Kimberly Eckel Beasley, Jacksonville University & James P. Beasley, University of North Florida
While Burkean applications of dramatism to the world of dramatic theatre are easily seen, this collaborative study attempts to utilize Burkean identification as a method of character analysis in musical theatre production. Since musical theatre, as a popular art form, crosses many disciplinary boundaries, it is often difficult to demonstrate its scholarly purposes. The authors demonstrate that an analysis of Burkean motives can be more successful in musical production than current interpretive applications through its mystification of popular forms, its ability to promote identification, and its ability to offer Burke studies new directions in the arena of performative rhetoric.
As part of musical theatre production at a regional, liberal arts university, the scholarly attention to interpretation is a necessary facet of each student's learning experience. To demonstrate how even the production of a popular musical demands scholarly attention, directors have often resorted to focusing on literary interpretation or even archival research methodologies in this educational environment. To this end, it is important to maintain a transparent connection to literary theory, and specifically its manifestations in musical theatre characterization and production. As musical theatre bridges both the interpretive focus of theatre and the contextual focus of musicology, disciplinary boundaries are often violated and simultaneously observed. Therefore, while there is broad latitude in how characters and their dialog can be interpreted from the theatrical world, there are fewer interpretive options for the musical interpreter. This dilemma is precisely why a developed theory of musical theatre interpretation and production is significant, especially within the context of a liberal arts education.
In the development of musical interpretation in academic environments, there are three major textbooks which model interpretive strategies for musical theatre: The Third Line by Daniel Helfgot, Acting for Singers by David Ostwald, and Acting in Musical Theatre: A Comprehensive Course, edited by Joe Deer and Rocco Dal Vera. While all three offer comprehensive acting for singing techniques, none of them allow for how those techniques influence each other, requiring actors in musical theatre to utilize only one perspective. This study demonstrates the significance of being able to understand how interpretations actually influence each other and how Kenneth Burke's dramatistic ratios, "how the what influences the what" is a much more successful hermeneutic practice in musical theatre interpretation due to its contextual focus, and that contextual focus is also a characteristic of musical disciplinarity.
Daniel Helflot's The Third Line (1993) was the first and is the oldest systematic approach to interpretation in music theatre production. In The Third Line, Helfgot comes at acting for singing specifically for the operatic performer. The "park and bark" stigma associated with opera is a thing of the past, as contemporary opera must contend with the vivacity of music theater style acting, and opera singers are now more beautiful and spontaneous than ever on the stage. This is reinforced through several of Helfgot's chapters, such as "The Opera Performer as Actor," "Movement and Expression," and "Auditioning, Competitions and Recitals." The "third line" specifically refers to Helfgot's three-pronged structure of "Focus, Attitude, and Gesture." The Third Line is the singer's interpretation of the other two lines – the music and the text. The Third Line encompasses the music analysis, the textual analysis, the dramatic intent, and the expressive interpretation of the music.
David Oswalt's Acting for Singers (2005) improved on Helfgot by highlighting competencies such as using improvisation, improving concentration, analyzing dramatic structure, fashioning objectives and super-objectives, subtext, and rehearsing and auditioning. Its focus is both opera and music theatre, using examples from Carmen as well as West Side Story. Oswalt incorporates theme statements for the entire production, involving everyone from the Director to the Actor in a fascinating study of motivated character development.
The newest addition to musical theatre interpretation and production is Acting in Musical Theatre: A Comprehensive Course (2008). The emphasis on musical analysis in this text is important for the music theatre actor, in contrast with the operatic performer who usually needs more analytical acting support. Therefore, the chapters include topics such as foundational acting techniques, musical analysis, elements of storytelling, character analysis, the journey of the song, intensifiers, stylistic elements, as well as auditioning and rehearsal process techniques.
When it came time to produce a musical theatre show in a liberal arts educational setting, the director began with these three interpretative textbooks in mind. Since students in this regional, liberal arts voice program had not previously been required to analyze their characters much in the past, the choice of interpretive approach would be significant. Would students be open to such character work? The director's own favorite directors by far have been those that have encouraged her own delving into her character and then forcing that research to reveal itself in rehearsal. Characters whose objectives were handed to her by a director have been forgotten, shallow characters. So of the three textbooks available, Acting for Singers by David Otswalt was chosen to achieve the kind of character development the director wanted, enabling the actors' own interpretations, actions, and directions.
The musical that was chosen for production was Jason Howland's 2005 Little Women: The Musical. As a Broadway musical, it ran for five months before touring nationally for over a year, and it featured musical theatre megastars Maureen McGovern as "Marmie," and Sutton Foster as Jo March. Because the story of Little Women is so well-known, the director did not want the students copying what they had seen in the movies, specifically the most recent adaptation by Gillian Armstrong, the one with which they were all most familiar. Since Little Women: The Musical is based on the Louisa May Alcott novel, the character analysis work would also have the added dimension of literary analysis. As the director and actors read through the script day for the first several days, super objectives were the first tool each actor utilized in developing their character. Helfgot writes, "If you have already developed your superobjective, you can fashion your objectives by asking yourself, 'How does my character pursue his superobjective in this scene?' You will find the concept of strategic means to be a good clarifying device. Invoke it by saying to yourself 'I,…am working toward… by means of…. Fashion your answer depending on what you feel the music, text, and the stage directions suggest" (112). In rehearsal, as the director had them journal about the super objective of their own life that helped them apply this concept to their Little Women character, the students' super objectives began to come together: "I (character's name) and working toward (fill in the blank)." Some examples of some of the students' superobjectives were the following:
The super objectives of the other characters all helped to give them an overarching motivation for the entire show. But this was only the beginning since breaking down each scene only continued to enhance the largesse of the super objective, making this a very important first step. The super objective for Aunt March really helped the actor give life to her number, "Could You," in which she attempts to whip Jo into shape by manipulating her to change, telling her she might take her to Europe: "I believe you could captivate the world…If you could change there is so much you could achieve…someone full of dreams like you…gracious living will make you sublime." This number was a highlight from the show, and this super objective gave Aunt March in her limited stage time, a strong motivation for her entire character every time she was on stage.
In a move similar to Kenneth Burke's dramatistic ratios, Oswalt connects the purpose of an act with the means by which the act is accomplished. In Oswalt's grammar, these means are called "beats." Oswalt writes the following:
A character will try anything that is consistent with her moral code and personality to get what she wants. If her objective in a particular scene is 'I want to keep my beloved from leaving,' she might begin with flattery. If that doesn't work, she might try reasoning, cajoling, threatening, seducing, bribing, or even blackmail. We call these various strategies acting beats. Acting beats are mini-objectives that clarify the relationship of your character's individual thoughts and actions to her objectives. (120)Discovering the "acting beats" for the ball at the Moffats was essential, since in the musical these scenes combine several balls and outings from the novel and the film adaptations into one. Because many dynamics are altered within this one section of Act I in the musical version, the scene objective/beat work on the getting ready for, attending, and recovering from the ball at the Moffats would make this scene pivotal for motivating the rest of the production. In the following charts, the director has provided examples of how utilizing Oswalts's objectives and beats lead the actors into an understanding of their motivations.
|Characters||Objective: I am working toward||Beat(s): by means of|
|Marmee||Making sure her girls get every chance available to them||Getting Meg to her first ball.|
|Beth||Living through my sisters||Helping Meg get ready|
|Jo||Becoming a lady like AM says I have to||Going to this ball with Meg.|
|Meg||Finding an eligible young man||Attending the Moffat's ball.|
|Amy||Equality with my sisters||Getting ready for the ball, too.|
|Delighted||The girls helping Meg feel comfortable||Appealing to Meg's vanity and romantic tendencies|
|OVERALL||This scene works towards dividing the sisters and their places in life||By placing Jo and Meg outside their normal environment and leaving Beth and Amy at home.|
|Characters||Objective: I am working toward||Beat(s): by means of|
|Amy (in transition to this scene)||Putting Jo in her place for not letting me go to the ball.||Burning her story.|
|Jo||Not getting frustrated by all this becoming a lady stuff||Trying to be polished and elegant, remembering the reward in the end (Europe)|
|Meg||Making a good impression to the Moffats||Making sure Jo behaves herself|
|Laurie||Avoiding having to meet important people||Getting away from meeting important people.|
|Brooke||Not getting fired by Mr. L||Finding where the hell Laurie is|
|Take a Chance: Laurie||Laurie: Getting Jo to like him||Telling her how unique she is. Trying to get her to dance. Making jokes.
Appealing to her love of adventure.
Appealing to her as a friend. Being willing to box her.
Convincing himself it will happen.
|Jo: distracting Laurie from liking her||Using humor.
|Take a chance transition (music)|
|OVERALL||This scene works towards establishing how much Jo is determined to write and provide for her family||By revealing how much Laurie likes her despite her repeated rejections of him.|
|Characters||Objective: I am working toward||Beat(s): by means of|
|Beth||Helping Meg feel better||Asking her about the ball|
|Marmee||Welcoming her girls home||Helping Meg and making Amy apologize|
|Brooke||Proving he can take care of a woman||Helping Meg home|
|Meg||Letting John know she likes him||Letting him help her|
|Jo||Downplaying her conflicting emotions||Complaining about the whole evening|
|Amy||Doing what Marmee wants her to||Apologizing to Jo|
|Better Reprise: JO||Recovering from Amy burning my story||Going to my attic to vent|
|OVERALL||This scene works towards heightening Jo's conflicting emotions about who she is||Destroying her story and stirring up emotions over Meg and Brooke and her and Laurie|
As can be seen from these charts, Oswalt's discussion of "beats" is extremely similar to Burke's concept of dramatistic "agency." Oswalt writes, "You can fashion your acting beats, whether for operas, musicals, songs, art songs, or lieder, most effectively by once again using the device of means. Say to yourself "I want to carry out my objective by means of…" Or you can ask, "What do I do in this scene to achieve my objective?" (120). While getting student actors to understand what they do in a scene to achieve their character's objective is important, what is missing from Oswalt's description is to what extent the act, agent, scene, agency, and purpose are acting on each other simultaneously, and this is the understanding that Burkean dramatism enables actors to accomplish, the ability to identify the degree of influence. In other words, while the pentads help us understand "how the what influences the what," utilizing the pentads in musical theatre productions helps us understand "to what degree the what influences the what," and this seems the most important result of this application for Burke studies at large.
Many adoptions of the pentad focus on the pentad's use for juridical rhetoric, or an examination of past "acts," whether it be Ronald Reagan's invasion of Grenada (Birdsell, 1990) Plato's rhetoric (Abrams, 1981), or even corporate picnics (Walker and Monin, 2001). Utilizing pentads for musical performance fundamentally changes the usefulness of Burke's thought from past events, to their adaptation for deliberative, or future events, i.e., an upcoming musical performance. Utilizing the pentad allowed actors to immediately see the degree of effect of their changing interpretations in real time. This ability to see the immediate variation of those changing interpretations is a potential new direction for Burke studies, and opens Burke scholarship from examinations of past acts, to a new methodologies for studying rhetoric as future performatives.
The first goal in utilizing dramatism in the production process of Little Women: The Musical was to achieve a greater depth of character analysis than found in Oswalt's "beats" method. To achieve this goal, a brief introduction to Kenneth Burke's dramatism was given by a Burke historian. In his workshop he presented students with the following:
In A Grammar of Motives (1945), literary theorist Kenneth Burke outlined his conception of what he would call "dramatism": a method that readers can use to identify the rhetorical nature of any text, opening it to multiple perspectives.The director, therefore, took the worksheet above and had the students examine the "purpose-agency ratio" to determine what influence they had on each other, whether or not the purpose determined the agency, and vice versa. In the cases above, the students could see that Amy's burning of Jo's story was one of the most significant purpose-agency ratios of that entire sequence of the show, and therefore the staging of that scene would get more attention than other purpose-agency influences. The most significant implication from using Oswalt's "beats" before engaging in a discussion of the Burkean pentads was to see how limiting Oswalt's "beats" actually was on dramatic interpretation. Since Oswalt's beats were only one out of a possible twenty ratios that could be utilized, students immediately began pentading other scenes in which they were singing. For example, Jo is proposed to twice in the musical, once by Laurie and once by Professor Bhaer. Burke's dramatistic ratios immensely helped the actor who played Jo in finding her motivation for rejecting one and accepting another. By only using Oswalt's "beats," Laurie's antics take center stage in his being refused, but through pentading Professor Bhaer's proposal, a new reason for Laurie's rejection emerged:
ACT: what was done?
SCENE: When and where was the act performed?
AGENT: Who did it?
AGENCY: How and with what was the act performed?
PURPOSE: What motivated the act?
After readers answer these statements based on their interpretations, the next question focuses on the influence one may have on another. "How does the _______influence the ___________?"
Act—Bhaer proposesIn this pentad, it is Bhaer as "the Other," the fact that he is "not-Concord" that the actor who played Jo identified as having the most effect on Bhaer's acceptance, and therefore since Laurie is the next door neighbor, the one who most specifically represents Concord, the actor who played Jo was able to exploit this tension between the two men.
Agent—mentor to Jo, represents "the Other," represents "not-Concord"
Scene—outside the March house
Agency—through her published book
Purpose—to tell her he's missed her and loves her
The second purpose for utilizing Burkean pentads was to help shape the director's own interpretive focus. Since the director did not want to dictate the staging, the pentads help students identify with the directorial interpretations as they creatively participate in the creation of the meaning of the performance. As part of the preparation for the production, the director conducted archival research in the Louisa May Alcott papers in the Houghton Library at Harvard University. What surprised her was that there was no evidence in the Alcott letters that would indicate that Louisa and "Beth" were very close in real life. There were no letters in Louisa's collection from "Beth," but many letters between "Beth" and "Marmee." The director began to wonder whether Louisa's portrayal of Jo in the novel is what she merely wished her relationship had been with her sister "Beth" in real life. In the novel they are very close, thus every adaptation of the novel portrays them as very close. Based on her reading of the Louisa May Alcott letters, then, the director tried to capture a bit more of this dynamic in the scene "Some Things are Meant to Be." This scene is normally staged with Jo's overwhelming sadness of Beth's impending death. Based on a new possible interpretation from the Alcott letters, the director wanted to stage Jo not as a grieving sister, but in denial over what is happening, so much so that she cannot even give Beth her full attention in this scene. By staging Jo as calloused to her sister's illness, though, the director could encourage the audience to identify with her need to change, to collectively hope this is not the Jo we are left with at the end of the story. When Jo does realize that her home is truly important, her recent denial then becomes an even more significant motivation for her writing and submitting her great novel in the first place.
In order for this alternate interpretation to not be merely handed down to the actors to obey, utilizing the pentads allowed the actors to come to these conclusions on their own, as they creatively participated in arriving at similar interpretations. In A Rhetoric of Motives (1950), Kenneth Burke writes, "Longinus refers to that kind of persuasion wherein the audience feels as though it were not merely receiving, but were itself creatively participating in the poet's or speaker's assertion. Could we not say that, in such cases, the audience is exalted by the assertion because it has the feel of collaborating in the assertion?" (57-58). To demonstrate to the actors that they, too, might have alternative motivations than merely what is written in the novel, the actor playing Jo and the actor portraying Beth wrote their own pentads:
|Act||Beth dies||Beth leaves Jo|
|Agent||Beth—sister who has no aspirations||I love being at home|
|Scene||Beach—life goes on||Beach—I'd rather be back in Concord|
|Agency||Hummels, Concord--frustration||Hummels, Concord-fulfillment|
|Purpose||Reminder of how awful Concord is||Jo's success|
While they did not necessarily arrive at the same conclusion, the fact that they could arrive at similar conclusions allowed them to understand the staging and see how many other interpretations were possible, i.e., "if not this one, then why not that one?" The pentads also balanced this artistic freedom with the need to stay as close to audience expectations as possible as a feature of the musical theatre genre. Dennis Brissett writes, "Dramatism gives one no criteria for such smug demarcations of one's own virtues and the vices of all others. We are not talking about some simplistic notion of demystification as an unmasking, a revelation of the truth; rather we are offering dramatism as a technique of analysis of human interaction and also as a method for assessing social theories of human conduct" (336). The students could see that while there was no one single correct interpretation, there were limitations on how interpretive we could be. While the pentads helped create those interpretations, they simultaneously allowed the students to examine them. Bissett writes, "The demystification of action that can be achieved by reclaiming neglected petadic elements has its counterpart in the critique of theories of action that similarly neglect elements of the pentad. And here, unlike other theories of action, dramatism provides the method of demystifying and criticizing itself. It is possible, therefore, to produce a dramatistic account of some situation, and, without shifting one's ground, equally possible to analyze that account" (Brissett 336). This analyzing of student interpretations is not allowed by Oswalt's "beats" method. The students only supplied what they thought were the agencies by means of which for their purposes, but they never considered why they believed that until they utilized Burke's dramatistic ratios. This is why filling out the charts for Oswalt's acting beats seemed like homework to many of the students, but creatively participating in persuading the audience that Jo March needed to change did not seem like homework at all.
These interpretative choices that involve the audience in the creative participation of Jo March's transformation, their identification, has an even greater implication for the genre of musical theatre at large. Because musical theatre forms are much more closely tied to popular culture than "straight" theatre, musicals generally do not challenge audiences or create their own drama. Kimberling writes on dramatism's ability to challenge the inherent limitations in popular art's predictable forms:
The Burkean model provides a tentative answer to the frequently posed question as to whether popular art reflects or engenders social values and mores. Dramatism would suggest that it does both. Popular art reflects social values because it presents universal patterns of experience, patterns that the audience must recognize if it is to understand the work. It engenders values by presenting dramatic scenarios placing ordinary values in conflict situations, situations demanding that some hierarchy of values be established, and by stimulating audience identification with the processes of value formation (Kimberling 84).Again, the ball scene is an example of how dramatism can be used not only to reflect social values, but to engender values by demanding that the audience establish a hierarchy of those values. By utilizing Oswalt's "beats" in the previous charts, one can see how students supplied fairly formulaic means to their purposes, i.e., Meg wanting to make a good impression on the Moffatt's by making sure Jo behaves herself. However, since pentads allow students to both simultaneously produce and analyze their dramatistic accounts, the ball scene can be used to not only reflect social values, but to also engender conflicting values. To engender these conflicting values, however, some additional work is required by the actors than merely identifying the acting "beats." In other words, the actors must "earn their increment" through developing new pathways for conflicting values to operate. One of these pathways is the subject of Burke's Language as Symbolic Action:
There is a further step in our outward direction: and it is the one we most need for our present inquiry. Insofar as a poem is properly formed, suppose you were to ask yourself what subtitle might properly be given to each stanza. Or suppose you were to break up each chapter of a novel into a succession of steps or stages, giving titles to such parts of a chapter, then to chapters, then to groups of chapters, and so finally to the whole work. Your entitlings would not necessarily agree with any that the author himself may have given, since titles are often assigned for fortuitous reasons. And of course other readers might not agree with your proposed entitlings. But the point is this: Insofar as the work is properly formed, and insofar as your titles are accurate, they mark off a succession of essences (369-370).What Burke identifies as "subtitles," acting preparation generally calls "subtext." While "subtext" is a pretty common way for actors to find meaning in the script, it becomes even more significant the more the director wants the audience to establish hierarchies of values. For musical theatre productions, with their inertia already tilted towards merely reinforcing cultural norms and values, subtext is essential in producing dramatistic pathways for audiences to consider these competing values. This is how the concept of subtext was introduced to the actors for Little Women, The Musical:
Subtext now becomes useful specifically for the songs you sing. Subtext is the main source of your internal dialogue, the chatter of your inner voice expressing how you feel about what is happening. When you fashion subtext for each phrase of your text and complete it with internal thoughts for all the places where you don't sing, you make your character into a multi-level communicator like a real person, and you take a giant step toward being believable on stage.The focus on creating "internal dialogue" to form a "multi-level" communicator has its roots not only in the "unending conversations" taking place, but also in the creation of multiple pathways of action. Will the characters act in predictable ways that reinforce social norms, or will characters surprise audience members by their resistance to formulaic behaviors? Using the example of the student analysis of the ball scene again, the creation of subtext created some surprising opportunities for presenting audiences with conflicting values to examine. Using Oswalt's acting "beats," the actor playing Meg indicated that her purpose was to make a good impression on the Moffatt's by making sure Jo did not embarrass them. However, through subtext of the same scene, other values are revealed. As Meg is approached by Mr. Brooke at the ball, she pulls Jo away from the dancing to calm her down, dropping her own dance card in the process. Mr. Brooke has come to get Laurie to take him home. They are center stage and Jo and Laurie are listening and observing them intently:
Meg: Sir! You've taken my dance card!
I need it but I don't want to have to ask.
Brooke: Your dance card? – Oh! Is this yours? Sorry. So – you're Margaret March?
What? I'm an idiot. Who is this? She's pretty!
Meg: Yes, I am.
Brooke: It's – a splendid party, isn't it? –
I am wowed by you!
Meg: Yes, it is. Quite - "lovely." So you're from Boston?
I don't know what to say…
Brooke: Actually Maine.
I can't stop staring at you!
Meg: I've never been to Maine.
Why did I just say that?
Brooke: You should go. It's beautiful country. Very primitive –
You should come with me!
Meg: I like primitive.
Why did I say THAT?
Does she like me?
Laurie: Mr. Brooke is a romantic.
Meg: Is that true?
He has something I like.
Brooke: Well, no, no. I read Sheats and Kelley. I mean Keats and Shelley. –
Shut up, Laurie, and let me talk!
Meg: So do I.
I understand you.
Brooke: You read Keats and Shelley?
This girl is way too cool for me.
Meg: All the time.
I actually know those guys.
In the ball scene, Meg's subtext reveals other purposes than just not embarrassing herself in front of the Moffatt's, which reinforces the social norms. When Meg responds to Mr. Brooke saying, "I like primitive," and her subtext for that line was "Why did I just say THAT?" she is both "producing a dramatistic account of some situation, and, without shifting one's ground, making it equally possible to analyze that account." Meg is reinforcing social norms, i.e., getting married to the handsome male lead character of a musical theatre production, and simultaneously engendering social values, i.e., the legitimization of a distinctively different culture than that of the extravagant ballroom in which the attractive male lead character of a musical theatre production and the attractive female lead character of a musical theatre production will fall in love.
To "block" the production, the director wanted the actors to know why they were moving when they were, and to initiate their own movement rather than just being told to move when the director wanted. After all, the actors have done the character work for themselves more precisely than even the director, so their suggestions are often quite inspired. The addition of Burkean dramatism in the subtext process suggests blocking options to the actors that they can feel on their own, complicating how the audience believes the characters should be behave in response to social norms. Again, this complication is anachronistic for the musical theatre genre, but dramatism opens musical theatre up to such possibilities, while itself staying true to form. Kimberling writes, "Burke would view [Kaplan's aesthetic theory] as dehumanizing. The reaction mode of Kaplan would find its place, in Burkean terms in the world of motion, not action. The world of human thought and language, however, necessarily implies action, since it is a dialectical process of giving wings to motive, transcending the linear stimulus response realm of mere motion" (Kimberling 70). Insomuch as subtext is an interior dialogue, it participates in the dialectical process of "giving wings to motive," making staging much more meaningful than merely identifying "acting beats" only. In the ballroom scene, therefore, when Mr. Brooke says that Maine is "very primitive," he has many choices. He can reinforce social norms by delivering the line with disdain in comparison to the extravagant ballroom of the Moffatt's, or he could engender social values by deliver the line with pride, as an almost aside away from the other characters in the ballroom scene. When Meg replies, "I like primitive," she can reflect social norms by being embarrassed about valuing the primitive, or she can engender social values by shouting that out for all in the ballroom to hear.
The staging process, therefore, is based upon a deep understanding of the characters and their motivations for relating to other characters and their scenes independent of the individual objectives for each scene, the overall objective that the audience understands from each scene, and how a group of scenes relates to the entire act. Since no one character could both reflect and engender social norms at the same time, the director utilized a system of scene "leaders" and "followers" for each scene. While each scene demands its own leader, it is the balance of leaders to followers that both simultaneously reflects and engenders social values. The leader in a scene would be center stage more often than not; a follower in a scene would be more upstage rather than downstage. The leader could reflect a social norm, and the audience could witness that effect on the follower, or the leader could engender a new social value, and the audience could witness that effect on the follower. In this way, motion becomes action, since the movement is motivated by "human thought and language."
In a society where television productions such as Glee or Smash portray musical theatre production as frivolous pursuits of vanity devoid of scholarly attention, the significance of Burkean dramatism is vital to a reinvigoration of this popular art form. Brissett writes, "It is only in the social scientific use of dramatism—seeing to give due weight to all elements of the pentad in the explanation of human conduct—that we can find an implicit commitment to the demystification of any single-minded explanatory scenario"(336). Dramatism reconnects musical theatre to the contextualized field of musicology, while simultaneously distancing itself from pure aesthetic value conflict. The pentadic ratios, therefore, simultaneously provide the substance of interpretive material for musical theatre production in the characterization, blocking, and staging phases of production, and the means by which to examine characterization, blocking, and staging without "shifting one's ground," creating exciting opportunities for the scholarly attention to this popular art form.
Abrams, Judith. "Plato's Rhetoric as Rendered by the Pentad." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 11.1 (1981): 24-28. Print.
Alcott, Louisa May. "Personal Correspondence." Houghton Library Special Collections. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Print.
Birdsell, David. "Ronald Reagan on Lebanon and Grenada: Flexibility and Interpretation in the Application of Kenneth Burke's Pentad." Methods of Rhetorical Criticism: A Twentieth-Century Perspective (3rd revised edition). Ed. Bernard L. Brock, Robert L. Scott, and James W. Chesebro. Detroit, MI: Wayne State UP, 1989. 196-209. Print.
Brissett, Dennis, Charles Edgly, and Robert Stebbins, Robert, eds. Life as Theatre: a Dramaturgical Sourcebook. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers. 2005. Print.
Burke, Kenneth. A Grammar of Motives. 1945. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.
—. A Rhetoric of Motives. 1950. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.
—. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature and Method. Berkeley, CA: U of California P, 1966. Print.
Deer, Joe, and Rocco Dal Vera, eds. Acting in Musical Theatre: A Comprehensive Course. New York: Routledge. 2008. Print.
Helfgot, Daniel. The Third Line: The Opera Performer as Interpreter. New York: Schirmer Books. 1993. Print.
Howland, Jason. Little Women: The Musical. New York: Cherry Lane Music. 2005. Print.Kimberling, C. Ronald. Kenneth Burke's Dramatism and Popular Arts. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State UP, 1982. Print.
Ostwald, David. Acting for Singers: Creating Believable Singing Characters. New York: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.
Walker, Robyn and Nanette Monin. "The Purpose of the Picnic: Using Burke's Dramatistic Pentad to Analyse and Company Event." Journal of Organizational Change Management 14.3 (2001): 266-79. Print.
Matthew T. Althouse & Floyd D. Anderson, The College at Brockport: State University of New York
Widely embraced by many academic disciplines, Jerome S. Bruner's scholarly ideas hold important, but unexplored, implications for rhetoric. In addressing this situation, this study elucidates Bruner's concept of "Trouble" and shows how it redirects Burkeian pentadic analysis. It further demonstrates that Bruner's concept of Trouble represents a profound paradigm shift, an alternative understanding and reenvisioning of Burke's pentad, which suggests new heuristic possibilities for rhetorical scholars.
To paraphrase Kenneth Burke's classic, A Grammar of Motives, story structure is composed minimally of the pentad of an Agent, an Action, a Goal, a Setting, an Instrument, and Trouble (Burke, 1945). Trouble is what drives the drama, and it is generated by a mismatch of two or more of the five constituent terms of the pentad. —Jerome S. Bruner ("Life as Narrative" 697)
Indeed Burke's morphology of human Trouble (his capital T, not mine) still stands as a guide for students of narrative.—Jerome S. Bruner (Making Stories, 110, n1)
Although Jerome S. Bruner is widely known for contributions to the study of education, psychology, law, and narratology, his scholarship also holds implications for the study of rhetoric. Bruner develops his ideas about narrative in relation to Kenneth Burke's dramatistic pentad, which consists of act, agent, agency, scene, and purpose. However, Bruner's use of the pentad includes the concept of Trouble, perhaps the single most important concept in his narratology. As Bruner envisions it, Trouble does not constitute the sixth term of a hexad, and it is not a separate, distinct pentadic term. Rather, Trouble is a complication, tension, or mismatch between the terms in a pentadic ratio. As such, it constitutes a breach of canonical legitimacy. Its inclusion as an additional dimension of the pentad, Bruner contends, enables one to more directly focus on terminological complications and imbalances. Bruner frequently claims that references to Trouble may be found in Burke's Grammar and has long and consistently maintained that Burke himself added "Trouble with a capital T" to the pentad. However, our own reading of Grammar, as well as Burke's earlier discussions of the pentad in "The Study of Symbolic Action" and "The Tactics of Motivation," failed to locate "Trouble with [or without] a capital T."
In light of the importance Bruner gives it, as well as the ambiguity surrounding its origin, a thorough investigation of Trouble is in order, a task that we undertake in this essay. Although Bruner attributes Trouble to Burke, we demonstrate that it is Bruner himself who deserves credit for its conceptualization and development. We also demonstrate that Trouble represents a profound change, what Thomas Kuhn calls a paradigm shift (e.g., 11, 77, 111), in thinking about the pentad and its application. Whereas Burke's pentad emphasizes consistency between the nature of acts and agents and a given scene, Bruner's version emphasizes inconsistency that confronts and is anomalous with cultural and canonical expectations. It represents a radical shift from the traditional understanding of Burke's pentad and a reenvisioning of it. Our discussion unfolds in four parts. First, we describe Bruner's development of Trouble. Second, we explicate his understanding of the concept. Third, we show how Trouble reenvisions and redirects our thinking about the pentad. Finally, we discuss Bruner's distinction between "ontological Trouble" and "epistemological Trouble."
As we have stated, Bruner himself deserves credit for the conceptualization and development of "Trouble," despite his attribution of the concept to Burke (e.g., Actual Minds 20; "The Narrative Construction" 16; "The Reality of Fiction" 58). In Making Stories, Bruner remarks, "Indeed Burke's morphology of human Trouble (his capital T, not mine) still stands as a guide for students" (110, n1). In "Life as Narrative," he writes, "To paraphrase Kenneth Burke's classic, Grammar of Motives, story structure is composed minimally of the pentad of an Agent, an Action, a Goal, a Setting, an Instrument and Trouble (Burke, 1945). Trouble is what drives the drama, and it is generated by a mismatch of two or more of the five constituent terms of the pentad" (697). Despite references like these, our readings of Burke did not find "Trouble."
However, our reading of Grammar does correspond with Bruner's reading in our shared understanding that Burke propounds a "principle of consistency" between pentadic terms (Grammar 9). According to this principle, "the nature of acts and agents should be consistent with the nature of the scenes" (3). In Bruner's restatement, "Actions should fit Goals appropriately, Scenes should be suited to Instruments, and so on" (Acts of Meaning 50). However, whereas Burke grounds consistency between pentadic terms in the constituents of drama (Grammar 3, 7, 9), Bruner grounds the consistency principle in culture and its norms, conventions, and expectations ("Narrative Construction" 16). Bruner also maintains that Trouble itself "presupposes such a consistency of terms" (Acts of Meaning 50). Although Burke regularly maintains the need for congruence between pentadic terms, he discusses incongruity between featured terms at only two places in Grammar. First, he offers an example of mismatched, inconsistent terms: "And whereas comic and grotesque works may deliberately set the elements at odds with one another, audiences make allowances for such liberty, which reaffirms the same principle of consistency in its very violation" (3). Second, Burke notes how an "appositional relationship" between terms can become an "oppositional relationship," in which "we encounter the divisive relationship, the genitive transformation of something which is 'a part of' a larger context into something which is 'apart from' this context" (107). Except for these two comments, Burke is silent throughout Grammar about inconsistent terminological relationships.
