<Book Review>
Debra Hawhee. Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke At The Edges of Language. (University of South Carolina Press. Columbia: South Carolina, 2009).

Debra Hawhee’s Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at The Edges of Language seeks to uncover and assert Burke’s career-long contemplation and theorization of “language’s dependency on ‘the warm blood of live bodies” (146) to the process of communication. Framing her project as “an excursion,” which is also the title of a short story by Kenneth Burke published in 1920, Hawhee locates the “sprawling amalgam of transdisciplinary perspectives” (167) that have shaped, challenged, extended, and rerouted Burke’s conceptualization of the intricate relationships at work between symbolic action and nonsymbolic motion. The text traces Burke’s continued preoccupation with bodies through his early short stories, music criticism, engagements with mysticism, research on drugs, endocrinology, Paget’s Gesture-Speech theories, cloacal criticism, and the embodied dimensions of theory-making that he experienced through his own aging body and physical ailments. While assuming a fair degree of reader familiarity with core Burkean texts and concepts, Hawhee threads together lesser-known texts, biographical research, oft-overlooked footnotes, letters, and interviews to highlight and forefront how, for Burke, the body was consistently embedded within his process of thinking about and through theories of language and symbolic action.

One dimension of Burke that successfully emerges in this project is Burke’s career-long refusal to adhere to disciplinary affinities, charting a commitment “to suspend—however temporarily—one’s own disciplinary terms and values in favor of a broad, open, multilevel inquiry” (3). Enacting Burke’s method of perspective by incongruity in his immersion into diverse and seemingly incommensurable disciplines of knowledge, Hawhee’s project highlights the transdisciplinary impulse that drives Burkean theory. Rather than glossing over, ignoring, or perplexing upon Burke’s seemingly peculiar digressions into bodily waste, the study of bodily secretions, and evolutionary theories that tie language to bodily gesture, Hawhee centralizes Burke’s transdisciplinary investigations of how bodily processes animate interpretive, rational, and rhetorical associations. The result is a compelling and nuanced treatment of Burke’s commitment to navigate, theorize, and wrestle with the complex “tangle” of nonsymbolic motion and symbolic action, challenging perspectives that explicitly or by default construct bodies as over-simplified discursive productions, relegated as secondary to considerations of language systems (166).

The trajectory of the text moves somewhat chronologically, opening with a short story of Burke’s from the 1920s that highlights an early linkage in Burkean thinking between communication, cognition, and bodily movement. The opening sets the stage for challenging a simplified Cartesian mind/body framework, theorizing a complex negotiation of the thinking body, bodily movement, and processes with meaning-making. Chapter one opens with a discussion of how Burke’s own fiction constructed characters with healthy normative bodies as banal and status quo, while characters with ailing bodies or sickness were characterized as inventive and creative. It is through Burke’s early work in short fiction and music criticism that Hawhee demonstrates Burkes early contemplation of the relationship between art and bodies. Hawhee claims that Burke’s venture into music criticism was driven by his ongoing preoccupation with bodies, specifically the communicative processes and rhetorical potentials of musical performance on the bodies of an audience to disrupt the status quo. Challenging the narrative that Counter-Statement marked a defined shift in Burke’s focus from aesthetics to rhetorical criticism, Hawhee argues an alternative shift of focus from the bodies of artists to the bodies of art audiences. Seeing in music “the most effective medium for accessing and affecting bodies” (27), as music is most aligned with bodily rhythms, Burke began to examine the rhetorical features of artistic forms, or eloquence, through the theorizing of rhythm to impact and infect bodily energy.

Chapter two examines how Burke’s investments with the body, bodily energies, and bodily processes were informed and shaped through his engagement with mysticism, particularly in the search for new perspectives and thinking the body as “a vital, connective, transformative force” (33). Mysticism turned Burke’s attentions to the communicative art of dance, as well as what he called the “meliorism” of James’ mysticism, which embraced “perspectival fusion” (51) over the limitations and omissions of an absolutist thinking. Informing his poetic category of the grotesque in Attitudes Towards History, “Burke reveals the ability of the mystical grotesque to draw together phenomenology and psychology—body and mind—into one investigation” (53).

Chapter three attends to Burke’s Rockefeller funded research on criminology and his work at The Bureau of Social Hygiene in the 20s and 30s. Hawhee convincingly details how this period of scientific study directly informs several of Burke’s published works, countering his notion of efficiency (imbalanced and/or overemphasis) with the inefficient body. Through the study of addiction and withdrawal, Burke broadened and developed the notion of piety—oriented habitual practices or “ruts” theorized beyond moralized claims of good or evil—to examine bodily learning, stylized bodily practices, habit formation and their relations to efficient ways of thinking. Delving into endocrinology, bodily deviance, and Gesture-Speech Theory, Hawhee charts the multiple disciplinary departures Burke engaged upon in his quest to broaden his perspective on thinking bodies. Studying internal bodily secretions and the psychiatric dimensions of the physical body, Burke began to explore how glandular systems and organs responded to and shaped symbolic interaction and, in addition, how physiology manifested in external behavior. The result provided Burke additional perspectives for theorizing how chemicals, such as adrenaline or hormones, are tied to the process of meaning making, much like the ingesting of drugs or the experience of sleep deprivation. Contemplating the body’s glandular role in impulse, affect, and meaning-making processes, and thus challenging psychoanalytic frameworks that focus solely on the psyche, Burke moves beyond a rhetoric of scientific discourses to begin theorizing a “science of rhetoric.”

