Burke_Definition-1 - LANGUAGE AS SYMBOLIC ACTION Essays on...

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Unformatted text preview: . LANGUAGE AS - SYMBOLIC ACTION Essays on sze, Literature, and Method by KENNETH BURKE x LIE; LONDON UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS/BERKELEY. L05 ANPF UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS BERKELEY AND 1.05 ANGELES. CALIFORNIA UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS, LTD. LONDON, ENGLAND © 1966 by The Regents of the University of California ISBN: (3-520-00192-3 Library or Congicss Catalog Card Number: 66-27655 Dcsigned by Hans Wehrll Printed in the United States of America Chapter One Definition of Man I First. a few words on definition in general. Let‘s admit it: I See in a definition the critic‘s equivalent of a lyric, or of an aria in opera. Also, we might note that, when used in an essay. as with Aristotle‘s defini- tion of tragedy'in his Poetics, a definition so sums things up that all the properties attributed to the thing defined can be as though "derived" from the definition. In actual development, the definition may be the last thing '6 a writer hits 11 . Or it may be formulammrmfimr 1' Filmy—WM prior tn the observations that it summarizes. Thus, insofar as all the attributes of the rug e ned fit the definition, the definition should be viewed as "prior" in this purer nontemporal sense of priority. Definitions are also the critmn‘ ' eguivalent of the lyric (though a poet might not think so!) in that the writer usually "hits on them.” They are “breakthroughs.” and thus are somewhat hard to come by. We 5 t ' u—hut they don’t always seem to “elicit: A definition should have just enough clauses, and no more. However, each clause should be like a chapter head, under which appropriate observa- , tions might be assembled, as though derived from it. I am offering my Definition of Man in the hope of either persuading the reader that it fills the bill, or of prompting him to decide what should be added, or subtracted, or in some way modified. H “H Man is the symboldtring animal. Granted, it doesn‘t come as much of rt surprise. But our definition i-: tw- ing offered not for any possible paradoxical value. '1 he aim is to get as CS‘HJt'In tinl fclauscs as ossible, and to meditate otWflicm. I remember one day at college when, on entering my phi osoph}; Class. I found all blinds up and the windows Open from the top, while a bird kept flying nervously about the ceiling. The windows were high. they extended almost to the ceiling; yet the bird kept trying to escape by batting against 4 FIVE BUMMAIHZINO assays Definition of Man 5 . I, . ‘ K: the Ceiling rather than dipping down and flying out one of the open windows. I at demagogic spellbinders. They cannot be filled with fantastic hatreds for While It kept circling thus helpless! our heads, the instructor ex— i" alien populations they know about mainly by mere hearsay. or with all plained that this was an example 0% This particular bird's in- . sorts of unsettling new expectations, most of which could not possibly turn “incl was to escape by he so: ;' ence it ignored the easy exit out as promised. through “"3 “dfldom- ‘3‘ l The "symbol-using animal," yes, obviously. But can we brin our- ‘ eren ngs would be if the bird could speak and. we selves to realize just what that formula implies, just how overwhelmingly could speak his language. What a simple statement would have served to ‘ty” has been built up for us through noth- solve his problem. "Fly down just a foot or so. and out one of those ing but our symbol systems? Take away our books, and what little do we windows." know abouthistqry, biography, even something so “down to earth" as the \Esnfii ran norm , relative position of son and continentsTWhat .la_ot.tr "reality" for today implications, with regard to a later clause in our definition. I witnessed the (beyond the paper-thin line of our‘own particular livSs) but all‘thia clutter behavior of am that was unquestionably a genius within the terms of its "tit' symbols about_the past eotfitiid'éii monsoon thingswe lit-totali "mainly through maps, magazines, nevvspapers. and theme about the present? In except one particularly stubborn or backward fellow who still remained for ieliool. as: they go numbing. to class, students turn from one idiom to an- other. The various courses in the curriculum are in etfeet but so many diff Ierent terminologies. And however important to us is the tiny sliver of cerned seem to consider his rightful lot. Then came the moment of genius. 7 reality each of us has experienced firsthand. the whole overall “picture” is but a construct of our symbol systems. To meditate on this fact until one , sees its full implications is much like peering over the edge of things into an ultimate abyss. And doubtless that's one reason why. though man is 'ypically the iymbol-usiug animal, hgelings to a kind a! naive verbal realism that refuses. to realizeJheIulLesteut oLthernle played‘by symbolicity in' , and with a slight jerk caused the young~ bis notions of realit net, with his outstretched neck. to lose balance and turn f the nest. In responding to words, with their overt and covert modes of perSua~ Surely this was an "act" 0 euros. This wren had discovered how to sion ("progress" is a typical one t ' ' ' use the principle of leverage as a way or getting a young bird off the nest. Had that exceptionally brilliant covery in such terms as come easy to symbol systems. we can imagine him giving a dissertation on “The Use of the Principle of Leverage as an Imj of simply giving it to the noisy youngster. the parent bird- held it at a dis- tancc. The fledgling in the nest kept stretching its neck out farther and eulahlc saving in bird—hours as compared with the traditional turbulent and .the symbol systems of dance, music, painting, and the like). inefficient method still in general practice. A road map that helps us easily find our way from one side of the continent to the other owes its great utility to its exceptional existential pov— ) The ability to descrth this method in words would have readily erty. it tells us absurdly little about the trip that is to be experienced in rt mud-.- it possible for all other birds to take over this same “act” of genius, I again. or the ability to conceptualize implies a kind of alteration without about things in terms Of What th which this innovation could probably not advance beyond the condition of beset by a paradox; Such ion a men? decidcnt to the condition of an invention. 