To reconcile our reading of Grammar with Bruner's claim that it contains references to "Trouble with a capital T," we e-mailed him for assistance. From our correspondences, we draw two conclusions. First, the probable source of the idea that Bruner frequently attributes to Burke, that the impetus of drama lies in "Trouble with a capital T," is not Grammar or any other of Burke's works. Instead, it seems likely that Burke discussed Trouble with Bruner in one or more of their personal conversations, "typically while sipping coffee somewhere!" ("RE: Trouble with a capital T." 8 August 2011). Unfortunately and understandably, Bruner could not furnish specific details of conversations, verbatim or otherwise, that occurred decades ago. It is easy, however, to imagine a conversation such as Bruner describes in which Burke might have suggested that a "tension" or "misfit" between two pentadic terms amounted to Trouble, perhaps even "with a capital T."
Second, regardless of who originated the idea of Trouble, it is Bruner himself who deserves the credit for its conceptual development and for adding it to Burke's pentad. As Bruner informed us, his reading of Grammar lead him to reckon that "Burke's discussion throughout the book speaks to the generation of Trouble as an outcome of imbalance in his pentad" ("RE: Trouble with a capital T," 5 August 2011; Acts of Meaning 50). This understanding makes sense in light of Bruner's training, vocation, and scholarship. Indeed, one of Bruner's best known early works explores how humans perceive incongruity (Bruner and Postman). Reading Grammar through eyes accustomed to dealing with actions and agents that deviate from expected norms, Bruner saw the possibility for inconsistency and imbalance wherever Burke wrote of consistency and balance. Moreover, although the idea of inconsistency between pentadic terms is unstated in Grammar, it is not absent. It is implicit throughout the work. For where there is a possibility of consistent relationships, there is also a possibility of inconsistent ones. If there can be a "goodness of fit" between pentadic terms, there must also be a corresponding "badness of fit." Thus, in his conceptualization and development of Trouble, Bruner made explicit what Burke had left unstated and implicit.
As we have suggested, Bruner's interpretation sets the stage for a Kuhnian paradigm shift in the way Burke's dramatistic pentad can be understood. To investigate this shift and its implications, we now explore how Trouble functions in Bruner's program of narratology.
In response to objectivism, positivism, and strict behaviorism, Bruner argues that psychology should key on how stories, rather than logical arguments or lawful principles, guide understandings of clients' plights. In Acts of Meaning, he illustrates how "logical or categorical" ways of thinking are often disregarded by interpretive acts of individuals (42). "An obvious premise of our folk psychology," Bruner writes, "is that people have beliefs and desires: we believe that the world is organized in a certain way, that we want certain things, that some things matter more than others, and so on" (39). These beliefs and desires are encapsulated in their stories, which are informed by culture and language (11). Although these factors may appear "vague" to many social scientists, they help "specify the structure and coherence of the larger contexts in which specific meanings [generated by stories of individuals] are created and transmitted" (64-65). The "emblems" of experiences, crafted by storytellers at the intersection of culture and language, differ from "logical propositions. Impenetrable to both inference and induction, they resist logical procedures for establishing what they mean. They must be interpreted" (60). Inspired by Bruner's perspective, narrative therapists believe that they must first understand the self-generated outlooks of people, as revealed by their stories, as the basis of and in conjunction with treatments.
The meanings of stories, Bruner contends, cannot be properly understood without first finding "Trouble." In defining the term, he turns to Burke's pentad: "Well formed stories are composed of a pentad of an Actor, an Action, a Goal, a Scene, and an Instrument plus Trouble" (Acts of Meaning 50). By themselves, Burke's basic five terms are "sufficient descriptions of story stuff,'" involving "characters in action with intentions or goals in settings using particular means" (Actual Minds 20). Yet, they may be insufficient to adequately reflect motives behind choices individuals make and behind interpretations used to understand their lives. To address this claimed inadequacy, Bruner explains that the drama driving meaning in stories emerges from "Trouble," a "mismatch" ("Life as Narrative" 697) or "imbalance" (Acts of Meaning 50) between paired constituents of a pentadic ratio. For instance, Trouble happens when "an Action toward a particular Goal is inappropriate in a particular Scene, as with Don Quixote's antic maneuvers in search of chivalric ends; an Actor does not fit the Scene, as with Nora in A Doll's House" (50; see also Actual Minds 20; Making Stories 34). In these cases, the "mismatch" or "imbalance" between pairs of pentadic terms suggests the need for resolution of tension between actual and desired states of existence. Thus, Don Quixote must be jolted by practical jokes into awareness of the Trouble his scenically inappropriate behavior has created. Nora must mature to face the scenic demands of marriage and of living in a society that requires honesty.
Trouble, says Bruner, is "what drives the drama" ("Life as Narrative" 697); it is the "engine of narrative" ("The Narrative Construction" 16; "The Reality of Fiction" 58). He illustrates this in Acts of Meaning, where he describes an experiment featuring kindergarten children who were told various accounts of a young girl's birthday party and who were asked to talk about their interpretations of those accounts. Different depictions of the event all featured a rather ordinary happening: the presentation of a cake adorned with lit candles. Here, the scene dictated a certain act; consequently, the young guests expected the girl to blow out the flames. That occurred in one version of the story. In another version, however, Trouble emerged because the youngster extinguished the candles with water (81-82). Bruner notes that, when asked to discuss impressions of the different stories, children were content to say little when the expected occurred. When pentadic terms were balanced or matched, "the young subjects were rather nonplussed. All they could think to say was that it was her birthday." Yet, children became unsettled when the unexpected occurred and, thus, they offered "ten times as many elaborations," as compared with elaborations of the expected (82). Bruner explains that people strive to find "'meaning' in the exceptional" and "meanings that inhere in the nature of their departure from the ordinary" (48).
With its emphasis on "departure from the ordinary," Bruner's notion of Trouble is similar to Kuhn's concept of "anomaly." Kuhn writes, "discovery commences with awareness of anomaly, i.e., with recognition that nature has somehow violated the paradigm-induced expectations that govern normal science" (52-53). Like anomalies that spur Kuhnian paradigm shifts, instances of Trouble involve violations, breaches of culturally-induced expectations. We are not suggesting, however, that Bruner's concept has been influenced by Kuhn's notion of anomaly. Quite the opposite is the case. Kuhn has affirmed that Bruner and Postman's 1949 experimental study of the perception of incongruity, which he considers "a wonderful and cogent schema for the process of scientific discovery" (62), was influential in shaping his own understanding of the role of anomaly in paradigm shifts (63-64; also see Bruner, Actual Minds 47). Nevertheless, our point is that anomaly and Trouble are similar concepts and perform similar functions. In science, an anomaly may lead to a radical "transformation of vision" that causes scientists "to adopt new instruments" and to look for explanations in "new places" (Kuhn, 111). In human relationships, Trouble may induce people to "expand the horizon" of interpretive possibilities (Bruner, Acts of Meaning 59-60). As Yoos points out, Bruner's concept is derived in part from what Aristotle in his Poetics calls peripeteia ("Making Stories" 463; also see Reframing Rhetoric 165). According to Aristotle, peripeteia works in conjunction with anagnorisis (discovery) and pathos (suffering) as the three elements of a plot. It is a sudden reversal of the protagonist's fortune or circumstances: "a change from one state of things within a play to its opposite" (Poetics 1452a15-25). Such a drastic change "troubles" agents and forces them to seek new meanings and in "new places." Without Trouble, there can be no drama.
Trouble is not the sixth term in a hexad. Burke (Grammar 443; Dramatism and Development 23; Attitudes Toward History, 3rd ed., 394; "Counter-Gridlock" 366-367) and others (Melia, 72, n21; Rountree, para 5; Anderson and Althouse, para. 31-41) have suggested the development of a hexad, but with the addition of "attitude" as its sixth term. This kind of undertaking, however, is not Bruner's goal, and he has expressed no interest in it. While maintaining that the pentad has "five constituent terms" ("Life as Narrative" 697), Bruner develops the concept of Trouble to describe a relationship between existing pairs of pentadic terms. These terms are grounded in cultural conventions, norms, and expectations. What constitutes "appropriate balance" between terms in various pentadic ratios is likewise determined by cultural values and beliefs. When balance is upset, Trouble emerges. For example, dressing appropriately for a formal church wedding conforms with canonical norms, but wearing a bathrobe and hair curlers would upset expectations, causing Trouble. Keeping one's lawn mowed and trimmed is considered the duty of a good neighbor, but cutting the grass with a power mower at 3:00 a.m. would be considered the act of an inconsiderate neighbor and would create Trouble.
With its emphasis on terminological imbalances, Trouble reframes our understanding of the pentad. As noted previously, Burke posits a "principle of consistency" between a scene and the agents and acts it contains (Grammar 9). Bruner, however, is interested in exploring stories about agents and acts that challenge and disrupt given scenes. This point is apparent in his explanation of the two ways of dealing with Trouble.
First, Trouble can be contained. That is, through narratives, breaches may be explicated to "keep peace" with cultural norms and expectations. However, this conciliation may not be lasting, as containment does not necessarily function to "reconcile," to "legitimize," or "even to excuse," although it sometimes might (Acts of Meaning 95). For instance, the homeowner who mowed his lawn at 3:00 a.m. might explain that his action hinged on a "tough week at work," a need to "teach a lazy teenaged son a lesson about getting yard work done," and having drunk "too much bourbon." Sharing this account with agitated neighbors may not fully assuage their irritation or prevent future conflicts. However, it may calm them somewhat, making neighborhood peace and quiet possible. For the homeowner, it may also function to make sense of and mitigate the occurrence. This imagined example helps illustrate Bruner's view about containment. Although not ruling out happy endings either in stories or in life, he is dubious that resolution of Trouble is always possible or even necessarily desirable. "Narrative," he writes, "is designed to contain uncanniness rather than to resolve it." He does not think that it is necessary in a narrative that "the Trouble with which it deals be resolved." Nor does he think that it has "to come out on the 'right side.'" Containment of human plight, not resolution, is Bruner's prescription: "The 'consoling plot' is not the comfort of a happy ending, but the comprehension of plight that, by being made interpretable, becomes bearable" ("The Narrative Construction" 16; see also Making Stories 15). In this process, canonicality may be affirmed to ensure social cohesion and a sense of "civility." Yet, non-canonical perspectives are also revealed and widely recognized (Acts of Meaning, 95-96).
Second, the Trouble caused by breaches of existing canons may be incapable of redress and may thus result in the adoption of new canons. Recognizing the positive uses of nay-saying, Bruner does not think that canonical norms and expectations in literature or in life are "culturally and historical terminal." The norms of narrative and of life change "with the preoccupations of the age and the circumstances" ("The Narrative Construction" 16). Bruner explains that "an initial canonical state is breached, redress is attempted which, if it fails, leads to crisis; crisis, if unresolved, leads eventually to a new legitimate order" ("Life as Narrative" 697). Imagine that a person attending a marriage ceremony in impious attire represents widespread discontent with the high cost and excessive decorum of weddings. This collective disgruntlement could drive the popularization of informal, "come-as-you-are" weddings in public parks and backyards, illustrating how new legitimacies can arise out of breaches of old legitimacies. Even when Trouble is contained and accepted pieties and norms are confirmed, its presence has revealed the possibility of an alternative "reality," one that is likely to recur in the future. Insofar as Bruner does not think that there can be final resolutions to the tensions that cause Trouble, his attitude toward human plight might be characterized as one of neo-Stoic resignation. But, it is an optimistic, even progressive, resignation that is tempered with a belief that "there are alternate 'realities' possible" ("RE: Trouble with a capital T," 5 September 2011). An imagined better world can become reality.
The nature of Bruner's reenvisioning of the pentad now established, we turn our attention to elaborating its implications for understanding pentadic ratios. Trouble assumes the existence or possibility of a "goodness of fit" between the terms in a pentadic ratio. Such goodness of fit rests on the idea of cultural and canonical legitimacy. Because a narrative's "'tellability' as a form of discourse rests on a breach of conventional expectation," it is "necessarily normative." Hayden White, Victor Turner, and Paul Ricoeur, in addition to Bruner, maintain that narrative is concerned with "cultural legitimacy." "A story pivots," Bruner points out, "on a breach of legitimacy" ("The Narrative Construction" 15). The "appropriate balance" among the various terms in Burke's pentad, Bruner explains, is "defined as a 'ratio' determined by cultural convention. When this 'ratio' becomes unbalanced, when cultural convention is breached, Trouble ensues" (16). This description highlights Bruner's reenvisioning of the pentad as the five terms "plus Trouble" (Acts of Meaning 50). We have previously explained how this additional element enables Bruner to focus on the interrelationships between pentadic terms and ratios. This, in turn, facilitates exploration of how violations of cultural norms, and the ensuing complications of Trouble, may be charted. The "very notion of Trouble presupposes that Actions should fit goals appropriately. Scenes should be suited to Instruments, and so on" (Acts of Meaning 50). If actions do not fit goals, if scenes are not suited to instruments, or if there are other deviations from the "canonical," breaches of cultural legitimacy occur.
In Acts of Meaning, Bruner writes that the "proper study" of human psychology begins with "the concept of culture itself—particularly its constitutive role." Individuals and their personal systems of meaning reflect the values of a community (11). Culture, he says, is "constitutive of the mind" (33). "It is culture, not biology," he continues, "that shapes human life and the human mind, that gives meaning to action by situating its underlying intentional state in an interpretive system" (34). For Bruner, the pentadic terms and ratios represent such an interpretive system, one that is culturally constituted. The terms and ratios are, according to Burke, no less than "the necessary 'forms of talk about experience,'" and they are "transcendental" categories insofar as all human thought and speech "necessarily exemplifies" them (Grammar 317). By making drama, which is a product of culture, the key term for his critical system, Burke implicitly grounded the pentad in culture. Bruner is more explicit, maintaining that cultural conventions and shared understandings constitute and legitimize the transcendental categories. The "appropriate balance" among the terms, Bruner says, is "defined as a 'ratio' determined by cultural convention" ("Narrative Construction" 16). Each one of the ratios represents a particular perspective, point of view, or "terministic screen," that possesses culturally determined legitimacy. Unbalanced ratios are Trouble because they breach legitimacy. For this reason, Bruner sees the pentad as essentially ontological and concerned "with the cultural world and its arrangements, with norms as they exist" ("Narrative Construction" 16). His view is clearly at odds with and even constitutes an unintended rejoinder to Frederic Jameson's contention that Burke's dramatism is not sufficiently rooted in culture (509-511).
Pentadic ratios are important because they possess dialectical relationships to one another and function as terministic screens (see Beck, 456). In Grammar, Burke initially identifies ten ratios: scene-act; scene-agent; scene-agency; scene-purpose; act-purpose; act-agency; act-agent; act-purpose; agent-agency; and agency-purpose (15). He later adds that these ratios can also be reversed and that "the list of possible combinations would thereby be expanded to twenty" (262). But, there are also additional ratios. In the 1969 edition of Grammar, Burke suggests the possibility of adding "attitude" as a separate sixth term, making the pentad a hexad, and he proposes the inclusion of "scene-attitude" and "agent-attitude" ratios" (443). These, and their reverse, increase the number of ratios to 24. "For critics," Anderson and Althouse observe, "this condition opens new possibilities for expanding the scope of their perspectives" (para. 46). Since there are, at a minimum, 24 different pentadic ratios, each presenting a particular perspective or point of view, there are also at least 24 different "culturally illegitimate" forms of nay-saying (i.e., unbalanced or mismatched ratios) and, therefore, two dozen or more different kinds of Trouble.
By situating Trouble in culturally grounded pentadic ratios, Bruner incorporated it into the pentad, making it a useful and essential concept for drawing attention to deviations from the canonical. As Beck points out, "Because the basis for Burke's dramatic narrative is not just the interaction between the elements but instead an imbalance between two or more of these terms, Bruner called for inclusion of this sixth element to provide more focus in narrative analysis on this complication or imbalance" (457). A handful of studies in disciplines outside of rhetoric illustrate the utility of Trouble and its heuristic potential in pentadic analysis. For instance, in nursing, Beck employed Anderson and Prelli's "pentadic cartography" plus Bruner's Trouble to map birth trauma narratives of mothers. Her maps enabled her to pinpoint the source of the Trouble in a problematic ratio imbalance between act and agency. Inclusion of Trouble allowed her maps to focus more directly on the act-agency ratios in question. Thus, Beck drew attention to stories about breaches in standards for demonstrating "caring and effective communicating." Further, to offer critical redress, she recommended ways for health-care providers to recognize the perspectives of women during childbirth (464). In speech and language pathology, Althouse, Gabel, and Hughes incorporated Bruner's Trouble into pentadic analyses of "recovery narratives" of people who stutter. Viewing the management of Trouble as an integral part of stuttering recovery, the authors' pentadic maps revealed three distinct types of Trouble, which "hampered coping with stuttering in emotionally positive ways" (68). Redress for storytellers involved "desensitization" to cultural expectations, which allowed them to craft and follow their own expectations for fluency in social situations (67). In a sense, they created new "alternate realities" for speech.
The potential uses of Trouble by rhetorical critics are limited only by their own critical imaginations. Among the kinds of Trouble available for analysis are those resulting from incongruity between the shared values and norms of deviant and marginalized people and groups and those of the hegemonic, larger culture in which they exist. By using Bruner's reenvisioned pentad in such cases, critics could reveal and chart the various incongruities that cause Trouble and could assist in finding methods of redress. Critics could also explore how marginalized groups construct alternative and empowering social realities. From a theoretical perspective, these possibilities are important because some of Burke's detractors have argued that he did not pay sufficient attention to deviant and marginalized groups and that dramatism is therefore ill suited for studying their rhetoric. James Chesebro claimed that Burke was overly focused on the "science of words (logology)" and "de-emphasized diversity" (357-358). Celeste Condit contended that Burke's critical program developed during an earlier age and needed updating to meet the exigencies of contemporary contexts and to accommodate the issues of gender, culture, and class (350). Bruner's Trouble, however, does provide such an updating. Because it focuses on the anomalous, the deviant, the unconventional, and the non-canonical, Bruner's reenvisioned pentad seems ideally suited to investigations of the troubles arising from divergent interests and value systems based in gender, race, and class. In fact, Bruner has himself suggested the need for such analysis of several marginalized groups: the plight of African Americans in America's educational system (Acts of Meaning 25-27), the socialization of children in blue-collar Baltimore (81-81), the challenges of "the permanent underclass of the urban ghetto" and "the second and third generation of the Palestinian refugee camp" (96). Rhetorical scholarship employing pentadic mapping to locate Trouble and identify possible ways of redressing it might substantially assist in ameliorating the plights of these and other marginalized persons and groups.
According to Bruner, there are two distinct kinds of Trouble, ontological and epistemological. Trouble is ontological when it involves breaches of existing social norms and "realities." Trouble is epistemological when it concerns the legitimacy both of accepted social "realities" and of the ways in which such "realities" are constructed. "Burke's principal emphasis is on plight, fabula," Bruner notes. "It is, as it were, concerned ontologically with the cultural world and its arrangements, with norms as they exist" ("The Narrative Construction" 16). When canonical norms and "realities" are breached, the resulting Trouble is ontological. But, in the last half of the 20th century, Trouble also became epistemological. Bruner explains that, "as the apparatus of skepticism comes to be applied not only to questioning the legitimacy of received social realities but also to questioning the very ways in which we come to know or construct reality, the normative program of narrative (both literary and popular) changes with it" (16). Both narratives and theories of narrative begin to reflect epistemological questions: Is there such a thing as a "text"? What is "text" and what is "context"? Does the "author" create the "text," or does the "text" create the "author"? Indeed, is not the idea of the "author" as a thinking, knowing, speaking "agent" a mere illusion? As a result, narrative comes to rely "on the use of linguistic transformations that render any and all accounts of human action more subjunctive, less certain, and subject to doubt about their construal. It is not simply that 'text' becomes dominant but that the world to which it putatively refers is . . . the creation of the text" (16). Human action is no longer treated in the indicative mood, as something actual, a matter of "fact," but "subjunctively" ("Life as Narrative" 699), as supposition, desire, hypotheses, or possibility. The subjunctive mood has become dominant in modern literature. As a result, it "has accommodated to the perspectivalism and subjectivism that replaced the omniscient narrator." "In the modern novel," says Bruner, "there is more explicit treatment of the landscape of consciousness itself. Agents do not merely deceive; they hope, are doubting and confused, wonder about appearance and reality. Modern literature (perhaps like modern science) becomes more epistemological, less ontological" (699).
Interestingly, Bruner's own academic and scholarly career exemplifies both ontological Trouble and epistemological Trouble. In the early decades of his career, Bruner employed and celebrated the accepted view that logic and scientific experimentation were the proper tools for studying human psychology and related academic disciplines. The "mood" of his scholarly work was "indicative," conducted with an assurance that he was dealing with actual events in "a world that is, as it were, assumed to be immutable, and . . . 'there to be observed'" ("The Narrative Construction" 1). Then, in the 1980s, he experienced a paradigm shift and rejected his own past views on the primacy of analytic cognition (Yoos, "Making Stories" 462; Hyvarinen, 261). His "mood" changed from "indicative" to "subjunctive." For Bruner, Trouble had become epistemological. Deciding that "logical thought is not the only or even the most ubiquitous mode of thought" ("Life as Narrative" 691) and that there is "no fixed and firm line between 'reality' and 'fiction'" ("RE: Trouble with a capital T," 5 September 2011), he embraced "stories or narratives" as the preferred method for understanding human psychology ("Life as Narrative" 691; see also Making Stories 101). Bruner's later work has posited "a view that takes as its central premise that 'world making' is the central function of mind, whether in the sciences or arts" ("Life as Narrative" 691). Ironically, Bruner's own constructivist narratology, despite its origins in epistemological skepticism, is grounded in the cultural norms, values, and canonical social realities that storytelling in all its forms has created. As a result, Bruner's description of Burkeian dramatism as "concerned ontologically with the cultural world and its arrangements, with norms as they exist ("The Narrative Construction" 16) seems an apt description of his own later work. His epistemological perspective that "all 'realities' are. . .constructs of our own making" ("RE: Trouble with a capital T," 5 September 2011) is tempered with an ontological assurance that "there are alternative 'realities' possible" ("RE: Trouble with a capital T," 5 September 2011).
Arguably, Trouble is the most important notion in Bruner's narratology. As Bruner himself maintains, Trouble is the "engine of narrative" ("The Narrative Construction" 16). In our analysis of the concept's implications for the study of rhetoric, what have we discovered? Let us summarize. First, although Bruner attributes Trouble to Burke, Bruner himself deserves recognition for its conceptualization and development. Burke's written work does not mention the concept. We demonstrate that Bruner developed Trouble to more effectively analyze the complications or imbalances between pentadic terms in narratives. Second, Trouble consists of a "breach" of cultural and/or canonical legitimacy. According to Bruner, the five pentadic terms and various ratios are grounded in cultural conventions, norms, and expectations. Deviations from these cause Trouble, which calls out for resolution. Because Trouble results from dysfunctional relationships between paired terms in pentadic ratios, it does not constitute the separate sixth term of a hexad but does add an important new dimension to understanding the interactions between pentadic terms. Third, Bruner fully incorporates Trouble into the pentad as an essential part of the whole. He accomplishes this by grounding appropriate fits between terms in pentadic ratios in culture and by situating Trouble in the imbalances, tensions, or mismatches of terms in the ratios. Because there at least 24 pentadic ratios, there are an equal number of types of Trouble. The existence of so many ratios opens up possibilities for theorists and critics by expanding the scope of their perspectives. Finally, Bruner distinguishes between two kinds of Trouble. Ontological Trouble, which features an "indicative mood," is concerned with the here and now, with what actually happens when cultural conventions are breached. Epistemological Trouble, which features a "subjunctive mood," involves critiques of accepted canonical conventions, methods, techniques, and even of the ways of knowing and understanding themselves, including the accepted conventions and methods employed by academic disciplines.
Bruner's Trouble marks a profound shift in the traditional understanding of Burke's pentad, and it presents an innovative reenvisioning of pentadic analysis. Traditional pentadic analysis does not deal with incongruous relationships between terms. Bruner's Trouble emphasizes them. With Trouble, Bruner is enabled to explore how individuals use narratives to interpret and manage breaches of canonical norms. Trouble may be contained or, if not contained, can lead to the creation of new canons and new realities. In either case, the concept enables Bruner to more directly focus on how the complications and imbalances between pentadic terms influence human relations. Several writers have made exemplary scholarly use of Bruner's Trouble, not only in psychology (Bruner, "The Narrative Creation of Self") but also in such health-related fields as nursing (Beck) and speech and language pathology (Althouse, Gabel, and Hughes). Could rhetorical scholars make equally effective use of Bruner's reenvisioning of the pentad? We have suggested its potential usefulness in studying the rhetoric of marginalized and deviant groups and in coming to terms with complications arising from matters of gender, race, and class. Its potential use by rhetoricians is limited only by their own critical imaginations. Not all scholars or critics, of course, will find Trouble to be an attractive or useful concept. Perhaps many others, however, will recognize its potential heuristic usefulness in scholarship and criticism.
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Valerie Lynn Schrader, Penn State Schuylkill
This article proposes an extension of Burkean cluster criticism to include performative elements of a musical theatre text. Using the musical Wicked as a case study, this article uses cluster criticism to analyze Wicked’s script, cast recording, sheet music, and fieldnotes from three performances to reveal messages about hegemony.
At the end of the first act during the Broadway performance of Wicked on July 11, 2009, the Wizard of Oz (P.J. Benjamin) urged Elphaba (Nicole Parker) to cast what she believes is a levitation spell on the Wizard’s pet Monkey,1 Chistery (played by understudy Brian Wanee). However, the Wizard and his new press secretary, Madame Morrible (Rondi Reed) tricked Elphaba into casting a spell that caused Chistery and the other Monkeys to sprout wings and shriek in pain. As the Monkeys ran around the stage, the Time Dragon, a giant mechanical dragon at the top of the proscenium, moved back and forth with its eyes blazing red. In fact, everything on stage became red.
“Such wing span!” Reed as Madame Morrible declared grandiosely, admiring the flying Monkeys. “Oh, won’t they make perfect spies!”
Parker’s eyes widened, signifying that Elphaba is horrified. “Spies?”
“You’re right, that’s a harsh word,” Benjamin as the Wizard replied. “What about scouts? That’s what they’ll be really. They’ll fly around Oz, and report any subversive Animal activity…”
Parker stiffened her stance; Elphaba can’t believe what she’s just heard. “So it’s you?” she asked. “You’re behind it all?”
Benjamin used a calm, explanatory vocal tone that made his character sound like a father explaining a difficult concept to a young child. “Elphaba, when I first got here, there was discord and discontent. And where I come from, everyone knows: The best way to bring folks together is to give them a really good enemy.”
Wicked’s storyline came to life through this performance. Stephen Schwartz’s and Winnie Holzman’s hit 2003 musical, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, takes a different twist on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Written as a prequel to Dorothy’s adventures in Oz, Wicked tells the story of two other young women: Pretty, perky, popular Galinda and awkward, outcast, green-skinned Elphaba, who grow to become Glinda the Good Witch and The Wicked Witch of the West, respectively. Wicked tells of their friendship, their loves, their losses, and of an oppressive regime, led by the Wizard of Oz, that promotes anti-Animal bigotry. In this Broadway performance, Benjamin’s calm, fatherly demeanor seemed to contrast the Time Dragon’s blazing red eyes and mechanical movements – and yet, the two are part of the same regime. Parker’s reaction to her character’s discovery also contributed to the scene; her initial shock was more believable than if, for example, she had chosen to immediately become enraged. The various aspects of the production – the acting, the scenery, and the props – came together in this scene to provide the audience with an entertaining performance that illustrates hegemony.
Theatrical performance is an act of communication, and it can serve rhetorical functions. Theatrical performance can serve as a channel for authors, directors, performers and audiences to co-construct messages. Writers, actors and directors communicate a message to an audience, which, in turn, provides feedback (often in the forms of applause, ticket sales, or reviews) for future consideration. But how does one begin use rhetorical criticism to analyze a performative text, such as a musical, so that the performative elements, like scenery, vocal tone, and props, are taken into account? This article proposes one possible methodology: An extension of Burke’s cluster criticism to include not only terms, but performative aspects as well. For the purposes of this article, performance is viewed as representation (Madison and Hamera), or as Dwight Conquergood describes it, a “complement, supplement, alternative, and critique of inscribed texts” (33). Through an analysis of the New York performance script, original Broadway cast recording, sheet music, and fieldnotes from three performances of Wicked, I suggest that the Burkean cluster criticism, which is most commonly used for public discourse analysis, be extended to incorporate the performative elements of a musical theatre text. This extension of cluster criticism embraces the interdisciplinarity of both rhetoric and performance.
Interdisciplinarity is not a new concept. Aristotle was perhaps the first to combine rhetoric with other disciplines. In On Rhetoric, he connects rhetoric with politics (52-75) and with prose (193-229). The work of Kenneth Burke also crossed disciplinary boundaries; for example, Burke (The Philosophy of Literary Form) explains that it is important to read and analyze literature because literature can serve as “equipment for living” (61). He suggests that poetry (or any other literary text) “arm[s] us to confront perplexities and risks” (61). Burke says, “Art forms like ‘tragedy’ or ‘comedy’ or ‘satire’ would be treated as equipments for living, that size up situations in various ways and in keeping with correspondingly various attitudes” (304). Works of literature can “single out patterns of experience that are sufficiently representative of our social structure” (300). Such philosophy applied to literature extends to the performance of literature in theatre. Theatre can also serve as “equipment for living” by offering “patterns of experience” that represent our social structure. For example, in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical South Pacific, Nellie, a Caucasian American nurse stationed in the South Pacific during World War II, falls in love with Emile, a French citizen who now lives with his Polynesian children where Nellie is stationed. Although Nellie loves Emile, her racist upbringing causes her to struggle with her feelings, especially her feelings towards Emile’s children. Nellie ultimately overcomes her own racism and finds happiness with Emile and his family (Aikin; Pao). As audience members, when we watch Nellie in South Pacific, we may learn how to cope with negative feelings, notions, and events from our own pasts. We may even identify with Nellie and her struggle in ways that are unique to our own lives. Theatre, like literature, provides us with equipment for coping with the perplexities of life.
