Course Instructor Days Times Room
ENGL8900 DESMET, CHRISTY R 12:30 PM 0067

Topics Title
Kenneth Burke and Rhetoric after Modernism

Kenneth Burke, long categorized within rhetorical circles as a dominant force in the development of the field from the 1960s forward, is now being recognized more fully as an important contributor to modernist theory and culture in New York during the 1920s and 30s. This seminar will explore Burke’s relation to modernism and New York’s culture during the period, focusing on the development of his thought in relation to music, art and literature. It also seeks to make connections between Burke’s rhetorical concerns and recent developments in posthuman rhetorical theory.

We will begin with Aristotle’s Rhetoric (always my starting point and Burke’s!) and end with Jodi Shipka’s Towards a Composition Made Whole, as bookends in classical rhetorical theory and current composition theory. In between, we will read key texts by Burke from the 1920s and 30s and texts from rhetorical theory in the age of the posthuman.

The class will consider such topics as embodied rhetorics, rhetorical ecologies, multimodal communication, and the politics of humanism and the modern. Students will have ample opportunity to shape their final projects to their research areas: Burke has so much to offer to different fields of study!

My first book, Reading Shakespeare’s Characters, used Burke as one of its theoretical touchstones; currently I am beginning to co-edit Burke’s music reviews from the 1920s and 30s.


Principal Texts by Burke will be selected from the following:

Kenneth Burke, The Complete White Oxen: Collected Short Fiction of Kenneth Burke.

________. Counter-Statement (University of California Press, 1931)

________. Permanence and Change (1935; 3rd ed. University of California Press, 1984).

________. Attitudes Toward History (1937; 3rd ed. University of California Press, 1984).

________. The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action (New York: Vintage, 1941).


Other Readings will be selected from the following:

Aristotle, On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse, trans. George Kennedy, 2nd Edition (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Debra Hawhee, Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language (University of South Carolina Press, 2009).

Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Harvard University Press, 1993).

________. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford University Press, 2007).

Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Duke University Press, 2010).

Jodi Shipka, Towards a Composition Made Whole (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011).