Volume 3, Issue 2, Spring 2007

The Spring 2007 issue of KB Journal features new review essays by Richard Thames ("The Gordian Not: Untangling the Motivorum") and Robert Wess ("Looking for the Figure in the Carpet of the Symbolic of Motives"), on the occasion of the recent publication of Burke's Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950-1955. Clarke Rountree announces that we have added Premium Content for KBS Members. KB Journal readers may now join the Kenneth Burke Society online and pay their dues (and keep them up-to-date) through PayPal. Active KB Society members gain access to premium bibliographies, publisher discounts, and more. In "Burke by the Numbers: Observations on Nine Decades of Scholarship on Burke" Clarke Rountree also introduces a significantly updated series of bibliographical resources on Burke available to active members of the Kenneth Burke Society. In our Happenings section, learn more about Michael Burke's sculpture exhibits and the site of the 2008 Triennial Meeting of the Kenneth Burke Society. James P. Zappen, S. Michael Halloran, and Scott A. Wible also contribute "Some Notes on "Ad bellum purificandum," a speculative essay on the origins of the phrase that uses clues from images of graffiti above a window frame in Burke's personal library.

Issue 3.2 also features reviews essays by David Beard, “I Shall, with the Greatest of Ease and Friendliness, Scour You from the Earth”: Yvor Winters on Kenneth Burke, and Ryan Weber, Taking Burke Public: Perspectives on Burke's Connection Between Language and Public Action. Bjørn F. Stillion reviews “From the Plaint to the Comic: Kenneth Burke’s Towards a Better Life,” by Krista K. Betts Van Dyck and Paul Casey reviews Democracy and America’s War on Terror, by Robert L. Ivie.

And Now . . . Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950 to 1955

Cover of Essays Toward a Symbolic of MotivesDavid Blakesley, Purdue University

In August, 1959, an anxious Bill Rueckert wrote Kenneth Burke to ask, “When on earth is that perpetually “forthcoming” A Symbolic of Motives forthcoming? Will it be soon enough so that I can wait for it before I complete my book [Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations]? If the Symbolic is not forthcoming soon, would it be too much trouble for you to send me a list of exactly what will be included in the book, and some idea of the structure of the book?” Burke replied, “Holla! If you’re uncomfortable, think how uncomfortable I am. But I’ll do the best I can . . .” (Letters 1-2). In the course of their long correspondence, the nature of the Symbolic­—Burke’s much-anticipated third volume in his Motivorum trilogy—vexed both men, and they discussed its contents often. Ultimately, Burke left the job of pulling it all together to Rueckert.

Forty-eight years after they first discussed the Symbolic, Rueckert fulfilled his end of the bargain with Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950 to 1955 (2007, Parlor Press)*. This collection contains some, if not most, of the work Burke hoped to include in the third book in his trilogy, which began with A Grammar of Motives (1945) and A Rhetoric of Motives (1950). In this book—some of which appears in print for the first time—Burke offers his most precise and elaborated account of his dramatistic poetics, providing readers with representative analyses of such writers as Aeschylus, Goethe, Hawthorne, Roethke, Shakespeare, and Whitman. Following Rueckert’s Introduction, Burke lays out his approach in essays that theorize and illustrate the method, which he considered essential for understanding language as symbolic action and human relations generally. Burke concludes with a focused account of humans as symbol-using and misusing animals and his tour de force reading of Goethe’s Faust.

Precisely why Burke was never able to finish the job himself remains somewhat of a mystery. In this issue of KB Journal, Richard Thames (The Gordian Not: Untangling the Motivorum) and Robert Wess ("Looking for the Figure in the Carpet of the Symbolic of Motives") examine this question and extend it to include questions about what later work Burke thought fell within the scope of the Symbolic. Thames argues persuasively that Burke had developed sufficient content for a fourth volume, An Ethics of Motives. Both Thames and Wess launch the important work of analyzing Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950 to 1955 and invite others to consider the impact of this book on our understanding of Burke and the development of his thought.