6 FIVE SUMMARIZING nssns sheer emptiness, as Compared with the substance of the things they name. Nor is such abstractness confined to the language of scientific prose. Despite the concrete richness of the imagery in Keats's poems, his letters repeatedly refer to his art as "abstract." And the same kind of considerations would apply to the symbol systems of all other arts. Even so bodily a form of ex- pre3sion as the dance is abstract in this sense. (Indeed. in this regard it is so abstract that, when asking students to sum up the gist of a plot, I usually got the best results fr0m dance majors. with music students a close second. Students specializing in literature or the social sciences tended to get bogged down in details. They were less apt at "abstracting.") When a bit of talking takes place. just what is doing the talking? Just where are the words coming from? Some of the motivation must derive from our animality. and some from our symbolicity. We hear of “brainwashing.” of schemes whereby an "ideology" is imposed upon people. But should We stop at that? Should we not also see the situation the other way around? For was not the "brainwasher" also similarly motivated? Do we simply use words, or do they not also use us? An "ideology" is like a god coming down to earth. where it will inhabit a place pervaded by its presence. An "ideology" is like a spirit taking up its abode in a bodyf it makes that body .tnsaus'sestiiréfléin wan; andnatsamssssrwwlflexshsrnd arm in different waysh—é‘d 5 diilerent ideologyhapppncdqunhabit it.-- ' ' I am saying in enemy what? Paul said in another when he told his listeners that ‘fEaith’comes from‘heag'lngg'f He had a doctrine which. if his hearers were persuaded to accept it. would direct a body somewhat differ- ent1y from the way it would have moved and been moved in its daily rounds under the earlier pagan dispensation. Consider the kind of German boys and girls. for instance. who became burghers in the old days. who during the period of inflation and U.S.-financed reparation payments after World War I wanted but to be Wandering Birds. and who with the rise of the Third Reich wore got to functioning as Hitlerite fiends. With regard to this first clause in our definition (man as the "symbob using" animal) it has often been suggested that “symbohmaking” would be a better term. I can go along with that crncndalion. But I'd want to add one further step. Then. for the whole formula we'd have‘ the “symbol-using. symlml-making. and symbol-misusing animal." In rt-ft-rring tn the misuse of sunbnls. l have in mind not only such tlt‘nmgogic tricks as | how :ilrcntly iltctllinnud. 1 Man think of “psychogenic ilincsws.” riolcnt dislocations of bodin motion due to the improperly criticized action of symbolicity. A certain kind of food may be perfectly wholesome. an far as its sheer material nature is concerned. And people in some areas may particularly prize it. But our habits may be such that it seems to us loathsomc; and under those conditions. the vary thought of eating it may be nauseating to us. (The most drastic instance is. of course, Definition of Man 7 provided by the idea] diets of cannibals.) When the body rebels at such thoughts, we have a clear instance of the ways whereby the realm of sym- bolicity may afiect the sheerly biologic motions of animality. Instances of .“hexing” are of the same sort (as when a tribesmau, on entering his tent. finds there the sign that for some reason those in authority have decreed his death by magic, and he promptly begins to waste away and die under the burden of this sheer thought). A merely funny example concerns an anecdote told by the anthropolo- gist, Franz Boas. He had gone to a least being given by Esquimaux. As a good anthropologist. he would establish rapport by eating what they ate. But there was a pot full of what he took to be btubber. He dutifully took some, and felt sick. He went outside the igloo to recover. There he met an Esquimau Woman, who was scandalized when she heard that they were serving blubber. For they hadn't told her! She rushed in—but came out soon after in great disgust. It wasn't blubber at all, it was simply dumplings. Had the good savant only known, he could have taken dumplings in his stride. But it was a battle indeed for him to hold them down when he thought of them as blubberl So. in defining man as the symbol-using animal. we thereby set the conditions for asking: Which motives derive from man‘s animality, which from his symbolicity. and which from. the combination of the two? Physical— ity is, of course, subsumed in animality. And though the principles of sym- bolism are not reducible to shccrly physical terms (quite as the rules of football are not so reducible despite the physicality ot the players' hulks and motions as such), the meanings cannot be conceived by empirical organisms except by the aid of a sheerly physical dimension. One further point. and we shall have finished with our first clause. In his analysis of dream symbolism. Freud laid great stress upon the two processes of “condensation” and "displacement." His observations are well taken. But, since we re here using the term “symbolism” in a much wider sense, we might remind ourSelves that the processes of "condensation" and "displacement" are not confined merely to the symbolism of dreams and neuroses. but are also an aspect of normal symbol systems. A fundamental resource "natural" to symbolism is substitution, For instance. Wt: can purit- phrase a statement; it‘ you don't get it one way. we can try another way, We translate English into French. Fahrenheit into Centigrade. or use tin- Greek letter pi to designate the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. otherwise stated as 3.14159. . . . In this sense. substitution is :l quite rational rcsourc: of symbolism. Yet it is but a more general aspect of what Freud meant by "displacement" (which is a conqucd kind of substi- tution). Or. as Home Tooke pointed out a century and a half ago, a typical resource of language is abbreviation. And obviously, abbreviation is also a 8 PIVI svmmnatzmo essavs kind of substitution, hence a kind of "displaCement," while it is also neces- sarily a kind of "condensation." And language is an abbreviation radically. _ Ill refer to Mr. J ones by name. I have cut countless corners. as regards the particularities of that particular person. Or if I say, "Let‘s make a fire,” think of what all I have left out, as regards the specific doing. Or if I giye a book a title, I thereby refer to. while leaving unsaid, all that is subsumed under that title. Thus, condensation also can be viewad as a species of sub— stitution. And a quite "rational" kind of “condensation” has taken place if. instead of referring to “tables.” "chairs." and "rugs." I refer to "furniture," or if we put “parents” for "mother and father," and "siblings" for “brothers or siste rs." To say as much is to realize how many muddles such as Freud is concerned with may also be implicit in the symbols of “condensation” in his parficu' 1' sense of the term. For my remarks are not intended as a "refutation "of Freud's terminology. By all means, my haggling about "com