Within the recent style turn in rhetoric and composition, many scholars reference Kenneth Burke, who is likely the most often-cited rhetorical theorist of the twentieth century. However, Burke is often oversimplified or misunderstood. Burke is also a notoriously difficult writer and cannot be understood in fragments. Finally, the enormous body of scholarship explicating Burke’s work focuses on concepts such as identification and dramatism, but rarely relates these concepts to matters of style. This dissertation does three things: First, it presents a fuller account and analysis of Burke’s ideas on style by constructing a more expansive theory of style from well-known and little-known concepts, opposing the tendency to focus on a small set of passages, and compiling and synthesizing remarks on style that are widely scattered across Burke’s expansive corpus. Second, since Burke, having lived to be 93 years old, left a staggering amount of writings, much of which is still being sifted through, the dissertation also tells the story of three snapshots of style in Burke, each of which speak to recent interests in rhetoric generally: embodiment, playfulness, and sublimity. Finally, the dissertation argues for a view of Burke that is expansive and that reads together many different Burkes across Burke’s extensive corpus. In doing so, the dissertation shows that Burke is most cryptic when separated from considerations of style. The dissertation thus provides scholars of rhetorical style with a much-needed primer on Burke and style. In addition, it offers scholars an expanded way of thinking about style and rhetoric. This dissertation also includes an intellectual-historical element by looking forward to Burke’s appropriation of classical rhetoricians, particularly five mentioned in a private letter to Frederick Champion Ward, Dean at the University of Chicago: Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian, Longinus, and Augustine, who Burke uses to build a theory of style—and of rhetoric—one that brings down the unnecessary wall separating rhetoric from the aesthetic, the formation of which wall has been one culprit of style’s demise. After a review of the current literature on style, the first snapshot begins with an analysis of a critical passage in A Rhetoric of Motives, the notorious Page 58, which is often cited and referenced by rhetorical stylistics scholars. I analyze Burke’s uses of the rhetorical figures antithesis and gradatio to illustrate a concept of formal identification which looks towards an embodied notion of rhetorical figuration, what I call somatic figuration. A specific use of a rhetorical figure is the somatic, or embodied, instantiation of a “universal,” or potential, formal pattern—a choice or a way of acting. Formal patterns are potentially felt to a greater or lesser degree because their topoi are found in the human body. The next snapshot begins with Richard Lanham’s notion of the pun, or paronomasia, as a bi-stable illusion, as a lens for considering playful seriousness. The snapshot discusses the lesser-known, neglected, and even purposely avoided concept of joycing, which I argue is a method of pun analysis and discovery. I explore this concept and discuss why it is neglected. To provide background, I show how Plato and Gorgias, who are traditionally understood as being antithetical, actually have common ground in their stylistic playfulness and pleasurable uses of irony and punning. The concept of joycing shows how natural, and even easy, it can be to go from the profound Sublime to the completely Ridiculous. The final snapshot looks at the opposite end of the Ridiculous: the Sublime. It focuses on Burke’s appropriation of Longinus’s mysterious text, On the Sublime, a text which scholars of style understand as being crucial, and a text which has gained much attention among scholars in recent years. For Burke, On the Sublime is the ideal text for illustrating the interconnectedness of rhetoric and aesthetic because it references texts from all types of genres, it expands our understanding of imagination, and it acts as a connecting link between Quintilian and Augustine. A sublime style not only bridges rhetoric and aesthetic—it also shows how style crosses disciplinary boundaries. Finally, the dissertation shows how style helps people overcome what Burke, borrowing from John Dewey, called trained incapacity and the related notion of occupational psychosis. Since style provides many ways of seeing, this chapter looks at the many different Burkes and argues for a more expansive look at the variety of Burkes who appear in the Stylistic (Re)Turn. The concepts discussed in earlier chapters of the dissertation help writers and scholars to circumvent tendencies towards mechanistic forms of communication. In sum, the dissertation looks forward to a theory of style which is organic, holistic, and trans-disciplinary.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2018. Major: Rhetoric and Scientific and Technical Communication. Advisors: John Logie, Richard Graff. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 218 pages.
Style Unbounded: Somatic Figuration, Play, and Sublimity in the Stylistic (Re)Turn and in Kenneth Burke's Writings about Style.
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