Special 2012, 42:3, pages 251-270
“A Child Born of the Land”: The Rhetorical Aesthetic of Hawaiian Song
Abstract: This essay argues that the theory of form Kenneth Burke introduced in Counter-Statement can be read as articulating a usable concept of a rhetorical aesthetic. Here rhetoric involves identity in assertions and responses that develop through immediate encounters that prompt, even if just vicariously, a sensory experience. In their conventional conceptions, rhetoric engages concepts while aesthetic engages sensation and emotion—an overgeneralization that may still be more or less accurate. But if we conclude with Burke that it is not always useful to treat the rhetorical and the aesthetic as separate we might come to better understand the human tendency to abandon abstraction and dive into immediacy in matters pertaining to the alienation of self from community. Ideas and arguments bind people together or push them apart, but aesthetic experience does that as well and perhaps to greater effect. The essay explores that claim in the context of a contemporary revival of traditional Hawaiian music that draws directly on sensory experiences of life in Hawaii to assert aesthetically a place for Hawaiian identity in an American national community.