densation“ and "displacement" as aspects of all symbolizing i: not meant to question his line of investigation. All lam sa‘ing is that there still are some dividing lines to be drawn between the two realms (of symbolism in his sense and symbolism in general). In any case, Freud (like Frazer) gives us ample grounds for trying never to forget that. once emotional involvement is added to symbolism’s penance, expiatiOn, compensation, paying of fines in lieu of bodily punish- ment. and cult of the scapegoat. ‘ Obviously, to illustrate this point. there is an embarrassment of riches everywhere we choose to look, in the history of mankind. But, almost by accident. let us pick one, from a book, Realm of the Incas, by Victor W. Von Hagen. I refer to the picture of a ‘ "and so left their tiredness behind." We are further told that "The Persians, the Chinese, and the Greeks adoptrtl more or less the same Custom." Substitution sets the condition for "transcendence." since there is a technical sense in which the name for a thing can be said to “transcend” the thing named (by making for a kind of “ascent” from the realm of motion and matter to the realm of essence and spirit). The subterfugcs of Definition of Man euphemism can carry this process still further, culminating in the resources of idealization that Plato perfected through his dialectic oi the Upward Way and Downward Way. The designation of man as the symbol-using animal parallels the tra- ditional formulas, “rational animal” and Homo rapiens—but with one notable diflerence. These earlier versions are honorifie, whereas the idea of symbohcrty implies no such temptation to selfwllatlery, and to this extent is more admonitory. Such definitions as "two~looted land-animal" (referred to in Aristotle's Topics) or “featherless biped" (referred to in Spinoza's Ethics) would be inadequate because they would confine the horizon to the realm of motion. So much for our first clause. _ E - III i'The second clause is: [355% am not wholly happy with the word, "inventor." For we con! not properly say that man "invented" the negative unless we can also say that man is_ thei‘iuvcntor'r’ ot_language itself. So mas sheerl e " ' 7 It In L_is;.,concErn'ed it mi ht be more securate to say {Kigalifliii‘e'at—td the negative.""inve_nted" man In 'anycas‘eTWEii'rEhé‘i' concernedfwlth the amthere are no negatives in nature, andjth'at this ingenious addition lo ihe universe is solely a product thankless task of celebrating that peculiarly human marvel, the negative. I have discussed elsewhere what an eye-opener the chapter, "The Idea of Nothing," was to me. in Bergson's Creative Evolution. It jolted me into realizing that there are no negatives in nature, where everything simply is One of the negativa’s prime uses role with regard to unfulfilled expectat‘ 10 FIVE SUMMARIZING ESSAYS situation, and a different situation occurs, I can say that the expected situa- tion did not occur. But so far as the actual state of afiairs is concerned, some situation positively prevails, and that's that. If you are here but some- one is expecting to meet you elsewhere, he will not meet you elsewhere because you pOSilchly are here. I can ask, "Does the thermometer read 54?" And if it registers anything in the world but 54, your proper answer can be “It is not 54." Yet there‘s no such thing as it's simply not being 54; it is 53, or 55, or whatever. . However, I would make one change of emphasis with regard to Berg- son's fertile chapter. His stress is a bit too “Scientistic” tor specifically "Dramatistic" purposes. Thus, in keeping with the stress upon matters of knowledge, he stresses the propositional negative, “It is not." Dramatist~ ically, the stress should be upon the hortatory negative, "Thou shalt not." The negative begins not as a resource of definition or information, but as a. 1 command, as “Don’t.” Its more "Scientistic" potentialities develop later. And whereas Bergson is right in observing that we can’t have an “idea of E nothing" (that We must imagine a black spot, or something being an- r nihilated, or an abyss, or some such), I submit that we can have an “idea of No." an "idea of don't." The Existentialists may amuse themselves and bewilder us with paradoxes about le Néam‘, by the sheer linguistic trick of treating no—thing as an abstruse kind of something. It's good showmanship. But there's no paradox about the idea of "don‘t," and a child can learn its meaning early. No, I must reviSe that statement somewhat. In one sense, there is a j paradox about “don’t.” For the negative is butra principle, an idea. not a name for a thing.'And thus, whereas an injunction such as “thou shalt not kill“ is understandable enough as a negative idea, it also has about its edges the positive image of killing. But the main point is: Though a child may not always obey the “thou shalt not,” and though there may inevitably be, in the offing. an image positiveiy inviting disobedience, the child "gets the idea.” in this sense, though we can't have an “idea of nothing." We can have an "idea of no." When first working on the negative, I thought of looking through the documents on the training of Helen Keller and Laura Bridge- man, whose physical privations made it so difficult to teach them language. And in both cases the records showed that the hortatory negative was taught first, and it was later applied for use as propositional negative, with out explicit recognition of the change in application. There is a superbly relevant passage in Emerson's early long essay, Nature, in the chapter “Discipline,” a paragraph ending thus: All things “shall hint or thunder to man the laws of right and wrong, and echo the ten commandments." In our scheme, this could be presented thus: “Reverse the statement, start with the principle of negation as in the Mosaic Deca- Definilion of Man I i logue, and everything encountered along your way will be negatively in- fused." . In other words, if our character is built of our responses { positive or negative) to the lhou-shalt-not‘s of morality, and if we necessarily approach life from the srandpoint of our personalities, will not all experience reflect the genius of this negativity? Laws are esScntially negative; "mine" equals "not thine"; insofar as property is not protected by the thou-shaltlnot‘s of either moral or civil in“; it is not protected at all. The negative principle in morals is often hidden behind a realm of quasi-positives. One can appreciate this situation most readily by thinking of monastic discipline. The day may be filled with a constant succession of positive acts. Yet they are ultimately guided or regulated by prescriptive principles, involving ncquicsence to vows consciously and conscientiously taken, while such vows come to fulfillment formally in such admonitions as are embodied in the Decaloguc. Next, bearing in mind such clear evidence of the moralistic negativity that underlies the “quasi»positivos" of the mo— nastic rituals and routines, look at sheerly secular ambitions, with their countless ways of "justifying" oneselfmand all such efforts too will be seen for what they are, not simply positives, but “quasi—positives," countless improvised ways of responding to the negativity so basic to man as moral agent. Thus, all definitions stressing man as moral agent would tie in with this clause (ii I may quote a relevant passage from a recent book of mine, The Rhetoric of Religion) : Action inVolves character, which involves choice—and the form . of choice attains its perfection in the ' ‘ tion between Yes and ’ No (shall and shall-not, will _ ‘ 7 _t [Waconcept of sheer mgtjgir is non-ethi I out n i lies the ethical, e human ' peEEfiaiiiy. tieTce ihe obvi ufiiomaoanamm ’ the ethical and negativity, as indicated in the Decalogue.