Richard Mitchell on agents and acts

Tom Wright j_thomas_wright at hotmail.com
Fri Sep 23 12:33:30 EST 2005


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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman" size=3>I tend to think of agents and acts as essentially Burkean constructs—not because Burke invented them, of course (Ed Appel makes clear that he didn’t), but because he set forth the dramatistic way of analyzing them.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; </SPAN>I found myself surprised, then, when reading <I style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal">The Graves of Academe</I>, by Richard Mitchell, a professor of English at Glassboro State College.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; </SPAN>“Normal English, in its typical structure,” Mitchell tells us, “a simple sentence in the active voice, implies a world where agents perform acts” (65).</FONT></P>
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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman" size=3>He’s commenting on the passive voice structures that professors of education use.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; </SPAN>In this “tortured English, the grammatical subjects are things, not persons, and abstract things at that.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; </SPAN>All things that must be done by people, but we see no people.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; </SPAN>This language suggests a world where responsible agents, the doers of deeds, have been magically occulted by the deeds themselves” (64).<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; </SPAN>I’ve made similar observations about the writing in scientific journals, but I’d never thought of the writing in education journals this way.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; </SPAN>More to the point, I was considering a Burkean view when I made 
these observations.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; </SPAN>Mitchell makes no reference to Burke in his entire book.</FONT></P>
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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman" size=3>Am I alone in seeing a remarkable similarity between Mitchell’s perspective and Burke’s?<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; </SPAN>I’m thinking not only of the use of the terms agent and act; even more telling is the idea of agents being “magically occulted by the deeds themselves,” which reminds me of a Burkean inversion.</FONT></P>
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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt"><FONT size=3><FONT face="Times New Roman">If the idea is, in fact, Burkean, what should we conclude about Mitchell’s expression of it?<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; </SPAN>That Mitchell plagiarized Burke’s work?<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; </SPAN>That Burke’s work isn’t so innovative, after all?<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; </SPAN>That Burke’s ideas have permeated our academic culture so much that other people are influenced without knowing it?<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; </SPAN>What’s your take on this?<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp; </SPAN></FONT></FONT></P></DIV></div></html>



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