While theatre is indeed a communicative process, there are relatively few studies that have examined musical theatre from a rhetorical standpoint. Elliot, Gassner, Hellman, Miller, Papa, and Schriver and Nudd have published works analyzing plays, and there are a handful of studies in various journals, both communication-oriented and theatre-oriented, which critically analyze musical theatre works. Some of these musicals include Oklahoma! (Aikin; Cook; Most “We Know We Belong”), Rent (Schrader “No Day But Today”; Sebesta), Pins and Needles (Schrader “Connecting to and Persuading”), Miss Saigon (Pao), and Wicked (Burger; Lane; Kruse and Prettyman; Raab; Schrader “They Call Me Wonderful”; Schrader “Witch or Reformer”; Schrader “Face-work, Social Movement Leadership, and ‘Glinda the Good;’” Schweitzer; Wolf “Wicked Divas”; Wolf, “Defying Gravity”). It is my hope that this article will contribute to this body of literature in addition to outlining a new way of using cluster criticism to analyze performative texts.
This article proposes that cluster criticism, as a type of rhetorical criticism, be extended from its original form in order to examine the messages conveyed through theatre and how performance contributes to the creation of these messages. Rhetorical analysis allows one to find emerging themes (or clusters in cluster criticism) in the text, and these themes or clusters can be used to construct meaning. Rhetorical analysis also focuses on the role of the audience. As Charland observes, the audience embodies discourse. As audience members, we participate in the meaning-making process along with the performers, directors, producers, lyricists, composers and playwrights. Therefore, it is important not only to examine the written textual elements of a theatrical work, such as the script and sheet music, but also the performative elements experienced by the audience, such as scenery, stage direction, musical intonation, and sound effects. While written texts allow for ease of access at any point in the study, performances, which occur in a certain place and time, can only exist outside that context in the audience’s memory. Therefore, fieldnotes of performances are necessary to examine performative elements. Using the research technique of qualitative observation (Angrosino; Lindlof and Taylor), I attended three performances of Wicked, taking detailed fieldnotes by hand. These fieldnotes were transcribed within twenty-four hours of being written, achieving the recommendations of Lindlof and Taylor, who suggest that it is beneficial to transcribe fieldnotes while they are fresh in the researcher’s mind. The three performances observed for this study were the September 2, 2008 performance in Chicago, the September 13, 2008 touring company performance in Pittsburgh, and the New York Broadway performance on July 11, 2009. All three performances were directed by Joe Mantello. Observing more than one performance enhanced this study by providing an opportunity to compare and contrast the usage of performative elements.
Playbills from the three performances observed for this study. Photo taken by Valerie Lynn Schrader.
Cluster criticism allows rhetorical critics to examine relationships and meanings between concepts in the text (Foss, 1996). In Attitudes Toward History, Burke suggests that “significance [is] gained by noting what subjects cluster about other subjects” (232). In The Philosophy of Literary Form, he elaborates on his previous discussion of cluster criticism, explaining that writers use “associational clusters,” and that by studying their work, scholars can “find ‘what goes with what’ in these clusters – what kinds of acts and images and personalities and situations go with…notions of heroism, villainy, consolations, despair, etc.” (20). He makes note that cluster analysis allows interrelationships between these elements to emerge, and it is only by studying a work after it has been completed that one can understand these interrelationships (20). Burke recommends that cluster criticism begin with a “God term” or simplistic “summarizing title,” which allows the rhetorical critic to examine “what complexities are subsumed beneath it” (Grammar of Motives 105). However, as Carol A. Berthold notes, Burke’s method of cluster criticism is not clearly defined. She contends that “Burke only vaguely sketches the steps involved in cluster and agon analysis,” and that this may cause “anyone desiring to use the method [to] become perplexed by the lack of a clearly defined procedure” (302). Because of this ambiguity, other scholars have sought to define the method in ways that are less abstract.
One of these scholars is William Rueckert. Rueckert explains that “the object of a cluster analysis is to find out what goes with what, and why; it is done by making an index and a concordance for a single work or group of works by the same author” (84). He illustrates the method by applying it to a number of different texts, including the Shakespearean play Othello, poems by Cummings and Wordsworth, and the novels Madame Bovary and The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (85-89). Sonja Foss’s work has also contributed to the discussion of Burkean cluster criticism. Foss describes three steps rhetorical critics should take when engaging in cluster criticism (“Cluster Criticism”). First, the rhetorical critic must identify the “God terms” or key concepts in a text. Next, the critic must look for additional concepts and ideas that are associated with the “God terms” already identified, and these sub-concepts form collections, or clusters. Finally, the critic must examine how each of the sub-concepts represents the “God term.” Foss observes that this step often involves comparing clusters and incorporating other methods of rhetorical criticism, such as metaphoric criticism or feminist criticism (“Cluster Criticism”).
Cluster criticism has often been employed as a method of analyzing public address. Berthold applied cluster criticism to the rhetoric of John F. Kennedy, noting key terms in Kennedy’s speeches, such as “peace” and “strength,” as well as the agon-term2↩ “communism.” Several scholars have employed cluster criticism to examine religious texts (Foss “Women Priests;” Graves, Pullum), while others have applied cluster criticism to epideictic rhetorical texts (Docan, Freitas and Holtzman). Cluster criticism can also be used as a method when examining other rhetorical texts. Two examples are Corcorcan’s work, which employed cluster criticism to examine images of USSR political funerals in U.S. weekly news magazines, and an article by Hoffman and Cowan, who used cluster criticism to study Fortune 500’s list of the “100 best companies to work for” in 2004.
While traditional cluster criticism is useful in public address settings, it often falls short when used to analyze non-public address texts, such as films, television shows, music, and theatre. In 2006, Lynch re-envisioned cluster criticism so that it could be used to analyze qualitative interviews and focus groups. In his study, Lynch provided key terms for focus groups to use, but his participants defined those terms by using other terms, which were then clustered together. Lynch was then able to form meanings from these clusters. Through Lynch’s discussion of cluster criticism, one finds a way in which to work both inductively and deductively within the same method.
Through this study, I attempt to extend cluster criticism in a way that will allow it to be a useful tool for rhetorical critics studying performative texts. I begin with a “God term,” and then let the clusters emerge from the analysis. Instead of looking for single terms that relate to the “God term,” as various other scholars employing this method have done (Berthold; Foss “Cluster Criticism;” Graves; Pullum), I look at terms and phrases along with such content as music, lyrics, and visual elements to explore relationships between and among themes that emerge.
Traditionally, cluster criticism has emphasized the importance of the rhetor’s intent, as noted by Foss (“Women Priests”), Blakesley, Rueckert, Berthold, and Pullum. However, this extension of cluster criticism focuses on the messages conveyed to the audience. Similar to what Kimberling describes in regards to the creation of motion pictures (31), there are many people involved in how a message is conveyed through theatrical performance, and therefore, one cannot determine one sole rhetor for a performance. Writers create scripts and characters. Directors and actors both have visions for how characters and events should be portrayed. Producers, lighting designers, sound directors, property managers, set designers and costume designers all play a role in how messages are conveyed through performance. It is nearly impossible to determine who is responsible for the way a particular scene is performed in a theatrical production. Therefore, the emphasis of this study is on the experience of the living product of this collaboration: The performance of the character by a particular actor. As Gadamer observes, “it is in the performance . . . that we encounter the work itself” (116). This article contends that cluster criticism can also be employed through a postmodern perspective to analyze meanings that are co-constructed by the writers, directors, producers, performers and audiences of a particular performance. In this cluster criticism of Wicked, I look for messages and meanings within the text and for the ways in which performance affects these messages and meanings.
This study employs multiple layers of Wicked’s text in order to allow themes and meanings to emerge: The New York performance script, the original Broadway cast recording, sheet music, and fieldnotes of the three performances. Through observation and close readings of these layers, several key themes emerged, including leadership, hegemony, and the characteristics and strategies of social movements. Using these themes, a “God term” was chosen for this cluster analysis in order to center the study on the political messages within Wicked: Hegemony. Through the analysis of these layers of text, additional concepts and examples that relate to hegemony have emerged. These additional examples and concepts formed clusters, all of which were diagrammed on a cluster map (See Fig. 1). Finally, the clusters were analyzed in relation to the “God term” in order to form meanings about the performative text. The extension of this method has allowed meanings that are salient in the messages and performances of Wicked to emerge.
To be certain that “hegemony” is an appropriate “God term” to use in this cluster analysis, it is necessary to understand the history and meaning of the term. Hegemony, initially coined by Antonio Gramsci, is the maintenance of power by one group over a subordinate group (Further Selections). Hegemony describes how the dominant group coerces or convinces the subordinate group to accept their own oppression; it creates a contradictory consciousness within people in that while they experience life in an oppressed way, they are also subjected to the messages that praise upholding the status quo (McGovern). Gramsci suggests that the effect of this conflicting consciousness is “to immobilize subordinate groups from acting on the very real grievances that they feel” (McGovern 423). To use Gramsci’s own words, hegemony is “a complement to the theory of state-as-force” (Further Selections 357-358). The hegemonic state becomes “the ‘common sense’ of the people” (Fontana 98) in that they accept their own oppression as a part of everyday life. As Benedetto Fontana explains, “hegemony is the institutionalization of consent and persuasion within both civil society and the state” (99). In short, hegemony is the ability of the dominant or institutional group to persuade or coerce a subordinate group to accept its own oppression because there is significant benefit for the subordinate group by doing so.
Some scholars have examined the role of the hegemon. Mearsheimer suggests that a hegemon is a state that dominates all others (40-42). The hegemon is the dominant group, institution, or leader that dominates an oppressed group. Keohane notes that “the hegemon plays a distinctive role, providing its partners with leadership in return for deference” (46). A hegemon cannot act alone, because “it is impossible to separate the concept of hegemony from consent” (Lentner 738). In short, a hegemon cannot exist without an oppressed group to dominate.
Several of Burke’s writings connect to the concept of hegemony. In his response to Lentricchia’s criticism that Burke did not invoke the concept of hegemony, Tomkins argues that that Burke wrote about hegemony in several of his works, though he sometimes used different words to address the concept (124). Tompkins suggests that Burke’s speech, “Revolutionary Symbolism in America,” which he addressed to the American Writers Congress in 1935, was “an explicit intervention in the intersection of rhetorical, philosophic, literary, social and political life” (124, emphasis Tomkins’); in this speech, Burke sought to influence social change. Tomkins also points out that Burke addressed hegemony in Permanence and Change3 and in “My Approach to Communism.4” Through these works, Tomkins suggests that Burke’s concept of hegemony is quite close to Gramsci’s. Hegemony, therefore, seems an appropriate term through which to examine a text using a Burkean methodology.
This cluster analysis revealed a number of themes clustered around the concept of hegemony (See Fig. 1). Specifically, these clusters fell into two distinct categories: Strategies used by the hegemon and the Ozian public’s lack of concern for anything that does not directly affect them. While the first category appears more prominent based on the number of clusters and examples that refer to it (Oppression of Animals, Dillamond as scapegoat, Elphaba as scapegoat, Animals in lower level positions, and Morrible aligns herself with people in power), the second category is equally as important because it allows the hegemonic strategies to occur.
Figure 1. The cluster map created through this study. You can also view this image as a full-page PDF file here.
The apathy of the Ozian public is first revealed through the character of Fiyero in the first act. A trouble-making prince from Oz’s Vinku province, Fiyero, upon arrival at Shiz University, immediately encourages the other students to stop studying and start “dancing through life.” Fiyero is a carefree party boy, and in the Chicago production, he was played very much like a stereotypical fraternity brother seen in popular American movies. Fiyero begins the song “Dancing through Life” in an upbeat, major key:
Dancing through life, skimming the surface, gliding where turf is smooth. Life’s more painless for the brainless. Why think too hard when it’s so soothing, dancing through life? No need to tough it when you can sluff it off as I do. Nothing matters, but knowing nothing matters. It’s just life, so keep dancing through.
At first, one may dismiss Fiyero’s lyrics as simply a carefree happy-go-lucky character encouraging his classmates to worry less and have more fun. However, other themes and examples in the musical suggest that this upbeat don’t-worry-be-happy song actually has deeper implications. In Oz, Animals (with a capital A) are different from animals (with a lower-case a) because of their ability to think and communicate; they are essentially an oppressed social class that is gradually having their rights stripped away from them. By encouraging his classmates not to think about things that upset them, Fiyero turns his back on the oppression of the Animals, thus contributing to the hegemony in the country. As Lentner notes, hegemony cannot occur without the public’s consent. If the public chooses to ignore issues that trouble them, they are, in a way, giving their consent for such problems to exist.
This apathy is further illustrated in the reactions of the class in the Pittsburgh and New York performances when Dr. Dillamond, the students’ Goat professor, turns his blackboard around and sees that someone has written “Animals should be seen and not heard” in large red letters. In the Chicago production, the Ozian students were ashamed and hung their heads. In the other two performances, however, they were silent with blank expressions on their faces, thus suggesting apathy; they simply do not care what happens to the Animals in Oz. It is this apathy that allows the hegemonic regime to oppress Animals without having to justify this oppression to a concerned public.
This cluster analysis revealed three unique strategies used by hegemonic leaders to gain or maintain control over their populace: Aligning with those in power, scapegoating, and demoting Animals to lower level positions. The first strategy is primarily illustrated through the character of Madame Morrible, the students’ headmistress and later the Wizard’s press secretary, who seeks to connect herself with those in power in order to increase her own power. Morrible’s interest in those with power is apparent when she first meets Elphaba and her sister Nessarose, who are the daughters of the Governor of Munchkinland. She immediately fawns over the beautiful Nessarose in hopes to aligning herself with Nessarose’s powerful father. In the same scene, Morrible recognizes that Elphaba has a natural talent for sorcery, and insists on teaching Elphaba in a private sorcery seminar, in hopes that Elphaba will be able to develop her skill enough that Morrible can present her to the Wizard and be rewarded for her efforts.
Later in Act 1, when Madame Morrible arrives to tell Elphaba that the Wizard wants to meet her, Morrible is at least as overjoyed, if not more so, than Elphaba herself. While initially this appears to simply be the happiness of a mentor at seeing her student excel, it becomes clear that Morrible had selfish reasons for mentoring Elphaba and being happy for her. When Elphaba meets the Wizard and casts a spell to make the Wizard’s pet Monkeys fly, Morrible, as the Wizard’s new press secretary, tells the Wizard excitedly, “I knew it! I knew she had the power! I told you!” Elphaba, upset and backing away from Madame Morrible, replies, “You . . . you planned all this?” Morrible quickly tries to cover her selfish motives by insisting, “For you too, dearie! You benefit, too!” However, Elphaba is aware that she has been taken advantage of by her own instructor.
In this same scene, Morrible clearly articulates her quid pro quo strategy for gaining power. “I’ve risen up in the world,” she tells Elphaba and Glinda. “You’ll find that the Wizard is a very generous man. If you do something for him, he’ll do much for you.” It later becomes clear that Morrible offers two advantages for the Wizard: 1) She has trained Elphaba, a talented young sorceress who the Wizard hopes will join his regime, and 2) she uses her own sorcery power to help the Wizard achieve his goals. In return, Madame Morrible becomes an important figure in the regime. Madame Morrible’s actions suggest that the quid pro quo strategy is one strategy that hegemonic leaders may use to obtain their power.
Along with her desire to align herself with those who are powerful or potentially powerful comes Madame Morrible’s disdain for the ordinary. This is revealed through her dismissal of Galinda, who desperately wants to win Morrible’s favor and wishes to major in sorcery. Morrible brushes off Galinda’s questions about her entrance essay and refuses to include her in her sorcery seminar until Elphaba insists on it. When she reluctantly permits Galinda to join in the seminar, Madame Morrible tells her, “My personal opinion is that you do not have what it takes. I hope you prove me wrong. I doubt you will.” While most instructors seek to encourage their students to excel in their chosen major, Madame Morrible is completely unconcerned with Galinda’s education. Morrible is concerned only with her own welfare, and only encourages those who show promise because they potentially could help her obtain the power she seeks. Those, like Galinda, who do not show promise immediately, are simply brushed aside.
However, once Glinda becomes a figurehead in the Wizard’s regime, Madame Morrible begins treating her with respect, ultimately attempting to use her sycophantic ways to try to escape incarceration. When Glinda becomes engaged to Fiyero, Madame Morrible announces cheerily, “Glinda, dear, we are happy for you! As Press Secretary, I’ve striven to ensure that all Oz knows the story of your braverism!” The story that she tells, however, is a lie that is used to make Glinda look good in front of her constituents while making Elphaba appear jealous, angry, and mean. The story accomplishes two goals for Morrible as hegemonic leader: 1) She is able to continue to align herself with those in power by painting Glinda in a positive light, and 2) she is able to re-contextualize the situation to paint Elphaba in a negative light.
Morrible also attempts to survive a regime change through her sycophantic strategy when Glinda banishes the Wizard from Oz. She anxiously tells Glinda, “I know we’ve had our miniscule differences in the past, but . . .” Glinda, who is angry and confident in taking the reins of leadership, is not interested in listening to her, just as Morrible refused to listen to her when Glinda was a powerless young pupil. Glinda sends Madame Morrible to prison; it is Morrible’s disdain for the powerless, which initially caused her to rise to power, that ultimately is the key to her undoing. Morrible’s undoing seems to go against Audre Lorde’s famous quote: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” (110). In her essay, Lorde suggests that feminism as a movement cannot be successful as long as it works within a patriarchy that will never let it advance. While this may be true of social movements, individuals are often brought down by the same device that causes them to rise to power. Morrible’s case suggests that a hegemonic leader’s own strength can also be her Achilles’ heel.
The second strategy, scapegoating, is illustrated through a number of characters in the musical. Scapegoating is used by hegemonic regimes to maintain control over their state. The term “scapegoat” initially described a goat on which people symbolically placed their sins; the goat was then sent ceremoniously into the wilderness (Bremmer 8145). Similarly, a scapegoat is now “a specific person or minority” who is blamed for “crises (economic, political, social)” (Bremmer 8145). This analysis revealed two scapegoats in Wicked: The Animals in Oz (including Dr. Dillamond), and ultimately, Elphaba herself.
First, it is no surprise that Dr. Dillamond, the chief Animal character in the show, is a Goat. In fact, it is Dr. Dillamond, when lecturing to the students on Ozian history, who introduces the term scapegoat. He tells them,
Doubtless you’ve noticed I am the sole Animal on the faculty – the ‘token Goat,’ as it were. But it wasn’t always this way. Oh, dear students, how I wish you could have known this place as it once was. When one could walk these halls and hear an Antelope explicating a sonnet, a Snow Leopard solving an equation, a Wildebeest waxing philosophic. Can you see, students, what’s being lost? How our dear Oz is becoming less and less, well, colorful. Now, what set this into motion?When Elphaba answers that it began with the Great Drought, Dillamond continues, “Precisely. Food grew scarce, and people grew hungrier and angrier. And the question became – who can we blame? Can anyone tell me what is meant by the term ‘scapegoat?’”
Dillamond’s story is further enhanced by a visual aid in his classroom. In all three of the productions documented for this study, a timeline on a blackboard further illustrated this point. The timeline contained a history of Oz, including such events as the Great Drought, the ending of the war, and the Wizard’s arrival. The timeline allows Dillamond to show his students which events occurred in what order so that they may make connections between history and the oppression currently facing the Animals.
Dillamond’s story, while a fictional story in a musical, has real-life parallels. Most striking is perhaps the rise of anti-Semitism in post-World War I Germany. As Burke discusses in “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle” (The Philosophy of Literary Form), Germany was in a state of economic ruin after the First World War and the German people were struggling. When Hitler took power, he sought to unify the country and offered the German people a “panacea, a ‘cure for what ails you,’ a ‘snakeoil,’ that made such sinister unifying possible within his own nation” (192). This “panacea” included the creation of a common enemy: The Jewish people. Writing in 1941, Burke suggests that Hitler was using the Jewish people as a “projection device” or “scapegoat;” one on which the German people could “hand over [their] ills” in order to be purified (202-203). The Jewish people were thus blamed for Germany’s problems, and this blame ultimately led to the Holocaust, where millions of Jews were murdered. The Animals in Oz serve as a reminder for audience members that there have been many social groups throughout history that have been unfairly blamed and persecuted for a nation’s problems.
As Dillamond’s story suggests, Animals are the primary scapegoat for Oz’s troubles. The same scene provides evidence that Ozians believe that Animals are the source of Oz’s problems. When Dillamond flips the blackboard to write on the side of it that does not contain the timeline, he sees the words “Animals should be seen and not heard” written in large red letters. As previously mentioned, the students’ reaction to this event varies by performance. Dillamond’s reaction also varies by performance. In the Chicago and Pittsburgh performances, Dillamond appeared angry and perhaps frightened. He screamed at the students to leave. In the New York performance, he appeared to be more hurt than angry, and his voice shook a bit when he told the students to leave.
Each performance choice offers a slightly different message for the audience to consider. The Chicago performance suggests that those being oppressed are strong and willing to fight, and that the Ozian population merely needs to be educated, like the students who recognized the unfair treatment and felt shame because of it, in order to change society and end the oppression. In contrast, the Pittsburgh performance suggests that the oppressed class of Animals, represented by Dr. Dillamond, is strong and willing to fight for their rights, but face the added challenge of winning the hearts and minds of an apathetic public. Finally, the New York performance allows audience members to feel more sympathy for the Animals, represented by a shaken Dr. Dillamond, and less sympathy for the students, or Ozian society, whom they represent.
Animals are not the only scapegoat in Wicked. Elphaba herself becomes a scapegoat in Act II. First, she becomes a scapegoat for her family. Elphaba’s sister Nessarose blames Elphaba for both their father’s death and the transformation of Boq, a Munchkin whom Nessarose loves. When Elphaba travels to Munchkinland to ask for her father’s help, Nessarose tells Elphaba that he died of shame because of Elphaba’s actions. Nessarose also blames Elphaba for Boq’s physical condition. When Nessarose erroneously casts a spell that has potentially-fatal effects on Boq, Elphaba saves Boq’s life by turning him into a tin woodsman. After Elphaba’s exit, Nessarose screams to Boq, “It wasn’t me; it was her! I tried to stop her! It was Elphaba, Boq, it was Elphaba!” Both of these examples suggest that Nessarose does not take responsibility for her own actions; instead, she blames Elphaba, the family scapegoat.
By the end of the musical, Elphaba becomes more than simply the family scapegoat. She becomes a scapegoat for the entire nation of Oz. This is especially prevalent during the mob scene at the end of the musical. As the mob sets out to kill the “Wicked Witch,” two figures, one human and one Animal, blame her for their troubles. The first figure is Boq, who declares that he holds Elphaba responsible for his condition and wishes to kill her in retaliation. The second figure, a Lion whom Elphaba and Fiyero freed during college, relays his message to Boq, who speaks for him. Boq announces to the mob, “The Lion also has a grievance to repay. If she’d let him fight his own battles when he was young, he wouldn’t be a coward today!”
The Lion’s story suggests that Elphaba has become a scapegoat for her own cause. Animals whom she has tried to help have blamed her for their troubles. Some social protest leaders, like Elphaba, have become a scapegoat for their own causes. One figure in U.S. history that exemplifies this is abolitionist John Brown. Brown became a leader of antislavery guerillas and fought against proslavery attacks. In retribution for a proslavery attack, Brown brutally murdered five settlers in a proslavery town (“John Brown”). While some abolitionists, like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, praised Brown (“John Brown”), other leaders, like Abraham Lincoln, disapproved of Brown’s actions and believed he was insane (Sandburg). Brown became one of the most controversial figures of his time and has been partially credited with starting the Civil War (Frye). Like Brown, Elphaba is not only a scapegoat for her opposition, but for those who support her cause. Elphaba reminds audience members that one of the risks of fighting against hegemony is becoming a scapegoat.
Another hegemonic strategy revealed through this analysis is the demotion of those in the oppressed class to lower level positions. Throughout Wicked, especially in the first act, Animals have been demoted to manual labor positions. What is particularly interesting about this theme is that it emerged almost entirely from performance fieldnotes, while most of the other themes and sub-themes arose from the script with the performance fieldnotes taking a supporting role. In fact, six out of the nine examples regarding this sub-theme are observable only through performance (see Fig. 1).
The first example occurs at the very beginning of all three performances. Flying Monkeys push, pull, and spin mechanical-looking wheels that appear to cause the curtain to rise. The Monkeys make sounds, but they do not speak as they turn the wheels and cogs. In the New York performance, they entered the stage from every possible entrance: Some entered from stage left or stage right, some came from around the proscenium, and still others entered the stage through trap doors in the floorboards of the stage.
Other examples of Animals doing manual labor occur at various points in Act I. Both the Pittsburgh and the New York performances included a character bit of an Animal pushing a cart containing Galinda’s massive suitcases when she arrives at Shiz University. The New York performance also featured an Animal serving punch to Boq and Nessarose in the dance scene at the OzDust Ballroom and an Animal loading and unloading baggage at the train station when Elphaba leaves for the Emerald City. In my fieldnotes from the New York performance, I note that the latter “looks exhausted and wipes the sweat from his brow.”
In fact, with the exception of Dr. Dillamond, Animals are never seen in a position of power or prestige during the musical. Dr. Dillamond explains the situation to Elphaba in the song “Something Bad.” The song serves as a warning, as indicated by its minor key, repeated notes, and underlying formidable-sounding beat. Dillamond sings,
I’ve heard of an Ox, a professor from Quox, no longer permitted to teach, who has lost all powers of speech. And an Owl in Munchkin Rock, a vicar with a thriving flock, forbidden to preach. Now he only can screech.
Dillamond’s story suggests that Animals in prestigious positions, particularly those in religious orders and higher education, were ousted from their jobs. Later, Dillamond becomes an example of his own story when he himself is forbidden to teach at Shiz University. With urgency, he enters his classroom for the last time, quickly tells his students that he appreciates them, and assures Elphaba that “They can take away my job, but I shall continue speaking out!”
When taken in context with Dillamond’s story and experience, it seems unlikely that the Animals in lower level positions, such as the baggage loader and the punch server, chose to take these jobs because they enjoy them. In Oz, Animals are forced to take these positions because they are considered a lower social class, and Animals in prestigious positions, such as professors or pastors, are removed by the government from the very positions they worked hard to obtain. Again, Wicked reminds audience members of real-life history: This is similar to the initial measures the Third Reich used in the 1930s to persecute the Jewish people. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, in 1933, the Nazi-dominated German government passed a law that forbade Jews from holding positions in government, in the tax profession, and as stage actors. The German government also restricted their rights when holding positions in the legal sphere and in the medical profession. The rights of the Jewish people in Germany were further abolished throughout the 1930s until ultimately they were sent to concentration camps during the Holocaust. Wicked’s story serves as a warning to audience members about the dangers of apathy and the necessity of taking action. The musical reminds theatre-goers that no nation is safe from committing these atrocities, unless its citizens remember history, keep aware, and take action.
Scholars have utilized Burkean concepts in studies of performance and popular art in various ways. In his book exploring twentieth century theatre and Shakespearean plays, Francis Fergusson explores the connection between dialectic and drama in Burke’s Grammar of Motives. He explains that “behind Mr. Burke’s view of the dialectic process there lurks ritual drama” (201), and praises Burke’s “analysis of language,” noting that it “works like a farcical plot” (xvii). C. Ronald Kimberling connects Burke’s work to popular art, using dramatism to analyze the film Jaws, the television miniseries Shogun, and the Stephen King novel The Dead Zone. He suggests that “dramatism has the flexibility to enable us to penetrate several aspects of popular arts from a variety of angles” (13). In his work on theatre as ritual, Bruce A. McConachie uses dramatism to define theatre as “a type of ritual which functions to legitimate an image of a historical social order in the minds of its audience” (466). This article has attempted to contribute to this ongoing conversation by proposing an extension of Burke’s cluster criticism to include performative elements of performative, layered texts. Through an analysis of hegemony in the musical Wicked as a case study, I have sought to expand the scope of cluster criticism so that it may be used for a broader range of texts.
While cluster criticism has previously been used primarily for examining public address texts, newspaper articles, and other word-oriented texts, Rueckert observes in Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations that cluster criticism can be used to examine dramatic texts, such as plays, as well. When employed in a traditional word-oriented manner, cluster criticism can reveal clusters surrounding “God terms” and/or “agon terms” that provide insight into the intention of the texts’ authors. Rueckert suggests that the cluster criticism can be applied to different texts in the same way (88), but applying traditional cluster criticism to a performative text only accommodates the words in a script or perhaps lyrics in a song, excluding elements that can only be experienced through performance. While the general procedure remains the same, this article has suggested that cluster criticism be extended to accommodate the various layers of a performative, fragmented text. Instead of searching for particular words that cluster together to form meanings, this extension of cluster criticism requires the critic to search for themes that clustered together to form meanings. In this case study, these clusters emerged upon the examination of each layer of the performative text (the New York performance script, fieldnotes from each of three performances, the original cast recording, and the sheet music).
First, this cluster analysis began with a “God term” that was contrived after a close reading of the textual layers used for this study, as well as after a review of the literature on the “God term” (hegemony). One “God term” was chosen in order to limit the numbers of clusters and sub-clusters to a manageable amount for this study, but future studies may include multiple “God terms” or include “agon terms” as well. It should be noted that different clusters and sub-clusters could emerge from the same text if a different term or phrase was used as a lens with which to examine each layer of text.
By analyzing each layer of text, numerous clusters and sub-clusters emerged from this analysis. These clusters included Ozian apathy and frivolousness, the oppression of Animals, the demotion of Animals to lower level positions, the scapegoating of Elphaba, the scapegoating of Dr. Dillamond, and aligning oneself with people in power (illustrated through the character of Madame Morrible). These six clusters form four overarching themes concerning Wicked’s messages about hegemony: 1. Apathy leads to hegemony, 2. Hegemonic leaders use scapegoating to gain/maintain their power, 3. Hegemonic leaders align themselves with those already in power to gain/maintain their power, and 4. Hegemonic regimes may demote members of the oppressed class from prestigious positions in order to gain/maintain power. Each of these themes was supported by a number of examples from the various layers of this performative text. It is important to note that the fourth theme was primarily illustrated through performative elements, and would not have emerged from a textual analysis or cluster criticism of the script’s text. The emergence of the fourth theme suggests that in order to thoroughly examine performative texts, one must extend cluster criticism as a method to include not only words and lyrics, but also performative elements, such as use of props, stage movement, music, and visual and sound effects.
The intention of this article was to provide rhetorical critics, performance scholars, and scholars of film, television and other media with a methodology through which to rhetorically study themes in layered, performative texts. Future research may employ cluster criticism to study multiple performances of theatrical productions, both musical and non-musical, the different visual and auditory elements of a television program episode, or the various layers of a film. It is my hope that rhetorical and performance scholars will find this extension of cluster criticism valuable when examining a variety of performance-oriented rhetorical texts, whether those texts are performed live, part of everyday life, videotaped, or broadcasted through new media.
1. The word Monkey is capitalized because in Wicked, Ozian Animals (with a capital A) are distinguished from animals (with a lower-case a) because of their ability to think and communicate; they represent an oppressed social class.
2. Agon-terms (or “devil terms”) are key words that appear to have the opposite message of “God terms.” Berthold explains that agon-terms, when contrasted with “God terms” can reveal a speaker’s intentions.
3. In Permanence and Change, Burke discusses “hegemony of custom” (186). He explains, “If there is a slave function in such a culture, the class that so functions does not know itself as such. A true slave morality is implicitly obeyed – and while such morality is intact, the slave does not consider his obedience as slavery, any more than a child normally considers obedience to its parents slavery. Before such obedience can be explicitly considered a state of slavery, a perspective by incongruity must arise” (186).
