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On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows, 1967-1984

Kenneth Burke
William H. Rueckert
Angelo Bonadonna
Arranged and Annotated by William H. Rueckert
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 403
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pn8b4
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  • Book Info
    On Human Nature
    Book Description:

    On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flowsbrings together the late essays, autobiographical reflections, an interview, and a poem by the eminent literary theorist and cultural critic Kenneth Burke (1897-1993). Burke, author ofLanguage as Symbolic Action, A Grammar of Motives,andRhetoric of Motives,among other works, was an innovative and original thinker who worked at the intersection of sociology, psychology, literary theory, and semiotics. This book, a selection of fourteen representative pieces of his productive later years, addresses many important themes Burke tackled throughout his career such as logology (his attempt to find a universal language theory and methodology), technology, and ecology. The essays also elaborate Burke's notions about creativity and its relation to stress, language and its literary uses, the relation of mind and body, and more. Provocative, idiosyncratic, and erudite,On Human Naturemakes a significant statement about cultural linguistics and is an important rounding-out of the Burkean corpus.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92306-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    William H. Rueckert
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    William H. Rueckert
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    After 1966, Kenneth Burke certainly changed what he was doing. There were no more text-centered analyses. He tended to write to a request or a conference or seminar topic of some kind. He relentlessly explains and applies logology; and just as relentlessly “attacks” hyper-technologism for the ways in which it is polluting the globe and threatening us in other ways. Most everything was written as a talk and then revised (enlarged) for publication. He reuses his main material over and over. Looking back on it now (1998), I would have to say that some of it is quite repetitious and...

  6. PART ONE Creativity

    • CHAPTER 1 On Stress, Its Seeking, 1967
      (pp. 11-34)

      Kenneth Burke wrote this essay in 1966–67 soon after the republication of his first and only novel, Towards a Better Life (1932), in 1966 by the University of California Press. The occasion for the essay is identified by Burke in paragraph one. The many references to the novel are to this second edition, which also has a new preface in which Burke reinterprets the novel as a ritual of rebirth rather than a ritual of riddance. A unique and interesting biographical feature of the preface to the first edition (dated September 9, 1931) is its cryptographic dedication of the...

    • CHAPTER 2 On “Creativity”—A Partial Retraction, 1971
      (pp. 35-53)

      The Foreword by Donald E. Hayden explains the occasion for Kenneth Burke’s essay, which, he tells us, is a revision of an earlier talk on the same topic. “On ‘Creativity’—A Partial Retraction” is important for the way in which it further develops the antitechnology theme of his late essays, and especially for the way he formulates his ecological vision and his idea of ecotragedy. As far as I know, this is the first time Burke combined tragedy and catharsis, the central concepts in his dramatistic poetics as he developed it in the fifties, with the global ecological degradation caused...

    • CHAPTER 3 Towards Helhaven: Three Stages of a Vision, 1971
      (pp. 54-65)

      Kenneth Burke had a great talent for irony, comedy, and satire. One can see it here in the first of the Helhaven essays, as well as the second, “Why Satire,” but one can also see it in Burke’s poems, his “Flowerishes,” in “Epilogue: Prologue in Heaven” in The Rhetoric of Religion (1961), in parts of a great many of his essays, and in his letters. Anyone who ever saw or heard Burke “perform” in his prime will remember his improvisational humor and his raspy laughter at his own ironic jokes and cracks. Like any satirist, Burke had a great sense...

    • CHAPTER 4 Why Satire, With a Plan for Writing One, 1974
      (pp. 66-95)

      This is the second Helhaven essay and is Kenneth Burke’s most detailed and strident indictment of hypertechnology and the technological psychosis, both main themes of all his late essays, including the two long afterwords for the 1984 editions of Permanence and Change and Attitudes toward History. Both of these are entitled “In Retrospective Prospect” and combine the backward and forward movement so characteristic of his late essays—especially “Towards Looking Back,” “Variations on ‘Providence,’ ” and of course, the Helhaven pair. This backward and forward movement is also typical of Walt Whitman, who had very different results from what we...

    • CHAPTER 5 Realisms, Occidental Style, 1982
      (pp. 96-118)

      Kenneth Burke prepared this paper for a conference on the use of literary works as a reliable source of documentary evidence about their “contexts of situation” (the scene-act-agent ratio). The basic distinction Burke makes here is between realism, which is a literary style, and reality, which is not a style at all, but a brute fact. Realism is but one of many possible styles in Western literature. Is realism any more real than other kinds of styles—say, romanticism, neoclassicism, modernism, impressionism? No, it is not (though it may seem so), because everything in a literary work has been stylized...

  7. PART TWO Logology

    • CHAPTER 6 Archetype and Entelechy, 1972
      (pp. 121-138)

      This essay is the second of two lectures delivered by Kenneth Burke at Clark University in 1971 as the Heinz Warner lecturer. Entelechy is an old friend in Burke, going back, as it does, to the early fifties and his work on the dramatistic poetics and the original Symbolic of Motives. Burke borrowed the term from Aristotle and modified it to apply to literary texts, especially tragedy. Later, he expanded its application so that it applied to all symbolic action and became one of the prime functions of language and central concepts of logology. Language, or, perhaps, just the human...

