signs of a different attitude toward technology, one characterized by an appreciation for the strange not-quite-agency of machines themselves that he himself wryly names “transcendence sideways” (ATH 381). Here, along with Burke’s published theoretical work, I read his poetry, fiction, and archival materials to flesh out this somewhat hidden attitude toward technology. Ultimately, I argue, the notion of “transcendence sideways” is an attitude appropriate for an era where the machines have become livelier than ever.

Thomas Rickert, Purdue University. "Making Hope Out of Nothing at All: Amechania in Burke, Nietzsche, and Parmenides"

Nietzsche once remarked that despite centuries of belief in the basic idea that God is truth, and truth is divine, it may be that the divine is nothing but error, blindness, and the lie (GS 344). The stakes of this statement are as profound and timely now as ever, and not simply for the humanities. A recent article argues that the fundamental belief in science’s ability to deliver truth and self-correct may not be justified—that science, and technology alongside, is always at the mercy of other forces.

The basic thematic here is that nothing humans do or produce offers escape from our foibles and errors—we are fundamentally amechania, without metis. I explore this thematic in Nietzsche and Burke, in particular on the tragic and comic attitudinal frames that they offer as hope. I then offer a third attitudinal perspective, that of the ancient Greek thinker Parmenides, who also had a profoundly pessimistic view on human capability to achieve truth and the good life, and cultivated this attitude through his philosophical poem on being. For Parmenides, hope was predicated on the utter acceptance of our entrapment in illusion and the cultivation of a profound attitude of metis emerging from this acceptance. Parmenidean thought is timely because science is fostering doubts within in its own ranks as to the hopes and technological solutions it can offer, in part because science cannot offer the “remedy” for our emotional, moral nature it was long believed to provide. Lastly, Parmenides offers a revelatory frame that seeks the nonhuman divine within the human, a point that bears exploration in contrast to Nietzsche’s cultivation of new values and Burke’s “complete sophistication” allowing for new vocabularies. Each of the attitudinal stances bears on the issue of media, for the question of what initiates a change in praxis is inseparable from the question of the means to do so.

We shall see that Parmenides demonstrates even more than Nietzsche and Burke an attendance to the performative dimension—predicated not on the hope to overcome human nature but rather on absolute acceptance of our utter helplessness, our amechania, that is, our lack of metis without appeal to revelatory aid.

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KBS 2014: Seminars

Currently, we have planned for the conference the following seminars:

The Kenneth Burke Digital Archive Initiative

Ethan Sproat, Utah Valley University

Kenneth Burke developed his entire symbol-use project throughout the 20th century when our theories of communication were out-paced only by our means of communication. However, even though KB was one of the most influential theorists of human communication in a time of so many advances in communication technology, there is an apparent dearth of audio or video footage of KB. Yet such a dearth is only “apparent” because there actually are many existing audio and visual recordings of KB lecturing, performing readings, or participating in discussions or interviews. Most KB scholars have not seen or heard much of this footage for two basic reasons: first, the existing footage is not centrally accessible or cataloged in any one place; second, such footage is often in a medium that prohibits broad distribution (as with various analog recording technologies).

Accordingly, this seminar seeks to establish a Kenneth Burke Digital Archive Initiative with the following goals:

  • Coordinate efforts among KB enthusiasts to identify the current repositories of all existing audio and video recordings of KB.
  • Assemble historical notes and details surrounding each recording.
  • Catalog all these in one resource through the KB Journal.
  • Work with individual repositories to digitally transfer all existing KB footage that is not already digitized.

The first day of this seminar will provide an overview of some notable KB footage that has undergone partial or complete digital transfer. These include three projects that have received attention at previous KB conferences and one new project that is particularly apropos to this year’s KB Conference in St. Louis. This new project involves audio recordings of KB performing a reading and participating in an extended discussion (moderated by poet Howard Nemerov) while KB was the Visiting Hurst Professor at Washington University in St. Louis during the 1970-71 school year.