4. In “My Approach to Communism,” Burke refers to the “hegemony of business” when contrasting communism and fascism. He states, “The Fascist retention of business as the keystone of its scheme leads logically to the attempted subjugation of the workers, precisely as the Communist elimination of business leads to their establishment as the fulcrum of the governmental policies and purposes…Hence the logical demand that one choose Communism, which eliminates the hegemony of business, as against Facism, which would attempt to erect a stable economy atop the contradictions of business enterprise” (18).
* This article was adapted from the author’s dissertation. The author would like to thank her dissertation committee, Dr. Jerry L. Miller, Dr. William K. Rawlins, Dr. Benjamin R. Bates, Dr. J.W. Smith, and Dr. Jordan Schildcrout of Ohio University, for their guidance.
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Peter C. Bakke, US Army, and Jim A. Kuypers, Virginia Tech
We present a dramatistic analysis of the discourse of Syrian President Assad and his opposition in the ongoing Syrian civil war. Comparing terministic screens and world views expressed in the discourses, we find that the Assad regime believes it is not responsible for the current conflict, and is justified in the use of violence against rebel groups. Rebel groups overtly reject Western values and seek to depict their current and planned violence as morally justified.
The views represented in this article are those of the authors and are not intended to officially or unofficially represent the position of the U.S. Army or U.S. Government.
We originally undertook this project in the fall of 2013 – a time when the Assad Regime seemed to be gaining ground in the Syrian Civil War and rebel groups appeared to be fractured. Tension between the Syrian regime and the West was particularly high due to rebel allegations that the Syrian military was employing chemical weapons. ISIL (then known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) was still jockeying for dominance with the Nusrah Front (al-Qaeda in Syria) within the trans-national Al-Qaeda power structure, and the refugee crisis was not nearly as intense as in late 2015. Throughout 2013, the Assad regime appeared to make a coordinated effort to portray itself as an ally in "Global War on Terror." When Assad appeared on Fox News to make such a case, we wondered whether he was trying to sell the U.S. public a "bill of goods." As Kenneth Burke might say, we wondered what kind of "medicine" the "medicine man" was prescribing. To gain a better perspective of the regime's position, we began examining the discourse of the disparate rebel groups fighting against Assad's forces to see if it lent any validity to his message. Coincidentally, many of the rebel groups we examined began collapsing under the umbrella of the "Islamic Front." In November of 2013, the "Islamic Front" issued a statement calling for the continuation of Jihad against the regime and the establishment of a Salafist Sunni Islamic state in Syria. Given this development, we felt that a two-sided analysis of the conflict's discourse would help uncover the motives of each side. We later added some examples of ISIL activities to demonstrate how ignoring rhetorical justifications for inhumane behavior (on both sides) can have serious implications.
* * *
The Islamic State, coined "ISIS" or "ISIL" by the U.S. news media, has recently garnered the attention of the U.S. and Western publics. Islamic State brutality against Yazidi Christians in the north of Iraq, seizure of crucial Iraqi infrastructure, and barbaric beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff have resulted in the Obama administration's call for an international coalition to defeat the organization in Iraq and Syria. Coalition efforts have already required U.S. military commitment to meet the President's stated goal of "degrading and destroying" the Islamic State, and thwarting their objective of establishing an international caliphate. However, in order to make a new war palatable, as well as defend previous policy decisions, the Islamic State seems to be portrayed as a new and emerging threat, one differentiated from former adversaries who "pulled" us into previous conflicts. Thus, dominant administration and media narratives seem to push the idea that "ISIS" materialized from the ether to become a threat "even more extreme than Al-Qaeda" ("David Gregory"). U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, for instance, described the organization as "beyond anything we've seen," and Attorney General Eric Holder stated that ISIS's plans were " 'more frightening than anything I think I've seen as attorney general. . . . It's something that gives us really extreme, extreme concern….'" (Ritger, "Chuck Hagel"; Holder qtd. in Francis, "Why the Long Arm"). Suddenly, it seems the U.S. is faced with an enemy whose brutality tames our perception of those who attacked the U.S. in 2001 and may force our collaboration with the "blood soaked" regime of Bashar al-Assad. In the words of an Al-Qaeda aligned Syrian opposition fighter, "Your news makes it seem like [ISIL] appeared out of nowhere… [slamming his hand on the dashboard]. You want to talk about [ISIL]? Ask a Syrian!" (Day, "Syrian Fighter").
Presidential candidates and pundits now debate whether we should have armed earlier "a more moderate Syrian opposition" and whether collaboration with Assad is acceptable (Goldberg, "Hillary Clinton"). Such characterizations and suggestions, however, require a closer look at the recent history and discourse of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. Such analysis would suggest that we have seen "ISIS" on the battlefield before (in Iraq 2003-2010), that "ISIS" and Al-Qaeda are the same movement, and that "ISIS"-like jihadist discourse permeates the influential branches of the very Syrian opposition the U.S. sought to aid in its rebellion against the Assad Regime (MacFarQuhar and Sadd, "As Syrian War Drags On").
Examining the discourse of the Syrian conflict is vitally important because the parties in conflict represent larger warring factions throughout the Middle East. Such sectarian conflict defies U.S. conceptions of allies and adversaries, because some of each may fall on either side of the sectarian divide, and much of the animus traces its roots back to the beginnings of Islam. Thus, it becomes important to understand how the conflict discourse of individual groups is indicative of motivation and actions that can potentially impact the security of American citizens and regional stability. An understanding of how extremism and violence manifest on both sides of the regional conflict can only encourage a more effective foreign policy.
Flowing out of dramatism is the idea that people universally use symbols to explain their actions in similar ways. In "The Rhetoric of Hitler's Battle," for instance, Kenneth Burke demonstrated how application of a dramatistic perspective allowed him to discover "what kind of 'medicine' this medicine-man [Hitler] has concocted, that we may know… exactly what to guard against, if we are to forestall the concocting of similar medicine in America" (Burke, "The Rhetoric of Hitler's Battle" 191). Burke's implication is clear: we should examine the speech-acts of those outside of the "American" world view, as well as critically compare such content with that of our own domestic political discourse. Other scholars since Burke have used dramatism and the pentad as starting points for the examination of non-U.S. and non-Western discourse. For example, Adriana Angel and Benjamin Bates examined Columbian radio conversations, Xing Lu examined the rhetoric of Chinese nationalism, Pedro Patron-Galindo examined the political marketing strategies of Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, and Colleen E. Kelley wrote on the rhetoric of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (Angel and Bates; Lu; Patron-Galindo; Kelley). In general, the operating assumption of such studies is that Burkean dramatism is cross-culturally applicable, but the essays stop short of explaining why this is so or how one might efficaciously apply dramatistic principles most fruitfully in a cross-cultural context. In this paper, we demonstrate how this process, combined with an in-depth knowledge of recurrent cultural narratives flowing within a foreign discourse, can establish a framework that allows the dramatistic pentad to function as an effective cross-cultural analytical tool. Further, this dramatistic analysis of foreign discourse allows for an effective critical comparison between both the motives of a speaker with a foreign world-view and his or her representation in U.S. political discourse.
The nascent means for such a comparison (situational contextualization, explanation of cultural metaphor, application of the pentad, comparison with domestic discourse) are found in Burke's analysis of Mein Kampf, which includes all of these elements without specifically including them in the framework of dramatism. Burke contextualizes Hitler's anti-Semitic writing, for instance, by providing rich descriptions of the political conditions of Pre-World War I Vienna and Post-World War I Munich. Further, he describes the Christian and German mythology that functioned as a common language between Hitler and his potential base of supporters. This added knowledge allows his explanation of Hitler's foreign world-view to function cross-culturally. How else might one of Burke's readers of the 1930s (English speakers) be able to understand the particularly German flavor of Hitler's strongly anti-Semitic persuasive campaign? We believe that the application of dramatistic principles to the discourse of those with non-U.S. world-views is as relevant today as it was when Burke wrote of Hitler. As a contemporary extension to Burke's ideas, we examine the rhetoric of the still evolving sectarian conflict in Syria and Iraq, and then discuss how the reflection of such discourse in domestic politics holds serious implications for U.S. foreign policy. We accomplish this in five stages: first, we contextualize the nature of the conflict in Syria; second, we explore the different cultural narratives of President Assad and the Islamic Front; third, using a dramatistic analysis we analyze the internationally aimed discourse of Assad and the Islamic Front; fourth, we specifically look at the metaphor underpinning Assad's outreach to the United States; finally, we conclude with an exploration of Syrian clashing world views and implication for dramatism and U.S. policy in the region.
Contextualization: The Nature of the Syrian Conflict
The Syrian conflict, much as the Syrian population at large, comprises numerous groups and alliances. A 74% majority of Syrians are Sunni Muslims of Arab descent. A large portion of the Sunni-Arab population lives in rural areas throughout the country. The minority Syrian population consists of 12% Alawite-sect Shia Muslims (to which the Assad family and ruling class belong), with the remaining 14% of the population consisting of Christians, Jews, Kurds, and Druze ("Syria—People and Society"). For the purpose of discussion, we characterize the conflict within Syrian borders as one between the Sunni majority and ruling Alawite-Shia minority. However, sectarian and ethnic alliances within Syria spill well outside its borders. For example, Alawites maintain strong ties with their Shia neighbors in Iran and Lebanon, as well as certain militant/terrorist groups such as Hezbollah; the Sunni majority finds kinship among other Sunni-Arab dominated nations such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, as well as support from transnational jihadist groups (Al Qaeda, for example) throughout the Middle East (Fassihi, Solomon, and Dagher, "Iranians Dial up Presence in Syria"). Therefore, the Alawite-Shia versus Sunni conflict within Syria can be viewed as part of a larger pan-Islamic sectarian struggle with implications for all nations involved. Further, undertones of secularism versus Islamism color the brutality inflicted by both parties.
Aron Lund provides insight into the ethno-religious sectarian nature of the conflict, writing, "revolutionary demands originally focused on democracy and economic reform but the new opposition movement did not arise in a social vacuum." In socio-economic terms, he describes the uprising as an "ideologically motivated uprising of the Sunni working class against the Alawite military ruling elite" (Lund, 8). As the conflict entered its second year in 2012, increasing numbers of foreign fighters (Salafi-Sunnis) joined the fray ("Syria Profile"). Although Sunni Syrians comprised the bulk of the opposition, further backing arrived from in the form of foreign ideologues and Islamic extremists—namely al-Qaeda (AQ). In May of 2013, analysts from the Rand Office for External Affairs provided testimony for the House Homeland Security Committee designating Jabhat-al-Nusrah as the Syrian arm of AQ. Analyst Seth Jones testified that "Jabhat al-Nusrah (JN) grew out of AQ in Iraq (AQI)." After a 2013 split with AQI, JN pledged allegiance directly to AQ senior leadership in Pakistan. The remainder of AQI maintained allegiance to Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi and became known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Syria) or "ISIL / ISIS." The point here is not to trace the linage and development of groups making headlines in the U.S.; rather, we wish to demonstrate a common sectarian interest between groups labeled "moderate" and those implementing the most perverse interpretation of Sunni Islam imaginable. When interacting with each other, JN and ISIS might be enemies. However, in the context of the sectarian war, they should be considered estranged brothers.
Burke demonstrated how one ideologue (Hitler) used language to set the German people on a path to destruction. Because conflict had yet to unfold, he needed to analyze only one voice, Hitler's. The Syrian situation differs in that it has evolved into a conflict with many parties. As such, we proceed by choosing an Alawite-Shia voice and a Sunni voice we feel most representative, the "embodiment," of each side. The ruling Alawites have been led and represented by the Assad family since the 1970's. Hafez al-Assad (now deceased), and his son Bashar have represented the Alawite-Shia grip on Syrian power for nearly 40 years. Likewise, they serve as a lightning rod for the animosity of a frustrated Arab-Sunni population. Thus, Bashar al-Assad is our chosen voice for the Alawite-Shia faction.
In November 2013, The Syrian Islamic Front, elements of the Free Syrian Army, and Islamist elements formerly operating under Supreme Military Command united under the banner of one group – the Islamic Front. ISIS and JN have formerly allied with the Islamic Front. Despite current estrangement between the groups, the Islamic Front provides the voice for the Sunni-Arab faction of the conflict. We selected the Islamic Front for two reasons: (1) it is directly opposed to Assad and (2) U.S. politicians indirectly cite them as "moderate" due to their estrangement from "ISIS."
Clashing Cultural Narratives
Having established some situational context, we now turn to the undercurrents of Syrian dialogue. In 2012, the Director of National Intelligence's Open Source Center (OSC) published Master Narratives Country Report: Syria. The report is intended to facilitate an understanding of the language used by various groups within Syria. The report details eight master narratives and subordinate themes, which interact or stand-alone, to shape each groups understanding of events. We use this document as our initial touchstone for understanding Syrian cultural narratives. Similar to how Burke expounded on Hitler's perversion of religion, we seek to use Syrian cultural narratives as an example of the "baseline" from which each side deviates. These "master narratives" are the threads with which Syrians tell stories and sometimes act as a lens through which they interpret events. Much as the German of the 1930's found familiarity in the liturgical rhythm of Nazi repetition, the Sunni-Arab Syrian might find familiarity in reference to the "Greater Levant." Much as the German blamed his economic problems on the tangible Jew, the Sunni-Arab narrative might provide a pre-ordained scapegoat in the Alawite.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attempts to convey his popularity. Courtesy of NPR.org.
Assad's explanation of current events, contained in his September 2013 news media interview with Dennis Kucinich and Greg Palkot, displays three prominent narratives common among the groups that he represents (Al-Assad). The included narratives are (1) Alawite Survival, (2) Conspiracies All Around, and (3) Greater Syria (United States, "Open Source Center" Executive Summary). According to the OSC, the "Alawite Survival" narrative centers around the Alawite rise from Sunni oppression by virtue of their "superior achievements." This narrative maintains that the Alawites hold a rightful place in the halls of leadership but always remain threatened by "fanatical Sunni's who wish to destroy them" (United States, "Open Source Center" 33). The core themes of "Alawite Survival" are the concepts of encirclement, existential fear, and survival. Assad addresses the themes of existential fear and encirclement through his characterization of the conflict. His description of foreign backed terrorists working in conjunction with fanatical jihadists toward an ideologically closed society invokes the possibility of Alawite destruction. A "new kind of war" also elicits the fear of the unknown, in which alliances among individuals and nations threaten a small core of Syrians dedicated to preservation of the state.
The "Conspiracy" narrative, as expressed by Assad, is particularly salient when used in conjunction with "Alawite Survival." The narrative is based upon Syria's turbulent history and espouses a worldview where "secretive cabals inside the country, scheming Westerners and envious Arab neighbors conspire against the people" (United States, "Open Source Center" 13). For his part, Assad alleges not only a terrorist threat but also raises the specter of faceless enemies who agitate the rebellion from afar. He names al-Qaeda among the conspirators but also accuses other Western and Arab nations of fomenting unrest.
Here we can establish a relationship between Assad's heavy use of scenic descriptions or grounded terminology (explained in the next section) and the wide array of Alawite cultural narratives that support them. Hostile Sunni's, terrorists, and foreign-led cabals create an environment where the secularist Alawites' struggle to survive. Such survival depends on Alawite ability to combat forces beyond their control. Thus, the Alawites are not responsible for the conflict. This demonstrates consistency between contemporary scene driven explanations and environmentally dominated Alawite cultural narratives. It also suggests that Assad's characterization of conflict is an attempt to sway listeners toward his real worldview.
Assad's self-described end-state for the conflict embraces the "Greater Syria" narrative. This narrative stems from the belief that Syria is the cradle of civilization. After having been fractured by the West, Syrians must seek to "restore their pride by reinstating Syria as a homeland for all creeds and the vanguard of the Arab World" (United States, "Open Source Center" 20). The core themes of this narrative are exceptionalism, restoration, and tolerance. Therefore, when Assad speaks of Syria in the interview as a "melting pot" and accuses his opposition of trying to create a closed and radicalized society, he is calling upon Syrian exceptionalism and accusing his enemies of violating the very essence of being Syrian.
The "Greater Syria" narrative is tied to Assad's explanation of specific brutal acts in which he highlights purpose. That is, when he is willing to assume responsibility for an act within the conflict, he invokes the only narrative able to vindicate such behavior. It is impossible to know for sure if a purpose-driven explanation for brutality is linked with a genuine worldview regarding Syrian greatness, or whether the weaving of this narrative into an explanation is a rationalization. However, it does provide perspective regarding the logic he uses to excuse his actions.
The Leadership of the Islamic Front declares it's foundation in a youtube.com release on November 22nd, 2013.
As with the Assad Regime, the rhetoric of the Sunni opposition has deep roots within sectarian narrative ("The Islamic Front's Founding Declaration"). The central narratives of the Sunni majority within Syria are that of the "Alawite infidel" and "Greater Syria". The "Alawite infidel" is unique to the rural Sunni population and reflects the group's resentment toward minority rule. The narrative explains that Alawites, often referred to using derogatory slurs, connived their way to power during the period of French occupation of Syria. Following the French exit in the 1920's, the Alawites maintained their power through brutal oppression of the innocent. The narrative calls for vengeance against the ruling regime and by "pushing the Alawites and their supporters into their graves." Core themes include (1) intolerance, (2) revenge, and (3) righteous cause (United States, "Open Source Center" 5).
Note the group's objectives and goals as stated in their foundational charter: "To topple the existing regime in its entirety, with all its obscure remnants, to wipe them out of Syrian existence completely, and to defend the underdogs, their honor and wealth. Toppling the regime means detaching and terminating all its judicial, legislative, and executive authorities along with its army and its security institutions, in addition to prosecuting those who are involved in bloodshed along with their supporters.…" ("Islamic Front- Founding Declaration," 7th Clause, 1). This goal contains many of the"Alawite infidel" components, and one can see the narrative origin of such language seeking the destruction of the regime. As included in the narrative, the Islamic Front's goal promises that vengeance will be extended toward Alawite supporters. Additional language within the document includes historically based slurs against ethnic Alawites, as well as the promise of protecting the rights of groups unjustly persecuted by the regime.
The language of the document support use of a purpose-driven explanation of future acts – in this case, the creation of an Islamic state and massacre of enemies. Embracing "Greater Syria" in terms of an Islamic State encompassing the whole Levant (including Iraq and Jordan) justifies brutality en route. The Islamic Front wishes to characterize the conflict as the ultimate struggle to achieve their conception of a utopian state. This ideology as identical to that of the Islamic State (ISIS). Because the Levant exists within cultural narratives, certain aspects do not require further explanation for regional audiences. Further, achievement of an Islamic State controlling the Levant excuses the killing of enemies. There is no need to deflect responsibility. In fact, regional Sunni narratives already support a negative view of the Alawite. Thus, killing them requires less justification that that already provided in the "Greater Syria" purpose-driven explanation of intent. Again, we can see worldviews in cultural narratives and consistency in how worldviews manifest in persuasive attempts through a dramatistic lens.
Important to our purpose here, both Assad and the opposition seem to understand the importance of influencing multiple audiences. Both sides struggle for popular support among the Syrian people, their sectarian allies, and the international community. Leadership of both sides routinely engage in dialogue and interviews, and also maintains websites stating their objectives. To better understand the rich rhetorical nuances of the various discourses operating in this civil war, we further examine the content of the September 2013 news media interview between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Dennis Kucinich and Greg Palkot, as well as the foundational video-statement produced and published by the Islamic Front, the most powerful opposition group as of this writing. Thus, we hope to gain an appreciation of the worldview and motivations of each by analyzing specifically the dramatistic elements presented in their dialogue as well as draw comparisons between their content and ethnic narratives.
Burke provides insight into analyzing texts to find the implied worldview of their authors. One way involves looking for what he called terministic screens: "even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology, it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality" (Burke, Language as Symbolic Action 45). Taking this into consideration, we can look for how the Islamic Front and Assad's choice of words and phrases act to orient listeners' attention toward a particular view of reality. For Burke, "there are two kinds of terms: terms that put things together, and terms that take things apart" (Language as Symbolic Action 49). This process acts to create either or both continuity and discontinuity; we can see how discourse creates moments for composition as well as division. Viewed dramatistically, we can see that "whatever terms we use … constitute a … kind of screen…." This screen "directs" our "attention to one field rather than another. Within that field there can be different screens, each" acting to focus our attention on various elements within a given situation: "All terminologies must implicitly or explicitly embody choices between the principle of continuity and the principle of discontinuity" (Burke, Language as Symbolic Action 50).
In our present case, we can look specifically at the discourses of the opposition and of Assad to see how their choice of terms opens up possibilities for unity or division with each other and with the international community. Are there true moments for consubstantial co-existence? Or instead, do the discourses operate to shut out such consubstantial moments by stressing division? On this point Lawrence Prelli and Terri S. Winters write, the "notion of terministic screens enables us to scrutinize how efforts to come to terms with problematic situations often involve similarities and differences about what meanings to reveal and conceal, disclose and foreclose. At stake in efforts to 'screen' meanings terminologically is the adequacy of underlying perspectives in depicting a situation's reality" (Lawrence and Winters, 226).
Screens point us toward certain elements of what Burke described as a dramatistic pentad—agent, act, scene, agency, purpose—and these different elements have differing degrees of influence upon ourselves and others. How we describe these elements provides insight into how we view the workings of the world. Andrew King describes the utility of Burke's work in this area as a "method of discovering why people do what they do." He writes further, "the dramatic frame features a battle over meanings, perspectives and values" (King, 168-9). In order to uncover the speaker's motivation and perspective, Burke suggested that each of the pentadic elements represents a way of explaining or rationalizing a specific event. Thus, when examining a speaker's explanation of an action, one examines the degree to which he or she juxtaposes other pentadic element against the action – the elemental ratio. The ratio itself represents the interpretation a speaker offers to his or her audience. For example, if a speaker explains an act in terms of the environment in which it occurs (scene-act ratio), he or she might seek to frame the event as inevitable – or to deflect responsibility (Burke, A Grammar of Motives; King). Thus, the elemental ratios used by Assad and his opposition should provide some clue as to how they view their role in the conflict, or at least how they wish us to perceive it.
By discovering the elements of the terministic screens operating, we shed insight into the motives, or underlying worldviews, operating in the discourses of both the Assad regime and the opposition. Specifically, we look for how the various terminologies used acts to reflect the inner worldviews of the parties. Armed with this knowledge, we are then in a position to offer insights into how these worldviews operate to increase or decrease opportunities for consubstantial moments with each other as well as the international community.
By August of 2013, the conflict in Syria had raged for over two years. Islamic Front momentum seemed to have shifted to a stagnant but deadly equilibrium, if not somewhat to the Assad Regime. On August 21st, hundreds of Syrian civilians perished in an opposition-held suburb of Damascus. A United Nations investigation attributed the deaths to the employment of a chemical nerve-agent (a violation of international law), known as Sarin (United Nations Mission). Furthermore, the concentration and delivery system for the nerve-agent seemed to implicate Alawite regime forces. The United States immediately threatened retaliatory military action against the Assad Regime while Syrian allies such as Russia and China scurried to broker a diplomatic agreement to prevent such action. On September 12th, the same day U.N. made the investigation public, the Syrian regime agreed to disarm its chemical arsenal. It was in light of these events that Bashar al-Assad addressed the international community via his September 13, 2013 interview with Fox News contributor and former Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Assad ostensibly conducted the interview to deny his part in the chemical attack and to state his commitment to the U.N. chemical disarmament mandate. However, his status as the Syrian President and member of the Alawite minority placed him in a position to serve as a spokesman for the regime and his sect. His verbal engagement with Kucinich provides an ample number of examples from which we can better understand Alawite characterization of the entire conflict, their perceived role in it, and motivation behind their actions.
Early questions focus on the chemical attacks, and Assad wryly admits that the presence of his chemical weapons stockpile "is not a secret anymore" (Al-Assad). He denies that his forces were responsible for the attacks and suggests that his enemies engineered the attack. As the interview progresses, Assad engages in a broader discussion of the conflict and the character of the opposition. For example, when Kucinich asks about the future of a secular Syria and whether the country is engaged in a civil war, Assad describes his country as a tolerant "melting pot" of many ethnicities and religions. He describes the threat to the status quo as "extremism, terrorism and violence," the result of which would be an "ideologically closed… more fanatic" society (Al-Assad). Assad emphatically denies the conflict is a civil war. The ideological shift threatening Syrian society, he says, can be directly attributed to foreign-backed "terrorists." He states, "A civil war should start from within. A civil war doesn't need to have 80 or 83 nationalities coming to fight within your country supported by foreign countries. What we have is not a civil war. What we have is a new kind of war" (Al-Assad). When elaborating on the composition of the opposition fighters, he estimates that they are 80% "terrorists or Al Qaeda," who cross the border into Syria with funding and weapons provided by ideologically motivated individuals (Al-Assad). Thus, Assad provides us with the Alawite and regime characterization of the conflict. That is, they are engaged in a fight for the survival of a secular, multi-cultural Syria, against foreign backed terrorists who have ignited jihadist motivations among certain elements of the Syrian population.
If one looks at the entirety of Assad's interview through the lens of Burke's dramatic pentad, we can see deeper into the Alawite characterization of the conflict and their justification for violence. Assad certainly places the element of "scene" at the forefront; he would have his audience believe that he has no choice but to involve himself in a struggle with foreign backed terrorists who seek to undermine the secular nature of his country. In doing so, he not only denies responsibility for the conflict but also extends this denial to Syrian opposition groups who have been "duped" into rebellion by foreign conspirators. Such denial of responsibility can serve a threefold purpose; first, it saves face for the regime in the sense that it allows foreign influence – rather than the regime's own policies - to have caused the rebellion; second, it allows both parties to negotiate a settlement without either "being at fault"; third, it recognizes that the majority Sunni population cannot be vilified if the Alawites wish to remain in power.
However, when discussing particular actions, rather than characterizing the conflict, Assad places "purpose" at the forefront. Thus, when questioned about the thousands of casualties incurred since the beginning of the conflict, Assad cannot deny involvement; rather, he asserts that his actions are justified given the nature of his opponents and the extremist agenda they will visit upon the Syrian people. As a former medical doctor, Assad relates that his actions are humanitarian in nature in the sense that he is "extracting a limb to save the patient." By privileging purpose, his discourse assumes a logic where the ends justify the means. This represents a break with his overall denial of responsibility for the conflict. He is assuming responsibility for brutal actions, which he wants us to view as necessary, for the restoration of Syrian governance. Taken as a whole, we can infer that Assad wished audiences to view his role as reactionary yet strong and appropriate. He did not start the fight but will take the necessary means to resolve it properly.
For Burke, a dominance of scene suggests a sense of materialism operating in the discourse. He believes materialism to be "that metaphysical theory which regards all the facts of the universe as sufficiently explained by the assumption of body or matter, conceived as extended, impenetrable, eternally existent, and susceptible of movement or change of relative position" (Burke, A Grammar of Motives 131). It is "the theory which regards all the facts of the universe as explainable in terms of matter and motion. . . ." (Burke, A Grammar of Motives 131). Important here is that Assad's discourse scenic reliance threatens to "downplay free choice and emphasize situational determinism," and that it is from scenic domination that Assad's purpose flows: "The dramatistic concept of purpose answers the question why an action should or should not take place and is, as such, moralistic in tone. Since purposive thinkers concentrate on the goal of an act, they understand small acts and decisions in light of a larger program" (King, 174; Fay and Kuypers, 207). In this sense, Assad is justifying deadly force as necessitated—compelled even—due to the scenic pressures. However, the focus on purpose also allows for the move toward a transcendent aspect of Assad's active use of deadly force: a greater, multicultural, and secular Syria (King, 170-171). Thus, Assad is willing to sacrifice lives and fortunes to save not himself, but a greater Syria. From Burke's point of view, the "sacrificial principle is intrinsic to the nature of order" because sacrifice leads to ultimate fulfillment and rewards ("Dramatism" 450).
The Islamic Front ratified their founding principles and goalson November 22, 2013. These principles were announced in an online video, in which the leadership of all subordinate factions surround the speaker, Ahmed Issa al-Sheikh ("Islamic Front- Founding Declaration"). Issa al-Sheikh is the former military commander of a powerful Jihadist fighting force and served as the Islamic Front's leader. Particularly relevant due to its timing, the statement is rife with sectarian undertones, ethno-religious narratives, and is clearly meant to address a diverse audience. The statement comes in the wake of recent pro-regime victories against several key Jihadist fighting groups and the killing of a key Islamist opposition leader. Subordinate groups of like ideology recognized the need to unify their forces and clearly articulate a vision for a future Syria. Their exigency became even more salient in the wake of the internationally brokered deal preventing U.S. intervention against the Assad regime.
Issa begins the statement by defining the Islamic Front as "a comprehensive Islamic, social, political, and military formation. Aiming to a complete toppling of Assad regime in Syria, and building an Islamic state in which the lordship will be for the almighty God Sharia (law)…." ("Islamic Front- Founding Declaration," Introduction). With this statement, Issa breaks the silence, intentionally maintained by many Jihadist groups, regarding their end-game for a post-Assad Syria. The remainder of the statement takes on the nature of a governing document. Fifteen clauses distinctly outline the group's ideology, goals, rules for membership, characterization of other groups, and codes of behavior. In broad terms, the statement attempts to strike a balance between vehement advocacy for the implementation of Sharia law and understanding the concerns of Syrian citizens who would exist under it. Further, the speaker defines the Islamic Front's central role within the conflict, while directly and indirectly naming its enemies.
Issa is very clear regarding the group's intentions for governance. His desire is "to establish an independent state in which God's faithful Sharia will reign sovereign.…" ("Islamic Front- Founding Declaration," 1st Clause). He further rejects any form of secularization, stating "Religion without policy is a kind of monasticism that is forbidden in our religion and policy without religion is rejected secularization." His moderating tone shows up in his address of how such a system might be implemented. To the Syrian people (and perhaps the international community) he relays the group's commitment to work "for political progress, to create unified visions and positions compatible with societal issues; along with the civilian side, it revives and activates society's various capacities in preparation for rebuilding the desired new Syria, the state of Islam, justice, and advancement." The speaker further highlights elements of class and sect by stating that in the "new Syria" the group will "defend the underdogs" and their honor ("Islamic Front- Founding Declaration," 7th Clause, 1).
When discussing its enemies, the group directly addresses the Alawite-Shia Assad Regime as well as indirectly addressing supporters of an Arab style secular state. With respect to the regime, the groups stated goal is "to topple the existing regime in its entirety, with all its obscure remnants, to wipe them out of Syrian existence completely" ("Islamic Front- Founding Declaration," 7th Clause, 1). The statement addresses regime supporters by stating that following the dismantling of all governmental institutions, they should receive an "equitable trial" ("Islamic Front- Founding Declaration," 7th Clause, 1), although one might assume that such trials would occur based upon the Islamic Front's interpretation of Sharia Law. The other take-away from the statement, is the frequency with which the speaker denounces secularism. Without naming anyone, the group is sending a clear message to elements of the opposition who have not yet aligned with them, as well as rejecting the influence of foreign powers. Finally, the group stakes its claim to legitimacy by citing its member-groups successful participation since the beginning of the "revolution" and paying homage to its own military prowess.