‘ Is more needed on this point? We might say a few words about lilL‘ role of antithesis in what are often called "polar" terms, not just chuNo, but such similarly constructed pairs as: true-false. order-disorder, cosmos~ chaos, success—failure, peace-war, pleasure—pain, clean—unclean. life-death, love-hate. These are to be distinguished from sheerly positive terms. The word "table," for instance, involves no thought of counter-table, anti—table, non-table. or un-table (except perhaps in the inventions of our quite posi- tively negative—minded poet, E. E. Cummings). We need not now decide whetherI in such paired oppOsites, the posi- 1h suggests the thought that our second clause might be rephrased: "Moralized by the negative.“ 12 FIVE SUMMARIZINO esssvs hurrying on, I might avow that I personally would treat the negative as in principle prior. for this reason: (I) Yes and No imply each other; (2) in their role as opposites. they limit each other; (3) but limitation itself is the "negation of part of a divisible quantum." (I am quoting from the article on Fichte in the Encyclapaedia Britannica, eleventh edition.) there is an implied, sense of negativity in the ability tonuse words at all. For_t_o use them properly, we must know that they are not the things may stand ioimitrsihéé' language ls extended by metaphor which grad— know that metaphor is not literal, Further, we cannot use language maturely until we are spontaneously at home in irony. (That is, if the Weather is bad, and someone says, "What a beautiful day!" we spontaneously know that he docs not mean what the Words say on their face. Children, before reaching “the age of reason," usually find this twist quite disturbing, and are liker to object that it is not a good day. Dramatic irony, of course, carries such a principie of negativity to its most complicated perfection.) . Our tendency to write Works on such topics as "The Spirit of Chris- tianity." or “The Soul of Islam." or “The Meaning of Judaism," or "Buddha and Eternity." or "Hinduism and MetempsychOsis,” leads us to overlook 3 tion to paganism. the formation of Protestant offshoots in opposition to Catholicism, and the current reinvigoration of churchgoing. if not exactly of religion, in opposrtlon to commonism. So goes the dialectic! Only one more consideration, and we are through with thoughts on this clause in our definition: Definition of Man I] duced a Vast new era of negativity. For they are deadly indeed, unless We malteflhjgte'tq develop thecontrols (the negatives, the thou—shalt-not's) that b-EWmflfiflflmhehptfiomswing pet of hand. ' " ""'Somewhat ironically, even as the possibilities of ultimate man—made suicide\fii:ser~us;‘we 'also"t‘ace:‘an*oppo'site kind of positive technologic threat'tti'the resourcesof our moral negativity. I refer to the current “popu- lation earplosion." In earlier days',"the problem was solved automatically by plagues, fatnines, high rate of infant mortality, and such. But now the posi- tive resources of technology have undone much of mote natural “adjust— cIause until we have reminded ourselves: There is a kind of aesthetic nega- . . . . w. --.-~--‘---~- ~~ gmty..whereby-any_morahsnc thou-shalt-not proxides material for our enter- tainrnent, as we pay to géiiéifiifiigtaiiy'iccoumi‘st "delimit?" win—6,5 all sorts of ingenious ways, are represented assistants; mese‘vijry Don'ts. ‘ _ 477%,”... LAfl __..s._. -..._.. "ne‘— 1‘ IV grain makinth conceiisfle'fact that even the most primitive of tribes 'are expectations, shaped by custom, comes to seem "natural." [I recall once when there Was a breakdown of the lighting equipment in New York City. As the newspapers the next day told of the event, one got almost a sense of mystical terror from the description of the darkened streets. Yet but fifty miles away, that same evening, we had been walking on an unlit road by our house in the country, in a darkness wholly “natural.” In the “second nature" of the city, something so natural as dark roadways at night was weirdly “unnatural.” This clause is designed to take care of those who would define man as the “tool-using animal" (homo faber, homo economicus, and such). In stance, without the vast and often ungainly nomenclature: of the various technological specialties, without instructions, education, specifications, fil- ing systems, accountancy (including mathematics and money or some l4 ment of tools requires a kind of attc means of conceptualization. T F he connection. b IVI". SUMMARIZI'NO ESSAYS ntion not possible without symbolic etween tools and language is also observable in. what we might call the “second level" aspect of both. I refer to the fact that, whereas one might I certain rudiments of symbolism and an ape learns to use a stick as a mea menter has purpOScly put beyond arm's length) dimension is missing. Animals of human symbolism. And it would pres gators really have "cracked" such a c bees—but we should hardly ex sheernmgtion is not thus “refieiriye,” but rather is hinlr of other animals as using rudimentary tools (for instance, when ns of raking in a banana that the experi- , in both cases the "reflexive" do not use words about words (as with the definitions or a dictionaryl—and though an ape may even learn to put two sticks together as a way of extending his reach in case the sticks are somade that one can be fitted into the other, he would not take a knife and de- liberately hollow out the end of one stick to make possible the insertion of the other stick. This is what we mean by the reflexive or second~ieve1 aspect ode in certain dancelike motions of pcct ever to find that student bees are taught the language by teacher bees, or that there are apiaries where bees formulate the grammar and syntax of such signaling. “ EiEcuiLWhIerE'ifEcai-fis onra‘certain stretch of v". behave in accordance with this "information." However; iii sayinglhat‘thiihii‘rhaii"fiiw woven with the capacity for making tools (and that make tools). we