Kenneth Burke on the unending conversation

In The Philosophy of Literary Form (three pages linked here), Kenneth Burke writes

In equating “dramatic” with “dialectic,” we automatically have also our perspective for the analysis of history, which is a “dramatic” process, involving dialectical oppositions. (p. 109)

We might consider how this also applies to the analysis of curriculum. Burke writes: 

Where does the drama get its materials? From the “unending conversation” that is going on at the point in history when we are born. Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrass- [111] ment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

It is from this “unending conversation” (the vision at the basis of Mead’s work) that the materials of your drama arise.* Nor is this verbal action all there is to it. For all these words are grounded in what Malinowski would call “contexts of situation.” And very important among these “contexts of situation” are the kind of factors considered by Bentham, Marx, and Veblen, the material interests (of private or class structure) that you symbolically defend or … [pp. 110-111; * footnote omitted]

The text and footnotes on those pages include important points on the difference between positive and dialectical terms, as illustrated by the historically contingent meaning of principles embedded in the U.S. Constitution. (These points are explored at greater length in my Silhouette paper. When I wrote that, I did not remember these passages in Burke, and even now I can’t recall attending to them before. It’s one of those situations where, as author, I have no idea whether my thinking may have been influenced or not by a reading of Burke’s footnote some years in the past.)



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