Kenneth Burke’s Theory of Attention: Homo Symbolicus’ Experiential Poetics
In light of cross-disciplinary interest in rethinking the conceptions of attention and attention economy, this paper conducts an archeology of Kenneth Burke’s concepts in order to construct a theory of attention implicit in his work. First, I overview key parts of rhetorical studies highlighting calls for reexamining and developing the idea of attention. Then, I read Burke’s concepts for their implicit attentional aspects and implications. These findings are collected, listed into a glossary, and extrapolated into an account of Burkean attention, which I reframe as “symbol-formed attention” to complement and round out the reigning empirical theories of attention often borrowed from the sciences. I conclude by formalizing a rhetorical idea of attention itself: a terministic screen adaptively re-configurable to situation and strategy. This project is useful for rhetorical analyses, creative engagement with communication, and reforming attention structures via symbols.