Hawhee traces Burke’s attraction to and investment in Paget’s Gesture-Speech Theory—which suggests that language systems originate from, and are formed through, bodily gestures—to Burke’s theorizing of “identification” and the centrality of embodied “attitude” to the symbolic act. Providing what she terms “a somatic genealogy of dramatism,” (122) Hawhee details how Paget’s theory of gesture-speech offers, in Burke’s own words, “the perfect physiological counterpart to a ‘Dramatistic’ theory of language” (122). Hawhee asserts that Burke’s temporary suspension of bodily focus in A Grammar of Motives results in a “disembodied pentad” (124), one with the potential of producing “somewhat lifeless analyses” (124) if divorced from the materiality and the “bodily force of attitude” (123).

Chapter seven, “Welcome to the Beauty Clinic,” continues Hawhee’s “re-embodying effort” (127) by focusing on Burke’s own body and its, often glossed over, relationship to the process of the mind-work in idea development. Lingering upon his physical ailments is a series of letters, as Burke’s broken-down body is often-framed as a mere “obstacle” to his completion of the Motives trilogy, Hawhee rejects the logic that scientific and philosophical idea generation is disembodied and merely a thing of the mind. Rather, Hawhee looks to Burke’s body as a “disruptive guide” (129) in this process of idea-generation, suggesting Burke’s theorizing was “ever wound around the ‘meanwhiles’ of physical breakdown” (129). Hawhee reconstructs Burke’s emerging theories of body-thinking in the 1950s, moving through Burkean conceptions of catharsis, purging, laughter, and tears, to poetic theories of transference, collective and unified bodily experiences in shared space. Burke’s cloacal criticism and ecopolitical legacies, which strongly emphasize processes of excretion and pollution, mark tendencies towards sanitization of thought and body and denial of the filth and residue. Thus, the “beauty clinic,” as coined by Burke, draws attention to the sanitizing tendencies, as Hawhee threads Burke’s theorizing of the interconnectedness of bodies to language, to politics, to ecological systems, and to all manners of living. Hawhee’s concludes with an elaboration on Burke’s theorization of language and the body as “irreducibly distinct and yet parallel and complementary, mediated by sensation and attitude—at times undermining, at other duplicating each other, but often, if not always, in effect moving together” (166).

Debra Hawhee’s text poses a challenge to previous Burkean engagements, which she argues— at best—oversimplify Burke’s theorizing of the somatic and the symbolic, and more often, dismiss Burke’s ongoing wrestling with the complex relationship between bodies and language. Framed as “an excursion,” what Hawhee has created is an in-depth reclamation of Burke’s career-long attention to the body that both contextualizes and threads these discussions, posing a challenge to Burkean scholars to continue wrestling with the never-simplified relationship between bodies and language. For performance studies, this project offers a welcomed and significant contribution to Burkean scholarship that resituates the body as central to Burkean theory, complicating and expanding limited conceptions of attitude, bodily processes, and the individualized body in the processes of interpretation and meaning making. Although Burkean scholarship has a long history in the field of performance, what Hawhee resurrects and centralizes are the implications of shifting from mind/body formations to nonsymbolic motion/symbolic action, “which work together as an irreducible pair, contiguous but distinct” (158). Specifically, Hawhee highlights Burke’s ongoing preoccupation and contemplation of bodies; the bodies of audience, collective bodies in cathartic experience, attitude as bodily force, the eloquence of rhythm in connection to bodily process, and the futility and emptiness of a disembodied theorizing of symbolic action.

The result is a story of perspectives, where Hawhee traces Burke’s continual movement through the available discourses of his time in an effort to broaden, extend, and potentially transcend the disciplinary limitations of theorizing physical ways of knowing. The biographical components of the text make for an engaging read on their own, yet they also provide challenging supplementary insight into Burke’s generation of work, which Hawhee aptly shows is consistently informed by and generated through the body. Extending and contextualizing the more explicitly bodily-invested Permanence and Change, as well tracing the continued preoccupation of bodily consideration in the development of the often-disembodied conception of Dramatism, Hawhee’s project implicitly suggests that to engage Burke is to engage theories of and through the body. Rejecting the tendency of the “beauty clinic” to sanitize bodily processes, as well as challenging informative anecdotes of language that slice the body into a Cartesian duality with the mind, Hawhee successfully argues that the body is central to Burkean contemplations of language, rather than a peripheral footnote. The story offered in this text is not tidy, and the nature of this project warrants, perhaps welcomes, its abrupt—if not incongruous—transitions. Hawhee forefronts that her project is not an exhaustive treatment of Burke’s bodily theories, and the wealth of implications and potentials that continually emerge from her work are merely gestured to. We are given backstory, depth, and complexity for a wealth of theoretical characters in the story of Kenneth Burke and his ongoing thinking through bodies, but this backstory does not resolve or put to rest the questions he grappled with. It asks us to see how, for Burke, the body was always there, in all its undisciplined (or transdisciplinary) inefficiency.

— Dustin Bradley Goltz, DePaul University

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