Among All the Steps

When I was driving to Pray-Hoyt around 11:30 a.m. to drop off a piece of furniture, put a letter of rec. on letterhead, and print an ms. for reviewing, an Ann Arbor radio station played this one.

Associating it with Kenneth Burke, I misremembered something like this:

Imagine that you arrive at a parlor. You stand outside, unable to decide whether to enter unannounced, to knock, or to ring the doorbell. You decide on the doorbell, but you have come late, and somehow the moment does not seem quite right. ‘When ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it.’ Etc.

A variation of

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress. (PLF 110)

This fall marks 20 years since Kenneth Burke’s time at Eastern Michigan University as a McAndless Scholar in 1990–an anniversary worthy of a few of blog entries, some informal conversations with colleagues who were here at the time, and perhaps even some kind of reading or parlor event. Our usual building, Pray-Harrold, is since May closed for renovations. Still, I wonder which office was KB’s and whether he spent much time in it.

1 Comment

  1. Among other fun bits of trivia/trivial with your post:

    I purchased my copy of *Language as Symbolic Action* a number of years before I came to EMU while I was a grad student at Bowling Green State but up to visit the “real library” at U of Michigan and the “real college town” of Ann Arbor. I bought this book in one of the many used stores in town without thinking much of it.

    Years later, when I actually had occasion to teach (and thus read more) Burke, I pulled this book off my shelf and discovered two interesting things. First, it’s a signed edition. Second, it includes in it a snippet of an article from the EMU newspaper about a presentation Burke gave as part of the McAndless scholar talk.

    Small world.

    Anyway, remind me and I’ll show you….

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