still haven‘t answered one involve each other, if the same refiexrve trait is characteristic of both, why start with symbol-using rather than wit of this sort: Formally, is not the choice implicit in the ll" we defined man first of all ing into account the "priority" much as definition is a symboli its formal grounding in the pi nformatiec'f 111.012.9956 of H" __ thath an electric track, it automatically‘itirns it‘s of symboljcity are inter~ particularly for making tools h toolmaking? I’d propose an answer very act of definition itself? as the tool~using animal (or, old style. as homo fab” rather titan as homo snpiem), our of its very own c act, it must be ‘t'rrriple of dcfini definition would not be-tak- nature as a defirtition.,lnas- gin by explicitly recognizing tion as an acid In choosing any definition or all, one implicitly represents man as the kind of animal that is capable of definition (that is to say, Thus, even if one views the po make the implications explicit "prior" member of the pair. capable of symbolic action). wers of speech and mechanical invention as mutually involving each other, in a technical by treating the or formal sense one should gifts of symbolicin as the Definition of Man l5 Also, we should note that one especially good result follows from this choice. Those who begin with the stress upon tools proceed to define language itself as a species of tool. But though instmmcntality is an im* portant aspect of language, we Could not properly treat it as the essence of language. To define language simply as a species of tool would be like defining metals merely as species of tools. Or like defining sticks and stones simply as primitive weapons. Edward Sapir‘s view of language as “a col~ lective means of expression" points in a more appropriate direction. The instrumental value of language certainly accounts for much of its develop- sible for the survival of language itself (by helping the languageusing animal to survive), quite as the instrumental value of language in develop ing atomic pOWer now threatens the survival of the language-using animal; but to say as much is not by any means to say that language is in its essence a tool. Language is a species of action, symbolic action——and its nature is such that it can be used as a tool. In any case. the toolmaking propensities envisioned in our third cla‘use result in the complex network of material operations and properties, public or private, that arise through men’s ways of livelihood, with the difierent classes of society that arise through the division of labor and the varying relationships to the’ property structure. And that brings us to our fourth clause. V Fourth clause: Gander! by the sgirir of hierarchy. But if that sounds too weighted, we Cou.i_tri_s_ettlre_for:L f‘lvloved bya _serise_of order," Under this clauseyareoursé,‘ would fall the incentives o orga ation and status. in my Rhetoric of Motives. I tried to trace the relation between social hierarchy and mystery, or guilt. And I carried such speculations further in my Rhetoric of Religion. Here we encounter secular analogues of "original sin." social structure becomes dilierentiated, with priviiegcs to some that are denied to others. there are the conditions for a kind of “built in” pride. King and peasant are "mysteries" to each other. Those "Up" are guilty of not being “Down,” those "Down" are certainly guilty of not being “Up.” Here man's skill wtth symbols combines with his negativity and with the tendencies towards different modes of [ivelihood implicit in the inven- tions that make for division of labor, the result being definitions and differ- cntiations and allocations of property protected by the negativities of the law. I particularly like E. M. Forster’s novel, A Parmge :0 indie, for its ingenious ways of showing how social mystery can become interwoven with :6 FIVE sUMMiuttzmo ESSAYS ideas of cosmic mystery. The grotesque fictions of Franz Kafka are mar- velous in this regard. The use of the word “Lord,” to designate sometimes the Deity and sometimes an aristocrat, in itself indicates the shift between the two kinds of "worship." In Book of the Courtier Castiglione brings out - the relationship nicely when he writes of kneeling on one knee to the sov- ereign, on both knees to God. Or, in ancient Rome, the application of the term pond/ex maximur to the Emperor specifically recognized his “bridg- ing" relationship as both a god and the head of the social hierarchy. Milton's use of terms such as Cherubim, Seraphim, Thrones, Dominations, Powers, reflects the conceiving of supernatural relations after the analogy of a social ladder. The religious vision of the city on a hill is similarly infused—making in all a ziggurat—liite structure without skyscrapers. (Recall a related image, El Green's painting of Toledo.) And, of course, the principles of such hierarchal order are worked out with imaginative and intellectual fullness in Dante‘s Divine Comedy. The medieval pageant probably represents the per- fection of this design. All the various "mysteries" were represented, each distinct from all the others, yet all parts of the same overarching order. VI By now we should also have taken care of such definitions as man the “ litical animal” or the “culture-bearing animal." And for a while, I felt that these clauses suificient] y covered the ground, However, for reasons yet to be explained, I decided that a final codicil was still needed, thus making in all: / Man is 7/1h2 symbol—using {symbol-making, symbol-misusing) animal in unit» of the negative (or maraiized' by the negative) separated [rum his natural condition by instruments 0/ his awu mak- In gaitfid by the spirit a] hierarchy (or moved by the sense of order) and rotten with perfect on. / i must hurry to explain and justify this wry codicil. The principle of perfection is central to the nature of language as mo~ live. The mere desire to name something by its “proper” name, or to speak a language in its distinctive ways is intrinsically "perfectionist." What is more “perfectionist” in essence than the impulse. when one is in dire need of some- thing. to so state this need that one in effect "defines" the situation? And even a poet who Works out cunning ways of distorting language does so with per- fectionist principles in mind, though his ideas of improvement involve re- condite stylistic twists that may not disclose their true nature as judged by less perverse tests. Thoughts on this subject induce us to attempt adapting, for sheerly Definition of Man 17 logoiogicai purposes, the Aristotelian concept of the "enteiech L'flthgrnotiom that. steaming at,th perfection naturalto its Him-melogically, is markedby affpossessionof tclos within"). The stone would be all that is needed to make it a stone; the'iiEFwould be all that is needed to make it a and "motion"). we are confining our‘use‘ot: the principle to the realm of sym- bolic action. And takes in with this View, we wouid staie‘inerelyt‘Thei-e is' a principle of pertegtioflmpiieit iE'ihd'fiiiitEEEffiymhol systems; and in keeping with his nature as syifiiflfisingganimah man is movedvby this Fri—11:55:. ffi. .. H. . .... .....m.