The Ambiguity of Identification and Division

“Why ‘at odds,’ you may ask, when the titular term is ‘identification’? Because, to begin with ‘identification’ is, by the same token, though roundabout, to confront the implications of division.” (Kenneth Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives, pg. 22)

Burke does a thorough job of walking the reader through his definition of “identification.” Although we are often taught to see identification as a “coming together” or a “belonging,” in actuality, that very action affirms a difference, a setting apart – a division. Burke points to the “ultimate disease of cooperation: war” (22) as an example of the irony of identification. In war, there are a number of cooperative acts that take place in order to prepare for one destructive act. So while one may build an army of soldiers who are unified and fighting for their belief in a common goal, all of their unity and identification can be interpreted as division from another army with different motives. According to Burke, if there was pure identification or pure division, there would be no strife, no war, but because the two are ambiguously tangled together and it is difficult to discern where one ends and the other begins, this creates an “invitation to rhetoric.” (25)


Shogun Marcus's picture

This also seems to be connected with terministic screens. Identification and division are essentially choosing to align your identity in some particular way or with some particular group in opposition (or against/alongside) others. Of course negation plays in heavily here - we come to understand our identities not so much by knowing what we are but by creating differences between ourselves and the other that allow us to develop an identity based upon what we are not.

This is exactly what Mari and Kristen were reading from The Rhetoric of Religion in class!

DS's picture

I'm really intrigued by the claim "if there was a pure identification or pure division, there would be no strife, no war"... Coupling this with Booth saying that "The only real alternative to war is rhetoric" the idea comes together powerfully. These things come together, for me, to highlight the important rhetorical role that identification plays.