A KB Conference Journal
Edappel8 at cs.com
Sat Jun 1 11:22:37 EST 2002
Picking up where I left off in the reproduction of my "inefficient" notes
taken at James Kastely's speech at the Burke Conference in New Orleans,
offered here for those of you who couldn't make it (you'll recall that the
address is entitled, "The Earned Increment: Reading An Inefficient Writer):
We must become not Burkeans, but rather critics.
Burke argues for criticism that is comic and dialectical. One must become a
critic of himself, also. (Maybe we should change the "also" to "especially.")
Drones laboring in the service of the technological--that describes too much
of our scholarship.
Capitalism overstresses the efficient.
A writer must move from debunking to a rounding out.
ATH is an "extended meditation." (Can't we say this about most all of
We are inescapably on a path of counter-nature, Burke suggests. (When I
asked him at SCA in Boston in 1987 what "chances" did he give the human race
down the line, Burke replied, without hesitation, "50-50.")
We can't altogether map thought onto symbols.
Bureaucratization must involve an overstressing or understressing.
Rather than overstressing or understressing, Burke promotes a complex mix of
We don't, we can't, "hurry to get to the point," when reading Burke. We must
pause and reflect.
Burke's prose rhythms are not the rhythms of efficiency. He's sort of like
Thoreau and Charles Lamb, something of a 19th century writer.
To read Burke, we have to take time. We need to reread. Burke shifts
perspectives so often. He forces us to slow down.
Burke's big goal is: "Improvement in human relations."
We can get practical stuff out of Burke (the "cookie cutters"?, the
"paradigms"?), but that's not the point of his larger project.
His is a kind of writing that changes labor practices. So much of his
writing forces us to pause, to linger.
De Man's "rhetoric of temporality" comes right out of Burke. (So does De
Man's emphsis on "blindness and insight," according to Laurence Coupe,
JOURNAL OF AMERICAN STUDIES, 35 (2001), p. 413.)
We may think we're a good reader until we start reading Burke.
At the heart of "efficiency," there is a false stressing. "Efficiency" must
be "rounded out."
Inefficient reading and writer makes for possibly better comprehension. (Try
selling that to your writing-skills coordinator at State U.!)
The drive for efficiency obviates the possibility of "lingering."
"Lingering" is one of Kastely's key words, in his approach to Burke.
Burke makes us "earn" our "increment." He makes us work for our insight.
Burke requires that we make our "critical inheritance," especially that which
we derive from him, into a "problem." (ATH, pp. 124-25.)
One of our tasks is innovation. "Inheritance" so often confines and
alienates, precluding the likelihood of radical innovation.
The Q and A that followed the address:
Someone asked Kastely how we differentiate between a writer who displays
"earned difficulty" and simply a difficult, but poor, windy, simply
unfocused, writer. I didn't cull a very clear explanation from his reply.
We've all read, at times, "difficult" stuff from which we've derived, at the
end, very little. That's not Burke, for sure. But what is the secret of
Burke's "difficult," but fascinating and endlessly provocative, interesting,
fruitful, muti-multi-faceted, and challenging, style?
I asked Kastely about his concluding sentence. I said I understood how
"inheritance" "confines," but how does it "alienate"? Aren't, after all, we
the ones who are "alienated" from the "OF-COURSE's" and "trained
incapacities" of our "efficient" and dominant capitalist culture? That's the
accusation I've seen conservatives make, employing precisely that
terminology, more than once. Kastely replied that those who uncritically
embrace our industrial and post-industrial capitalist pieties are "alienated"
in the sense that they are on a course that will ultimately "frustrate" their
In response to a question on the literary side, Kastely said that "suspense"
is closer to Burke's understanding of form than "surprise." He added that
art, even movies, should "frustrate" us in the right way, via form. But if I
frustrate you in my work of literary art, Kastely said, I must give you
assurances that there's something worthwhile ahead. Give the reader or
viewer "things or signs on the path" of plot development that point to a
In answer to another question, Kastely said that higher education today is
incoherent. It generally follows a consumer model. It features no notion of
the kinds of agents we're trying to produce, other than "producers" and
"consumers" of "goods." One can find little notion of the intrinsic value of
intellectual work. It's a combination of nostalgia and technology.
Since I was presenting a paper immediately following Kastely's speech, a
paper chock full of paradigms and practical stuff synthesized out of Burke, I
went to Kastely afterward to see whether I could get permission to give it.
Kastely graciously said "yes," there's the other side of our use of Burke:
"Application" has its value, too. Burke's "larger project" is not the be-all
and end-all of our use of his thought.
Have a nice weekend wherever you are.
More information about the KB