-....,._._. - " At this point we must pause to answer an objection. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle (near the end of Chapter V) Freud explicitly calls upon us "to abandon our belief that in than there dwells an impuise towards per- tory? For what Could more clearly represent an "impulse to perfection" than a "striving" after "complete satisfaction"? The alternative that Freud proposes to the striving after perfection is what he calls a “repetition compulsion." And near the end of Chapter Ill he has described it thus: One knows people with whom every human relationship ends in. the same way: benefactors whose protége‘s, hotvever diflercnt they may otherwise have been, invariably after a time desert them in ill-will, so that they are apparently condemned to drain to the dregs all the bitterness of ingratitode; men with whom every friendship ends in the friends treachery; others who indefinitely often in their lives invest some other person with authority either in their own eyes or generally, and themselves overthrow such authority after a given time, only to replace it by a new one; lovers whose tender relation- passively. without exerting any influence of his own, and yet always meets with the same fate over and over again. 1 n h 18 Five suMManttho essavs Freud next mentions in Tasso‘s Geruratemme Liberate the story of the hero Tancrcd who, having unwittingly slain his beloved Clorinda, later in an enchanted wood hews down a tall tree with his sword, and when blood streams from the gash in the tree, he hears the voice of Clorinda whose Soul was imprisoned in the tree, and who reproaches him for having again “wrought” the same "baleful deed.” Freud sees in all such instances the Workings of what he calls the neu- rrotic attempt to so shape one’s later life that some earlier Unresolved proh~ lem is lived ovor and over again. freud also calls it a "destiny compulsion." to bring out the thought that the sufferer unconsciously strives to thrm his destinyiii'accordance with this earlier pattern. I My poiiit‘isi Why should such a "destiny compulsion" or "repetition compulsion: be viewed as antithetical to the "principlé‘df perfection"? Is not the sufferer exerting almost Superhuman efforts-lthme give his life E‘cet‘tain form, so shaping his relations to people in later years that they will conform perfectly to an emotional or psychological pattc'i'ii already'es- ,t'ablished‘ lh_someéufief_iormative situation? What more thorough illustra- tions Basia one want. of a dive to main: one: life “perfect,” despite the fact that such eflorts at perfection might cause the unconscious strive: great luflerirtg? ' To get the point, we need simply widen the concept oi perfection to the point where we can also use the term ironically, as when we speak of a “‘perfect tool" or a "perfect villain." And, of conrse, I had precisely such possibilities in mind when in my codicil I refer to man as being "rotten" with perfection,” “’The—rironic aspect of the principle is itself revealed most perfectly in our tendency to conceiVe of a "perfect" enemy. (See on “ 'Perlection’ as a Motive," in Permanence and Change. Hermes edition, pp. 292-294.) The Nazi version of the Jew, as developed in Hitler's Mein Kampf, is the most thoroughgoing instance of such ironic "perfection" in recent times, though strongly similar trends keep manifesting themselves in current Controversies between "East" and "West." I suppose the most "perfect" definition of man along these lines is the formula derived front Plautus: homo immini lupus. or one to suit the sort of imaginary herding animal that would fit Hobbes‘s notion of the helium omnimn comm crimes. f, The principle of perfection in this dangerous sense derives sustenance 1 from other primary aspects of synibolicity. Thus, the principle of drama is implicit in the id vi tima e is im licit in the nature or drama. The negative helps radically to define the elements to be . victimized. And inasmuch as substitution is a prime resource of symbol sys- 0 terns, the conditions are set for catharsis by scapegoat (including the “nat- ural” invitation to "project" upon the enemy any troublesome traits of our hown that we would negate). And the unresolved problems of "pride" that Definition of Man t9 are intrinsic to privilege also bring the motive of hierarchy to bear here; for manykinds ,ofguilt, IcScntmentht‘lldgflcal; lGBdLDI-‘Iusten about the hierarchal psygltosis. with itEtTtiiréspofidi_ng searnch f‘or_._'a_~s'acrificial principle suchas can become embodied in apolitical scapegoatgu Similar ominous invitatioits"itlong these lines derive from the termi- nistic fact that, as Aristotle observes in his Rhetoric, antithesis is an excep- tionally effective rhetorical device. There is its sheerly formaf lure, in giving dramatic saliency and at least apparent clarity to any issue. One may find himsslf hard put to define a policy purely in its own terms, but one can and vocate it persuasively by an urgent assurance that it is decidedly against such—and-such other pelicy with which people may be disgruntled. For this reason also, the use of antithesis helps deflect embarrassing criticism (as when rulers silence domestic controversy by turning public attention to ani- mosity against some foreign country's policies). And in this Way, of course, antithesis helps reinforce unification by scapegoat. ' The principle of perfection (the “entelechial” principle) gures in other notable ways as regards the genius of symbolism. A given terminology contains various impir'cariom, and there is a corresponding "perfectionist" tendency for men to attempt carrying out those implications. Thus, each of our scientific nomenciatures suggests its own special range of possible devel- opments, with specialists vowed to carry out these terministic possibilities to the extent of their personal ability and technical resources. Each such ape- cialty is like the situation of an author who has an idea for a novel, and who ivill never rest until he has completely embodied it in a book. Insofar as any “ofthestrieffntiyologiesltiippegiplsoIto'ifiontginjthe'tisirs of destroying the mitth just too bad; but the fact remains that, so far as the sheer prin- ciples of the investigation are concerned, they are no dilferent from those of the writer; who _s_tii1e_§_ jg gmpletpu'hishnovel. Thefe' is it kind of “terrninistic compulsiori' to carry out the implications-of one‘s terminology, quite as. it an astronomer discovered by his observations and computations that a cer- tain Wandering body was likely to hit the