Prelli, Lawerence J., Floyd D. Anderson, and Matthew T. Althouse. “Kenneth Burke on Recalcitrance.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 41.2 (2011): 97-124. Print.
Prelli et al use the space of their article to discuss Burke’s concept of recalcitrance taking into account Burke’s development of the term throughout his (Burke’s) career. For Prelli et al, recalcitrance has “distinctive, interconnected, and decidedly Burkean dimensions as a realist term, as communication term and critical term” (98, emphasis mine). According to Prelli et al, Burke’s full definition of recalcitrance spans Permanence and Change as well as Attitudes Towards History, explaining to their readers Burke:
asserted that the term as used in Permanence and Change encompassed the “subtle shifts from the similar to the antithetical” that occur whenever people attempt to come to terms with a situation’s meaning. Recalcitrance, Burke wrote, “refers to the factors that substantiate a statement, the factors that incite a statement, and the factors that correct a statement.” (Attidudes, vol. 1, 60; Attitudes, 3rd ed., 47n). (97).
The point of this is to create a full understanding of the term, and a full understanding emerges through an examination of
previous and partial uses and occasional misuses of the term that 1) deploy the terms as a realist conception to delineate both the extent to which knowledge is rhetorical and the degree to which the discourses of the physical sciences are fully amenable to rhetorical analysis, obscuring its relationship to Burke’s realism in the process; 2) allude to the term as a communication conception during an effort to incorporate Levina’s notion of phenomenological encounters with concrete, individual others within Burke’s dramatistic perspective; and 3) employ the terms as a critical conception with which to develop more trenchant perspectives for contemporary rhetorical criticism, particularly as conducted in the developing field of eco-criticism. (98)
The following quotes focus on Burke’s realism.
[Burke] continued: “Once you introduce a point of view into the universe…(as it is introduced by biological vocation)” that “point of view requires an interpretation of evnets, a reading of the recalcitrant factors favorable and unfavorable to the point of view” (257, n2). As we attempt o “corroborate” or “externalize” a point of view, we should expect to find that much significant “material of externalization is recalcitrant” (257). Burke saw those materials as “opportunistic” since they enabled revisions–shifts in terminological strategy–that better encompass a situation’s meaning (257). Only through revision of terminolgical strategies in view of recalcitrant materials can we make “discoveries” about the situation that otherwise could not have been made and, thus, substantiate an unfolding point of view (257). Revision of any perspective, scientific or other, enacts an interpretation that involves “a reading of the recalcitrant factors favorable to the point of view.” (101)
Given the inextricable connection between points of view and recalcitrant materials, one might interpret Burke’s position as culminating in subjectivism, solipsism, or relativism. But, to the contrary, Burke argued that his position “does not imply that the universe is merely the product of our interpretations. For the interpretations themselves must be altered as the universe displays various orders of recalcitrance to them” (256)…Thus, recalcitrant materials enable Burke to avert relativism, solipsism, or subjectivism since they are not mere projections upon the world but can function both to substantiate and to expose error in a developing point of view. (103)
Burke’s concept of recalcitrance was influenced by realism that broadened rather than narrowed the range of what constitutes the real and objective. Whenever we enact a perspective we necessarily encounter such real and objective recalcitrant materials as (1) our orientation’s motivating intentions; (2) the interests that spur those intentions; (3) the perceptual, formal, social, and linguistic factors that incite terminological responses; (4) the situation itself inclusive of political, social, and economic factors; (5) strategic and stylistic revisions and the “discoveries,” substantiations, and corrections they yield; (6) situated others with whom one attempts to communicate, translate, or socialize, a perspective; and, we should add, (7) language and terminologies that critics can cite and disclose for others’ situation. All are manifestations of the real and objective world and thus index recalcitrant materials that could resist or corroborate, substantiate or correct, support or undermine, efforts to encompass a situation from any given terminological point of view. (120)
From Burke’s realist position, any perspective and not just scientific perspectives could escape relativism, solipsism or subjectivism insofar as it grappled with the recalcitrant factors it disclosed. (120)
Burke assumed the existence of non-symbolic realities, as we alluded to earlier regarding his distinction between symbolic action and nonsymbolic motion. If all symbolizing beings were to vanish there would still remain matter in motion. But, more precisely for Burke, as disclosed in our analysis of his realism, if all symbolizing beings were to vanish not only would “subjective” points of view disappear with them, but so too would the entire range of “objective” and “real” materials they disclosed about the world. Whenever we interpret situations, we necessarily carve out, abstract, shape, or otherwise experience whatever constitutes real and objective materials from a point of view. When we do so, we disclose real and objective recalcitrant materials that could substantiate, incite, or correct statements, whether symbolic or non-symbolic in origins. (120)