Language as Symbolic Action

"Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent is must also function as a deflection of reality". - Kenneth Burke, Language as Symbolic Action, p. 45.

Language as Symbolic Action, pt. 1

"Gnaw! / I fear it all started / not from some morbid baystard in need of reassurance / . . . / rather it got here through . . . the inability to glimpse . . . [that] a match was dropped / by such a one of us who / except for a moron can buy boxes of in a supermarket / couldn't strike up a fire / no matter how ardently he tried (stop)."

T B A . . .

Language as Symbolic Action

We here confront a mere matter of terministic policy. And since the body does, beyond question, affect our thinking by providing us with analogies, to that extent the policy can serve. We'd go along with him, just for the ride, were it not that he later uses this terministic device to the ends of faulty interpretation as regards our current quandaries. On that point, more anon. (Pg. 412)

A Rhetoric of Motives

“In public relations, most expressions are as though wigwagged from a great distance, or as uttered behind masks, or as transmitted by hearsay. Hence, one must go to the first frank level of analysis, the extra verbally behavioristic.” pg 185

Irony, Context, and Danny Kaye

In seeking a key term for the pattern of thought underlying the works of Anatole France, Mr. Chevalier (in The Ironic Temper: Anatole France and His Times holds that an insistence upon France's irony as a central fact makes possible "an organic account of the contradictory elements in the man himself." By his interpretation ...


The "symbol-using animal," yes, obviously.

"Definition of Man" Language as Symbolic Action 5

What are Burke's Relationships with Language?

At the other extreme, each of us shares with all other members of our kind (the often-inhuman human species) the fatal fact that, however the situation came to be, all members of our species conceive of reality somehwat roundabout, through various media of symbolism. (Language as Symbolic Action 52, original emphasis)

Mystery of Language

The ultimate origins of language seem to me as mysterious as the origins of the universe itself. One must view it, I feel, simply as the "given." (44)

Terminologies and the Abyss

"In school, as they go from class to class, students turn from one idiom to another. The various courses in the curriculum are in effect but so many different terminologies. And however important to us is the tiny sliver of reality each of us has experienced firsthand, the whole overall 'picture' is but a construct of our symbol systems. To meditate on this fact until one sees its full implications is much like peering over the edge of things into an ultimate abyss" (48).


“We are happiest when we can plunge on and on. And any thought of turning back, of curbing rather than aggravating our cult of ‘new needs,’ seems to us suicidal, even though the situation is actually the reverse, and it is our mounting technologic clutter that threatens us.” (Kenneth Burke, On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows 1967-1984, pg. 61)


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