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As critic, Kenneth Burke's preoccupations were at the beginning purely esthetic and literary; but after Counter-Statement (1931), he began to discriminate a "rhetorical" or persuasive component in literature, and thereupon became a philosopher of language and human conduct. In A Grammar of Motives (1945) and A Rhetoric of Motives (1950), Burke's conception of "symbolic acti As critic, Kenneth Burke's preoccupations were at the beginning purely esthetic and literary; but after Counter-Statement (1931), he began to discriminate a "rhetorical" or persuasive component in literature, and thereupon became a philosopher of language and human conduct. In A Grammar of Motives (1945) and A Rhetoric of Motives (1950), Burke's conception of "symbolic action" comes into its own: all human activities—linguisitc or extra-linguistic—are modes of symbolizing; man is defined as the symbol-using (and -misusing) animal. The critic's job becomes one of the interpreting human symbolizing wherever he finds it, with the aim of illuminating human motivation. Thus the reach of the literary critic now extends to the social and ethical. A Grammar of Motives is a "methodical meditation" on such complex linguistic forms as plays, stories, poems, theologies, metaphysical systems, political philosophies, constitutions. A Rhetoric of Motives expands the field to human ways of persuasion and identification. Persuasion, as Burke sees it, "ranges from the bluntest quest of advantage, as in sales promotion or propaganda, through courtship, social etiquette, education, and the sermon, to a 'pure' form that delights in the process of appeal for itself alone, without ulterior purpose. And identification ranges from the politician who, addressing an audience of farmers, says, 'I was a farm boy myself,' through the mysteries of social status, to the mystic's devout identification with the sources of all being."


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As critic, Kenneth Burke's preoccupations were at the beginning purely esthetic and literary; but after Counter-Statement (1931), he began to discriminate a "rhetorical" or persuasive component in literature, and thereupon became a philosopher of language and human conduct. In A Grammar of Motives (1945) and A Rhetoric of Motives (1950), Burke's conception of "symbolic acti As critic, Kenneth Burke's preoccupations were at the beginning purely esthetic and literary; but after Counter-Statement (1931), he began to discriminate a "rhetorical" or persuasive component in literature, and thereupon became a philosopher of language and human conduct. In A Grammar of Motives (1945) and A Rhetoric of Motives (1950), Burke's conception of "symbolic action" comes into its own: all human activities—linguisitc or extra-linguistic—are modes of symbolizing; man is defined as the symbol-using (and -misusing) animal. The critic's job becomes one of the interpreting human symbolizing wherever he finds it, with the aim of illuminating human motivation. Thus the reach of the literary critic now extends to the social and ethical. A Grammar of Motives is a "methodical meditation" on such complex linguistic forms as plays, stories, poems, theologies, metaphysical systems, political philosophies, constitutions. A Rhetoric of Motives expands the field to human ways of persuasion and identification. Persuasion, as Burke sees it, "ranges from the bluntest quest of advantage, as in sales promotion or propaganda, through courtship, social etiquette, education, and the sermon, to a 'pure' form that delights in the process of appeal for itself alone, without ulterior purpose. And identification ranges from the politician who, addressing an audience of farmers, says, 'I was a farm boy myself,' through the mysteries of social status, to the mystic's devout identification with the sources of all being."

30 review for A Rhetoric of Motives

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    If Burke hadn't written this text, I wouldn't have been accepted into a doctoral program, and I don't think I would have enjoyed doing one very much, anyway. When we think of rhetoric as something more than Aristotle's observing the available means of persuasion, and look instead at processes of identification, we can see rhetoric at work everywhere, all the time. For me, Burke also forever defeated the pejorative connotations of "rhetoric," and it turned into something not about deception and m If Burke hadn't written this text, I wouldn't have been accepted into a doctoral program, and I don't think I would have enjoyed doing one very much, anyway. When we think of rhetoric as something more than Aristotle's observing the available means of persuasion, and look instead at processes of identification, we can see rhetoric at work everywhere, all the time. For me, Burke also forever defeated the pejorative connotations of "rhetoric," and it turned into something not about deception and manipulation, but also a tool for building community and learning to live with each other. Perhaps this sounds corny, but there are about 32 pages of Rhetoric of Motives that made me think rhetorical scholarship was a worthwhile endeavor.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Riley

    sure--it's rhetoric but Burke uses really interesting examples to discuss a larger issue--amazing book--especially for the author's super long tangents

  3. 4 out of 5

    Will Miller

    Before reading him, I thought of Burke as a smart literary theorist along traditional lines, like Northrop Frye or Frank Kermode. Nuh uh. This book is more interested in closing the distinction between the rhetorical language we use everyday and the strategies of literature and philosophy. It's very difficult, tangential, personal, frustrating, and interesting. It might be better to pick it up once in a while and read a section carefully rather than attempt to plow through start to finish.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Elrick

    I only give it four stars because of the organization of it - otherwise, the thoughts are foundational and extensive. A good intro to new possible outlooks on an old topic of rhetoric.