The speaker's words within the video indicate that the group advocates the destruction of the Assad Regime and the establishment of an Islamic State governed by Sharia Law. However, the meaning of the speaker's words extend beneath the surface regarding the Islamic Front's role in the formation of the Islamic State, and the likelihood it will carry out its agenda against Assad regime supporters. Here the act of the Islamic Front is the establishment of an Islamic State and the conduct of retribution. Throughout the text there is a mingling of purpose and agent with this act. This varies by clause within the document, with some assuming an act-purpose ratio and others assuming an act-agent ratio. These ratios interanimate to form a general sense of act to purpose/agent emphasis. The speaker's interchanging emphasis on purpose and agent with respect to the act of establishing an Islamic state demonstrate their ambition to rule such a state as well as a willingness to justify violence in order to establish it.
The strong domination of act in the discourse of the Islamic Front implies an undercurrent of philosophical realism operating in the discourse. Burke describes realism as a belief "in the real existence of matter as the object of perception (natural realism); also, the view that the physical world has independent reality, and is not ultimately reducible to universal mind or spirit." Importantly for understanding the discourse of the Islamic Front, this realist underpinning also suggests "the existence of objects in the external world independently of the way they are subjectively experienced" ("Realism"). The act of the Islamic Front fuels their very conception of self: "things are more or less real according as they are more or less energeia [activity] (actu, from which our 'actuality' is derived). [F]orm is the actus, the attainment, which realizes the matter" (Burke, A Grammar of Motives 227).
Agent and purpose work together to legitimize the Islamic Front's central role in the conflict, qualify them for leadership, and promoting ideology. As agents, the leaders of the Islamic Front view themselves as fighting for a larger cause, and their discourse suggests that they take on a larger than life persona. Certainly the dramatistic agent can be viewed as a heroic person, one willing and able to take on the most difficult of circumstances. This aspect of the Islamic Front's discourse could be particularly appealing to Western cultures where, as Andrew King points out, "the charismatic leader who triumphs in spite of obstacles, setbacks, and enemies" has long been celebrated (170). The reliance on purpose in the discourse serves to highlight the larger context in which the Islamic Front views their actions. Since purpose answers the question why an action should or should not take place, we have a greater sense of how the Islamic Front sees its individual acts of violence are seen in relation to a much larger program of the imposition of Sharia Law within a Middle East Caliphate. This emphasis on purpose within the text reflects concerns of mysticism. On this point King writes that "in the extreme example of this kind of rhetoric means are subordinated to ends… for the sake of higher or divine law" (172). The speaker's consistent emphasis upon the use of violence for the sake of Islam and Sharia Law certainly fits here. For example, with regard to necessarily justified action the speaker states that, "the Islamic Front believes that the way to achieve its targets cannot be realized unless the armed military movement actively undertakes the Assad regime's toppling." The document additionally explains that this entails wiping the Assad regime from existence. The justification for intended brutality remains the establishment of the Islamic state. The speaker views such actions as acceptable in light of "an independent state in which God's faithful Sharia will reign sovereign."
As noted by King, persons who expect charismatic leaders to solve their problems tend to emphasize the agent in their discourse (171). The speaker in the Islamic Front video places the Islamic Frontas the agent for taking action and solving the problems of its advocates. The statement's sixth paragraph provides the following example; "Islamic Front sons were the first to revolt against the Assad regime's tyranny and protected the people from its injustice. The most prominent military victories over the Assad regime are theirs, so they are part of the Syrian people and interpret Syrians' aims and hopes." In this telling example, the speaker clearly designates the central nature of Islamic Front within the conflict and offers their suitability to "protect the underdog [and] his honor," and to represent the Syrian people.
An examination of Bashar al-Assad's interview can inform us about the perception and motivations of the group he represents. A juxtaposition of history, events, narrative, and dramatistic pentad show an Alawite ruling class which believes it is locked in conflict with a sectarian enemies bent on its destruction; events of the conflict are beyond their control as evidenced by a conspiratorial relationship between their neighbors, ideologically motivated individuals, and Western nations. Because they argue that the conflict is not of their making, Alawite rulers feel justified in using violence on those they perceive as not being truly Syrian. They also believe that in destroying their opposition and reincorporating certain factions of the rebellion, they will be resurrecting "Greater Syria." Given the difference between Syrian and Western narratives, understanding regarding the nature of the conflict, and preconceived Western notions of a "tyrannical regime," how does Assad try to influence U.S. opinion?
Throughout the interview, Assad chooses to explain his case using carefully selected language understood by Westerners, particularly Americans. The language used—metaphors—translates central ideas using words that produce wide meaning and invoke sympathy among his audience. Thomas R. Burkholder and David Henry describe a metaphor as a speaker's means to "ask listeners to comprehend one thing, represented by the tenor, in terms of another, represented by the vehicle" (98). Metaphor, however, is more than just a description or comparison of one thing in terms of another. Michael Osborn describes how "the 'thought' of the subject (tenor) and the 'thought' of the item for association (vehicle)… in their meaningful action together, determine psychologically the appearance and sense of the metaphor" ("The Metaphor" 228). Thus, the metaphor is a process of thought and understanding on the part of the sender and receiver. In some cases, we might consider it a contextualization in the pursuit of persuasion. Osborn's later work describes such a process whereby "cues in the context include consciousness of recent events… susceptibility of listeners, and deeper cultural configurations that come into play" ("The Trajector," 80). In our present case, Assad is asking us to understand the opposition and their actions in terms of terrorists and terrorism.
A September 11, 2001, terrorists no longer only attacked small groups who chose to venture into dangerous lands, nor was their destruction limited to those unfortunates within the blast radius of a bomb. Terrorists could now pilot airplanes, destroy cultural landmarks, kill thousands in well-coordinated attacks, and do it where ordinary people live and work. Terrorism invokes visceral images of buildings collapsing with thousands trapped inside. It also elicits fear of a faceless enemy who violates the American sense of security, challenges ideals of tolerance, and seethes with incomprehensible hate. Further, with the exception of certain high-profile domestic cases, terrorists are foreign. The collective nature of emotion, fear, and suspicion described above comprise the Alawite understanding of the Syrian rebellion and the conceptualization he asks U.S. audiences to assume. Although he doesn't directly state the following, Assad seems to extend the metaphor toward The Syrian Governments actions are a war on terror. Such a metaphor permeates a barrier between the Syrian-Alawite and U.S. world-views that might have been impenetrable on September 10, 2001.
We believe that Assad understands the power characterizing opposition as terrorists based upon his frequency of use. It is important, however, to understand why he uses it. When engaging with U.S. audiences, the Alawite use of metaphor assumes certain ideographic characteristics as both a call for inaction and a justification for action. If the abstract of terrorism represents a collective commitment to a normative goal, that goal is combating terrorism. Following 9/11, the U.S. engaged in the War on Terror. Although the concept of War on Terror eventually led to military action, it was initially an ill-defined call to action against an unknown enemy (Kuypers). By characterizing 80% of the Syrian opposition as terrorists, Assad and his Regime seek to align themselves with this call to action – and justify their use of force. Similarly, if Regime forces are combating terrorism, the U.S. shouldn't intervene in their execution of a war on terrorism. The specter of terrorism warrants and excuses Regime actions while attempting to avoid U.S. involvement by invoking collective commitment to a common goal. It is powerful because it calls upon U.S. commitments and imparts an immediate and visceral understanding of the Alawite worldview - existential fear, encirclement, vigilance, and survival.
Additionally, Assad's metaphor of rebels as terrorists aligns his objectives with those of the U.S. By defining a common enemy he not only seeks to stem U.S. opposition, but to invite active support. At the time of his interview, the specter of terrorism in Syria proved insufficient for U.S. policy-makers to overcome the short-term political benefit of taking a hard line on the regime's brutality. However, the recent horrific actions of the Islamic State as well of the AQ affiliations of the Islamic Front have made it clear that Assad does indeed fight self-proclaimed enemies of the United States. Perhaps we can judge his previous appeals in a new light as we consider the way ahead in the larger regional conflict. In recent months, Secretary of State Kerry alluded to a possible tacit cooperation with Syrian forces fighting the Islamic State (Islamic Front is not specifically addressed) despite the U.S.'s official policy of arming and equipping the opposition. He noted, "we are working very hard with other interested parties to see if we can reignite a diplomatic outcome… we have to negotiate in the end" (Kerry qtd. in Gordon, "Kerry Suggests"). This shift does not necessarily represent support for the Syrian dictator or his Iranian allies. However, it seems to indicate a willingness to revaluate the application of economic and military pressure as policy makers refine their understanding of the conflict.
Our analysis suggests that U.S. audiences use care when evaluating the discourse of potential allies in the Syrian conflict, as well as when applying the pentad to non-Western discourse. Three pitfalls can lead to oversimplification and misplaced sympathy toward either of the two sides. These pitfalls include: one, listening to what is being said about the groups involved rather than what they themselves are saying; two, listening to speakers who do not represent the warring parties; and three, imposing a U.S. understanding of the "underdog versus the tyrannical regime" upon the conflict itself. These pitfalls can, however, be avoided through the proper contextualization and use of primary sources, the analysis of cultural narratives, and the application of the pentad used to better understand worldviews. In particular, one must evaluate the discourse of the persuasive agent rather than discourse about a persuasive agent. For example, if one intends to evaluate Bashar al-Assad's motives, a Western media outlet's interpretation of his words would be an ill-advised source. Although such documents might contain quotes, those chosen might actually support a pre-existing U.S. culturally based interpretation (such as the "the underdog vs. the tyrannical regime").
U.S. failure to hold a conversation regarding the actual discourse of Syrian (by extension Iraqi) partisans in context of the conflict is already leading it toward poorly advised "side-taking." Never has U.S. publicdiscourse regarding Syria included a scenario where the U.S. intervenes on behalf of the Regime to prevent an internationally recognized terror syndicate from gaining control of the infrastructure of a developed country. This is not to imply that such strategies would be correct, but rather to highlight that a robust understanding of the parties involved ought to lead to questions regarding potential U.S. support for the opposition. Such questions, when they have been addressed in the public discourse, are answered by rhetoric that supports the "moderate" opposition. Such lines of logic conclude with the idea that the "extremists" are a minority, and support for the "moderates" will prevent others from filling a power void. However, a closer look shows that much of the "moderate" voice is either disregarded as irrelevant by representative opposition groups, if not used as a tool for bargaining by influential individuals with ties to those groups. Furthermore, the group now overseeing the "moderate" opposition (The Islamic Front) originates from the same cloth, holds the same ideology, desires the same goal, and uses similar narratives as the Islamic State (ISIS). The ethno-religious/sectarian nature of the conflict, as well as the role of terrorist groups within it, are not only ignored in public discourse, but also at times denied completely. For instance, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated in September 2013, "I just don't agree that the majority of them are al-Qaeda and the bad guys" (Michaels, "Kerry"). However, the value of public knowledge informed by those who choose to agree/disagree with certain characterizations pales in comparison with realistic assessments based upon what the groups themselves tell us. On the contrary, when commentators and officials choose to ignore primary sources and make statements of opinion, they perpetuate mischaracterization by a public who relies on their judgment to inform foreign policy. We feel that in conflicts involving ideologies and worldviews completely foreign to most Americans, the public would do well to listen to words spoken by the combatants themselves.
Analysis of foreign discourse with respect to commonly used cultural narratives is a necessary first step for cross-cultural applications of the dramatistic pentad. For example, rural Sunni narratives tell us that those who are fighting against the Assad regime historically sought regional dominance and routinely discuss the destruction of the "illegitimate" Alawite regime. These are not motives in the Burkean sense. However, they do contextualize the "who" and "why" when applying the pentad. For example, if a fanatical Sunni seeks to cast "enemies of Islam" into their graves, we have some idea of who is first in line (Alawites) and what sets of ambitions exist outside of the immediate discourse. Thus, if "freedom and democracy" are not part of the cultural repertoire of a rural Sunni rebel, we might not consider such an end-state among the menu of his or her possible motives.
Following our methodology, once we understand the speaker's cultural repertoire, we can apply the pentad. As we have shown, the Islamic Front assumes a realist worldview by placing the act of creating a Syrian Islamic state governed by Sharia Law as the central component of their discourse. The act is achieved by the killing and expulsion of the Alawite Regime as well as imposing judgment on its supporters. The Islamic Front intertwines the use of purpose and agent with act, creating an act-agent/purpose ratio. This ratio provides us further insight regarding their worldview and motivation. Thus, we know that the Islamic Front's leadership feels justified in killing for the purpose of establishing a religious state. Further, they are the self-styled rulers of the future regime by virtue of their military prowess and righteousness. This is not the language of tolerance expected of governments in the West; future studies may show that it is quite similar to the language of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
The danger of imposing our perceptions upon the warring groups (rather than listening to the discourse) is that they might well pursue their ideological path to its logical conclusion, despite our fervent wishes to the contrary. As we have seen here, for some this includes the bloody disposal of all perceived enemies and the establishment of an ideologically narrow autocracy. To sympathize with the Islamic Front or Al-Nusrah because we do not perceive them to be as extreme as "ISIS," or with jihadists because they are fighting a bloody war against the Syrian state apparatus, is a failure to recognize the credibility of their motivations as portrayed in their own words (Sly, "Al-Qaeda"). Such groups tell us that they will kill their enemies according to (their interpretation of) Sharia Law and establish a caliphate. Perhaps the important question is not whether we can cooperate with (or even identify) a moderate opposition, but why the jihadist discourse of the Islamic Front and ISIS resonates so heavily with the regional Sunni population and potential allies. Understanding this might allow real dialogue with those who must eventually be part of the solution.
Application of the pentad provides the starting point for a truly contextualized policy discussion. As the final portion of our method discusses, we can now move beyond the immediate discourse of the partisans themselves. A starting point lies in the Islamic Front's purpose. What does a strict interpretation of Sharia Law look like to a Sunni extremist, and what does it tell us about the potential for partnership against "undesirable" elements in Syria? Reliance of the Traveler and Tools for the Worshiper (A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad Ibn Naqib al-Misri) written in the 14th Century provides some insight. It is an authoritative manual on Sunni Islamic jurisprudence that dictates rules for interactions with non-Muslims, lists requirements of Jihad, details when killing is permissible, itemizes corporal punishment for various offenses, and so forth. Interpretations of this kind have serious implications for a potential alliance with any opposition aligned with the Islamic Front. The document makes clear that Jihad is obligatory, as is the killing of apostates in Muslim lands, or of Christians who criticize Islam. Additionally, any alliance with non-Muslims is prohibited, unless Muslims are outnumbered (Al-Misri, 246). The document does not leave any room for interpretation for strict followers. Thus alliances with the Islamic Front or subordinate groups might prove ultimately unreliable, as their law mandates a return to a strict Sharia interpretation once they have numerical superiority. Reference to such interpretations of Sharia (also used by ISIS/ISIL) might also be an underlying reason Arab nations are hesitant to cooperate in a ground coalition. Even if Jordanian and Saudi politicians do not use such documents to govern their actions, blatant violations might jeopardize their legitimacy with Sunni constituents. Unfortunately for the West and the U.S., there doesn't seem to be much choice between "ISIS" and other fighters who share their ideology in the larger sectarian conflict. Further, the "rules of the game" used by ISIS and the "moderate" rebels in Syria are the same as those used by the Charlie Hebdo attackers. A nuanced conversation might highlight the inanity of creating artificial pecking orders of evil (e.g. the Paris attackers and ISIS are really evil, Al-Qaeda is in the middle, and the Syrian rebels are "good").
The regime of Bashar al-Assad has been successfully fighting against such militants. His discourse has traditionally been that of defining a common enemy through the metaphor of terrorism. He justifies his brutal actions using a scene-act/purpose ratio to describe the inevitability of conflict, and to justify his methods. Uncovering the motivation behind his discourse, it seems that we have a willing and capable ally in the struggle against extremism. Be that as it may, his discourse indicates that the reverse may also be true. That is, he might attack and destroy U.S. trained "moderates" because he perceives them to be terrorists. What is to stop him from doing so when his demise is their primary stated objective? Unfortunately, this possibility has not frequently surfaced in U.S. domestic discourse – which seems to assume a one-on-one fight between "moderates" and "ISIS." The ultimate question is whether we are willing to recast groups in a new light after listening to their discourse, or whether we will cling to old labels, impose U.S. narratives on the conflict, and develop untenable courses of action.
Moving beyond the finding of worldviews and sharing policy implications, this essay also demonstrates how the dramatistic pentad provides a fruitful analytic path into cross-cultural rhetorical criticism, and an effective rhetorical lens for understanding diverse worldviews. In order to navigate this path one must examine the speaker's actual discourse and draw context from the speaker's own culture. This requires the identification of primary sources to serve as artifacts for analysis and the examination of native historical-cultural discourse surrounding the artifacts. Close readings of such culturally related discourse can discover thematic cultural narratives that enhance understanding of the intended audience of a speaker, as well as more accurately account for the worldview of that speaker.
This is an important step since the supplantation of native (non-U.S.) narratives with U.S. narratives leads to miscues regarding a speaker's motive. For example, in our present case, both Assad and the Islamic Front tell us which of their cultural narratives are relevant by explaining them in terms of our own, U.S. narratives. When Assad describes the current conflict as a "fight against terror," we understand that he is describing a perceived existential threat. Thus, we can glimpse the worldview from which he is operating, and would have his audience enter into, by examining the narratives of existential threat. Native narratives provide such nuanced context for applying the pentad. As an additional example, rural Sunni narratives (those of the opposition) do not simply discuss humiliation and justice. Such narratives describe humiliation at the hands of Alawites, and justice against Alawites. It is with this insight that we can actually apply the pentad. Native narrative and use of metaphor allow us to properly identify the pentad's elements. Thus, the act, or "medicine" the Islamic Front (for example) asks us to take is the extermination of Alawites and the establishment of a caliphate in Syria. We would not, however, arrive at this conclusion by applying the pentad through the lens of our own sacred narratives (e.g. equality, tolerance, and justice for the oppressed). As Burke demonstrated in his early unveiling of Hitler's sinister intent, uncovering motive through application of the pentad requires understanding of the other's history, culture, and the surrounding discourse. Only when this is accomplished can we begin the intuitive work of understanding how each element fits together to provide meaning.
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Débora Antunes, University of Antwerp*
The cyber-activist collective Anonymous has created a powerful visual representation through the use of three key symbols: the mask, the headless suit logo, and its signature. Those images appear in almost all the campaigns launched by the collective and are part of Anonymous' visual identity, becoming important carriers of identification, which is understood here according to Kenneth Burke's theory. In this paper, I argue that, through the use of those symbols as means to promote identification, Anonymous created a cyber-activist brand that can be used by anyone who wishes to use the name and appeal of the collective to promote his/her message.
Seen in protests from all over the world, Anonymous presents itself as a cyber-activist collective without a fixed ideology. The collective makes use of cyber-activists practices and have a culture of its own and, in a phenomena that can be explained through identification, Anonymous was able to gather a massive community around its campaigns. Norton summarises the presence of the collective, its fluid identity, and its worldwide power in the following fragment:
Anonymous has broken the bounds of the digital and pushed its way out onto the streets, it has become a radical movement unlike any other. It doesn’t have a founding philosopher or a manifesto; there’s no pledge or creed. It’s true that Anonymous does have a politics, but it’s hardly a specific platform—just a support for online freedom and a rage at anyone who tries to curtail it. No, what Anonymous has become, in reality, is a culture, one with its own distinctive iconography (the Fawkes masks, the headless man in the business suit), its own self-referential memes, its own coarse sense of humour. And as Anonymous campaigns have spread around the world, so too has its culture, bringing its peculiar brand of cyber-rebellion to tech-savvy activists in Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Like a plastic Fawkes mask, Anonymous is an identity that anyone can put on, whenever they want to join up with the invisible online horde.
Because of its loose identity and strong iconography, Anonymous has become a kind of brand that can be used to give credibility to any idea promoted under its symbols. As with any brand, visual identity plays an important role since it will determine how the organisation will be recognised by others; and Anonymous has been doing a great job in this respect. The collective has created a wide range of audio-visual content by exploring symbols that already exist, in what is called a remix culture. This creation and re-appropriation are possible because of the digital nature of the Internet, which allows users to easily manipulate and re-purpose images. Joss Hands characterises the remix possibilities as a culture which takes "all kinds of texts already in the public domain, and - with the aid of cheap consumer electronics - [cuts] them up, [sample] them and [mix] together, so that new contexts generate new meanings" (73).
Figure 1 . Remix Culture as Used by Anonymous in #OperationPayBack Anonymous. "Propaganda Material". Oppaperstorm. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.
Anonymous took the best out of the possibilities afforded by the remix culture and the web in order to create powerful images and symbols that stand for the collective as well as its campaigns. For instance, Gabriella Coleman ("Aesthetic") affirms Anonymous "would be far weaker as a phenomenon without the masks, without their fantastic art work, without those videos", and adds that "Anonymous is a faceless phenomenon that is everywhere represented via their artistic output". Thus, the importance of the visual identity created by the collective is part of its power.
As a result, the symbols are important carriers of identification, since they allow the transfer of one's energy from the image to the collective, reinforcing the process of community-gathering. Moreover, as those symbols are usually based on pre-existent icons, people can engage with the content in a critical manner, making associations and building meanings from what is already known about the images. Anonymous' symbols can be analysed in terms of kinds of identification and strategies, according to the definitions that I discuss below. In this paper, I focus on the three main symbols used by Anonymous: the Guy Fawkes mask, the headless suit in front of what look likes the United Nations logo, and Anonymous' signature. Those symbols pervade all the campaigns created by Anonymous. Before moving to the analysis of the symbols, it is important to understand how identification operates.
The use of identification as a mean to persuade has been observed since Ancient Greece, when Aristotle proclaimed the importance of using commonplaces and understanding the audience to promote persuasion. However, Aristotle concentrates his efforts in a rhetoric that is all about convincing and does not give particular attention to the term identification itself. It is Kenneth Burke who constructs a theoretical approach to rhetoric that has identification as the essential aspect of persuasion and, consequently, as the key term of his theory. Burke departs from a perspective based on drama that analyses the use of language as a symbolic system to induce cooperation among human beings.
In order to understand Burke's idea of identification, we should first look at his definition of human beings. Burke ("Man" 493) affirms that people are symbol-using animals whose experiences define the symbolic system used by them and who are in turn defined by it. The author also differentiates identity from the self, defining identity as a social product that is created through the symbolic interaction between individuals, whereas the existence of the self is denied. He affirms that "identity is an active process in which 'I' is merely a unique combination of potentially conflicting corporate 'we's'" (Attitudes 264). Thus, Burke situates people as a product of their social relations, ideologies, and contexts.
As a result of Burke's definition of man, we can see how the social aspect is important in his studies. It is this fact that sets identification as a key term in Burke's studies since he says that the function of rhetoric is to proclaim the unity of men who are by nature divided (Motives 22). Consequently, identification is the only mean of participating in collective acts, and is considered an essential part in the function of sociality (Burke, Attitudes 267). Furthermore, Jay Jordan explains that identification is important "to a wide range of Burkean preoccupations: sacrifice, scapegoating, organisational behaviour, political affiliations, transcendence" (267). Thus, identification works to bring people together and move them collectively towards the same ideal.
Though the origins of the term identification are in the word identity, it is not about similarity, but joint interests. Burke defines identification by saying: "A is not identical with his colleague, B. But insofar as their interests are joined, A is identified with B. Or he may identify himself with B even when their interests are not joined, if he assumes that they are, or is persuaded to believe so" (Motives 20). Nevertheless, the identity of A or B is not excluded when they come together because of shared interests, being them at the same time consubstantial and independent individuals. Gary Woodward summarises the concept by saying that identification "creates spikes of decisive recognition that can bind us to specific sources, while affirming the boundaries of our own recognised world" (5).
Burke also explains that as the natural division of human beings is the origin of the necessity of identification, both division and identification are constantly subordinate to each other (Motives 22). It is interesting to notice that even the associations formed through identification imply division since people organise themselves in groups that are usually distinguished from other groups, creating an antagonism between "them" and "us". As a consequence, identification offers an attempt to overcome division at the same time that perpetuates it (Jordan 269). In other words, identification results simultaneously in sociality and rivalry, since people tend to tie themselves to the perspective created by a group, at the same time that they ignore or reject other angles.
Keeping in mind the idea of what Burke's identification means, we can move on to the categories that can help to analyse how it appears in imagetic discourse. Here, I am going to develop two taxonomies related to the term: the kinds of identification, which implies how the symbolic system is used and perceived by human beings, and the strategies that can be used to promote identification. I develop each of these categories in this section, but they can be summarised in the following table.
Table 1. Identification Taxonomies
|Kinds||Mechanical||Unconscious association between symbols and ideas.|
|Analogical||Use of different frameworks to discuss a category.|
|Ideological||Creation of a symbolic system that will give meaning to other symbols.|
|Strategies||Similarity||Emphases is given to resemblance (i.e., demographic).|
|Commonality||Shared perspective (i.e. same enemy).|
|Hidden Division||Discourse hides tokens that induce identification..|
The first important aspect of identification relates to how symbols will be interpreted by human minds in order to promote identification. Through this process of interpretation, the symbols will be associated with certain elements according to the critical approach used by the ones taking part in the symbolic act. Departing from this idea of associations, Burke presents three kinds of identification: mechanical, analogical, and ideological.
Mechanical: this kind of identification results from the simple association between an idea with a symbol or image. Woodward affirms that this kind of identification does not involve any critical thinking, being based on how previous experiences shape the way we interpret the world (29). Mechanical identification can be seen when a certain object is associated with a desired class status. For example, in Western culture, brands of cars are preferred according to the image that one has of oneself and wants to project to others. Consequently, mechanical identification can also show how symbols can be used to perform identity (Woodward 129).
Analogical: in this case, identification happens when "the principle of an order is transferred to another order" (Burke, Motives 133). Analogical identification uses a framework that does not belong to the category of the idea under discussion in order to re-contextualise the subject and give it a new meaning. For example, arguments are typically defined using a vocabulary of conflict (i.e., argument is a fight), which moves them from the realm of an exchange of ideas to a battle in which only one side can win.
Ideological: this is the most abstract of the three kinds of identification. Burke defines rhetorical ideology as "a system of political or social ideas, framed and propounded for an ulterior purpose" (Motives 88). Thus, the ideological identification happens when a complete system, or cluster of signs, is created to represent a large idea that is used to order other signs. As an example, Christian conservative groups can attract people using an ideological form of identification by offering them a new ideological framework. Hence, as soon as they start to share the membership of this group, people will start to judge based on the views that the new framework considers natural or abnormal, creating a new organisation for their own worlds. Ideological systems are particularly good at giving meaning to signs that do not have a fixed position when it comes to good or bad per se, such as capitalism (Burke, Motives 184). Here, it is important to notice that this form of identification can happen in a subliminal way since ideological systems are often interiorised by individuals in an unconscious manner. For instance, Tony Thwaites mentions that ideologies are keen to address people as if they were already part of that system, leaving no choice to the addressee other than to accept his/her role as part of the group (162).
Woodward affirms that the analogical identification reframes one's experience, while the ideological renames it (33). When either one is in action, it is able to modify one's idea, showing the association between identification and identity. A modification in mind calls for an identity adjustment and a change of attitude, which has the power to change the way people perceive themselves and the world (Woodward 36; Ambrester 205). Thus, a successful identification can be noticed, at a superficial level, through explicit connections to the group, such as the use of the same vocabulary, and, at a deeper level, in the impact on the symbolic organisation of one’s mind.
The three kinds of identification discussed can appear in discourse according to three different strategies. These strategies take into consideration how the audience will be attracted to an specific idea. As do all rhetorical acts, identification occurs when an audience can be addressed and, consequently, convinced. Although Burke points out that one can be one's own audience as long as s/he "cultivates certain ideas or images for the effect [s/he] hopes they may have upon [her/himself]" (Motives 38), rhetorical acts usually have external audiences that can be convinced. Hence, different strategies can be used, together or alone, to create identification with the audience: 1) similarity — when points of resemblance are created among people; 2) commonality — when the audience shares a common ideal; and 3) terms that hide division — when a discourse implicitly moves the audience towards a sense of group (Woodward, 2003: 26). These strategic appeals happen when a speaker is able to talk the same language as the audience "by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your way with his" (Burke, Motives 55). By doing that, the speaker will identify his/her causes with the interests and opinions of the audience.
Burke summarise the three strategies in the following paragraph:
The first [similarity] is quite dull. It flowers in such usages as that of a politician who, though rich, tells humble constituents of his humble origins. The second kind of identification [commonality] involves the workings of antithesis, as when allies who would otherwise dispute among themselves join forces against a common enemy. This application also can serve to deflect criticism; a politician can call any criticism of his policies "unpatriotic", on the grounds that it reinforces the claims of the nation's enemies. But the major power of "identification" [terms that hidden division] derives from situations in which it goes unnoticed. My prime example is the word "we", as when the statement that "we" are at war includes under the same head soldiers who are getting killed and spectators who hope to making a killing in war stocks (Dramatism 28).
Here it is interesting to notice that the creation of enemies used in commonality is marked by the striving for perfection that defines human beings in the view of Burke. As so, people tend to create perfect enemies, entities that are not really people, but the embodiment of evil. The author exemplifies with the construction of Jews in Mein Kampf, by Hitler (Burke, "Man" 509) . A contemporary example would be the traditional conflicts between East and West and the creation of villains, such as Osama Bin Laden, as the personification of terrorism. As a consequence of the perfect enemies, there is the presence of the perfect victims, who can identify themselves with each other because of the shared enemy.
Regarding similarity, it is not only seen when an evident characteristic is shared among people, but also when people are invited to imagine themselves in a certain situation to build empathy with those who actually are in that situation, then being an abstract representation of similarity is created.
As a rhetorical appeal presented through the three strategies, identification can fail or succeed at four different levels: associative, admiring, sympathetic, and cathartic. The levels were developed by P. David Marshall in his scholarship about film studies (quoted in Woodward 49). However, they are also useful in understanding social contexts since the three levels can define how people engage with a person or group. The terms are self-explicative and define the state of mind of the audience after receiving a message, implying diverse degrees of engagement with an idea. Though the final aim of identification, as described by Burke, is to move people towards some action, it only happens when associative identification is conquered. In this case, an individual not only identifies his/her views with the view of the group, but also becomes an active member of the organisation.
Burke's perspectives about identification can be applied to understand how Anonymous' symbols can operate as a brand and gather people towards the ideas promoted by the collective. In the following sections, I analyse the three main symbols one by one: the Guy Fawkes Mask, the Headless Man, and Anonymous' signature.
Although many ideas are hidden behind the Guy Fawkes Mask, Gregg Housh, a not so anonymous Anon who was part of Chanology, the very first campaign created by Anonymous against The Church of Scientology, affirms that the icon was picked almost randomly by Anonymous. It happened when people in the collective faced the necessity of omitting their personal identities when protesting against Scientology on the streets, since it "had been claimed that Scientologists harassed mercilessly their critics" (Anonymous). Though some people argue that from the beginning the mask was part of a political decision, Housh says there was not a consensus about it and other suggestions were given, such as super hero masks (as quoted in Walker). However, when Anons decided to check the general availability of the masks in shops, the Guy Fawkes mask won.
As the collective grew stronger, the meaning of the mask started to make sense as part of Anonymous representation. Nowadays, the icon is used in many Anons' social media profiles and is also a common presence in street protests promoted and/or supported by the collective. Its power as a symbol is even challenged by governments, who have been banning masks in protest because of the massive appearance of Guy Fawkes masks. Such action was taken by the governments of Bahrain, Dubai, Canada, and even the United States, which used an old law to justify the banishment. As a matter of fact, the related charges can add up to ten years in prison in Canada (Fitzpatrick).