In my role as Parlor Press's publisher, I was fortunate to work with Bill and Barbara Rueckert as they pulled together this collection during a time when Bill was in failing health. A few weeks before his death on December 30, 2006, I sent Bill and Barbara the finished book. Barbara reported that Bill was "cheered up." With KB and now Bill departed, one thing is certain: though the hour grows late, the discussion is still vigorously in progress. I'm sure both would be pleased at that.

dustjacket of the 1945 edition of A Grammar of MotivesNote

* The cover design of Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950 to 1955 uses the cover design of the 1945 edition of A Grammar of Motives for inspiration, shown here in all its tatteredness. Members of the Kenneth Burke Society can now purchase this book at a 20 percent discount. For cost and other details, see the book's page at Parlor Press.

Works Cited

Rueckert, William H., ed. Letters from Kenneth Burke to William H. Rueckert, 1959-1987. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2003.

The Gordian Not: Untangling the Motivorum (1)

Richard H. Thames, Duquesne University


This essay reconstructs Burke’s Symbolic and demonstrates its centrality to his system, arguing (1) nearly half of the Symbolic remains unpublished or uncollected, particularly two neglected essays on catharsis, the Symbolic’s own central term and the philosophical (rather than simply literary) problem at the heart of Burke’s system, as it addresses the relationship between mind and body; (2) logology (his epistemology) and the Ethics were a outgrowth of, rather than a break from, dramatism (his ontology) and the Motivorum; and (3) his Rhetoric, in contrast with his basically Aristotelian system (characterized in terms of naturalism, organicism, and pantheism), is Platonistic (consistent with his little noticed quietistic, mystical tendencies).

Internal Links


The publication of William Rueckert’s Essays toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950-1955 will no doubt occasion a new examination of the tangled history of Kenneth Burke’s never published Symbolic and Ethics and their place in his projected Motivorum.

Rueckert describes his book as the first version of the Symbolic. His title probably more accurately describes this compilation based on a footnote to Burke’s great 1955 essay, “Linguistic Approach to Problems of Education,” listing articles already published on “poetics and the technique of ‘indexing’ literary works” (with two articles dropped and four added). The supposed second version, “Poetics, Dramatistically Considered” (hereafter PDC), was multi-lithographed and distributed by Burke in 1958 while he was teaching a six-week summer seminar at Indiana University. Another version with the running head “Symbolic” (hereafter SM) was discovered by Anthony Burke among his father’s papers following Burke’s death in 1993 and given to Rueckert. Rueckert in turn passed the manuscript on to Greig Henderson and David Cratis Williams who were editing a volume of essays from the 1996 triennial Kenneth Burke Society conference at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Excerpts from both the PDC and the SM were eventually published in their 2001 Unending Conversations with an accompanying essay by Rueckert and a definitive “Textual Introduction” by Williams (upon which the following draws extensively1), establishing the SM as a 1961-64 revision of the 1958 PDC.

The chronology of the manuscripts having been determined, Williams asked, “Why did Burke never finish the design for PDC? Why did he ‘start over’ with SM?” Did the Motivorum, having expanded into a tetralogy, revert to a trilogy? “Did Burke abandon plans for an Ethics of Motives entirely, or did it become subsumed back into the design for the unwritten portions of SM?” (Williams, UC 29)

At the end of his “Introduction” Rueckert too looks to the larger project, hoping other scholars will do for the SM what Williams did for the PDC, so that “all these dramatistic poetics [can be put] into their appropriate place in relation to Burke’s other books and dramatism as a whole” (Essays xxi).

This essay will take up these issues, arguing specifically that the Symbolic is central to Burke’s system, though its centrality has not been readily apparent.


