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Spring 2018, 48.1, pages 88-107

Mythic Historiography: Refiguring Kenneth Burke’s Deceitful Woman Trope 

Abstract: Readers of A Rhetoric of Motives often acknowledge Burke’s anti-feminist blind spots, but argue that these blind spots need not negate his larger contributions to rhetorical theory. While true, this claim is also dangerous because it assumes that identifying an argumentative blind spot is tantamount to having worked through all its complexities. This article attempts to work through these complexities via a method of mythic historiography grounded in Burke’s concept of the almost universal. This article demonstrates that Burke organizes his philosophy of modern rhetoric and his concept of identification around a deceitful Woman trope in ways that claim a universality that is actually gendered male. By reimagining the relation of identification and myth in A Rhetoric of Motives this article refigures the deceitful Woman trope in terms of its unassimilability within Burke’s modern philosophy of rhetoric and discusses implications for rhetorical studies.

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