  5. 5 out of 5

    amylea clemons

    The book that changed my life. Pages 1-50 still make my head spin.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jen Well-Steered

    This type of book is why people hated lit theory classes in college.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Seth Pierce

    Ill probably give it four stars after I go through it a second time :P

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn Marie

    I LOVE what Burke has to say about identification. I find the Pentad both intriguing and also frustrating. I appreciate what Burke is trying to accomplish but I think I will return to it again and again because I don't think it is flawless. There is just so much material here it's overwhelming, but Burke is one of those that will have to be visited many times and each time I will learn something new or think about something differently.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    If there is an “ultimate motive”—to twist one of Burke’s own terms—guiding A Rhetoric of Motives, it seems to be the prevention of war. Or, perhaps more modestly, directing readers’ attention to the ways rhetoric can both presage and create the conditions for war and, in turn, making one of rhetorical criticism’s goals the seeking out and exposing of violent rhetoric. In making his argument, Burke draws on numerous examples from literature (e.g. Milton and Henry James), popular culture (e.g. pne If there is an “ultimate motive”—to twist one of Burke’s own terms—guiding A Rhetoric of Motives, it seems to be the prevention of war. Or, perhaps more modestly, directing readers’ attention to the ways rhetoric can both presage and create the conditions for war and, in turn, making one of rhetorical criticism’s goals the seeking out and exposing of violent rhetoric. In making his argument, Burke draws on numerous examples from literature (e.g. Milton and Henry James), popular culture (e.g. pneumatic tubes in grocery stores), politics (e.g. Nazi propaganda and burgeoning Cold War tensions), and philosophy (e.g. Plato and Kierkegaard). In addition to pointing out the implicit move toward and dialectical justification of violence in many of the texts he critiques, Burke offers his famous definitions of both rhetoric—“the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols”—and humans—symbol-using animals. He also names modern humanity “homo dialecticus,” and argues that the biologically grounded drive to language and classification is more originary that other drives—psychological or sociological, for instance—in humans. The drive to language and classification does not displace other motivational factors in human life, but is their ground rather than something complementary or subsequent. Thus Burke can return to language and rhetoric as playing a key role in human existence and society, and link it to the potential tendency toward violence that he sees as so intertwined with language, rhetoric, human motivation, and the rhetorical foundation of human motivation.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Admittedly, I often have no idea what K.B. is saying. He combines some very clear, beautifully world-changing rhetorical philosophy with long examples from literature, and I can’t entirely reconcile the two. Overall, I love the idealism of what Burke proposes—a sort of world peace based on what is similar and distinction of what is separate. Most exciting to me was his description of how Marxism combines the momentarily with the mythic as workers struggle not just for their own wage, but as part Admittedly, I often have no idea what K.B. is saying. He combines some very clear, beautifully world-changing rhetorical philosophy with long examples from literature, and I can’t entirely reconcile the two. Overall, I love the idealism of what Burke proposes—a sort of world peace based on what is similar and distinction of what is separate. Most exciting to me was his description of how Marxism combines the momentarily with the mythic as workers struggle not just for their own wage, but as part of the history of class struggle.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jeremiah Henry

    If you are at all interested in composition and rhetorical theory, this is a must-read. Not only does Burke give a useful and thorough overview of rhetorical theory from the Greeks through the Enlightenment, he argues quite convincingly the antecedent purpose of rhetoric. As should be expected from a text that is predicated on philosophy to explore language theory, the text itself is rather "heady" and must be read at a walking pace.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    I'm not going to give it any stars because I didn't read it all, I only read the portion assigned for my rhetoric class... and I am looking forward to my professor making some sense of it because, well, I am LOST.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Thank goodness for professors that summarize everything we read or else I would be truly lost. I chose to write my paper on a different rhetorician and so I will probably never truly understand what he was talking about, and I am ok with that.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Liddle

    More poop jokes than other burke.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Randy Hulshizer

    Burke is very hard to read, but some of his ideas are powerful.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Carl Laamanen

    An important work, necessary for its time, but can come off as a bit unseemly today, considering most of us are fully aware of rhetoric's ubiquity.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Zack

    (Only read straight through pg 101.) I like a lot of Burke's concepts. Very thick and hard read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Burke = valuable, but always difficult to read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kalle Oskar

    A difficult and thought provoking read. At times it becomes rather obscure. Burke's thought developed out of his love of words and the mystery of motivation.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rob Baron

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

  22. 5 out of 5

    K

  23. 4 out of 5

    Julia Qin

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rickeclectic

  25. 4 out of 5

    Craig Swanson

  26. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Brown

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nishith Bhatt

  29. 4 out of 5

    CT

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ty

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