Reading On Symbols and Society, ed. Joseph Gusfield

On Symbols and Society, an edited collection compiled by Joseph Gusfield, a sociologist, includes excerpts from several books by rhetorician Kenneth Burke. 

I am going to post my notes from that book on this blog. 

I will partition these notes into 22 different sections, and each section will be based on an excerpt from On Symbols and Society. The sections are in the same order as the chapters, though I cite Burke’s original works and not Gusfield’s book.

While I have read most of the works cited in this book before (several of them multiple times), I am using Gusfield’s book instead of the original texts because that book is listed as required on the PhD preliminary exam in Rhetoric and Scientific and Technical Communication in the Department of Writing Studies at the University of Minnesota, which exam I plan to take in October. 

As I work on this, I start to see why Gusfield put things in the order he puts them in. He’s trying to help readers understand Burke the way he understands Burke. His method does make a certain kind of sense, based on dramatism, which is how many understand Burke. (Though I can’t here help but wish that Burke’s definition of and discussion of form in his “Lexicon Rhetoricae” in Counter-Statement had been included, especially since Burke himself believed that his definition of form was from where one should begin to understand him.)

Below, I have scanned in a document that helped me read the original sources Gusfield cites in On Symbols and Society. On page 2, you can see, below a few personal notes to myself, what the abbreviations and acronyms mean. 

In the notes I will post later, I cite the original texts and not Gusfield’s book, and this is the piece of paper that helps me to do that.




Finally, please note that Burke often uses the word man to refer to people in general, a convention of the time period in which he lived. He also dropped out of college (and never graduated), but I personally don’t believe he means to exclude anyone by using the term in the way he does, though by today’s standards it may seem so.

Two Scholars On Reading Well

What does it mean to read something well? What sources can you think of that discuss reading well?

One source from the Appendix in Wayne Booth’s Critical Understanding: The Powers and Limits of Pluralism. Booth was a scholar of literary criticism and rhetoric. The Appendix to this book is called “A Hippocratic Oath for the Pluralist,” and in it, Booth gives what he calls five “ordinances” for achieving good criticism, saying at the end that if we kept them, “we would experience a renewed sense that our critical sanity does not depend on ‘covering’ as many works as possible” (352). Here is what he says:

1. We shouldn’t publish anything about anything we’ve read all the way through at least once.
2. We’ll try to not publish anything about anything that we haven’t totally understood.
3. We’ll not believe other critics unless they convince us that they’ve abided by the first 2 rules.
4. We won’t take on a project that has us violate principles 1-3.
5. We won’t judge others’ “inevitable violations” of the first 4 principles worse than we judge our own.

Isn’t that interesting?

Another source on reading well comes from C.S. Lewis’ An Experiment in Criticism. Lewis was a medieval and renaissance scholar who became Christian apologist later in life. In Chapter 4 of An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis gives 5 characteristics of bad readers, but I’ll sum them up into 3 categories:

1. Bad readers only read narratives.
2-3. Bad readers have no ears and are wholly unconscious of style.
4-5. Bad readers enjoy narratives that are reduced to the minimum and are action-packed.

What do you think about these guidelines for reading well?
What sources have you found about good reading and bad reading? And what does it mean to read well?