A Summary of the Motivorum’s Evolution

(with thanks to David Cratis Williams)

Following publication of Counter-Statement in 1931, Burke began taking notes on “corporate devices whereby business enterprisers had contrived to build up empires by purely financial manipulations.” Unexpectedly finding answers to many of his questions in Congressional committee records, Burke said he moved on, widening “his speculations to include a concern with problems of motivation in general.” Permanence and Change in 1935 was “the first completed manuscript of this material.” Attitudes toward History followed in 1937 and Philosophy of Literary Form in 1941. Along the way Burke’s notes on corporate devices had resumed in a more general form which he finally sought to treat in a book “On Human Relations” that would “round out the concerns of P&C and ATH. ” But as he sought to write up his notes, he found “more preparatory ground-work” was needed, leading to A Grammar of Motives in 1945 (“Curriculum Criticum,” CS 216-18). According to the book jacket of the 1945 Prentice-Hall edition, the Grammar was the first volume of a trilogy on human relations to be followed by A Rhetoric of Motives in 1947 and A Symbolic of Motives in 1948.

But the Rhetoric did not proceed as planned, growing to two volumes, the second of which was to consist in part of the compendium of devices compiled since 1931, a compendium that would remain, as from the beginning, entangled in the Motivorum (Williams, UC 6).

In 1950 the one volume Rhetoric was published. Burke then turned to the Symbolic, churning out a commentary on Aristotle’s Poetics—“dramatistically considered”—in January and by mid-March a “monster chapter” on “The Thinking of the Body” plus a lengthy index of the Orestes trilogy (Williams, UC 8-9). “Form and Persecution in the Oresteia” would be published the following year, one of thirteen related articles produced from 1950 through '52, 2 seeming to indicate the Symbolic was proceeding apace unlike the Rhetoric.

But correspondence as well as textual references in and headnotes accompanying the published articles suggested otherwise. Given such, as well as Burke’s reluctance to name articles that would actually be in the Symbolic, Williams surmises Burke was beginning to suspect that, as with the Rhetoric, he might have not one book but two (Williams, UC 9-10) 3—perhaps one on “poetics” and a second on “the technique of ‘indexing’ literary works” (suggested in the 1955 essay, “Linguistic Approach to Problems of Education”) or a second on the various analyses of particular works or authors (suggested in a 1958 letter to Cowley) (Williams, UC 14). Whatever he thought at the time, Burke clearly never settled the question of a one or two book Symbolic. The same question may have arisen later for the Ethics (with the compendium of devices still unpublished).

In April 1952 Burke began a chapter on “the Negative” (Williams, UC 11) which he considered integral to the Symbolic but which proved transforming of the Motivorum. Over winter 1952-53 “A Dramatistic View of the Origins of Language” was published in the Quarterly Journal of Speech, immediately followed in the spring by “Postscripts on the Negative.” In March 1953 he had written “Goethe’s Faust, Part I” (Language as Symbolic Action ix), another essay involving the Negative. 4 Meanwhile in January Burke was reporting in his afterword to the second edition of Counter-Statement (“Curriculum Criticum”) that the trilogy dealing with “linguistic structures in their logical, rhetorical, and poetic dimensions” would require a fourth volume stressing the ethical, probably entitled “On Human Relations” (CS 218). On September 27, 1954, Burke wrote to Cowley:

Plans are to begin next week on the finishing of my Sin-Ballix. (Psst: I’m telling myself don’t finish up one book Burke but two. Wadda form! “Substance” for the Grammar. “Identification” for the Rhetoric. “Catharsis” for the Poetics. And for the Ethics—Character, Personality—the Great Lore of No-No, Huh-uh, Mustn’t, and the ways of life that congeal about it, or shatter around it. But alas, there are cracks in the symmetry, too. For “Identification” had to share with “Persuasion” in the Rhetoric. And “Catharsis” must share with “Identity” in the Poetics. And “Identity” also o’er-flows into the Ethics, which furthermore quoth the raven should contain our lore of Devices, Burke on de virtues and de vices.(Williams, UC 12)

Burke’s comments and the chronology suggest that many works scholars have associated with “poetics” or “logology” might be associated with “ethics” instead (see below), all having been entangled from the start.

Spring 1955 Burke was back to the Symbolic, drafting by June an essay on Emerson’s Nature, described to Cowley as a “big item in my godam Symbolic.” He despaired, however, the end in sight but getting no nearer.

