Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Noise and Burke's mystifying hieararchy

The Chain of Being

The Chain of Being is 'the' example of hierarchy. For Kenneth Burke, "the hierarchic principle itself is inevitable in systematic thought” (141). Burke argues that mystification occurs because there is a principle of hierarchy behind any one term. Mystification and, its pastoral equivalent, embarassment, occurs whenever there is communication between two kinds of beings: "There is the ‘mystery’ of courtship when ‘different kinds of beings’ communicate with each other. Thus we look upon any embarrassment or self-imposed constraint as the sign of such ‘mystery'" (Burke 208).  However, this separateness (as well as the hierarchy behind it), what Burke calls "standoffishness" is necessary to communication and persuasion. Burke's dramatistic rhetoric is based on the idea of courtship, which always involves a distance. Indeed, it is this standoffishness or 'self-interference' that indicates what Burke calls "pure persuasion" (269). In the terminology I have been using lately, this would be the necessary 'noise' of persuasion and not only communication. Burke writes,

"—“We would only say that, over and above all such derivations, there is implicit in language itself, the act of persuasion; and implicit in the perpetuating of persuasion (in persuasion made universal, pure, hence paradigmatic or formal) there is the need of ‘interference’. For a persuasion that succeeds, dies.” (274).

In order to keep up the courtship and the persuasive appeal, there must be some kind of interference or distance between the addressor and addressee. The question becomes: is hierarchy necessary for persuasion to occur, or is it merely differences in kind? Can we use Burke's thoughts on hierarchy to look at the 'noise' of the system, which is its principles of division and identification?  How linear is Burke's 'hierarchy' in our age? Is an appeal by necessity and appeal to someone in a position of authority, someone slightly up the food chain? Is this not necessary in order to appeal to this? Burke thinks that all of these appeals, in their purest form (although this is impossible) would be a pure prayer, addressed not to an object  "but to the hierarchic principle itself, where the answer is implicit in the address” (276).

More on this later. 

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