The second day of this seminar will address the array of logistical challenges facing a Kenneth Burke Digital Archive Initiative and some strategies for addressing them. Also during this session, seminar participants will begin actively participating in the Kenneth Burke Digital Archive Initiative. We will meet in a computer lab, and seminar participants will begin a coordinated effort to find additional repositories of audio or video footage of KB. Working from a list of universities and schools KB visited, seminar participants will scour special collections databases and online library resources for hints of currently-not-in-print KB materials (text, audio, video, etc.) that are either not yet digitized or not yet on the Kenneth Burke Society radar—i.e. materials that might be candidates for digital archive work.

On the final day of this seminar, participants will collect their findings and make plans for further online participation in the Kenneth Burke Digital Archive Initiative.

Kenneth Burke and New Materialisms

Steven B. Katz
Pearce Professor of Professional Communication
Clemson University

It is well known in Burke circles that KB was vitally concerned with questions of “substance”—material vs. rhetorical, motion vs. motive, causality vs. free will—and the effects of scientism and determinism on our understanding of the human animal as a symbol using being. What Diana Coole and Samantha Frost in their anthology have labeled “New Materialisms” are emerging in the twenty-first century—but across the entire curricula, from computer engineering and life sciences, through social and political sciences, to posthuman philosophies and rhetorics. What all these movements may have in common might be simplified and called an ‘animated empiricism’ in which objects and artifacts, long neglected in “the situation,” are increasingly recognized as having their own, powerful agency (what Levi Bryant dubbed A Democracy of Objects).

Can Burke’s discussion and analysis of “substance”— as dramatistically rather than mechanically motivated, as casuistic rather than universal categories, as the result of rhetorical deliberation and persuasion rather than mere fact and sheer force—help us grapple with and understand new materialisms? For instance, what might Burkean rhetoric reveal about the similarities, distinctions, and relations between objects as ‘actants’, and the symbolic of the human body? Between classical literacy and what Ulmer in Avatar Emergencies calls “flash reason”? Between “speculative realism” (Harman) and pentadic screens? How might Burke deal with the philosophies and sciences of new materialisms, e.g., informatics, cybernetics, actor-network theories, object oriented ontologies, digital and virtual realities, and other metaphysical empiricisms, as well as some of the physical products of new materialisms, e.g., radical (prosthetic/technological) enhancement, genetic modification, synthetic biology, nanotechnologies, and biosocial engineering (as eagerly anticipated by George Church and Ed Regis in Regenesis)?

All of these questions have profound implications not only for philosophies and rhetorics of agency, but also for political and environmental sciences, as Vibrant Matter (Bennett) and Ecology without Nature (Morton) demonstrate; for gender, queer, and race studies; and for the rhetoric and ethics of our relations to each other, to our machines, to our avatars, and to “the Other.” In light of the new materialisms, what are our definitions of symbolic action, “community,” the “individual,” human consciousness itself?

In this seminar, we will ecstatically together explore some of the questions and issues raised above by consulting and applying selected Burke scholarship (TBA) to a sampling of readings representing some of these new materialisms (to be distributed to seminar participants prior to the conference).

The Problem of Substance in Kenneth Burke’s Corpus

Bryan Crable, Villanova University
Clarke Rountree, University of Alabama in Huntsville
Richard Thames, Duquesne University
David Cratis Williams, Florida Atlantic University

Substance has been a central term in Burke’s theory of human symbol-using at least since A Grammar of Motives, where its paradoxical nature is connected to the problem of motives. This emphasis on substance continues in A Rhetoric of Motives, where consubstantiality is the aim of identification, making separate entities substantially “one.” And, less well known, Burke promised to consider substance and identity in A Symbolic of Motives (a version of which was published recently, so that commentary on it has scarcely begun).

