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date: 07 April 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This essay examines Kenneth Burke’s unorthodox approach to propaganda, beginning with his essay “Boring from Within,” a response to Edmund Wilson’s “An Appeal to Progressives,” both published in The New Republic in 1931. Although that essay makes no mention of the term propaganda, it contains Burke’s famous argument that the more subtle and nimble the propaganda, the more easily it can move into new places and different lives. Two years later, Burke published two short essays that helped set the scene for his explicit engagement with propaganda. In “Revolutionary Symbolism in America,” a speech he delivered at the First American Writers’ Congress in 1935, Burke tackled the relationship between propaganda and art. In 1936, he published two reviews of social-psychological books on propaganda, Harold Lasswell’s Politics:Who Gets What, When, How? and Leonard Doob’s Propaganda: ItsPsychology and Technique, in which he underscored the importance of rhetoric for studies of propaganda. Another speech, “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s ‘Battle’” (1939) seals and performs Burke’s commitment to rhetoric as an art that can guide practice and criticism.

Keywords: Kenneth Burke, propaganda, Edmund Wilson, rhetoric, art, Leonard Doob, Harold Lasswell, essays, speech, First American Writers’ Congress

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