Winter 2014, 44:5, pages 449-469
“Understanding” Again: Listening with Kenneth Burke and Wayne Booth
Abstract: Under headings that include rhetoric of assent, critical understanding, pluralism, rhetorology, and listening-rhetoric, Wayne Booth’s scholarly work for over thirty-five years hinged on a simple question: “How can I get each side to understand the other?” Booth’s imbroglio with Kenneth Burke demonstrates that “understanding”—Booth’s key concept—is not confined, as Booth had suggested, to respecting opposing views, searching for common ground, and finding reasons that warrant shared assent. Understanding is also enabled and obstructed by a number of factors, including six I examine: form, process, emotion, differences, power, and additional rhetorical/material constraints. Analyzing Booth and Burke’s published exchange in Critical Inquiry (1974), along with their correspondence from 1972 to 1983, reveals how their disagreement evolved; how their prolonged dispute highlights limitations in Booth’s theory; and how Booth’s engagement with Burke, along with Booth’s subsequent reflections on their exchange, extends Booth’s project to offer a more rhetorically robust theory of understanding.