earth and destroy us. he would nonetheless feel compelled to argue for the correctness of his computations, despite the ominousness of the outcome. Similarly. of course, men will so draw out the implications of their terminologies that new expectations are aroused (promises that are now largely interwoven with the state of Big Technology, and that may prove to be true or false, but that can have revolu- tionary efiects upon persons who agree with such terministic "extrapola- tions"). ’ ' Whereas there seems to be no principle of control intrinsic to the idea] of carrying out any such set of poSSibilities to its “perfect” conclusion, and whereas all sorts of people are variously goaded to track down their particu- lar sets of terministically directed insights, there is at least the fact that the schemes get in One anhthcr’s way, thus being to some extent checked by 20 FIVE SUMMARIZINO ESSAYS rivalry with one another. And such is especially the case where allocation of fund: is concerned. feet butt for invective. Heaven and Hell together provide the ultimate. or perfect, grounding for sanctions. God is also the perfect audience for praise and lamentatin (Mo primary modes of symbolic action, with lamentalion perhaps the “first” of all. as regards tests of biological priority). Such con- siderations would provide a strictly logological treatment of Martin Buber‘s "l-Tliou Relation." VII So much for the clauses of our Definition, a definition which most neople would probably want to characteriz ttve," e: which is surely no threaten to undo us. I‘m not too sure that. in the present state of Big Mootoas confu- sions. any educational policy. even if it: were itself perfect and were adopted throughout the world. would be able to help much. when the world is so ardently beset by so ntq‘cJILdist‘ressrand malice. The dreary likelihood is that. if we do avoitl the holocaustfwc shall do so mainly by bits of political patch- work here and there; with alliances falling sulliciently on the bias acmss one another, and thus getting sutliciently in one another”: road. so that there's riot enough "symmetrical perfection" among the contestants to set up the "right" alignment and touch it till. 1‘ In his I’izrtr of .vl'nr‘mnfs. (‘liaptcr X, Aristotle mentions the definition of man as the 'lzuii-Iiiin: annual." lllll he drum not consider it adequate. Tlittttgl: 1 would hasten to (I353. T iiliTi‘fimif‘ have a tug investment in it. owing to my conviction that mankind‘s (In?) hope is a (The cult of tragedy is too eager to help out \lith the lullnwukh And in the last analysis. it is too pretentious to allow for the proper recogni- linl't of our anirnality.) Also. I‘d rite "risihilily" under "swam." Insofar as man's laughter is to he distinguished from that o t e Hyena, th_e dill'erenee derives from idea: of Meant-run; that are-in tnrage-givediminupiginciples 5f cbiigrniry necessarily implicit to swim syinllol sfltgd ‘ " ‘ "m— ‘ "" Definition of Man elements of self—cancellation to keep thin merit in a perfect Apocalyptic holocaust‘ do, when speculating on a definition. is But what of an ending for this dis cussion? After 5 “perfection.” I feel’quitc self-conscious For obviously, itself have a perfect ending. A perfect ending should promise something most perfect ending is rovided b a sermon in wlt loss unless we mend our wa s, we are M_ nd our wa 5. But even thong kind ever has stood, in secular regards, generally 3.3933326 rm, da no matter h jingle. I shall give the traditional jingle ti 0 such erteetly urgent putt tfltjse of their imaginings). The best I c n o as state my belief that hides sites: —a tfififiTsfiér If has in its favor the further fact that it int- tug, of a traditional vision. one even so primal ized perfecting ofit. The older form ran thUs: If all the trees were one tree What a great tree that would be If all the axes were one axe What a great axe that would be, It' all the men were one man What a great man he would be. And if all the seas w What a great sea the ere one sea t would be. 1 place a wan . That is, there is , also contains enough gs from coming to a perfect fulfill- Meanwhile, the most that one ca to ask oneself whether it is turned 0 much talk about my discussiOn should in this regard. I guess the ich. after a threat of total romised the ope oil-GET salvation ———__... it, today. we stand as close as man- to a choice precisely as radical as crn (par! mu..- euusu. ES WC things might be improved H incsiof this definition; y many kinds of n gencralfthings might be a edb promise for an end~ rfcction on a grand scale. And ernizirtg. or perfect— d in a nursery proposed nnulern- Gives the mod as to be cttpt‘csse rsl. and then my 22 FIVE SUMMARIZINO ESSAYS And if the great man Tool: the great are And chopped down the great tree And let it fall into the great sea What a Splish-Splash that would be! Modernized, perfected, the form runs thus: It all the thermo-nuclear warheads Were one thermomuclear warhead What a great thermonuclear warhead that would be. If all the intercontinental ballistic missiles Were one intercontinental ballistic missile What a great intercontinental ballistic missile that would be. It all the military men Were one military man What a great military man he would be. And if all the land masses Were one land mass What a great land mass that would be. And it the great military man Took the great 1hcrmo-nuclear warhead And put it into the great intercontinental ballistic missile And dropped it on the great land mass. What great PROGRESS that would be! Comments One might ask the question: “What docs it mean. to approach reality through one language rather than another?” Or one might ask: "What docs it mean to bc the kind of animal that uses any language (to View reality through any kind of highly developed symbol system)?" Beniamin Lee \Vhorf‘s ingenious specu- lations {many of them collected in his volume. Language. Thought, and Reality), suggcsi answers to the first question. The prafit "Deti'nitiou" has been con- cerned rather with answers to the second. Men can be studied as individuals. as members of groups (tribes. classes. organizations. and the like). or as generiCally "human." The present essay has been concerned with the most "universal" of such classifications But elsewhere we deal with the tact that the analysis of particular idioms can be methodically narrowed even to the study of one particular writer's terminology (with its own unique set of “personal equatiOns"). Definition of Man 2] Given the range of meanings in the ancient Greeks” concept of "politics," the anthropologists' definition of man IE. the "culturebearing animal" is not far frorn Aristotle‘s View of man as the “political animal." Both imply the ability to develop and transmit cenventions and institutions. Just as Aristotle's definition serves moSt directly for his book on politics, so