With the new year 1956 he was busy “indexing” Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. The following fall he hoped to finish revising the Symbolic by Christmas, then head to Florida with “notes for the fourth book” (i.e., the Ethics). In November, writing Cowley while recuperating from hernia surgery, he was “happy” to announce his “definitive general chapter” on “Catharsis” was finally going well (probably the sections “Catharsis—Second View,” as well as “Beyond Catharsis” and “Platonic Transcendence,” the latter two perhaps developed out of the Emerson essay), though he continued wrestling with the “Catharsis problem” into spring 1957 (Williams, UC 13-14).5

Burke spent an extremely productive 1957-58 academic year at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. By June 1958 when he left, he had “completed” and multi-lithographed a manuscript entitled “Poetics, Dramatistically Considered” (PDC) which he distributed to his seminar students at Indiana as well as professional colleagues (including Rueckert a year later).

But during his stay at Stanford, he had also completed essays based on talks given at Drew University during the winter and spring of 1956-57 (eventually published in 1961’s Rhetoric of Religion).6 And in April 1958 he had written Cowley about plans for a new book that would involve “three theories of catharsis (and its problems)” (probably personal, civic, and ontological catharsis—see below) and three major analyses: Augustine’s Confessions (the April ‘56 talk at Drew), the Oresteia, and the first three chapters of Genesis (the May ‘57 talk) (Williams, UC 14-15), indicating the Symbolic and the Ethics were still intertwined, despite the appearance of the PDC five weeks later.7

Summer 1958 saw the publication of “The First Three Chapters of Genesis” finished at Stanford. Between that June and June 1960 Burke appears to have concentrated on the Rhetoric of Religion, finishing “On Words and The Word” (the December ‘56 talk at Drew) and “A Prologue in Heaven” (inspired perhaps by his work on Goethe’s Faust which contains its own “Prologue in Heaven” with Satan and the Lord).

The two essays from the PDC published in 1952 (“A ‘Dramatistic’ View of ‘Imitation’” and “Form and Persecution in the Oresteia ”) were joined by two more from the PDC published in 1958, indicating Burke’s confidence in the material—apparently one of the earliest, “On Catharsis, or Resolution, with a Postscript,” (though some material from the SM appears word for word); and one of the latest, “The Poetic Motive” (probably written sometime after 1954’s “The Language of Poetry, ‘Dramatistically Considered,” the former’s concerning the “four delights intrinsic to symbol-use” versus the latter’s “four offices of the orator”).

“The Poetic Motive,” the PDC’s last section, became the SM’s first. “The Language of Poetry” (the first section of the Faust essay) may have been intended as part of the Symbolic but ultimately may have proven a better (as well as parallel) opening for the Ethics, its original title by then a misnomer. (See “A Cluster Analysis” below).

Other sections of the manuscript, “The Logic of the Terms” (early) and “Beyond Catharsis” and “Platonic Transcendence” (late) were not published until 2001 in Unending Conversations. The other late section, “Catharsis—Second View,” was published in 1961 when Burke began revising the PDC. “The Unburned Bridges of Poetics, or, How to Keep Poetry Pure?” (which Williams thinks was written late or substantially revised for the final version of the PDC) was not published until 1964.

On August 4, 1959 Rueckert initiated 18 years of correspondence, explaining that he was completing a book on Burke’s literary theory and criticism and was anxious to know when his “perpetually ‘forthcoming’ A Symbolic of Motives” might be forthcoming (Rueckert, Letters 1).

Burke replied, explaining “the damned trilogy” had become a tetralogy. He hoped to complete the Poetics’ “final bits” in the fall—“a section on comic catharsis, for instance, though the general lines [were] already indicated” in his 1958 Kenyon Review article “On Catharsis.” He also hoped “to make clearer the relation btw. dramatic catharsis and Platonic (dialectic)/transcendence” (a significant comment to note—see below, the section “The Symbolic of Motives”), though he thought Rueckert would agree that he had “already indicated the main lines in that connection.” He indicated some of the published (and unpublished) material that would fit into the Symbolic and some that would fit into the Ethics. 8

One problem with the “Poetics” involved deciding whether he “should leave it in one sequence, or also insert various incidental pieces” which he would otherwise “collect in a separate volume.” The Ethics, he continued, was scheduled to contain “a batch of devices” never published—except for a few samples Burke had marked on an enclosed offprint of “Rhetoric—Old and New” from the April 1951 Journal of General Education.

