Chapter

Edmund Burke's Pretexts for Politic Bodies

Yoon Sun Lee

in Nationalism and Irony

Published in print June 2004 | ISBN: 9780195162356
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199787852 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195162356.003.0002
 Edmund Burke's Pretexts for Politic Bodies

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A clue to Burke's conception of the public sphere can be found in the theatricality of his rhetorical tropes. Unlike radicals such as Priestley, who defined the public sphere as the exercise of rational agency, Burke saw the public sphere of the ancient regime France and Britain as constituted by elaborate fictions that were a matter of public knowledge and consensus. Fictions such as chivalry beneficially blurred the distinctions between agency and passivity, domination and subordination and gave rise to a distinctively ironic, self-conscious strain of civic emotion. In his Reflections on the Revolution in France, as well as in other writings and speeches, Burke praised Britain's tradition of skillfully manipulating conventional deference. The practices of actors and theatrical audiences exemplify for Burke the type of emotional response that rests on voluntary complicity and the disavowal of knowledge.

Keywords: Reflections on the Revolution in France; tropes; irony; public sphere; chivalry; theatricality

Chapter.  16682 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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