Tuesday, January 08, 2008

PLF - My Autodidactic Indulgence with an Indulgent Autodidact


Heh. I've been wanting to do this for a long, long time.

Welcome to my post-doctoral, post-divorce, post-tenure, pre-sabbatical indulgence. With my faithful black Lab beside me on the sofa, snoozing in the glow of the fireplace that's keeping our home toasty as the temperature drops again below zero outside, and a glass of sherry within reach, I'm embarking on a very slow re-reading of Kenneth Burke, my favorite rhetorician of all time, living or dead (with the possible exception of Jim Corder). I never knew Burke personally, but I did know Corder for a time and as a rhetorician I adored him. Still do. Corder's rhetoric makes me hope and it makes me cry. Burke's rhetoric makes my heart sing, it rattles and warps and delights my brain. It's a Burkeian immersion I seek now. And here's how I'll do it:

I've chosen a book, semi-randomly, from my Burkeshelf: The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. Though I've dipped into this stuff over the years I haven't read any Burke cover-to-cover since grad school. I always thought it would be fun to teach a grad class in which the reading list was derived from a single Burke text plus all the sources he cites in the work itself.

Burke was an autodidact, and it seems to me we could gain much from reading all that he was reading as he was writing. Most of his references are pretty familiar to anyone doing doctoral studies in English literature or rhetoric, but I think in the rush to read Burke and extract his ideas we often assume we know what he means with his references merely because we follow his drift. What I want to do now is take the time to read at least some version of each source he mentions and have it fresh in my mind as I read his words.

And I want to log my process on this blog in whatever way amuses/interests me at the time. Another advantage of the anonymous blog is that I don't need to posture or "perform" my experience for my peers. What's that Zen tenet? Oh yes:

Being a spectator while one is also a participant spoils one's performance.

One dimension of this, in my experience anyway, is that my performance is spoiled utterly (for myself and for others) when I become too caught up in audience-awareness. I blog because the process intrigues me; I enjoy maintaining more than one anonymous blog for the purpose of exploring different (albeit overlapping) areas of my life and work. I choose a public medium for relatively personal writing because, I suppose, I'm curious about the way this textual artifact evolves and I want to participate in the genre in my own way. And the date stamp keeps me somehow accountable.

Back to the PLF project, I expect this will take months and months. I certainly hope so. I want a different experience with Burke than I've had in the past. In the old days I'd become so excited while reading Burke that I'd have to walk around the room to decompress--and I'd dash through his writing positively buzzing from the last quirky or provocative comment to the next. I'm still pretty excitable, but I want to experience slow, deliberate engagement with this writer. I want to make and take time to re-read what he's saying and where he's deriving his ideas.

And I think this process will be a wonderful way to return to material I read as a newbie rhetorician and see how it speaks to me now--what catches my attention, what affects me differently or not at all or entirely.

Also, to each section I want to bring my own source material--at least one reading per section that I see as somehow relevant or at least intertextually interesting. Could be anything. A cartoon, a poem, a novel. Whatever.

So that's my format:

(1) I read a section of PLF.
(2) I highlight his sources.
(3) I find and read some version of those sources.
(4) I re-read the section with the sources fresh in mind.
(5) I select a source of my own to bring to the conversation, and read it.
(6) I re-read the section again.
(7) I blog about all this whenever I'm in the mood to do so and in whatever way entertains me.

Image source: PLF home page at UC Press

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