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Belk, John

Fall 2014, 44:4, pages 363-382

Snapshots of Identification: Kenneth Burke’s Engagements with T.S. Eliot

Abstract: What emerged out of Kenneth Burke’s engagements with T. S. Eliot—particularly his engagements with Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral? An examination of Burke’s comments on Eliot in Permanence and Change, Attitudes Toward History, A Grammar of Motives, and A Rhetoric of Motives, as well as in his unpublished correspondence reveals examples of the emerging and developing concepts surrounding Burkean identification. Taken in the context of Burke’s own conflicting commitments to aestheticist and social perspectives on art, such a portrait supports the thesis that identification is not a one-time state to be achieved, but instead is an ongoing rhetorical–dialectical process that must be constantly maintained through negotiation. Ultimately, for Burke, Eliot and Murder reflected the rhetorical concerns he dedicated his career to exploring: How do our perspectives limit us, how do they divide us, and how do we transcend those divisions?

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