    • CHAPTER 7 (Nonsymbolic) Motion/(Symbolic) Action, 1978
      (pp. 139-171)

      The dualism of this title provides Kenneth Burke with the main opposition that organizes many of his later essays. But the dualism is not so simple nor so stark as it might seem from the title. People act; things move. We can have body with-out mind (language); but no mind without body. All symbolic action originates in a body and must carry traces of that body in whatever form it is preserved—say, in a printed text. It is by means of human action that we transform nature or pure “motion” and the world of things. But conversely, the body...

    • CHAPTER 8 Theology and Logology, 1979
      (pp. 172-209)

      The main purpose of this long essay is to define, illustrate, apply, and defend logology —pretty much against all comers. Theology is used as a comparison and contrast to logology and is the central concern of the essay, as it was, say, in The Rhetoric of Religion (1961). This essay is probably the most complete on the subject of logology, how it works, what its basic assumptions are, and why it should be taken seriously as a way of dealing with words (symbolic action) and the human condition (which includes the realm of motion). It is a summing-up essay, which...

    • CHAPTER 9 Symbolism as a Realistic Mode: “De-Psychoanalyzing” Logologized, 1979
      (pp. 210-226)

      The main interest of this essay is in Kenneth Burke’s recapitulation of the place of entelechy in his work from Philosophy of Literary Form (1941) through Dramatism and Development (1972) in the “Addendum.” Other points of interest are his various definitions of what he means by “logological realism” and his often-repeated distinction between archetype and entelechy. The subtitle describes the logologizing process that Burke kept performing in so many of these late essays, translating the work of other thinkers (Plato, Marx, Freud, Jung, Saint Augustine) into logological terms. There is a certain amount of repetition in these late essays because...

  8. PART THREE Theory

    • CHAPTER 10 A Theory of Terminology, 1967
      (pp. 229-246)

      The topic for the symposium at which Kenneth Burke delivered this talk in 1966 at Drew University was “Metaphor, Symbol, Image, and Meaning.” His opening about the five dogs dates back to 1959 where Burke used it, in a shortened form as the conclusion to another talk, “Mind, Body, and the Unconscious” (Language as Symbolic Action, 73 ff). The most notable part of this talk is not the five dogs, though they do bear thinking on and are typically Burkean in their view of how words behave. The most notable part comes later in the essay where, using material from...

    • CHAPTER 11 Towards Looking Back, 1976
      (pp. 247-270)

      In this essay, Kenneth Burke’s bicentennial lecture at the University of Michigan, he pursues at much greater length the main theme of “On ‘Creativity’—A Partial Retraction” (1970). That theme is the astounding genius of technological invention; or, innovation in the physical sciences which has produced atom bombs, organ transplants, gene splicing, cloning, amazing machines, equally amazing medical procedures, TV, MRIs, CAT scans, computers, the World Wide Web, and more. Some of these inventions seem truly miraculous, especially when we consider what can be made with modern technology—say, a computer that can download the whole of the Encyclopedia Britannica...

    • CHAPTER 12 Variations on “Providence”, 1981
      (pp. 271-302)

      “Variations on ‘Providence’ ” continues Kenneth Burke’s intense involvement with language, technology, counter-nature, and the future. This important essay consists of sixteen entitled sections which are divided or grouped into nine alternating units devoted first to logology and counter-nature and then to nonlogological variations on Providence. For example, the first three sections (1–3) are about logology, the next three (4–6) are about other than logological views of Providence. The next section (7) returns to logology and the next (8) returns to more variations. This pattern is repeated to the end of the essay: (9) is devoted to logology,...

  9. PART FOUR K. B.

    • CHAPTER 13 Eye-Crossing—From Brooklyn to Manhattan: An Eye-Poem for the Ear, 1973
      (pp. 305-335)

      Libbie Burke died on the May 24, 1969. Before going to the poem, here is what Kenneth Burke wrote to Malcolm Cowley the day after she died.

      Poor Shorty is gone. She left in her sleep last night. At least, she escaped the year or two of hell-on-earth that was in store for her, had the disease run its “normal” course.

      A good deal of my reason for existence has gone with her. And, I fear, also a sizable portion of my reason. For her companionship worked constantly to redeem me from my nature as a born loner.

      It is...

    • CHAPTER 14 Counter-Gridlock: An Interview with Kenneth Burke, 1980–81
      (pp. 336-389)

      This interview is an edited-down version of a number of taped interviews that took place during 1980 and 1981 in Andover, New Jersey. Long as this interview is, we finally decided to include the whole piece because there seemed to be no way to cut it without seriously diminishing it. As the interviewers say, they covered a lot of ground; and as Burke points out, he had covered a lot of this ground elsewhere. The published interview included a lot of wonderful pictures of Burke, his family, his colleagues at the School of Letters, and of New York City, where...

  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 390-390)