While we did not get a chance to delve too deep into discussion regarding Burke's "Terministic Screens," I found his viewpoints on symbolic action and the dramatistic approach to language particularly interesting in terms of the re/presentation paradox. Specifically, Burke's analysis of language as dramatic (or action related) rather than simply "scientistic" (or conveying informaton) is one that I would like to take some time discussing here on the blog. While reading this piece, I began to question how language is used as a representation of action rather than merely meaning something to a reader. For Burke, this is a central claim in describing the dramatistic function of language, or "language as act" and further language as symbolic-action.
Language is a web of symbolic action, it initiates action rather than simply representing meaning. But what does this imply about language and how it functions in culture and communication? While literary theory and language was the theorists focus, his ideas regarding language as action oriented had much broader implications. Burke approached language as "equipment for living" a tool that is a necessity for communication and further, the construction of reality for human beings. Caught in a web of symbols, language serves to form our perceptions, an active agent that underscores our understanding of the world around us. Burke asserts that reality has been mostly constructed through this symbol system. "What is our 'reality' for today but all this clutter of symbols about the past....And however important to us is the tiny sliver of reality each of us has experienced firsthand, the whole overall 'picture' is but a construct of our symbol systems" (Burke 48). This is quite a claim, but for Burke it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch. Language does not simply represent meaning, it is a system of symbols that is accountable for our entire understanding of reality outside of perception. Woah.
As Burke states over and over, humans are a symbol using animal. Not simply in motion, but in action. But in this web of the symbol system, how does the individual navigate this web and sort out these symbols, many of which can mean different things in different contexts? This is where the "terministic screen" comes into play for Burke. Similar to a frame, the terministic screen serves to direct our attention within a certain context. "We need terministic screens, since we cant say anything without the use of terms; whatever terms we use, they necessarily constitute a corresponding kind of screen; and any such screen necessarily directs the attention to one field rather than another" (50). The screen serves as a map, directing the individual to the proper action of the term used. Without the map, language could not be a representation of a symbol or an action. Without terministic screens, the symbol using animal would be lost in the web of symbols.