When it comes to identification, the Guy Fawkes mask can operate in two ways: mechanically and ideologically. Moreover, it also makes use of similarity and commonality as strategies. Among the operations, the ideological kind of identification is the most complex one, since it requires an understanding of the stories behind the mask, from the Gunpowder plot to the release of the movie V for Vendetta (2005), that make the icon a symbol of fighting against oppression. Noticeably, as part of a product created by the remix culture, the mask can also be considered according to the analogical identification. However, the subversion of frameworks in the case of this symbol does not affect its main ideological meaning.
The Guy Fawkes mask was created in memory of a catholic man, Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up the English parliament in an attempt to kill King James I because of the religious intolerance that prevailed in England. However, Fawkes was betrayed by his fellows, arrested, and would have been executed if he had not committed suicide while waiting to be hanged. For many years, November 5th, the night intended for the Gun Powder Plot, the name given to the plan, has been celebrated in Great Britain. The festivities were not in honour of Fawkes, though, but to mock him and his attempt to kill the king. During those nights, an effigy of Guy Fawkes, using a mask to resemble his face, was burnt. However, history changed his fame and, as time passed, he became known as a figure who fought against the government, being considered by some as the last man with good intentions to walk through the British parliament. Currently, the mask is no longer mocked, but used as a symbol of dissent. But Guy Fawkes' story was not well-known outside the British Isles until 1980.
From that year to 1990, two well-known graphic novelists, Alan Moore and David Lloyd, decided to use the icon in their graphic novel, V for Vendetta (1989). Lloyd drew a version of the mask, the one that is seen on the streets nowadays, and the story reinforced the old ideology behind the symbol, the fight against oppression. In addition, the graphic novel embedded the mask in the question of how people can empower themselves and fight for their rights. V for Vendetta (1989) happens in a totalitarian Britain that uses minorities, such as homosexuals, in medical experiments and controls the lives of its citizens. In this scenario, V, the major character who uses the mask, appears as a dissent who fights against the government and teaches people how they should rule themselves. When the graphic novel was released, V became a popular character among geeks and comic fans. However, it was the movie directed by James McTeigue and written by the Wachowski Brothers, released in 2005, that popularised the mask. The movie was based on the graphic novel, although some alterations were made. When it was released, the image of the mask and its ideology of fighting against oppressive governments were wide spread and those who could identify themselves with this ideology could also identify themselves with the Guy Fawkes mask, the major symbol of the movie and the graphic novel.
When Anonymous adopted the mask as its symbol through a random decision, the ideology worked well with their discourse in favour of freedom of speech. Though the context and framework were changed, which would count as an analogical identification, when an idea is removed from its original framework for another purpose, the ideology behind the symbol was still the same. As said by one Anon, the mask is no longer about blowing up governments, but it is still about giving the power back to people (Anonymous). In other words, the mask represents the fight against any kind of oppression. By making use of a symbol with such a strong ideological appeal, Anonymous could also use the strategy of commonality. In this case, people who identified themselves with the mask's ideology could transfer this energy to Anonymous itself since they had a shared interest represented by the Guy Fawkes mask.
Moreover, the Guy Fawkes mask holds an ample ideological perspective, making it appealing to a wide range of people. As Lloyd proposes, the mask carries no political view other than fighting against tyranny. He even adds that:
The important thing about that mask is that it’s used on a widespread level by many people who just want to use it as an all-purpose symbol of resistance to tyranny, even of perceived tyranny. That’s the most important thing about that mask. That’s why it’s been used in so many disparate groups. It’s been used in anti-Scientology demonstrations, also used by Occupy Wall Street Movement, also used by protesters in Egypt and in China. [...] It only means that you are somebody that doesn’t want to be run by an authoritarian government. That is most of us, and that’s why that’s so fantastic a symbol.Noticeably, the loose ideological appeal of the mask is similar to the appeal of Anonymous, which promotes a wide range of campaigns with multiples perspectives; though most of them are connected to oppression.
Though the mask carries a strong power of ideological identification, it can also result in dissociation from Anonymous. It happens because at the same time that the icon is used in fights against oppression and exploitation, it is also at the root of some exploitation systems. The symbol's copyright belongs to Time Warner, and the enterprise has been profiting from large sums of money due to the sales of the item. Moreover, the large scale production of the mask tends to exploit the vulnerabilities of third world countries. As an example, Figure 3 shows a picture of Guy Fawkes masks being mass produced in slums in Rio de Janeiro, it circulates on the web as an "somewhat ironic image" (Kelley).
Figure 3 - Assembly Line of Guy Fawkes Mask in São Gonçalo, Rio de Janeiro. Reuters. "Workers manufacture Guy Fawkes masks at a factory in São Gonçalo, Brazil in July". IbTimes. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.
People who work in assembly lines in slums tend to be low paid, a result of the poor labour division of neo-liberal globalisation. As a consequence, some people see the icon as an inconsistency when it comes to activism, causing dissociation from the Guy Fawkes mask, which can be passed on to Anonymous. In order to overcome such criticisms, Anonymous has been incentivising Anons to produce their own masks.
Despite the problematic nature of its production, the mask has become a popular symbol of Anonymous, being shared by many mainstream media as well as by Anonymous' social media profiles. Because of this massive use, it was able to promote a mechanical identification. In this case, no critical thinking is involved to associate the mask with Anonymous. Even if a person knows nothing about Guy Fawkes or V for Vendetta s/he can still associate the mask with Anonymous since it has become part of popular culture. The mechanical association is possible because Anonymous has consolidated the message of the mask as its symbol. For instance, it is not difficult to see people calling it "the Anonymous mask" instead of referring back to Guy Fawkes or any version of V for Vendetta. In such cases, the mechanical kind of identification is deeply connected to the strategy of similarity. By using the mask, even without critical thinking about it or its ideology, one can have the feeling of belonging to the collective and, as said by Burke, social ties are the ultimate aim of human beings when interacting with each other.
Moreover, the sense of community created by the mask also has a political significance. When people deny their individual identities when protesting, they fully assume the role of citizens, forming a mass claiming for ideals. Thus, the mask does not represent an individual, but the full collective, and its presence can be summarised in one of the quotes from the movie: "beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bullet-proof" (V for Vendetta). By becoming ideas, citizens are no longer targetable and subjected to repression, but act as a unison voice to express dissent, reinforcing the functions of sociality through identification and also strengthening Anonymous as a community.
Although the mask became the most well-known symbol of Anonymous, the collective's logo is in fact a headless man wearing a suit with a background that resembles the United Nations (UN) logo, and a question mark in the place where the head should be, as shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4 - Anonymous Logo and United Nations logo Huff, Jason. " Left: Anonymous logo, Right: United Nations logo". Rhizome. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.
Though the logo is not so popular as the mask, it still stands for Anonymous, appearing in its widely followed Twitter account, @AnonOps, and used in some practices of e-graffiti. Thus, it deserves some consideration here. The logo was heavily marked by the remix culture since it re-appropriates the symbol of the UN in order to pass on Anonymous' message. As opposed to the mask, the logo is not widely discussed and does not have any historical background apart from the UN symbol. However, some interpretations can be found online.
Jason Huff (2011), for example, presents a theory, a bit forced, about Greek references, though none of the Anonymous channels or profiles has ever discussed such presences. As a matter of explanation, Huff argues that the man in the picture has no arms and the olive branches work as wings; though it seems that his arms are crossed on his back in a typical position of a business man while the olive branches are originally part of the UN logo. By reaching this conclusion, Huff argues that the image resembles Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. Meanwhile, other people affirm that the man is in fact an adaptation of a René Magritte painting, The Son of a Man (OhInternet). As no explanation can be found in Anonymous channels, it is difficult to affirm from where the image of the man came or what it represents. However, in the remix culture, interpretation is free so people tend to interpret symbols according to their own knowledge of world. What is clear about the faceless man is that it stands for anonymity and leaderlessness, two of the concepts defended by Anonymous.
It is also clear that the UN logo was used, and a few observations can be made about that without misinterpreting the image. The UN is an organisation that should promote cooperation among nations and stand for human rights in general. In times of globalisation, such organisations can be more powerful than countries. However, in recent times, the UN has been accused of corruption, support of dictatorships, lack of representation from some countries, and even omission in cases of genocide, such as in Rwanda. Consequently, when Anonymous creates its logo by using part of the UN logo, an analogical process occurs. That is, the ideals that the UN should fight for are now characterised as the dissenting voice of cyber-activism, while the UN involvement in scandals is interrogated. In such cases, identification may occur if an individual agrees with the new framework given to the logo of UN and accepts that the issues represented by UN, and consequently its logo, should be discussed by Anonymous. If this agreement is effective, analogical identification is seen through the use of a strategy of commonality, since people will share the same idea.
However, as with the mask, identification can also occur mechanically. In other words, people can recognise the logo as belonging to Anonymous and identify themselves with the group or with the idea behind the logo because they believe in what Anonymous proclaims. In the last case, Anonymous again works as a brand that gives credibility to causes using its name. Nevertheless, the appeal of the logo is much weaker than the one created by Guy Fawkes mask, which is able to represent a whole ideology. Even when it comes to the mechanical identification, the mask seems to be stronger than the logo since it is much more popular in mainstream media and is seen with more frequency as associated with Anonymous. The identification power carried by the mask is also stronger than the one present in the signature.
As with everything related to the origins of Anonymous, the signature of the cyber-activist collective came from 4chan, an Internet board created to share images and general content, more specifically from a set of rules called the "Rules of the Internet". The rules were created mainly for the sake of joy, but when Anonymous made its first video as an embryonic cyber-activist collective, rules 3, 4, and 5 appeared as part of its signature. Those rules are: 3) we are Anonymous, 4) Anonymous is legion, and 5) Anonymous never forgives. When adapted to Anonymous' signature it appeared as: We are Anonymous / We are legion / We do not forgive / We do not forget / Expect us. When the collective reached its cyber-activist fame, its signature became its catchphrase and is now seen in all of Anonymous' videos and most of its visual material.
The appeal promoted by the signature is made through the strategy of hidden division. As the catchphrase uses the pronoun we, it is expected that there will be a "they", a group that should expect Anonymous' actions; since the signature gives no other option, people are expected to take part in one of those groups, being with Anonymous or its target. The argument is even more compelling when presented by the "spectaclish orientation" (Coleman, "Aesthetic") that is often present in Anonymous' videos. Moreover, the signature can be reinforced by the lines: "The corrupt fear us / The honest support us / The heroic join us / We are Anonymous". By using this sequence, the distinction between "them" and "us" also becomes a question of good and bad, making it clear that if one wants to stand on the good side, s/he must be part of Anonymous. Of course, in real life individuals can also choose just to ignore the message, though the speech per se does not present that as an option. Consequently, the signature works as an ideological appeal in which a role is given as if the audience were already in this position; thus, denial is almost non-existent in terms of the message. Though the ideological appeal is present, the ideological identification is not held by the signature since it has no ideological power if disconnected from the collective; so, the ideological appeal is in Anonymous as a collective, not in the signature itself.
The creation of two distinct groups through the use of the pronoun "we" makes the signature an interesting piece when it comes to identification as well as of its counterpart, division. In this piece, we have a clear example of how identification is able to create sociality and rivalry at the same time: the ones who agreed with the tagline and feel that they are part of Anonymous exercise socialisation; meanwhile, the ones on the other side will be seen as the corrupted people that Anonymous should fight against, appearing as the rival faction. Interestingly, the fragment which is sometimes used in association with the tagline, "The corrupt fear us / The honest support us / The heroic join us / We are Anonymous", offers the audience the possibility of engaging with Anonymous in different levels. Those levels can be compared to the ones proposed by Marshall, as mentioned by Woodward: associative, admiring, sympathetic, and cathartic. In this case, the associative is represented by the "heroic" ones who will join Anonymous, while the admiring and sympathetic levels are seen in the "honest" ones who support the cyber-activist collective. On its turn, the cathartic is seen on the ones who just completely ignore the message.
It is also important to notice that the signature operates as a mechanical kind of identification since it is automatically associated with Anonymous, and an individual can unconsciously accept it or not. The presence of a mechanical identification associated with the strategy of hidden division makes the signature quite strong when it is not considered critically, since both terms operate in an unconscious manner. In addition, the implicit creation of two distinct groups also induces the strategies of commonality and similarity. Commonality occurs when a person agrees to share in the name of Anonymous, and also accepts the other group as an enemy. Meanwhile, similarity is present in the idea of group itself and the sense of belonging to this faceless organisation.
The signature, like the logo, is also not so strong as the mask, though it is present in most of Anonymous publications and also used as sign of protests in the streets. It happens because the visual impact of the mask is much more significant since it has a strong ideological factor and also works to preserve one of the main characteristics of Anonymous as a collective, its culture of anonymity. However, even if the symbols vary regarding their power of appealing, it is undeniable that they are important in creating the image of Anonymous. Nowadays, this image is even seen as a brand inside the cyber-activist world.
These symbols all relate to a question that may not appear directly correlated to cyber-activism: how willing are you to buy a new product sold by a brand that you already like? It may sound awkward to discuss branding when talking about cyber-activism and its fight against neo-liberal globalisation and the negative side-effects of capitalism, but branding is what best defines the power of the symbols created by Anonymous; the difference is that the collective does not sell products, but promotes ideas.
By making an impressive use of the remix culture, Anonymous has created a powerful visual image and style now recognised all over the world. The symbols that were re-appropriated by Anons are even losing their own name and being labelled as Anonymous properties. When Anonymous consolidated its image and symbols, the collective created a strong brand image that can be associated with Anonymous' campaigns and messages. When people come together under the name of Anonymous, the collective starts to form part of their identities, creating a kind of brand identification with the name. The term, brand identification, is defined "as the degree to which the brand expresses and enhances consumers’ identity" (Golob, Tuškej, & Podnar 54). When it comes to cyberspace, the brand identification can define the way that a person will present him/herself through discourse. For sure, the influence exercised by Anonymous as a brand will vary according to the level of engagement, but it does exist as long as a person identifies him/herself with Anonymous.
It would be a simple question of brand identity if Anonymous were not a porous loose collective when it comes to participation. As everyone can write in the name of Anonymous and use its identity to promote his/her own ideas, branding allows a double process of identification: the symbols can make a person identify him/herself with Anonymous, but it can also make someone who is already engaged with Anonymous accept an idea promoted under the collective's visual identity. As those ideas are freely published and do not depend on the authorisation by a leader, they heavily rely on public acceptance to grow strong in cyberspace. This acceptance can be seen when a large number of people start to share an idea and it goes viral. Thus, being branded by Anonymous plays an important role in the legitimisation process that can decide if a cause will live or not on the Internet.
For instance, not all the campaigns that have been held by Anonymous were created by the collective. Some of those campaigns started with other organisations; however, when their names were associated with Anonymous, they could make use of the brand identity of the collective to produce identification for their own causes. An example is the campaign against Monsanto. Though Anonymous had already initiated a campaign against Monsanto and genetically modified food in general, as a part of a movement called #OperationGreenRights, it was not the collective that created the march in 2013. In this case, the main website that organised the March Against Monsanto, which happened all over the world on 25 May 213, announced that Anonymous was a sponsor, but not the organiser. As a sponsor, Anonymous promoted the cause in its social media profiles, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube, calling the attention of Anons to the March. By doing that, the collective was using the organisational power of cyber-activism in order to transfer the energy from Anonymous to the March, trying to mobilise a large number of people to go to the streets and protest against Monsanto. One piece of evidence that this transfer works is that the March had a large number of people using Guy Fawkes mask.
Thus, as the symbols used by Anonymous are now able to stand by themselves and fully represent the collective, they have become powerful carriers and transfers of brand identification. By contrast, dissociation can also happen. When people do not feel compelled by the message carried by Anonymous or even condemn the actions taken by the collective, they tend to automatically reject an idea promoted under the name of Anonymous. The coexistence of the two possibilities, identification and dissociation, shows how the cyber-activist collective can really work as a brand, since the same phenomena can be seen in the market-place. In other words, people tend to buy new products released by brands that they like and reject new products whose brands are not part of their identities. As a consequence, when Anonymous created its visual identity as a cyber-activist brand, the same process can be observed in the campaigns promoted by the collective.
* The author completed much of the research for this article while at the University of Waterloo.
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Christopher Carter, University of Cincinnati
Whether describing the distillation of labor into commodities or the representation of affect through objects, Kenneth Burke attends to the interlaced agencies of people and things. This essay locates such convergences in Icíar Bollaín’s film Even the Rain, uncovering forms of politically-charged consubstantiality between human and extrahuman materiality. An awareness of what Burke calls "ambiguities of substance" gives viewers a way to interpret the movie's linkage of imperialism and "thing rhetoric" across five centuries.
Whether describing the distillation of human labor into commodities or the representation of affect through objects, Kenneth Burke regularly attends to the interlaced agencies of people and their surroundings, anticipating Bruno Latour’s claim that “things do not exist without being full of people.”1 This essay locates such lively objects in contemporary cinema, uncovering varied forms of identification between human and extrahuman materiality and thus building on scholarship that links Burkean theories of consubstantiality to the rhetoric of film (Blakesley; Oktay; Perez). The argument concentrates especially on Icíar Bollaín’s Even the Rain (2010), a Spanish film that depicts the troubled production of a movie about Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the so-called new world. Bollaín’s picture depicts a fictional shoot in Cochabamba, where the crew draws on lush settings and an eager cohort of inexpensive extras to evoke the historical period without recourse to computer-generated imagery. The attractions of the location fade, however, as many of the actors become embroiled in protests over the city’s water policies. As early skirmishes escalate into a full-scale water war, the same director/character who lauds indigenous opposition to the Spanish occupation comes to subordinate present-day protests to his artistic vision. Deriving in part from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Even the Rain establishes relations of identification between gold, water, and film so as to connect modes of imperial violence across more than five centuries.2 Bollaín both condemns that violence and undermines any sense of safe, critical distance from it, for even as she distinguishes her methods from those of her invented filmmakers, her metafilm calls attention to its own set location, its own dependence on the labor of underpaid extras, its own consubstantiality with the object of critique.
To note likenesses between working conditions on the set of Even the Rain and the conditions the movie dramatizes is to evoke what Burke calls “ambiguities of substance.” The word substance may “designate what a thing is,” he writes in A Grammar of Motives, but it “derives from a word designating something that a thing is not […] Or otherwise put: the word in its etymological origins would refer to an attribute of the thing’s context, since that which supports or underlies a thing would be a part of the thing’s context” (23). To describe the substance of a phenomenon is to deal, as Burke so often does, with the interdependencies of distinction and concurrence, singularity and situational entanglement. Bollaín and her fictitious director Sebastián may be substantially joined in their cinematic renunciations of Columbus’s conquest, but their shared substance does not imply sameness. She distances herself from the character, after all, by juxtaposing his resounding affirmation of sixteenth-century indigenous resistance with his more limited concern for immediate public demonstrations in Cochabamba. Sebastián’s movie exists both inside and outside Bollaín’s, ambiguously serving as the guts of her production and the thing it defines itself against.
Attention to ambiguities of substance, while illuminating the relation between the metafilm and its nested counterpart, gives viewers a way to understand Even the Rain’s articulation of contested material phenomena across vast historical terrain. The coming argument establishes intertextual connections between A Grammar of Motives, A Rhetoric of Motives, and Gilberto Perez’s “Toward a Rhetoric of Film: Identification and the Spectator,” each of which addresses relations of consubstantiality not just between rhetors and audiences but between characters and the nonliving things that populate the narrative frame. The essay then describes identifications between the things themselves, showing how those correspondences condense and intensify the argument of the text they inhabit. To posit “correspondence” between a prized, terror-infused substance in the Age of Discovery, the substance of the water wars, and the substance of their cinematic representation honors the Burkean idea of ambiguity, implying likeness without unity and hinting at dialogic connections between extrahuman phenomena. Such linkages, while distinct from those outlined by Burke and Perez, come to us similarly permeated by the social character of rhetorical exchange, and they remain every bit as grounded in living negotiation and struggle, compromise and conflict.
Cogent as is the film’s association of substances across time, such associations nevertheless risk undercutting audience identification with the picture’s political project. With such risks in mind, the argument concludes by addressing the objection that the contexts are too divergent, too particular and nuanced, to allow for parallels. Such evaluations have a degree of validity, though they tend to interpret the conceptual overlap between substances as too perfect rather than partial and ambiguous. Critical emphasis on the movie’s purported contrivances deemphasizes its self-consciousness, for at the very moment the text most powerfully fuses the narratives of Columbus’s brutality, the water wars, and the exploitation of film-workers, Bollaín calls attention to Even the Rain as a dream structure—and one that courts hypocrisy by undercompensating indigenous workers even as it censures such practices. As Isabel Santaolalla implies in The Cinema of Icíar Bollaín, and as the director herself attests, the question of how properly to compensate those workers remains unanswered. Although Bollaín claims that her crew showed more labor consciousness than her fictional producer, she expresses concern about the formation of onset classes and the difficulty of avoiding them (DP/30). If her imagined filmmakers constituted straightforward scapegoats, viewers could leave the experience feeling cleansed of the bad faith the film portrays. But Even the Rain provides no such comfort, insinuating instead the audience’s complicity with the modes of power displayed onscreen. Visceral reaction to that insinuation may explain the initial impulse to resist the film, to seek sure division from a thing that identifies itself with us.
However persistently we posit clear divisions between human subjects and the object-context we inhabit, seemingly inert phenomena often express dynamic consubstantiality with human labor and social interplay. Burke addresses such consubstantiality while reflecting on the ethics of Karl Marx’s historical materialism, contending that
precisely where Marxism is most often damned as materialistic, is precisely where it is most characteristically idealistic. Marx’s most imaginative criticism is directed against the false idealism derived from the concealed protection of materialistic interests. His chapter on “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof,” shows how the human personality itself comes to be conceived in the abstract terms of impersonal commodities. And the whole purpose of such materialist criticism is to bring about such material conditions as are thought capable of releasing men from their false bondage to materials. (Grammar 214)Burke suggests that where Marx demonstrates the identification of life with profit-generating mechanism, he engages in resolutely ethical inquiry, discrediting the logic of Capitalism by describing its operations in systematic, “materialistic” fashion. Capital details a system wherein those who purportedly control the means of production become dependent on those means, and those who labor for the overclass find themselves fastened to—worse yet, reduced to—machinery. In Burke’s view, materialist criticism aims to disrupt these modes of consubstantiality by investigating their historical concealment.
Such criticism concentrates not just on the treatment of wage earners as objects but also on the identification of their labor with the commodity-form. Framing commodification as a type of identification requires recognizing what Yakut Oktay describes as the “flexibility” of Burke’s theory, its capacity to illuminate rhetorical transactions that transpire not only in words but also “beyond language” (KB Journal). Those transactions occur through the routinized, profit-driven motions of bodies as much as through verbal discourse or deliberate acts of persuasion. The commodity at once concretizes labor’s output and represents the expropriation of that output from the subjects who produce it. Barry L. Padgett calls this expropriation “the alienation of the laborer into the product” (7). The estranged object expresses consubstantiality with its maker, simultaneously embodying the worker’s creative vitality and marking a separation from it. Hardly just a signal of individualized alienation, however, objectified labor condenses what Harry Cleaver calls “a set of power relations” that pervades social experience under Capitalism (83). Those relations involve an apparent interdependence between subjects who control the means of production and subjects who activate those means—a perceived co-reliance accompanied by various historical antipathies, most prominently between managers and employees but also amid the strata of the rank-and-file. When A Grammar of Motives addresses the commodification of workers themselves, it contests forms of calcified value that are shot through with those modes of antipathy, and it defies the “set of power relations” that systematic self-estrangement helps to sustain.
Whereas Grammar briefly addresses the transfiguration of people and social processes into commodities, A Rhetoric of Motives addresses the identification of people and things by examining how affect installs itself in the material surround. To illustrate such identification he imagines a novelist who, “ending on the death of his heroine, might picture the hero walking silently in the rain. No weeping here. Rather stark ‘understatement.’ Or look again, and do you not find that the very heavens are weeping in his behalf?” (326). However prosaic the homology between setting and a character’s action, Burke memorably identifies the animate with the inanimate, carrying forward from Grammar the idea of a scene-act ratio. The scene constitutes an appropriate backdrop for human action just as the act finds expression through its surroundings. If we accept the (con)fusion of scene and act without recognizing it as one, the acceptance likely stems from our recurrent exposure to—and concomitant identification with—the conventional metonymies of popular fiction, whether novelistic or cinematic.
Inventive filmmakers sometimes rely on these metonymies to unsettle viewers’ long-held assumptions. In “Toward a Rhetoric of Film” Perez locates such techniques in the films of Carl Theodor Dreyer, who gives viewers false comfort by associating characters with the fecundity of their surroundings. “Young lovers are shown walking in a meadow,” writes Perez, “with flowers around them, trees, a sunny sky with a few puffy white clouds, maybe a river softly flowing in the distance. This is of course a romantic cliché. The young lovers are being identified with nature.” In Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (1943), the sanguine coding of nature soon gives way to tones of reproof, as the film introduces attitudes that prevailed centuries before:
Set in seventeenth-century Denmark, the film takes us back into a Lutheran society that looked upon nature as dangerously pagan, a realm where witches roam and the devil lurks. We heirs of romanticism may admire and embrace nature, but those Lutherans would keep it at arm’s length. Set in seventeenth-century Denmark but of course aimed at us who take a different view, Day of Wrath does not make it easy for us to decide (as Arthur Miller does in The Crucible) that we are right and they were wrong. Dreyer has cunningly, unsettlingly constructed his film around the split between these two different rhetorics of nature, these two different ideologies.Although Dreyer’s audience might interpret the narrative as validating modern perspectives, Perez finds only ambivalence in the structure of the picture, which gradually shows the “natural” lovers to be engaged in acts of betrayal and incest. When viewers identify with those figures early in the movie, they bring their social and historical contexts into conversation with those of the characters and the filmmakers, with results that are never certain and at times deeply disconcerting. Whatever the effects, to watch the production of consubstantiality between agents and scenes, persons and things, involves a concomitant overlap between the contexts of diegesis and reception, all of which occasionally feels more like a violent collision than a relaxed integration.
Perez locates just such a collision in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), which presents audiences with a psychological portrait so intimate as to be claustrophobic, hailing us as sympathetic spectators while repeatedly throwing our sympathies into question. The patterned alternation of affinity and disgust exemplifies a Burkean ambiguity of substance, as the film produces outraged repulsion in the very attempt to establish relations of commonality between viewer and anti-hero. For Perez, this pattern helps clarify distinctions between identification and what Murray Smith calls “alignment” and “allegiance.” Alignment “describes the process by which spectators are placed in relation to characters in terms of access to their actions and to what they know and feel,” while allegiance signifies “approval, taking sides with the character in a moral sense, rooting for the hero against the villain.”3 Whereas Smith believes that the term “identification” typically conflates alignment and allegiance, and wishes to replace that broad analytical category with more exacting concepts, Perez attributes to identification meanings that alignment and allegiance cannot encompass. Of Taxi Driver he writes that
even though we don’t approve [of Travis Bickle], even though we don’t even like him, do we not in some significant way identify with him? How else to explain our response to that scene [. . .] in which Travis, having succeeded in getting Cybill Shepherd to go out with him, chooses to take her to a porno movie? We feel acute embarrassment. This may not be exactly what he feels, but surely we wouldn’t be feeling it if we weren’t putting ourselves in his place. We don’t want to be in his place, we want to get out of there, but the film leaves us no choice, and it derives its peculiar impact from the way it puts us there. (“Toward”)That impact depends in part on similarities in diegetic context and context of reception. Many viewers feel the embarrassment that Travis would feel were he better attuned to his rhetorical situation, because we have been interpellated by social and sexual conventions he manages to miss. More salient still, we cringe also at how the scene identifies Travis with a particular kind of material culture, as manifest in the “blue movie” house as well as the glimpses and muffled sounds of the offending film. Betsy bolts for the door not just in response to Travis’s violation of social expectation, but because the film comes immediately to stand for his intentions toward her, regardless of whether he would claim those intentions himself. Just as Dreyer’s lovers become linked to nature in Day of Wrath, Bickle becomes identified with his surroundings in ways not easy to escape, no matter his readiness to apologize or eagerness to try another approach. In an ironic turn that contradicts his longing for a “real rain” to cleanse New York of its seedier element, the mise-en-scène of Travis’s failed date embodies the same vice he wishes to eliminate.
Whether figuring mise-en-scène in terms of a scene-act ratio—“the heavens weep”—or tracking the objectification of labor in the realm of economic production, Burke’s theorization of rhetoric involves regular consideration of dialogic relations between the human and extrahuman. What we encounter less frequently in Burke’s work, and what will prove key to our analysis of Even the Rain, is consubstantiality among nonliving objects in the diegesis. Throughout Bollaín’s film, certain of those objects express hierarchical relations maintained by violence, the threat of violence, or what amounts to the same thing, the threat of resource withdrawal. Various people in Even the Rain passionately decry one type of violence while performing another, giving the audience few characters with whom to safely ally themselves. Even if those audiences identify at first with what Burke terms the “orientation” of key figures (Permanence 21), we may balk when a wider view of those figures’ social and material circumstances contradicts their previously clear-cut politics. Such contradictions arise with frequency as the film frames multiple, shifting perspectives including those of the fictional producer and director, the indigenous actors and those who hail from outside Cochabamba, the documentarian who covers the making of the biopic, the fictional Arawaks, as well as Columbus and his crew. Those perspectives all involve an orientation toward one or more of Even the Rain’s focal substances, though the movie generally destabilizes the audience’s allegiance to any single standpoint. Once we identify with the critique of one object and its concomitant social relations, we subsequently find ourselves identified with another, similarly vexed object. The consubstantiality of objects in Even the Rain draws viewers into a process of what Perez describes as “comparative ideology,” a juxtaposition of contexts wherein we fuse historical analysis with critical self-consciousness, and in which we stand implicated by Gael García Bernal’s reflection on the film: “In Latin America this is nothing new. This is where we come from. This New World emerged from terrible violence and ambition, which led to what we have now” (Santaolalla 202).
To suggest that Columbus’s conquests gave way to contemporary forms of social violence, or that present-day expressions of corporate empire are “nothing new,” does not entail an equation of disparate historical periods. The substantial linkage of power-laden objects—and here we should remember Burke’s idea of substance as ambiguous, as evoking both the object and its exterior—involves acknowledging their difference as well as their likeness. Honoring such ambiguity, the next section details correspondences between objects in three different scenes: first, it describes a segment of Sebastián’s film in which the Spanish occupiers force indigenous people to pan for gold as a tax to the crown, and it focuses on the water-drenched quality of the ensuing drama; the section then addresses scenes immediately before and after the panning sequence—one in which the fictional producer Costa depicts his extras as inexpensive materials and another in which Antón, the actor who plays Columbus, alerts one of the indigenous actors to the division of labor that makes the movie possible. In specifying sometimes overt and at other times quiet correspondences between substances, the scenes set up a metacinematic dialogue between histories of “terrible violence and ambition,” accentuating not their interchangeability but their resemblance. By joining a chain of objects to a chain of social histories, the film shares Burke’s interest in the mutual elucidation of people and things.
