This summer I am reading from my list of 100 items (50 books and 50 articles) for my Ph.D. comprehensive exams. Much of this list includes theory, and while I’ve been thorough on my readings of most everything so far, one book has reduced me to skimming and underlining random terms that seem important. It is Kenneth Burke’s Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method (1966).
Based on the title, you’d think I would love this book, especially since my own blog subtitle echoes his subtitle. And I do like it. However, much of the content is unrelated to my field of professional communication. And while a good theoretical essay about Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Goethe’s Faust, or Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood is certainly interesting, I don’t have time to engage in them properly. I am not studying drama or literature, as much as I would love to, so this book has me skimming for the important stuff that might cross over into my field. That means my focus is on Burke’s ideas on rhetoric.
So far, I’ve underlined the following gems.
Emergent political institutions
Guilt towards women as a class
Frailties attributed to Everywoman
Paradox of substance
Virility of the hero
Popular consumption of crude political oratory
The terms I know are applicable to me, and that I recognize from other readings and class discussions are these.
Rotten with perfection
Rhetoric of persuasion
So I’ll continue to do the best I can with this never-ending, 506-page book. I hope that what I gather from this skimming and “random” underlining helps me on my upcoming exams and gives me ideas for applying such theories to my field of professional communication.