Marie Hochmuth Nichols called Burke’s analysis of substance and its connection to identification “his most basic contribution to the philosophy of rhetoric” (Marie Hochmuth, "Kenneth Burke and the 'New Rhetoric,'" Quarterly Journal of Speech 38.2 [1952]: 137). Weldon B. Durham, who published an essay in The Quarterly Journal of Speech in 1980 on Burke’s idea of substance, notes that “Burke appropriated a term in philosophical disrepute and spun out of it half a life’s work” (Weldon B. Durham, "Kenneth Burke's Concept of Substance," Quarterly Journal of Speech 66.4 [1980]: 354).

Although most Burkeans have a working knowledge of Burke’s paradox of substance and of consubstantiality, there is much more to be scrutinized in this important concept.

This seminar seeks to explore Burke’s conception of substance and its place in his theory of human symbol using. It will revisit some of the thinkers in Burke’s day whom he charged with banishing the word substance from philosophy, and try to better understand his assertion that “in banishing the term, far from banishing its functions one merely conceals them” (Kenneth Burke, A Grammar of Motives 21.) Generally, then, the seminar will address the following questions:

  • Which thinkers banished the term substance, particularly in Burke’s day, and why?
  • Why do the functions of terms for substance persist, even if the terms for it are not used?
  • Without terms for substance, how have theorists “worked around” the problem of substance?
  • How does Burke define substance?
  • What role does substance play in Burke’s theories?
  • Is substance a central, if unacknowledged term, in contemporary theories of symbol-using?

Readings will include excerpts from theoretical texts that use, eschew, or dismiss the term substance; Durham’s and others’ essays on Burke and substance, and Burkean texts that examine the concept.

Given the complexity of the issues surrounding this central and disputed concept, the seminar will feature four co-leaders to ensure a variety of perspectives and a depth of insights into these issues.

Identification Redux

David Blakesley, Clemson University

In naming identification an aim of rhetoric, Burke may or may not intend to valorize identification for its own sake:

identification is affirmed with earnestness precisely because there is division. Identification is compensatory to division. If [people] were not apart from one another, there would be no need for the rhetorician to proclaim their unity. If [people] were wholly and truly of one substance, absolute communication would be of [humanity’s] very essence. (RM 22).

We are divided, and so we desire consubstantiality. We are identified, and so we desire division. In acts of identification or division, we imagine ourselves to be alike or different. And thus identification in the imaginary is a rhetorical process as well as the act of decoding and encoding signs. Burke saw identification—and with it, the corresponding situation of division—as both the condition and aim of rhetoric. The desire for identification, which Burke calls consubstantiality, is premised on its absence, on the condition of our division from one another. There would be no need for the rhetorician to proclaim our unity, Burke says, if we were already identical. Consubstantiality, with its roots in the ambiguous substance (sub-stance), may be purely an expression of desire, an identity of attitude and act in a symbolic, visual, and (even) emotional realm, an assertion of or desire for identities and divisions in a limitless realm of ambiguity.

This seminar will focus on the familiar and often competing concepts of identification and division in recent scholarship, as well as their implications for rhetorical theory, critical inquiry, and Burke’s own (non)system.

  • What motives might we (or does Burke) associate with identification and division?
  • To what extent does Burke idealize or privilege identification in his understanding of rhetoric?
  • How might Burke’s conceptions of identification and division help us understand motives grounded in racial or gendered ethics?
  • Recent extensions and critiques (some of which seminar participants will read in advance) have argued that Burke valorizes identification and in so doing has minimized or ignored other motives for rhetoric. What critiques have most effectively challenged Burke’s concepts of identification or division?
  • What material bases for identification or division does Burke imagine?
  • From the identity politics of Facebook and social media to the virtual and augmented realities of Google Glass, in what ways do emergent technologies and interfaces extend or limit identifications or expose or increase division?
  • What is the visual basis of identification and division (e.g., in film, media, design, image)

Seminar participants will be asked to submit a short position statement (250-500 words) addressing one of these questions, or one they want to bring to the attention of others. A short list of reading suggestions will be distributed by mid-June or earlier.