A key scene in Sebastián’s nested film begins with Columbus’s “Indians” immersed in water, panning for gold. The camera shifts to a lineup of indigenous people positioned just off the riverbank, presenting small lockets of gold dust to agents of the Spanish crown. The agents evaluate each offering, and if one does not meet the expected weight, they send its purveyor into the forest to be clipped. Soldiers wrestle the convicted through a rushing stream on their way to the punishing grounds. The lens tightens focus, bringing into view the worried expression of a girl as she reaches the front of the line. Her father, who stands beside her, finds himself quickly caught up in a confused debate over whether his offering achieves the standard. The Spanish agents decide that the locket is slightly under weight, and so apprehend him for discipline. The girl pleads for mercy as they drag her father toward the woods. Columbus arrives on horseback as her cries reach frantic pitch, and he gazes on the bloodstained block reserved for the day’s tax evaders. The men turn to him for instruction; he nods. We see the father’s arm laid out on the block, the fall of the ax. We hear his agony as the camera locks on his daughter’s face.
Figure 1. Spanish soldiers and a convicted Arawak splash through water on their way to the clipping grounds. Copyright Morena Films, 2010.
The scene entails a variation on Zinn’s People’s History, which attributes similar circumstances to Columbus’s second expedition, in which his crew enslaved people from various Caribbean islands and made concentrated efforts to gather gold in Haiti. Intent on paying back the investors who financed the “seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men” he brought with him, Columbus established an efficient way to motivate his workers:
In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. (Zinn 4)
The trinket that designates forced compliance in Zinn’s history becomes the locket in Even the Rain, the vessel that contains the ritual offering. Whether designated via a copper ornament or gathered in a locket, the gold remains soaked in a specific set of social relations marked by national sponsorship of theft, slavery, and wholesale slaughter of native populations, much of it undertaken in the name of Christian progress. Burkean thought holds relevance to that history insofar as he tracks the dense accumulation of meanings in the extrahuman; to use Thomas Rickert’s formulation in Ambient Rhetoric, Burke “advocates seeing how social drama plays through material things” (208). Although Rickert resists the symbol-using subject/inanimate object dichotomy that often informs Burke’s considerations of thing-rhetoric, the idea that motive and orientation inhere in objects and environments rather than individual psychology constitutes a valuable advance in theorizing communicative ecology. Zinn’s book and Bollaín’s movie work in slightly different ways not just to dramatize the rapacious pursuit of a fetishized substance, but to accentuate how that substance both mediates and becomes sodden with the social drama that “plays through” it.
As Even the Rain examines that drama, the “extras” who perform in Sebastián’s production find their own natural resources appropriated by outsiders claiming interest in local progress. Although Sebastián regards the extras’ troubles as insignificant by comparison to the Columbus story, the prominence of water in the lineup scene connotes its correspondence with the gold of past epochs. His obsessively focused orientation renders him insensitive to that correspondence, but the interplay of metafilm and interior film brings the identification of substances powerfully into view—or, to make further use of the Burkean lexicon, as audiences perceive the shifting “circumference” of Sebastián’s project from a recreated, conflict-ridden Haiti to the immediate violence occurring near the film-shoot, Even the Rain invites us to compare the substances that motivate the distinct struggles, and to critique the fictional director’s hesitancy to do so.4 Once early sequences in Even the Rain alert audiences to the privatization of water in Cochabamba, we bring that awareness to later depictions of Discovery-era violence: indigenous people panning for gold in a flowing stream, and the raucous splashing that attends the journey to the chopping block, strengthen the film’s already pronounced connection between Zinn’s “history from below” and more contemporary forms of exploitation.
Those forms of exploitation in Even the Rain have their corollary in the actual Bolivian water wars, which occurred a decade before the release of Bollaín’s picture. Fabrizio Cilento explains that in the late 1990s, Bolivia entered into an agreement with the Bechtel-supported Aguas del Tunari, which generated “a 300% rise in consumer charges” and forced many people to spend “one-third of their income on water” (248). The price increases, along with resentment that a necessary public utility—even the rain—could be so shamelessly commodified, led to an uprising devoted to nullifying the contract. The protests built on previously established resistance to Bolivia’s Law 2029, a statute that affords external organizations rights to supply water “to centers of population with more than 10,000 inhabitants” while demanding that “local organizations such as cooperatives or neighborhood associations” respect those agreements (Assies 17). When people refused to forgo their communal wells or subjugate the ritual value of water to its exchange-value, Aguas del Tunari manager Geoffrey Thorpe threatened to cut off the supply to all who would not pay (24). Outraged citizens soon occupied the Plaza and set up blockades, engaging in confrontations with troops intent on quelling the protest.5 As the events drew international attention, the Bolivian government felt increased pressure to reconsider Law 2029 as well as the troubled corporate contract. The protests resulted in a series of government concessions that included the voiding of the Aguas del Tunari agreement, revisions to Law 2029, release of imprisoned dissenters, and financial remuneration for the wounded as well as the families of the slain (Assies 30).
By situating the Columbus biopic amid such turmoil, and accentuating the watery motif of key scenes, Bollaín establishes historical juxtapositions akin to Perez’s “comparative ideology.” As the comparison unfolds, the correspondence between gold and water proves to be at once startlingly apt and necessarily imperfect. Cilento praises Even the Rain’s “confluence of temporalities,” contending that the “short circuits” between historical periods imply a charged connection between “colonialism (what went wrong)” and “neocolonialism (what is wrong)” (247). In both periods, powerful emissaries appropriate the resources of the local community, exacting payment from the indigenous people in the form of labor or money. Justifying their actions as tending toward native betterment, the emissaries impose an idea of socioeconomic order first through the violence of hegemony and then through physical terror. The “terrible violence and ambition” of the early era, to return to Bernal’s observation, prefigure “what we have now.”
Still, those who recognize how gold and water correspond in the film will note significant dissimilarities as well. The process of identification, as Burke insists, presumes a state of difference. In “A Note on the Writing of A Rhetoric of Motives,” Michael Feehan maintains that
Burke’s identification differs from some psychological theories of identification in rejecting the idea that identification involves a merger so complete that the separate identities dissolve into one. Burke’s identification reaches toward consubstantiality not transubstantiality. (K. B. Journal)
However evocative of earlier modes of oppression, the Cochabamba water wars were not transubstantial with those practices, and did not, for instance, involve the ritualized maiming of people for failing to honor the demands of an occupying force. The contemporary expression of such force is more economic than royal or national, though certain nation-states prosper greatly while countries like Bolivia continue to struggle. To such distinctions we should also add the most obvious, geographical discrepancy: for although Cochabamba constitutes an inexpensive option for producing the picture, it differs dramatically from the areas where Columbus made his expeditions. Bollaín emphasizes the problem by having María, the young woman hired to make a behind-the-scenes documentary of Costa and Sebastián’s production, question her employer’s choice of venue: “We’re in Bolivia. It doesn’t make much sense. 7,500 feet above sea level, surrounded by mountains, and thousands of miles from the Caribbean.” Sebastián echoes María’s critique, playfully blaming Costa for privileging budgetary considerations over historical accuracy. Costa explains that if money were the primary concern, they would have shot the movie in English—to which Sebastián retorts, “Spaniards speak Spanish.” Even as Sebastián affirms María’s position, however, she insists on linguistic divisions that neither he nor his film acknowledges. “So Spaniards speak Spanish,” she interjects with amusement, “and the Taínos that Columbus found speak Quechua?”6
Costa finds María’s critique unimpressive, as his orientation as film-producer predisposes him toward realizing Sebastián’s vision with the least possible expense. His managerial perspective attains clarity in a metafilmic moment that precedes the scene of taxation and punishment, as he recounts during a phone conversation the advantages of working in Cochabamba. “Fucking great, man. It’s cheaper to get a man to sit on a light stand than to buy a sandbag,” he says. “Two fucking dollars a day and they feel like kings. Throw in some water pumps and give them some old trucks when you’re done and ¡listo! [ready!], two hundred fucking extras.” He delivers the soliloquy within earshot of Daniel, a would-be extra whose intensity on- and offset catches Sebastián’s attention and wins him the role of Hatuey, the Arawak chief who helps lead a revolt against the Spanish invasion. Although Costa’s monologue dominates the scene in aural terms, the camera mostly concentrates on Daniel’s reaction, featuring his face in medium close-up and keeping him in focus as Costa makes his call in the blurred background. Given that the call transpires in English, he presumes that Daniel will not understand. Once Costa finishes the conversation he approaches his actor with Spanish words of congratulations for the scenes shot thus far. Daniel responds—in English—“Fucking great, man” before explaining in Spanish that “I worked in the States for two years in construction. I know the story.” Having heard Costa reduce his coworkers to sandbags, and realizing the insincerity of the various forms of payment given to the Cochabamban community, he is in no mood for hollow compliments. Working in the US taught him both the English he would need to recognize Costa’s insult and the tendency for foreign management to treat his people as interchangeable objects.
By situating concerns about film labor alongside the taxation scene, Bollaín broadens the correspondence between gold and water so that it includes Sebastián’s movie. Coding film as yet another substance permeated by hierarchical social relations, Even the Rain addresses an issue that has received limited attention in the scholarly study of cinema and in movies themselves. Danae Clark specifies this inattention in Negotiating Hollywood: The Cultural Politics of Actors’ Labor, encouraging scholars to consider moving pictures as commodities in the Marxian sense, and thus as “quantities of congealed labour time” (83). Such consideration constitutes a break with conventional film criticism, which tends to highlight the relationship between image and spectator rather than the work of making movies. Although she praises Richard Dyer’s investigations of the star system, she regards his orientation as complicit with the forms of corporate Capitalist ideology that obscure the work of people further down the compensation ladder (xii). Taking inspiration from Murray Ross’s Stars and Strikes, Clark reorients readers toward the efforts of film extras, who tend to comprise the largest percentage of actor labor (19). She admits that such labor is difficult to examine given its often “sporadic” and “undocumented” character but she also suggests that without creative efforts to address the problem, the study of film will likely persist in its attention to consumption of movies while maintaining a thin view of their production (5).
Despite the force of her analysis, there is no need to cordon off film labor from audience engagement, as they both contribute to what Clark describes as the “‘work’ of cultural (re)production.”7Even the Rain encourages us to bridge those modes of analysis by fostering audience identification with the film’s self-consciousness about working conditions onset. Antón, the veteran actor who plays Columbus, embodies that reflexive appeal. After watching rushes of the taxation scene, he praises Daniel’s daughter Belén for her harrowing performance in Sebastián’s picture, hoping aloud that Costa is paying what her acting is worth. She responds with pride that she receives “a lot more than the extras.” Antón makes a show of being impressed and then tells her that he will make two million bolivianos, or approximately three hundred thousand dollars, for his part in the film. Without mockery or malice, he attempts to alter her orientation toward movie-making by briefly describing the stark inequalities of power and pay that it involves. The same person who helps bring Sebastián’s vision of systematized exploitation to the screen shows a cunning awareness of his own participation in such a system, and takes multiple opportunities to orient the crew toward the paradox in which they are caught. Although Antón’s alcoholism tends to muddy his perspective, he proves attuned to the material and historical homologies that arise while filming the Columbus biopic in Cochabamba. To identify with Antón is not merely to have a sympathetic reaction to a fictional persona but to experience, in Perez’s sense, a convergence of ideologies once presumed discrete. As the upcoming section will show, some viewers refuse that convergence, resisting identification not just with characters but also with what Amy Villarejo describes as the film’s “project.” For such viewers, the project of demonstrating consubstantiality across epochs looks too much like conflation.
Figure 2. Antón watches himself play Columbus during a screening of the rushes. Copyright Morena Films, 2010.
Bollaín’s daring rhetorical strategy generates multiple objections, though the present section focuses on just two. One concerns the ethics of history, the other the ethics of work. To say that Even the Rain is susceptible to such critiques or that it withstands them is to miss the complexity of the film’s rhetorical appeal. Bollaín anticipates the resistance, attributes to it a certain validity, and in quiet ways, incorporates it into her argument. That argument hints at her discomfiting complicity with the very power relations she challenges; further, it implicates us in its tapestry of object associations. For no matter how vigorously we try to maintain a critical orientation toward the modes of identification the film depicts, she insinuates our immersion in the systems of privilege and oppression Even the Rain calls to mind. Rather than a polemic that purports to elude the vast reach of neoliberal economics, the picture enacts a form of inquiry that aims to historicize that reach, to juxtapose synchronic and diachronic modes of indigenous exploitation, and to stage a dialogue with perspectives that question the movie’s ethical grounding.8
The first objection to Bollaín’s project concerns the narrative as a whole, though it typically concentrates on just one scene. The scene begins inside Sebastián’s movie as Spanish soldiers round up dissident Arawaks for punishment. As the soldiers tie the men to crosses, the camera lingers on Hatuey/Daniel, who refuses a final blessing from an attending priest, proclaiming hatred for the Spanish god and Spanish greed just as his captors light the pyre at his feet. The community of enslaved Indians then chants “Hatuey!” as he and twelve others slowly burn alive. The next shot focuses on Sebastián whisper-chanting Hatuey’s name on a hillside overlooking the action. After an interval in which his voice mingles with those of the extras, he calls “Cut!” and applauds his crew. As Daniel and the other actors disentangle themselves from their crosses, a police vehicle arrives on the scene. Officers apprehend Daniel and prepare to transport him to prison as punishment for participating in the Bolivian water protests. But before the police can leave, the extras surround the vehicle. Wearing Arawak clothing, they flip the car and free Daniel from his captors. As the police emerge with guns drawn, Costa and Sebastián intervene to protect their investment. While Costa attempts to defuse the tension, a few extras surprise the officers by seizing their weapons, allowing Daniel to escape into the forest alongside a group of actor-activists. Dazzled by the “confluence of temporalities,” and the speed with which the circumference of indigenous resistance expands before his eyes, Sebastián speaks once more in the reverent tones with which he chanted Hatuey’s name: “It’s like a dream,” he says to Costa.
Figure 3. Costa (right of center) and Sebastián (rear left) attempt to mediate as a policeman points his weapon at the indigenous extras. Those extras refuse to let the officers take Daniel/Hatuey to jail for his participation in the water wars. Copyright Morena Films, 2010.
When the extras come to Daniel’s aid, they do so not merely to defend the movie but to safeguard a leader in the fight against price hikes in public utilities. While fusing narrative layers as powerfully as any sequence in the picture, the scene designates in concentrated ways the identification of gold, water, and film, as Daniel comes to embody and resist the relations of exploitation embedded in each substance. Despite the summative character of the scene, some reviewers object to what they see as Even the Rain’s narrative contrivance. Comparing Columbus-era atrocities to contemporary practices of corporate greed, or worse yet, the vicissitudes of filmmaking, seems to such viewers facile and reductive. Whereas Burke argues that any vocabulary for representing a phenomenon involves a necessary reduction, a coding of one thing in terms of another (Grammar 96), some terministic screens provoke controversy insofar as they elide historical distinctions. Dismissing the movie’s “obvious parallelism” (Schenker) and “earnest didacticism” (Wheeler 246), critics oppose using the idea of imperialism to equate vastly different modes of exploitation. From such a skeptical perspective, Sebastián’s assertion of the dream-like quality of Daniel’s escape looks especially suspect. If it signals the realization of Sebastián’s fantasy, it clumsily illustrates his narcissism. If it connotes his surprise and disbelief, it suggests his obliviousness to parallels that critics like Schenker find all too obvious.
There is, however, another way to read the line that identifies Bollaín with her fictional director. Rather than expressing Sebastián’s good fortune or bafflement, it may imply an awareness of the artificiality of the historical overlap. Given Even the Rain’s orientation toward the politics of film production, it may be that Sebastián lets slip not only his own anxiety about historical ethics but Bollaín’s as well. To say that the intermingling of histories is like a dream is to reject their interchangeability, to assert the ambiguity of their substantial connection. Without breaking the narrative spell, the line acknowledges that the very train of object associations she has worked so hard to create is an evanescent projection, a multimodal fashioning of conceptual unity out of raw contingency and irreducible singularity.
But even if Bollaín’s self-consciousness helps deflect the charge that she conflates disparate events, concerns about the division of labor on her set remain to be addressed. Duncan Wheeler, who makes known his suspicions of the film’s pedagogical “neatness,” also raises concerns about the material conditions of its production, holding that “any genuinely ethical appraisal of the film would have to look at concrete information about the treatment and payment of the indigenous cast and crew, examining how the Bolivian extras were treated” (251). In a brief note at the end of his chapter, Wheeler cites Bollaín’s claim to have paid the extras twenty dollars a day for their work on the film (253). Unaware of Bollaín’s disclosures about actor compensation, Roger Ebert states bluntly that he “looked in vain for a credit saying, ‘No extras were underpaid in the making of this film.’” It seems that the subject matter of Even the Rain invites an assessment criterion that rarely if ever figures into film reviews—and, as Clark shows in Negotiating Hollywood, one that receives little attention in the history of film scholarship. And what’s more, that assessment criterion becomes the Burkean God-principle by which to determine the ethics of the film’s project. For such critics and reviewers, insofar as the scope of Even the Rain’s critique of labor conditions expands to include the metafilm itself, the ethos of the metafilm crumbles.
But Bollaín’s film never purports to embody a singular solution to the multiple problems it poses. Instead, it investigates the intersectionality of those problems, showing the critique of indigenous labor exploitation to have an elastic circumference, which frequently stretches to subsume those who level the critique at others. Such an investigation does not suggest, however, the equivalence of each instance of such exploitation, nor does it indicate Bollaín’s concession to presumed inevitability. In an interview with DP/30 about the production of Even the Rain, she claims to improve on the practices of her fictional filmmakers, yet remains uncertain about the extent of those improvements. While directing, she was conscious of differences in pay between actors, between Mexican and Spanish crewmembers, and between participants from Argentina and Bolivia, acknowledging that the distinctions held potential to create “classes” on the set (DP/30). Such class formations, she notes, are “very ugly.” While doing her utmost to support a spirit of shared purpose and mutual respect among workers, she found refreshing the requests of some Cochabamban participants not for individualized payment but for community enrichment. They wanted bricks and computers for their schools, basketball goals, trucks for transporting water, and direct payment to families for using their land while filming (DP/30; Vitagraph). Bollaín and producer Juan Gordon accommodated such requests whenever possible, although she admits the likely imperfection of the result, saying that some people in the community may be “annoyed with us.” Even the Rain’s intertexts stress the film’s inability to solve the problems it poses, suggesting that the ethical tensions that infused the production process also linger after the movie’s release.
The interviews highlight the ambiguous relationship between Bollaín’s metafilm and the interior movie, hinting that however critical she is of the biopic, it is substantially one with her own text. And here we must remember that substance, for Burke, designates the identity of a thing while gesturing toward its contextual basis, subverting the border between figure and ground. Once we acknowledge the ambiguity of substance that links Bollaín’s and Sebastián’s projects, her narrative depictions of filmmaking take on a disquieting quality. When we return, for example, to Costa’s observation that it only takes water pumps and old trucks to buy “two hundred fucking extras,” we may hear Bollaín questioning whether her own offering of trucks, bricks, and school materials to Cochabamban workers constitutes just payment. Granted, such payments came in direct response to local requests, but the worry remains that fulfilling those requests provides a cheap, convenient means to achieve grand cinematic scale. While we may, with momentary safety, distinguish between the producer who compares employees to sandbags and the director who dramatizes those attitudes, Even the Rain establishes a troubled identification between inter- and extradiegetic rhetors. That mode of identification becomes all the clearer when we learn of Bollaín’s concerns about classes forming on the set. While her description of those concerns helps disclose the material and political conditions of the film’s production, it also provides a filter for interpreting the scene in which Antón alerts Belén to pay discrepancies between the extras, characteractors, and leads. In the ironic sequence that finds “Columbus” pointing out the injustice of naturalized inequality, we recognize an ugliness that Bollaín strives with limited success to avoid. As the Columbus-figure voices disapproval of Costa’s production, he accentuates the condition wherein the object of cen-sure turns the analytical lens on the critic.
As the identification of gold, water, and film reaches outside the primary diegesis to include Bollaín’s text, it brings into question situations wherein resource-rich filmmakers attempt to raise awareness of injustices in contexts distant from their own. For all Sebastián’s anti-imperialist sentiments, he proves doggedly oriented toward completing his project rather than ensuring the well-being of his actors. And Costa, though he becomes increasingly sensitive to the plight of Daniel and Belén, cannot commit to the long, dangerous project of supporting their struggle for water rights. Admittedly, he helps save Belén during the demonstrations, and he later expresses deep respect for her father along with regret about having to leave the country. But he leaves the country nonetheless, and only after intimating to Daniel that he will not return. During the taxi-ride to the airport, he opens a gift from Daniel—a lovingly wrapped vial of water—and gazes into the Cocha-bamban streets as the ordinary bustle of commerce supplants the drama of the protests. We share his perspective as the city and its people fade. Although his shift in orientation reverses that of Sebastián by moving from self-concern to compassionate action, the conjoining of verbal and visual rhetoric at the movie’s conclusion suggests that such compassion does not last: Costa and Daniel say not temporary but final goodbyes; the image of the city flickers and decomposes, giving way to darkness.
Even the Rain thus contends that the activism of well-meaning outsiders all too often proves fickle. But if the movie were merely an elaborate expression of mea culpa, it would hold limited interest, embodying the self-fulfilling rhetoric that declares intractable the very problems it articulates. Bollaín’s movie suggests that those problems will not be resolved by cinematic narrative, and that they require dedicated, long-term attention rather than one-time address. The film may insinuate our consubstantiality with Costa, but assertions of shared substance, as Burke reminds us, occur within conditions of intersubjective difference. How, then, can we amplify such difference? How can we insist on the ambiguity of “substance”—a term that vacillates between identity and exteriority—and thus demonstrate that even as Bollaín’s portrait of abandonment interpellates us, the correspondence is neither total nor inevitable? Whatever our answers to those questions, our engagement with Even the Rain clarifies a profound if frequently overlooked dimension of metafilmic rhetoric: the inward turn reflects not solipsism but a counterintuitive and even ironic summons to grapple with material circumstances that exceed the cinematic frame.
1. See Latour, page 10. Bill Brown cites the same passage in “Thing Theory,” though he designates “thing” as a more capacious concept than “object” (3). As likely to be an idea as a concrete artifact, the signifier “thing” fuses loose generality with the ostensible precision of tangible materiality. The tension between vagueness and the desire for certitude often commands our attention, Brown observes, when objects “stop working for us: when the drill breaks, when the car stalls, when the windows get filthy, when their flow within the circuits of production and distribution, consumption and exhibition, has been arrested, however momentarily” (4). Although this essay focuses on the consubstantiality of what Brown calls objects, it also concerns the thing-ness of varied valued substances—the way they cloud the border between presumably reliable physicality and ticklish abstraction.
2. Bollaín’s partner Paul Laverty wrote the screenplay for Even the Rain. He meant it to be the first in a series of pictures based on Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, all of which were to be period films tied to specific chapters. When the plans for that series collapsed, he kept working on the initial chapter and added the metafilmic layering that included the fictional filmmakers and the Cochabamba water wars (DP/30).
3. Perez derives these definitions from Smith’s “Altered States: Character and Emotional Response in Cinema.”
4. See Grammar (77-85) for a discussion of how changing the location or spatial circumference in which an act unfolds may change actors’ (or audiences’) interpretation of that act, along with the language they use to describe it.
5. The riot squads fired tear gas into crowds of dissenters, attacked people who refused to leave, and one army officer killed the student Victor Hugo Daza with a rifle shot to the face (Assies 29-30, Finnegan).
6. Clark draws here on Raymond Williams’s Marxism and Literature, hinting that interpretation is itself a form of work. Yet too much of that interpretation, she argues, “occurs without an accompanying theory of labor” (14).
7. Many thanks to an anonymous reviewer at KB Journal for describing Even the Rain as a form of rhetorical inquiry.
Assies, Willem. “David versus Goliath in Cochabamba: Water Rights, Neoliberalism, and the Revival of Social Protest in Bolivia.” Latin American Perspectives 30.3 (2003): 14-36. Print.
Blakesley, David. ed. The Terministic Screen: Rhetorical Perspectives on Film. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2003. Print.
Bollaín, Icíar, dir. Even the Rain. Morena Films, 2010. Film.
Brown, Bill. “Thing Theory.” Critical Inquiry 28.1 (2001): 1-22. Print.
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—. Permanence and Change. 1935. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.
—. A Rhetoric of Motives. 1950. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.
Cilento, Fabrizio. “Even the Rain: A Confluence of Cinematic and Historical Temporalities.” Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies 16 (2012): 245-258. Print.
Clark, Danae. Negotiating Hollywood: The Cultural Politics of Actors’ Labor. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1995. Print.
Cleaver, Harry. Reading Capital Politically. 1979. Oakland: AntiThesis, 2000. Print.
DP/30: The Oral History of Hollywood. “Even the Rain: Director Icíar Bollaín.” Viewed 1 Nov. 2014. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oliHeIto8PM. Web.
Dreyer, Carl Theodor. Day of Wrath. Palladium, 1943. Film.
Dyer, Richard. Stars. London: British Film Institute, 1979. Print.
Ebert, Roger. Rev. of Even the Rain, dir. Icíar Bollaín. RogerEbert.com 24 Feb. 2011. http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/even-the-rain-2011. Web.
Feehan, Michael. “A Note on the Writing of A Rhetoric of Motives.” KB Journal: The Journal of the Kenneth Burke Society 8 (2012): http://kbjournal.org/ feehan_note_rhetoric_of_motives. Web.
Finnegan, William. “Leasing the Rain: The World Is Running Out of Fresh Water, and the Fight to Control It Has Begun.” The New Yorker. 8 April 2002. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/04/08/leasing-the-rain. Web.
Latour, Bruno. “The Berlin Key or How to Do Words with Things.” Matter, Materiality, and Modern Culture. Ed. P. M. Graves-Brown. London: Routledge, 2000. 10-21. Print.
Marx, Karl. Capital: Volume I: A Critique of Political Economy. New York: Penguin, 1992. Print.
Oktay, Yakut. “‘You’re Not Going to Try and Change My Mind?’: The Dynamics of Identification in Aronofsky’s Black Swan.” KB Journal: The Journal of the Kenneth Burke Society 10 (2014). http://kbjournal.org/oktay. Web.
Padgett, Barry L. Marx and Alienation in Contemporary Society. New York: Continuum, 2007. Print.
Perez, Gilberto. “Toward a Rhetoric of Film: Identification and the Spectator.” Senses of Cinema 5 (2000). http://sensesofcinema.com/2000/society-for-cinema-studies-conference-2000/rhetoric2/. Web.
Rickert, Thomas. Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2013. Print.
Ross, Murray. Stars and Strikes: Unionization of Hollywood. New York: Columbia UP, 1941. Print.
Santaolalla, Isabel. The Cinema of Icíar Bollaín. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2012. Print.
Schenker, Andrew. Rev. of Even the Rain, dir. Icíar Bollaín. Slant 14 Feb. 2011. http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/even-the-rain/528. Web.
Scorsese, Martin, dir. Taxi Driver. Columbia, 1976. Film.
Smith, Murray. “Altered States: Character and Emotional Response in Cinema.” Cinema Journal 33 (1994): 34-56. Print.
Villarejo, Amy. Film Studies: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.
Vitagraph Films Distribution. “Even the Rain Filmmakers Juan Gordon and Icíar Bollaín on How Not to Exploit Extras in Bolivia.” Viewed 1 Nov. 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGWJ6rpD0_c. Web.
Wheeler, Duncan. “También la lluvia/Even the Rain (Icíar Bollaín, 2010): Social Realism, Transnationalism and (Neo-)colonialism.” Spanish Cinema, 1973-2010: Auteurism, Politics, Landscape and Memory. Ed. Maria M. Delgado and Robin Fiddian. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2013. 239-55. Print.
Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1977. Print.
Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. 1980. New York: HarperPerennial, 2005. Print.
Reviewed by Jonathan A. Cannon, Oklahoma State University
Containing a rich sundry of filmic analyses channeling scrupulous rhetorical acumen, The Terministic Screen: Rhetorical Perspectives on Film (2003), edited by David Blakesley, functions as a much-needed collection of articles that underscore en masse the nexus between rhetoric and the area of film studies. In his introduction titled “The Rhetoric of Film and Film Studies,” Blakesley establishes a solid theoretical foundation for the rest of the critical anthology to unfold, and argues for a greater presence and conscientious reexamination of cinema for rhetoric and composition studies. Through an eclectic array of rhetorical lenses, The Terministic Screen initiates a critical understanding of the medium of film. Moreover, the book – as the title clearly articulates – points to new and more interdisciplinary perspectives on the Burkeian term “terministic screens.” Indeed, scholars of rhetoric, composition studies, and professional writing should be familiar with this seminal concept, which is found in Kenneth Burke’s Language as Symbolic Action (1966).
The Terministic Screen is divided into three distinct sections: “Perspectives on Film and Film Theory as Rhetoric,” “Rhetorical Perspectives on Film and Culture,” and “Perspectives on Films about Rhetoric.” Part One emphasizes the relationship between rhetoric and film theory. The first section presents essays ranging from colonial rhetoric in The English Patient (Anthony Minghella, 1996) to bodily rhetoric in Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994). Part Two examines film that concern themselves with rhetoric, film, and culture more broadly. The second section contains articles spanning collective memory and the (in)famous Hollywood Blacklist of the 1950s to anti-plutocratic rhetoric found in German cinema. Finally, Part Three focuses on articles that point to films about rhetoric. These articles in the third section span from notions of rhetorical conditioning in The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1966) to postmodern dialogics in Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994).
Blakesley’s introduction is the fundamental backbone for the entire book and its assembly of authors, granting the reader the opportunity to rethink what they know about rhetoric in terms of its possible filmic associations and applications. He points to film theory being a common starting point for comprehending film on a host of levels in the field of film studies. Blakesley’s overall agenda is to wed rhetorical theory, and the specific Burkeian term “terministic screen” to the interpretation and analysis of film and film criticism. Symbolic gestures, for Blakesley, lie at the heart of a clear, coherent, and nuanced approach to a rhetorical perspective of film and film criticism in the communication between screen and viewer, and vice versa. Burke defines “terministic screens” as a metaphorical “screen” made up of terms through that humans perceive the world, and which directs attention away from some interpretations and toward other ones. For Blakesley and the collection’s authors, the purpose of film highlights both an act and manner of address that showcases a variety of means for a particular purpose in an isolated context and/or situation. Indeed, when applied to cinema, evidence of terministic screens spans from the diegesis of the “film world” to the extradeigesis of the “outside world” for both the film spectator and critic alike.
Blakesley, channeling Burke, underscores the notion that rhetoric functions metaphorically as either/both “a filter or screen” (2) that acts as a fluid gatekeeper, filter, and/or barrier. Again, Blakesley makes clear that the scaffolding of the entire book rests and is acutely influenced by the phrase “terministic screens.” With a critical eye toward a reapplication of Burke’s concept of symbolic action to suit rhetorical analyses of films, Blakesley defines a certain kind of cinematic communication as “film rhetoric,” which elucidates both the visual and verbal signs and strategies that shape a particular film experience and screen identification – the latter, in the Burkeian sense of the term. Blakesley peppers the critical prelude with a fresh take on the overall objective of film theory, which he interprets as a way to tap into an at times overlooked language system – that of film. Indeed, film provides the modern rhetorician with both a language and approach au courant to narrative, ideology, corporeality, politics, economics, and cultural connotations of cinema around the world and across the yesteryears of motion picture ontogeny.
