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Kenneth Burke Rhetoric, Subjectivity, Postmodernism by Robert (Oregon State University) Wess

Kenneth Burke Rhetoric, Subjectivity, Postmodernism

Part of the Literature, Culture, Theory Series


Kenneth Burke Rhetoric, Subjectivity, Postmodernism by Robert (Oregon State University) Wess

Kenneth Burke, arguably the most important American literary theorist of the twentieth century, helped define the theoretical terrain for contemporary literary and cultural studies. His perspectives were literary and linguistic, but his influences ranged across history, philosophy, and the social sciences. In this important study, first published in 1996, Robert Wess traces the trajectory of Burke's long career and situates his work in relation to postmodernity. His study is both an examination of contemporary theories of rhetoric, ideology, and the subject, and an explanation of why Burke failed to complete his Motives trilogy. Burke's own critique of the 'isolated unique individual' led him to question the possibility of unique individuation, a strategy which anticipated important elements of postmodern concepts of subjectivity. Robert Wess' study is a judicious exposition of Burke's massive oeuvre, and a crucial intervention in debates on rhetoric and human agency.


In this admirable and important book Robert Wess takes up the project of understanding Burke in the context of contemporary critical theory. Wess's approach to Burke's writings is both intelligent and thorough, attuned to the texts
largest dimensions and their subtlest workings alike. His particular interest in Burke

's rhetoric of the subject and in the essentialism-constructionism dialectic provides a useful and mostly undistorting focus for the study of a large body of work. More important, it provides an excellent way to understand the relation of Burke's thought and method to critical theory at the end of the century. Southern Humanities Review'

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Book Info

Publication date

11th April 1996


Robert (Oregon State University) Wess

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Cambridge University Press


286 pages


Literary theory



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