the anthropologisls' definition serves mcst directly for their studies of tribal cultures. "Social animal" might most directly suit sociologists. Our point is simply that for our purposes a still more general starting point is ueCeSSary. analogous to home rapimr, but minus the "built-in" honorific connotations of that formula. (though perhaps it did perform a notable rhetorical function in prodding many or the perverse to cherish after the manner of Flaubert the lore of In béiire Immat'nc). For the psychologist. man is a "psychological" animal; for the psychoanalyst a mentally sick animal (a psychopathology being a natural part of even the average or "normal" Everyman's everyday life); [or the chemist man should he a congeries of chemicals: and so on. But since man can‘t be called any of these various things except insofar as. encompassing the tot. he is the kind of animal that can haggle abdut the definition of himself, in this sense he is what. Ernst Cassirer has called the animal .rymbol‘icum; yet I feel that the post-Kantian way of understanding such a formula tends to get epistemologicnlly (“Scientistically”) sidetracked from the more ontological ("Dramatistic") approach grounded in the older scholastic tradition. ' 'The idealizing of man as a species of machine has again gained cansiderable popularity, owing to the great idv'infiés lit idiomatic—ii and "sophisticated" com- puters. But such things are obviously inadequate as models since. not being biological organisms, machines lack the capacity for pleasure or pain (to say nothing of such subtler nfl'cctive states as malice. envy, amusement. cundescgn. sion. friendliness. sentimentality. embarrassment, etc., ad nauseam). one might so construe! a computer that. if its signals got into a traffic jam, it would give torth a cry like a. child in agony. And this "information" might make you im. pulsivcly, despite yourself, feel compassion for it. Yet, not being an organism, the ingenious artificial construct would all the while he as impassivc as a Stoic's ideal of the perfect philosopher. For though the contraption might be so designed that it could record its own outcry. it Could not "hear" that cry in the sense in which you. as an organism of pleasure and pain, would hear it. Until, like the robots in Capek's R.U.R., men's contrivances can he made. actually to ache. they cannot possibly serve as adequate models for the total human condition (that is. [or a definition of “man in general"). When two machines get cruelly smashed in an accident, it’s all the same In them. so far as pain goes. Hence a. definition of man without referenc: to the animality of pain is, on its lacs, as inadequate as a dcfinilion would he that reduced man to the sheer kinetics of chemistry. Unquestionahly, such a reduction could tell us much about the realm of motions that underlies our modes of action, and without which we could not net. But we intuitively recognize that such terms alone cannot deal with the qualities of experience as we necessarily suller and enact it. (Awareness itself, by the way, is ambiguoust on the dividing line between “action” and "knowledge"; or, otherwise put, intuitive knowledge is a spontaneous activity much like what we call an “act of faith," as per San. tayana’s ingenious conCept of “animal faith.")l l Insotar as the concept of "action" gets reduced to terms of "work." condi— lions are set for an antithetical stress upon play. as with Huizinga's formula, homo 24 FIVE suMMitrtrztna ass-us indent. While obviously not general encugh. to cover all cases. it serves well as an instrument to warn us against an overly instrumentalist View of man's ways with symbols. Here would belong also a related view of man, as the “laughing animal." While laughter. like tears, is grounded in the motions of animality, it also depends upon principles of congruin that are clue to conventions or pro- prieties developed through the resources of symbolieity. lt embodies these norms of congruin in reverse, by their violation within limits, a kind of “planned incongruity" (as discussed in my Permanence and Change.) Thus the incongrw ously perfect definition of man as a wolf (in keeping with man's traditional attitude towards that much maligned, but highly social-minded animal) comes down to us through comedy. The reference to proprieties suggests the observation that the definition of man as a “moral being" centers in that mighty symbolic invention, the negative, involving the “tltott-sttalt-not's" (and Corresponding "thou shalt‘s") of law and conscience, and the saying yes or no to such prescriptions and prescriptions. Here would belong Whitman's celebration of the "Answerer." and Nietzsche's paradoxical. negativity-saturated idea of the "Yea-sayer." I remember having heard that William Blackstone somewhere defines man as a being endowed with the capacity for all kinds of crime. Though I have not been able to Verify the reference, such a definition would be the most direct fit for commentaries on the law; yet "crime" is but a reflex of human prowess in the making of laws, that is. man’s "symbolicity." And Goethe has altered us an attenuated variant of the same notion when confessing an ability to imagine all kinds of crime. The third essay will illustrate the basic symbolic devices under which one should class man as a being typically endowedlwith the powers of “transcen- dence.” And many subsequent chapters will provide other instances of such resourcefulness [for instance, the piece on Emersonian transcendentalism) in- cluding its relation to the hierarehal ntotive,_as embodied in the social order. Man's "time-binding" propensities would be a subdivision of his traffic with symbols, though the fourth chapter will also consider a sense in which the past is preserved “unconsciously” in the animal tissues. All told. we should by now have reviewed a sufficient range of cases to iridi- cute why we feel that any possible definition of man will necessarin fall some- where within the litre clauses in our "Definition," BusiCnIIy, these involve concepts at motion and nation (or otherwise put. physicality. mutuality. and syntboliciiyt. And nlimc nil. on would want to emphasize: Whereas many other animals seem scrt‘iilitc in a rudimentary way to the motivating force of symbols, they want It) Incl; the "seeontl—lescl“ aspect of symbolicin that is characteristically ltttlttntl. the "rctlexit-e" capacity to develop higth complex synthol systems about qmlml s} stunts. the pattern of which is indicated itt Aristotle's definition of God :l‘i "thought of thought." or in Hegel's dittlcetics of "setl'»conscimtsncss." M “e proceed. there will be other chances to consider these matters. ...
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Burke_Definition-1 - LANGUAGE AS SYMBOLIC ACTION Essays on...

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