Friday, June 4, 2010

A brief introduction to Burke's cluster criticism

According to Foss (2009), cluster criticism is a method of rhetorical analysis which helps critics “gain insights into rhetors by analyzing the terministic screens evidenced in their rhetoric.” Burke (1966) what he means by termnistic screens by comparing them to photographs of the same physical object made with different color lenses. The point Burke makes is that the very terms a rhetor uses effect the nature of a rhetor’s observations just as the lens color of a camera effects the representation of a photographed object. A rhetor’s terms then, represent a frame or lens through which they see the world and are cues which help identify the meanings they propose for their audience.

To help identify and analyze a rhetor’s terministic screen, cluster criticism is used by a critic not only to isolate the key terms used in an artifact but also the words that cluster around or are associated with the key terms. Key terms can be identified either by the frequency of their use, their intensity, or their ultimacy. Frequency is obvious, meaning that repeated use of a term signals its significance to the rhetor. Intensity is a bit less defined however. Foss explains that though a term may be used infrequently “it may be critical because it is central to the argument being made, represents an ultimate commitment, or conveys great depth of feeling” (2009, p.66) Finally, ultimacy, refers to “god and devil terms” used by an author. According to Foss, “God terms are ultimate terms that represent the ideal for a rhetor, while devil terms represent the ultimate negative or evil for a rhetor” (2009, p.67). To further illuminate and better appreciate the nuance of a key term, terms which cluster around them are to be identified. Terms cluster either by way of proximity, conjunction, juxtaposition, or cause and effect. Having identified the key terms and the clusters, the critic is ready to make some overall assessment about a rhetor’s worldview embedded in the artifact.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...