The dialectical 'I': Invention and self in Robert Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy"

Date
1988-08-30
Authors
Steed, Patricia
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Abstract

This study explores Robert Burton's art of invention in the Anatomy of Melancholy and argues that the ethnocentric personality of the persona employs strategies of rhetorical invention in the Preface to the Anatomy in order to draw the reader into the labyrinth of the Anatomy proper. Burton constructs his discourse in the Preface according to the principles of the Aristotelian-Ciceronian formulae required to gain the reader's immediate attention, arouse his expectations, and initiate his interest in the treatise that follows. In the Anatomy proper, however, Burton uses principles of dialectical invention that closely resemble the Ramist theory of analysis and genesis in order to give the idea of melancholy its most extensive scope and depth of development.

A decidedly logocentric personality dominates the main design of the partitions and generates ideas in the Anatomy proper by using the Ramist modes of invention, which are clearly visible in the synoptic charts to each of the three partitions. The modes represent the operation of Ramist analysis in which any idea can be explored in terms of cause, effect, definition, species, testimony, and so on until the exploration is finally exhausted. The digressions in the Anatomy proper appear to be the products of Ramist genesis or compositio, the means by which the generative personality of the persona breaks away from the order of analysis to create new compositions and new perspectives. Burton's art of dialectical invention illustrates the exploratory nature of the seventeenth-century mind as it ranges and wanders over all fields of human knowledge, popular and learned.

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Language, literature and linguistics, British and Irish literature, Ramist theory of analysis
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