Monday, November 12, 2007

that good old-time logology

That June Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley were continuing their long, longtime correspondence. Now Burke was telling Cowley of the new book he was putting together out of some new material and some lectures he had given a few years back. The book was published in 1961 as The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies on Logology (Beacon Press of Boston). The foreword makes this bold statement: "The subject of religion falls under the head of rhetoric in the sense that rhetoric is the art of persuasion, and religious cosmogonies are designed, in the last analysis, as exceptionally thoroughgoing modes of persuasion" (p. v).

Dell Hymes, reviewing the book for The Journal of American Folklore felt he had to specify that "Burke does not here regard persuasion as inherently bad (or good)." He knows "the social necessity of verbal persuasion" and is a master at insights into "the master debunkers of verbal persuasion, the Marxists, Freudians, et al."*

"Once," Burke writes in a Burkean footnote to a long paragraph about symbolic meaning, "when I was analyzing the symbolism of sun and moon in Coleridge's poem, 'The Ancient Mariner,' a student raised this objection: 'I'm tired of hearing about the symbol sun in poems, I want a poem that has the real sun in it.' Answer: If anybody ever turns up with a poem that has the real sun in it, you'd better be about ninety-three million miles away.... [Anyway] even things of nature can become 'symbolic'" (9).

The most remarkable part of this book is the seventy-page chapter on "The First Three Chapters of Genesis."

* vol. 75, no 297, 1962.