Between Motion and Action

As Matthew Weiss has argued, attitude occupies a kind of middle space between nonsymbolic motion and symbolic action. Richard Thames calls it “incipient action.” Don Kraemer’s recent article “Between Motion and Action: The Dialectical Role of Affective Identification in Kenneth Burke,” which explores such a third term in conversation with Diane Davis’s argument for a presymbolic rhetoric, does not reference Weiss’s contribution. This would be an easy omission, as Weiss’s paper has not (to my knowledge) been published anywhere but online. However, Weiss’s paper is important for a number of reasons. First, Weiss tells us that a proper understanding of attitude is a way of rejecting Bryan Crable’s reduction of motion to action:

If Crable is right, then Burke’s discussion of motion is only meant further to illustrate the fact that motion is always inaccessible except through action.  Burke’s discussion of motion, action and attitude . . . calls Crable’s theory into doubt, however. Burke’s development of motion and action is best read as an acknowledgment of the material world and its effect on language use, rather than as a regression to the solipsism of discursive relativism. (22)

Weiss sees Burke as much more interested in a presymbolic than Crable does.

In her rich explication of Burke’s theory of motion and action, Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language, Deborah Hawhee similarly rejects a reduction of bodies to discourse. Instead, she stresses the energeic rhetorics of bodies that precedes and enlivens linguistic rhetorics. Hawhee characterizes Crable as depending on “a notion of bodies as discursively constructed” (166). Kraemer defends Crable against Hawhee’s reading, saying,

It is not so much that the body is only discursively constructed as that we must vigilantly assess the degree to which our discourse on “body” is the body not (just) in motion but as symbolized. (144; italics in original)

Regardless of which way is the right way to read Crable, both Kraemer (152) and Hawhee (167) point toward attitude as a third term between motion and action. For Kraemer, this third term, either attitude or sensation, corresponds finally to the nervous system.