Misdirected Diagnostics

To love thinking is to love Kenneth Burke in all his various approaches to the Word.

Supposing that A is a lover of flowers, and that I present him with a flower…and supposing further, that instead of examining my flower, arranging it tentatively against the landscape, and putting it to his nose, A asks me where I got the flower, why I got it, and how much I paid for it.  In other words, let us suppose that A talked of all the accidental features of the flower and quite neglected the central matter, a judgement of the flower itself.  In that case A would be thoroughly representative modern critic of the type I am about to discuss.

Now, some of our most skillful disciples of this extrinsic criticism find Freudian methods very well adapted to their ends.  That is, with the help of psychoanalysis, they will take some honest devil who wrote a book, who just sat down and wrote a book, and they will show precisely why the book should have been some other book.  Or, failing that, they will show why the book is the book that it is.  The book itself comes in for only the most cursory examination.  It is not significant as a fact, but as a symptom; we must learn how much of it came from the heart, the stomach, the groins, and above all, rom the author’s neighbors.  The book is a pimple, which must be diagnosed for acne or measles.

–“Art and the Hope Chest” (1922)


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