Language as more than symbolic action
Crawford, Nicholas Stephen
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In the last several decades, Kenneth Burke’s philosophy of language, a philosophy that famously flouts disciplinary conventions, has found its disciplinary home in rhetoric studies. Rhetoricians have found myriad points of inspiration in Burke’s capacious philosophy, and several of Burke’s concepts have become touchstones for contemporary rhetorical theory. One concept, however, has received little attention from rhetoricians or anyone else. Burke’s theory of tonal transformations—his term for a kind of unconscious punning that disguises unutterable words and ideas in socially acceptable language, thereby allowing the utterer to say the unsayable—has, along with the attendant theory joycing, been largely ignored. And yet Burke himself, in his brief discussion of tonal transformations and joycing, encourages readers to consult other areas of his oeuvre to develop a more thorough understanding of these concepts. This dissertation takes up Burke’s suggestion and examines works from across Burke’s oeuvre to develop a more complete understanding of tonal transformations and joycing, leading me to explorations of Burke’s theories of nonsymbolic motion, catharsis, and the sublime, among others. This examination reveals productive connections between tonal transformations, joycing, and current interest in the rhetoric of affect. Rhetoricians studying affect aim to theorize the persuasiveness of physiological and emotional phenomena, phenomena that escape meaning. More often than not, this means studying phenomena other than language, which is often characterized as a force that limits affective phenomena because of its link to meaning. Burke does not deny language’s link to meaning. However, tonal transformations and joycing posit language as an affective force. This dissertation illustrates that in tonal transformations and joycing affect and meaning are inextricably intertwined and that often the persuasiveness of language’s meaning depends upon the persuasiveness of language’s affect. Ultimately, I argue that for Burke language is always already an affective phenomenon and that rhetoricians should be more willing to see language from such a perspective.