Specific articles in the anthology demonstrate the robust caliber of the authors gathered here in an effort to push for new film rhetoric(s), or the rhetoric of film(s). For example, Alan Nadel’s article “Mapping the Other: The English Patient, Colonial Rhetoric, and Cinematic Representation,” deals primarily with the rhetorical narrativization of colonialism through the Hollywood film The English Patient. Nadel situates the film alongside colonial and postcolonial theory, which has been a growing branch of film theory since the 1990s. He ties colonizer/colonized binary within the film to narratological and rhetorical cues and conventions, to recast The English Patient as a problematic text within the romance film genre that makes commonplace the ignorance of the foreign(er), the other, and the tension between home and exile. For Nadel, the only way to understand the prejudice characterizations of men and women in the film’s diegesis is to marry film theory with both rhetorical theory and postcolonial theory and, in turn, create a three-pronged approach to the popular film in question. Another noteworthy piece in the collection is penned by James Roberts, which concerns itself with the rhetoric of cinematic subjects and bodies in the documentary Hoop Dreams. Roberts recognizes the fluid exchange between rhetorical analysis and film criticism and, as such, wants to reinvigorate such a critical relationship through attention to subjects and bodies as evidence of how spectators engage with and interpret films such as Hoop Dreams on the basis of corporeal rhetoric – that is, issues such as race, age, masculinity, and paternity. All in all, Roberts provides a sober, enriching, and highly balanced analysis of Hoop Dreams using both film terminology (apparatus) with rhetorical jargon (rhetoric and discourse)
In sum, The Terministic Screen acts as a crucial stepping stone toward rhetoricians, compositionists, and professional writers welcoming the medium of film into the rhetoric and composition/writing studies fold. Bridging the gap between this and the field of film studies requires one to take such a risk, and usher forth an interdisciplinary endeavor, in both scope and execution. Indeed, with the recent push towards visual rhetoric, such a reassessment of Blakesley’s edited text is necessary in order to see where the initial seeds were sown for critical film rhetoric, and determine where the relationship between film and rhetoric is going in the future. With Blakesley at the helm of this rather ambitious yet completely necessary project, the underlying point of the well-established collection is to encourage and foster a heightened interest in thinking, researching, and writing about the rhetorical booty found within the treasure chest of history, cultures, and politics of the seventh art.
Reviewed by Michael Osborn, University of Memphis
This book sets out to tell the back stories of fifteen prominent rhetorical critics and in the process to develop a rationale for rhetorical criticism (hereafter RC) as a legitimate academic enterprise. As critics, what do they hope to accomplish? How do they teach RC? And what does it mean to be such a critic?
These scholars explain their various approaches in a series of idiosyncratic essays that explore a wide spectrum of possibility. Consequently, the book opens an array of potential uses for beginning students and for those who may be stuck in a critical rut. I found the level of discussion to be high and the style of the writing to be engaging. It was a special, unexpected pleasure to also learn more about the people behind the critical work and the motives that drive them.
There is no apparent strategy to the arrangement of Kuypers's buffet of intellectual treats. The book does open appropriately by reprinting a statement from Edwin Black on what constitutes good criticism (Black n. pag). The goal of it, Black tells us, is fair judgment. The effect of it is enlightenment: good criticism surprises us, opens a portal on the textual point of focus. Or as Ryan Erik McGeough summarizes it, "The role of the critic is. . .to see more in the text than is readily apparent"(102). One caveat: the twin criteria of fair judgment and enlightenment don't seem of equal value. Rather, the enlightenment function of criticism appears primary: a fair criticism can be quite boring, but an unfair criticism can nevertheless be illuminating. The devil's discourse can be instructive despite itself.
Black's reflections also raise an interesting companion question: what motivates the proper reading of RC? Perhaps we could say that the competent reader seeks not confirmation of some previously decided point of view, but rather desires to penetrate the mystery of rhetorical power and influence. Or perhaps such a reader seeks to develop resistance to a rhetoric that would otherwise exploit. Or perhaps again, a proper reading of RC may seek to satisfy curiosity over the symbolic ways that humans have with one another. Certainly it is true that good criticism requires a competent reader to complete its purpose.
It was a happy idea to begin this feast of ideas with Black. He satisfies one of his own requirements: if he does not surprise us, he certainly strikes intellectual sparks. One other possible shortcoming is that while Black discusses good criticism as a genus, he does not focus precisely on the species (or subspecies) of RC. Indeed, it would be desirable if the entire terrain of criticism were laid out more clearly for the reader's inspection. Are there distinct domains, for example, that separate esthetic, philosophical, and historical criticism from each other and from RC? Do these border on each other or do they interpenetrate, comprising one grand critical perspective that shifts according to the reader's need and to the nature of the text? These are questions to contemplate as we launch further into the book.
While the fifteen essays that follow are all over the intellectual map, they converge on one central issue: What justifies RC? This question would appear grounded in how the critics approach the nature of rhetoric itself. The writers appear to accept the premise that we are social and symbolizing creatures and that how we interact through symbols can be crucial to our survival and well-being as well as to our power positions within social hierarchies. The study of rhetoric becomes the study of how we influence one another through symbolic interactions. As Marilyn Young puts it, "The purpose of rhetorical criticism is to explore, illuminate, and explicate human communication in its many forms" (194). Criticism becomes an assessment of the quality and ethics of symbolic influence and what it reveals about us (Kathleen Turner calls us "verbivores," borrowing Stephen Pinker's happy neologism [Pinker 24]). Andrew King points out that such criticism can be justified, as De Quincey once noted, by the "sheer intellectual pleasure" it can provide (70): in short, there can be an element in RC which is its own excuse for being
In response to the question of justification, however, most of the contributors emphasize the instrumental nature of RC--it does some good in the world. Some of the essayists, for example, emphasize RC's possible contribution to our knowledge about rhetoric. Edwin Black's insistence that good criticism should surprise us and teach us something sets the tone for this emphasis. Jason Black calls this "appreciative"criticism, and describes it as preliminary to "interventionist" criticism that would alter the behavior under consideration (8-11). Celeste Condit agrees that the function of RC is to help us understand more about ourselves, but she turns the focus to the power of emotion in public life. The role of RC should be to help us guide the role of feeling in productive directions. Especially when we need to influence the choices and policies that govern our lives. RC can help us ask the right questions when we must evaluate discourse that asks for our commitment. It can also help us develop effective strategies in dealing with the controversies that confront us.
Ned O'Gorman warns, however, that preoccupation with technique can deflect the critic's attention from the underlying moral aspects of discourse. But I would argue--I believe in agreement with Herbert Wichelns--that one can enter the moral dimension of a work through a grasp of its technique and technical boundaries. Once we grasp, for example, the binary nature of many archetypal figurative clusters (light-dark, war-peace, high-low, forward-back, etc.) we can see how the mind superimposes itself upon perceptions and reduces, simplifies, and shapes them in ways that can have profound moral implications. In a perversion of ethos, for example, speakers can pose as the sun that will bring us enlightenment, the captain who would impose unrelenting discipline on the ship of state, or the general who would command us into battle. Thus a grasp of rhetorical technique, rather than distracting us from moral considerations, can be our point of entry into what can be the dark moral universe of a text.
The discovery function of RC also relates it to the generation of rhetorical theory. While others support the importance of other functions, Samantha Senda-Cook emphasizes that the purpose of RC is to "build theory" (150). In his elegant essay, Raymie McKerrow develops this idea in a pluralistic approach: the motives for RC can be many, depending on the critical question that drives one's work in the first place. What RC helps us discover about human symbolic behavior also helps us understand and appreciate ourselves and our possible species shortcomings for which we must somehow attempt to compensate. RC helps us expand and correct the systematic explanations we develop to account for phenomena in the world, including the phenomenon of symbolic behavior. In turn these enhanced explanations can help sensitize the critic to subtle resonations within texts.
At the other end of the continuum, other critics pursue more concrete, socially useful, immediately practical justifications for RC. Michael Hogan would reclaim "a neoclassical rhetoric for the digital age" (63), which would ground our discipline in civic education. This focus, would help students become more effective citizens by teaching them how to argue and how to evaluate the arguments of others. The approach revives what Hogan calls the Wisconsin Idea, a movement out of the Progressive Era which depicted the critic as a "consumer 'watchdog' in the marketplace of ideas" (55). The goal is to develop "citizen critics" in line with David Zarefsky's vision of growing "a deliberating and decision-making public" (Zarefsky 133). Robert Terrill expands this theme of connecting RC with learning the art of citizenship. Acquiring rhetorical sensibilities encourages, he says, the "crafting of rhetorically-habituated selves" (165), instrumental to participation in public life. And in his insightful essay, Martin Medhurst goes beyond the idea of civic education to reinforce the classical idea that the study of rhetoric can become the nexus for many of the liberal arts and should be central to a liberal education.
Operating also at this "practical" end of the justification continuum is an essay that is destined to be perhaps the most controversial in the collection. Dana Cloud champions what she calls "ideology criticism," which takes up the cause of the underdogs in our society against those who exercise power over them through exploitative rhetoric. Such criticism exposes the tactics of the one-percenters and their lackeys, racists, anti-feminists, and other such undesirables.
Hers is a provocative essay and there is much about its program for RC that seems attractive. It is quite timely in an era in which power and wealth are indeed more and more concentrated and the voices of many who claim to represent poor and working people seem muted and discredited. The power of large corporations has surely been magnified by recent court decisions that loosen, for example, restrictions on contributions to political campaigns. Clearly, the potential for mass manipulation through the media has grown exponentially. Developing a counter-consciousness along lines suggested by Cloud could well help students build a much-needed resistance to dangerous abuses of power. Finally, the course Cloud describes appears to inculcate a set of sophisticated questions that should help students probe the mysteries of elusive rhetorical texts.
These virtues, however, do not come without a price tag. For one thing, the kind of criticism favored by Cloud is quite melodramatic. It envisions a world without moral nuance or complexity, a world which poses wicked exploiters against innocent victims. Presumably, in the bold new world that will follow the successful revolt of the oppressed, these newly emancipated innocents will themselves resist the urge to abuse their own newly found power. The former abusers will remain either wicked and diminished or will somehow find redemption: their fate is not entirely clear and perhaps they do not deserve our concern. It seems so easy in this melodrama for the discussion to pass over into stereotype and caricature. For example, the abusers are described as "elites who subordinate their wives, starve the poor, visit prostitutes, and so on" (31). This kind of language raises concerns about the fairness of ideology criticism as a serious mode of inquiry.
Another problem is that the worldview of ideology criticism pre-programs the criticism and constrains the critic. The critic's function now becomes solely to reveal the abuses perpetrated by the few and the powerful. As Condit argues, "To do rhetorical criticism . . . requires that one approach one's task with a question, rather than with a hammer designed to pound home what one already considers the truth" (45). Hammer-oriented criticism, Edwin Black would complain, is quite predictable: its range of discovery is limited, and it risks simply becoming an instrument to promote the predetermined narrative of good vs. evil in the class struggle. Ironically, the price of its function to free the innocent is that it must also confine the critic.
Having expressed these reservations, this is an essay I would rely upon to provoke thought and argument in the RC classroom. Moreover, this essay, along with those especially by Turner, Jason Black, Kuypers, Condit, and Medhurst, offers rich pedagogical suggestions. Using this book as a springboard, I would pursue Medhurst's vision of a course that would be "central to a liberal education," that would pursue Turner's desire to "teach my students how to think," and that would promote the Hogan/Terrell ideal of effective citizenship
What a contribution Jim Kuypers's book makes to our discipline!
* Michael Osborn is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Communication, University of Memphis.
Black, Edwin. "On Objectivity and Politics in Criticism." The American Communication Journal 4.1 (2000), n. pag. Web. 8 Oct. 2014.
Pinker, Stephen. The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. New York: Viking, 2007. Print.
Zarefsky, David. "Two Faces of Democratic Rhetoric." Rhetoric and Democracy: Pedagogical and Political Practices. Ed. Todd F. McDorman and David M. Timmerman. East Lansing: Michigan State UP. 2008. Print.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Raymond Blanton, The University of Nebraska-Lincoln
"A motive is not some fixed thing, like a table, which one can go and look at. It is a term of interpretation." —Kenneth Burke
"Fantasy, imagination, and projection provide imperfect but useful frameworks for studying acts of indefinite construal. Each assumes a level of subjectivity that must be embraced if we are to plumb the deep enigmas of communication" (134). Embracing the subjectivity of the imperfect but useful within indefinite construal is our charge. Woodward's stark words, drawing from the rhetorical work of Walter Fisher and (utmost) Kenneth Burke as well as from the psychoanalytic and social constructivist work of Kenneth Gergen, mark the end (and beginning) of Gary Woodward's The Rhetoric of Intention in Human Affairs.
To make clear the end from the beginning, Woodward's notion of "imperfect but useful" marks the strength and area of most want in the book. Put differently, Woodward's work is most useful in broaching the subject and providing varied and interesting approaches to the implications of intention in human affairs. It is (naturally) imperfect in its implementation of balance as it pertains to the means of "imperfect but useful."
More specifically, emphasizing intention as an "assumed purpose behind our acts," Woodward notes that we "usually make our way in life with the belief that we are the authors of our actions: that intentions are the markers of our values, and they can be known" (x). For these reasons, Woodward details the means by which humans "guess" at motivations and offer "air-brushed reasons" as tonal indications of said imperfections. On one hand, merely emphasizing the imperfections of human motives is unremarkable. However, on the other hand, when taken into consideration with the representative case studies that Woodward utilizes, all in all, the work is a worthwhile and essential venture into the underworld of why.
Contextually, Woodward's Rhetoric of Intention extends the work he began in The Perfect Response: Studies of The Rhetorical Personality (Lexington, 2010), where he sought to isolate "traits of character" to designate the substance of "rhetorical personality" (xiii). Here, Woodward expounds upon such ideas with a particular focus on the "acute inference-making skills" of adept rhetors.
Specifically: "We will take discourse about intentional action on its own terms: not necessarily as representations of "the truth"—if that is even possible—but as a revealing window that helps us see how we make sense of the world" (xii).
Through this window, Woodward details our compulsive quest to "join purpose to acts," which is present in essentially all human exchanges, where "sociality provides the impetus" and "language provides the means" (129). Generally, The Rhetoric of Intention is a "broad map" for the various categories of naming intentions that so easily drift across narrow boundaries. Particularly, using a wide variety of examples from fiction, popular journalism, film, theatre, painting, political rhetoric, television, cultural analysis, and personal experience, Woodward makes a valuable contribution to beginning a broader conversation about motive. It's a good start, in other words. In his own words, the why of Woodward's aims are:
"Whether looking inward or outward for the springs of motivation, what sets this study apart from other discussions is our focus specifically on how it is named. Where most theorists of intention treat the idea as arising in thought and existing behind a dense fog of alleged first causes, the approach here places emphasis on how we express it. Our interest is not primarily on tracing the interiority of intention within an agent or author, but its forms captured in moments when we are addressing others." (x)
In light of Woodward's self-described aims, I will assess the book, first, structurally, followed by an argumentative and stylistic assessment. Then, I will situate the book's contributions to the work of Kenneth Burke and conclude with some critical reflections.
Structurally, I found The Rhetoric of Intention to be accessible and concise, modest in length (at 144 pages) while also being thorough and clear. Woodward's rendering of the mercurial nature of the human impulse to know why—a human propensity that we are inundated with but perhaps think very little about—makes Intention both a worthwhile and meaningful contribution to the subject of intention and various realms of disciplinary and critical thought.
Woodward develops his perspectives across six chapters. The first chapter, "How We Know What We Can't," argues for the centrality of narrative as the archetypal form of reconstructed experience (52) by delineating a simple tiered approach to understanding the rhetoric of purpose. This is foundational to the work. Woodward's tiered approach to contemplating the process of "locating intention," whether in self or others, lists towards either taking the strangeness out of behavior, giving context to an action, or constructing meaning and identity (xiv). More specifically, Woodward's offers three tiers for describing intention:
First Tier: What someone says about their own intentions.
Second Tier: What someone says about another's intentions.
Third Tier: What someone concludes about representations of intentions issuing from other parties.
Each of the subsequent chapters adumbrates specific contexts for exploring the nuances of these tiers via conspiracies, theatre and performance, journalistic writing, legal theory, and a "super-agency implied in belief in a higher power," respectively.
The second chapter, "Them: Conspiracies, Disasters, and Presumed Culpability," draws out the nuances of intention in conspiracy theorists who identify design within random events. For Woodward, conspiracy fantasies are difficult to overcome because they are, partially, "self-fulfilling." In the third chapter, "Theatre, Acting, and the Sources of Motivation," Woodward explicates how a character's motivation evolves—namely how theatre functions as an "all-encompassing idea: metaphor, model and mode" for conveying the "durable mandates of our nature" (53).
The fourth chapter, "The Telepathic Journalist," works to juxtapose the realms of reporting with the proclivity of critiques to frame behavior within a given community's norms of conduct. Woodward's image here is of a pilot flying a plane through fog without the benefit of instruments (72). The fifth chapter, "Legal Benchmarks for Establishing Intent," argues for the fundamental basis of motives in the establishment of proof of guilt in a criminal act. In short, humans tend to believe that accounting for the why is necessary in the cause of justice (93). The sixth and final chapter, "God's Plan: Agency, and the Quandary of Divine Intention" addresses how the devout constitute perspective with regards to divine intervention. How do we account for the visceral pain and suffering so evident in human experience with the idea of an all powerful and omniscient deity (114)?
Argumentatively, though Woodward is adept at offering a multiplicity of perspectives or representative cases from which to consider motives, I found the work wanting in its ability to render the sentiment of the book's final sentence apparent. In other words, when Woodward emphasizes the "imperfect but useful" framework for studying intention, I found the work to stress the former rather than the latter. To be fair, his aim was to offer a "revealing window" into how we make sense of the world of why. In short, the window mixes panes of opaque and transparent. Stylistically, The Rhetoric of Intention in Human Affairs is highly accessible. It is erudite and colloquial, thorough while pithy, and selective while versatile. It is likely to appeal to a broad contingent of scholars and thinkers across disciplines.
Perhaps most applicable to KB Journal readers is Woodward's extension and exploration of Burke's foundational rhetorical work on motives. From the outset, Woodward draws upon the "symbol using" elements of Kenneth Burke to conclude, along with Walter Fisher, that we are the "species that needs to know why" (ix). Susan Foss states the case simply as addressing an important issue that is widely ignored by rhetorical scholars.
Perhaps one of the most useful elements of Woodward's Rhetoric of Intention can be found in the corpus of Kenneth Burke. To be more plain, what I intend to suggest here is that perhaps the imperfections of intention can be illuminated more broadly by giving attention to overarching signatures across works or time rather than only in isolated instances. For instance, what Burke's method of textual criticism reveals is that his method is subservient to his methodology. More specifically, the critic seeks to develop not only a method but also a methodology that is formed by reference to the "collected revelation" of accumulated critical lore (Philosophy of Literary Form, 67-68).
How do we make sense of Burke's potential motives? We comprehend Burke's overarching signature. Particularly, Burke's work emphasizes: an art of living (Permanence and Change 66); equipment for living (Attitudes Toward History 5); strategies for living (Attitudes Toward History 43); recipes for wise living (Philosophy of Literary Form 293); strategies for situations (Philosophy of Literary Form 296); and campaign for living (Philosophy of Literary Form 298). Additionally, William Rueckert writes of Burke's fiction, "The White Oxen (1924)," as having, despite its variety of methods, a curious unity; that though his hands move incessantly, sliding through various tricks, his attitude from start to finish remains unchanged. In short, Burke's work helps us size up interpretations of reality and identify a "pattern of experience as representative of social" by critically excavating particulars, perhaps by conjecture in Woodward's sense, to find a general assessment. To be Aristotelian, we have only those means of persuasion that are available. But they are available.
In essence, Burke's method of textual criticism notes that all questions are leading questions, selecting and deflecting attention to a particular field of interest and away from others (Philosophy of Literary Form). In other words, every ontological and methodological question of the critic (in this case Woodward) selects a field of "battle" that forms the nature of our answers. Hence, Woodward's reflections are both selections and deflections, with his selections providing a much-needed framework for consideration.
On the other hand, his deflections weaken the force of the book. Namely, while Woodward considers the rhetorical and psychological habits we exhibit with regards to motive, I found the concluding chapter, "God's Plan: Agency, and the Quandary of Divine Intention," wanting for religious or theological credibility. To be fair, Woodward disavows any claims to expertise in these areas of representative consideration and the cases are useful in considering the means by which we make sense of intention in expression. Woodward notes: "Kenneth Burke wisely noted that those who would simplify the relation between man and God are justifiably going to hear the rejoinder: "It's more complicated than that." I concur.
Overall, The Rhetoric of Intention in Human Affairs offers a versatile and accessible account of the habits that we possess and exhibit in the quest to understand the versatility of human action. What becomes clearly evident is that though we may desire clarity in differentiating motives, disentangling motives is rarely if ever a simple and straightforward process. What is most evident in Woodward's work is that our rhetoric is filled with motives-talk that assesses and often disputes inferences made by others about why someone did what they did" (6). We imperfectly reach: we "search in vain to find the most useful ways for expressing contingent attribution"; "have no similar linguistic depth that would give us a lexicon of personal will"; "describe action in an endless variety of available verb forms…no exact counterparts for what should be the complementary "whys"; and we "insert imprecise qualifiers in front of clumsy and inexact representations" (133). On these grounds, our ability is limited but we can utilize only what is available.
All in all, The Rhetoric of Intention is a most useful foray into the realms of human intention, where in the post-Babel concerns of rhetoric, where identity is "change of identity" (Attitudes Towards History, 268) and identification and change are emboldened as the "permanence of change" (Grammar 329), we work to "persuade" others insofar as we can talk their language by "speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying" our ways with theirs (Rhetoric of Motives 55). We "plumb" and "embrace" the deep enigmas of communication.
For further consideration, in addition to the aforementioned The Perfect Response: Studies of The Rhetorical Personality and the work under consideration, Woodward has also written: Persuasive Encounters: Case Studies in Constructive Confrontation (Praeger, 1991), Perspectives on American Political Media (Allyn and Bacon, 1997), The Idea of Identification (State University of New York Press, 2003), and Center Stage: Media and the Staging of American Politics (Roman and Littlefield, 2007).
Burke, Kenneth. A Grammar of Motives. 1945. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969.
—, A Rhetoric of Motives. 1950. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969.
—, Attitudes Toward History. 1937. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.
—, Permanence and Change. 1935. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.
Rueckert, William H. Encounters with Kenneth Burke. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1994.
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Richard Benjamin Crosby, Iowa State University
Spiritual Modalities is arguably the first major work to take up the high theoretical questions of rhetoric and religion since Burke's Rhetoric of Religion published more than half a century ago. While a number of other studies deal with the relationship between religious discourse and other phenomena, such as politics, social movements, or particular rhetors and periods, Spiritual Modalities makes a strong claim to understand the primeval stuff of prayer's varied and complex discourses. As Burke writes: "we are to be concerned not directly with religion, but with the terminology of religion" (vi). So Fitzgerald is not concerned with prayer as an efficacious means to access God, but with prayer as a discourse with motives grounded in human experience. Fitzgerald's contribution deserves praise, then, by virtue of its very manifestation in our literature, for it engages broadly and deeply the discourses of prayer in their complexity, situatedness, diversity, and embodiment. In order to cover this broad ground, Fitzgerald employs Burke's pentad, which is an appropriate choice because it provides a natural vocabulary for the various and compelling motives that undergird the discourses of prayer. Fitzgerald focuses primarily on three of the pentadic elements: scene, act, and, the belated sixth, attitude. Prayer, Fitzgerald affirms, is a fusion of "distinct, though interrelated, elements of discursive performance expressible as a 'scene of address,' an 'act of invocation,' and an 'attitude of reverence'" (7). These three essential elements then serve to guide the overall structure of the book.
Fitzgerald's first two chapters consider prayer not only as an oral or textual discourse, but also as a kind of temporal berth. More than the mere result of a rhetorical situation, prayer is, in some sense, the situation itself. It is simultaneously a place, a time, a relationship, an act, an attitude, a response, a provocation. In pursuing this line of reasoning, Fitzgerald engages in dialogue with the quickly growing literature on the intersection between space, time, and rhetoric. Prayer plays a potentially important role in this literature, because it explicitly signals a removal from time and a ritual encounter with the occasional. Drawing on the classical notions of kairos and krisis, Fitzgerald sees prayer as a means to create openings of meaning in the chronic everydayness of life (15). These kairotic openings then function as "performative spaces in which human and divine communication occurs"; they provide a space of "retreat and recalibration in which aspects of communication and performance (such as ethos and agency)" are rehearsed and practiced (22 parentheses in original). Fitzgerald supports these claims by performing a reading of Reinhold Niebuhr's "Serenity Prayer," a prayer-text that explicitly and complexly plays with notions of kairos (timing) and krisis (judgment) whereby the supplicant rehearses important and situated practices for living free from addiction.
Chapter 2 in particular reads prayer as a "scene of address" (8). The important Burkean ratio here is scene-act. If scene is a matter of relationships, as Burke affirms, then prayer must be a discursive means of negotiating those relationships. Fitzgerald points out that divine beings vary widely, but the kairotic nature of the human-divine relationship has certain essential and generalizable characteristics. (Fitzgerald is careful, I should add, to point out where there are meaningful exceptions.) Prayer, in short, is a performative space. It is an opening in time within which supplicants perform their relationship with the divine. In Chapter 3, Fitzgerald outlines how this space is to be negotiated and sustained, focusing specifically on the act of invocation. Fitzgerald argues, contra-convention, that prayer's "performative core" lies in invocation, not in petition or praise (53). The speech-act of invocation is the primary complement to the kairotic scene of prayer discussed in Chapter 2. To put it another way, an invocation is an act of prayer designed to create and "realize the potential of (the scene of prayer)" (54). In this chapter, Fitzgerald performs a series of short close readings through we which he illustrates a number of important characteristics of prayerful invocation. He discusses, for example, the importance of naming the divine. He discusses the role of accumulation and repetition of the invocation, which is a way of keeping the kairotic space open. More even than in the preceding chapters, Fitzgerald uses Chapter 3 to illustrate the collapse of text and context in the act of prayer, paying special attention to prayer as "an unfolding drama of divine-human relations" (54).
Chapters 4 and 5 complete the Burkean theoretical arc by discussing the "attitude" of prayer, which is a performed reverence, and conceptualizing prayer as a "rhetorical art of memory" (9). Prayer as attitude and art suggests overlap with the young subfield of embodied rhetorics. Fitzgerald talks about the "dance of attitude," a notion that prayer is often an embodied signification of the reverence discussed above. A supplicant extends arms or clasps hands, stands or kneels or lies prostrate, moves or reposes, lifts the head or bows the head, and so on (see p. 77). Fitzgerald is especially conscientious here to embrace the full diversity of prayer's symbolic gestures. He asks provocatively: "Is prayer, finally, a form of address to specific beings apprehended as divine? Or is it a manner that infuses various modes of performance with an ethical dimension? Can recycling be prayer?" (83). Fitzgerald suggests in the conclusion that the answer to these questions tends to the affirmative. Prayer wears many "guises and disguises," and it "manifests a powerful complex of motives driving human action" (137). Far from watering down the theory Fitzgerald is building, the broadening of prayer as a discursive genre seems to lend density and vitality to Fitzgerald's claims.
Readers of this journal will like to know that Kenneth Burke plays a starring role in Fitzgerald's work. Burke is more than just the source of a useful heuristic for Fitzgerald. For just as Burke saw God and religion as somehow implicit in all of language, so Fitzgerald sees prayer as a central origin and destination for the art of rhetoric. "Indeed," he writes, "one can go so far as to claim no other discourse realizes ideal communication more than authentic acts of prayer" (5). And he further believes (with Burke) that as rhetoric discovers or rediscovers certain terrain, such as the physical body, it will naturally also rediscover prayer (see e.g. 77). This central argument – that prayer is a kind of essence of rhetoric – ties back to Fitzgerald's claim that prayer is a kairotic, meaning-making act in the midst of chronic meaninglessness, the implication being that rhetoric can be described in the same way. For Fitzgerald, not only is prayer rhetoric, but rhetoric – or as he puts it, "the perfection of the rhetorical principle" – is prayer (97).
I appreciate Fitzgerald's willingness to go boldly. I believe his sensitive, elegant analysis as well as his deep grasp of both the discourse of prayer and modern rhetorical theory uniquely qualify him to make the arguments he makes in this book, which is why I at times wanted to hear more from him and less from the chorus of philosophical voices he brings into the book. In Fitzgerald's push to justify the ways of prayer to rhetoric – that is, to demonstrate prayer's inherent rhetoricity – he engages with such a robust set of interconnected theories and literatures that his own central contribution gets overlooked at times. In Chapter 3 alone, which consists of eighteen pages devoted largely to small critiques, he still finds time to put Burke, Buber, Bakhtin, Culler, Levinas, Derrida, Marion, and the Rhetorica Ad Herrenium in conversation. Fitzgerald is a responsible and conscientious critic and theorist, so he does not do damage to the literature, but his heavy use of it occasionally inhibits his ability to throw his own contributions into relief. That being said, I can hear another reviewer inevitably complaining that Fitzgerald did not cite so-and-so, and needs to read so-and-so, a refrain we read in many peer and book reviews. So Fitzgerald's heavy use of other literature may have been a preemptive response to such moans. Nevertheless, it was at times difficult to know where a given theorist ended and Fitzgerald began.
Fitzgerald's voice is especially backgrounded when Burke is in the room. On this point, I give Fitzgerald the benefit of the doubt. The great premise with which one must contend in considering Fitzgerald's argument returns fundamentally to Burke – Burke, who increasingly throughout the book becomes a kind of oracle to whom Fitzgerald seems to serve as disciple. This statement, I fear, could be misread to mean that I see Fitzgerald's work as obsequious. Not so. Fitzgerald does what any good disciple does. He takes the essential tools of the oracle and refashions them for a new audience. He uses them to invent artful and fertile new ground with new relevance for a new generation. Burke, like Fitzgerald and, for what it is worth, like the author of this review, sees in religion and prayer the archetypes of culture and discourse – the living, breathing, meaning-making life forms of language and identification. Prayer is "the ultimate reach of communication between different classes of beings" (Burke qtd in Fitzgerald 97). It is the uttermost of discourse. I could revisit my small protest and ask for less Burke, more Fitzgerald, but from the waters of Burkean theory, Fitzgerald blazes lovely theoretical paths. And for what it is worth, Fitzgerald does a particularly good job of articulating his contributions when he gets to the last chapter of the book, a conclusion in which he eloquently argues that prayer "has a prayer" for our time. Fitzgerald's essential insights on prayer's relationship to kairos and space, address and invocation, attitude and reverence, body and memory, technology and motion, are hardly trivial addenda to Burke's work on rhetoric and religion. Fitzgerald's book is nothing less than a comprehensive twenty-first century theory of the rhetoric of prayer, and it persuasively argues prayer's relevance in twenty-first century discourse generally.
Burke, Kenneth. The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology. 1961. Berkeley: U of California P, 1970. Print.
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