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Burke

Burke

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Published by: cdaniels75 on May 14, 2012
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The Hudson Review, Inc
Definition of ManAuthor(s): Kenneth BurkeReviewed work(s):Source:
The Hudson Review,
Vol. 16, No. 4 (Winter, 1963-1964), pp. 491-514Published by:
Stable URL:
Accessed: 13/05/2012 19:44
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KENNETHBURKE
Definition
of
Man
I
FIRST,
AFEWWORDS
ON
DEFINITION
ingeneral.Let's
admitit:
Isee inadefinitionthecritic'sequivalentofalyric,or of anariainopera.Also,wemightnotethat,when usedinanessay,aswithAristotle's definitionoftragedyinhisPoetics,adefinitionsosumsthingsupthatallthepropertiesattributedtothethingdefinedcan beasthough"derived" from thedefinition.Inactualdevelop-ment,thedefinitionmaybe the lastthingawriter hitsupon.Oritmaybeformulatedsomewherealongtheline. Butlogicallyitispriortotheobservationsthatitsummarizes.Thus,insofar asalltheattributesofthethingdefinedfitthedefinition,thedefinitionshouldbeviewedas"prior"inthispurelynon-temporalsenseofpriority.Definitionsarealso thecritic'sequivalentofthelyric(thoughapoetmightnot thinksol)in that thewriterusually"hitsonthem."Theyare"break-throughs,"and thus aresomewhat hardto comeby.Weshouldalwayskeeptryingfor them-buttheydon'talwaysseemto "click."Adefinitionshould havejustenoughclauses,and no more.However,each clause shouldbe likeachapter-head,underwhichappropriateobservationsmightbeassembled,asthoughderivedfromit.IamofferingmyDefinition ofManinthehopeofeitherper-suadingthereader that itfillsthebill,or ofpromptinghimtodecidewhatshould beadded,orsubtracted,or insomewaymodified.IIManisthesymbol-usinganimal.Granted,itdoesn't come as muchofasurprise.Butour defini-tionisbeingofferednot foranypossible paradoxicalvalue. Theaimistogetas essentiala setofclauses aspossible,and to medi-tate on each of them.
 
THEHUDSON REVIEW
Iremember onedayatcollegewhen,onentering my philosophyclass,Ifound allblindsupand thewindowsopenfrom thetop,whilea birdkeptflyingnervouslyabouttheceiling.Thewindowswerehigh, theyextendedalmostto theceiling;yetthebirdkepttryingtoescape bybattingagainsttheceilingratherthandippingdown andflyingoutoneoftheopenwindows.Whileitkeptcirclingthushelplesslyover ourheads,theinstructorexplainedthat this was anexampleofa"tropism."Thisparticularbird'sinstinctwas toescapebyflyingup,hesaid;henceitignoredtheeasyexitthroughthe windows.But howdifferentthingswouldbeif thebirdcouldspeakandwecouldspeakhislanguage.NWhatsimplestatementwouldhaveservedto solvehisproblem."Flydownjustafootorso,and outone of thosewindows."Later,I ranacrossanotherexamplethatIcitebecauseithasfurtherimplications,withregardto a later clause in ourdefinition.Iwitnessed the behaviorof awrenthat wasunquestionablyageniuswithinthe terms of itsspecies.Theparentshadsucceededingettingall ofa brood offthe nestexceptoneparticularlystub-bornor backwardfellow who still remainedforacoupleofdaysafterthe othershadflown.Despiteallkinds ofthreatsandcajolery,he stilllingered, demandingandgettingthe rationswhichallcon-cerned seemtoconsiderhisrightfullot.Thencamethemomentofgenius.Oneof theparentwrens cametothenestwith amorseloffood.Butinsteadofsimplygivingittothenoisy youngster,theparentbird held itata distance. Thefledgelingin thenestkeptstretchingitsneckout fartherandfarther withitsbeakgapinguntil,ofasudden,instead ofmerelyputtingthe morsel offoodintothebird'smouth,theparentwrenclampeditsbeakshutontheyoungone's lowermandible,andwithaslightjerkcausedtheyoungster,withhisoutstretchedneck,tolosebalance andtumbleout of the nest.Surelythis wasan"act"ofgenius.Thiswrenhaddiscoveredhowtousetheprincipleofleverageasawayofgettingayoungbirdoffthenest. Hadthatexceptionallybrilliantwrenbeenabletoconceptualizethisdiscoveryin suchtermsascomeeasytosymbol-systems,we canimaginehimgivingadissertationon"TheUseof thePrincipleofLeverageasanImprovedMethod for Un-nestingBirdsorDebirdingaNest." Andwithina fewyearstheinventionwouldspreadthroughoutallbirddom,withanincal-492

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