What IS a human?
First published in abbreviated form in The Rhetoric of Religion (1961), and then expanded in later versions in The Hudson Review (Winter, 1963-64), Language as Symbolic Action (1966), and a 1989 CCCCs presentation, Kenneth Burke‘s “Definition of Human” encapsulates many of the key tenets of Dramatism, his theory and philosophy of language. In its final form, the definition reads:
Being bodies that learn language
thereby becoming wordlings
the symbol-making, symbol-using, symbol-misusing animal
inventor of the negative
separated from our natural condition
by instruments of our own making
goaded by the spirit of hierarchy
acquiring foreknowledge of death
and rotten with perfection (qtd. in Coe 332-333).
The following image map is based on a plaque that KB kept in his office. Click on the words below the image to see it in detail and to read an analysis/interpretation of the particular clause in Burke’s definition.