Finally he told Rueckert he would be sending him a copy of the PDC (Rueckert, Letters 3-4).

The end of June 1960, his Rhetoric of Religion done, Burke appears to have finally plunged back into work on the Symbolic (Williams, UC 16) 9which Beacon Press probably also contracted, though at what date he signed and for what period he remained under contract is uncertain. 10 He published “Catharsis—Second View” in the spring 1961 and “The Principle of Composition” in the fall. 11

August 22, 1961 Burke reported to William Carlos Williams that he had revised 25 pages of his “godam Poetics” (James East, Humane Particulars ibid. 229). October 4, he informed Cowley that his attempt to abridge the PDC had not gone well. The 120 pages he now had written—up to “Catharsis (Civic View)”—had only brought him up to what had been 38 pages—the section previously entitled “Catharsis (First View)—in the PDC. 12 In December Libbie reported to the Williamses that Burke was finishing up his Symbolic and she was typing it (East, Humane Particulars 229). 13

But he wrote Cowley in April 1962—“the godam Poetics” was “NOT finished.” And in September 1963—he would “pitch into finishing the Poetics” when done with his new “book of verse.” And in May 1964—his “only sorrow” was not getting “the godam Poetics wholly disentangled” before he had to “goid up” his loins and “sally forth” to the University of California at Santa Barbara . . . and beyond. Then in February 1965—the University of California Press was desirous of a book based on his “yipings” from the “Academic Circuit.” At the end of August—he was almost done (with Language as Symbolic Action), then he would “wrestle” again full-time with his Poetics! (Williams, UC 18).

Meanwhile from fall 1963 through fall 1966, Burke published eighteen articles related to the Symbolic and Ethics —an outpouring to match the outpouring from 1950 to ‘52. 14 Burke appeared to be “goiding up his loins” for something. Had not the University of California pressed him for a book at a critical moment, a complete Motivorum might have appeared. But probably not—given the onset of Libbie’s progressive muscular atrophy 15and her death on May 25, 1969. 16 The most Burke might reasonably have been expected to turn out would have been the first book of the Symbolic; the real work having been done, a less problematic second book of essays might have followed in the early 1970s. The Ethics would have been too much (though an outline may exist). 17

In late July 1969, Burke mentioned to Rueckert his settling down to clear away the “Poetics biz” (Rueckert, Letters 153); in September he indicated to Cowley, that doing so would be largely a job of “editing and typing” (Williams, UC 19). In March 1973 he wrote to Cowley about putting together a Shakespeare book with unpublished work on “William Himself” 18 plus all his published essays as well as editing two manuscripts (presumably the “Devices” and the SM). In May he talked about the former two (Shakespeare and the devices) and a topical index for the new edition of Philosophy of Literary Form but not the SM (Williams, UC 20).

The last burst of activity according to the correspondence occurred in 1977-78, probably under the influence of Bob Zachery at the University of California Press. July 29, Burke told Rueckert he and Zachery were “weeding” the Sinballix (Letters 234); October 5, he was going to try “slapping” it out (ibid. 236). January 24, 1978, Burke sent Rueckert a list of items for his Sinballix (ibid. 243). 19 February 4, in apparent response to a question from Rueckert in an intervening letter, Burke answered, “Yes, much that is in LSA belongs in the Sinballix. But as I see it, the best I can do about that is to include a few pages in which I say so, and why” (ibid. 245). May 30 and June 27 he wrote Cowley that he should finish editing the third volume of the Motivorum, but he was vexed by “new twists” engrossing him in the “Last Phase.” July 20 Burke chastised himself for “tinkering” with another essay when he should have been finalizing the third volume “to incl. possibly the fourth” (Williams, UC 20-21), given long essays (e.g., on the Oresteia or the “Origins of Language”) published in Language as Symbolic Action that might have fit in the Symbolic or the Ethics. Finally, October 24 he wrote Rueckert, “I have decided that what I’d most like to do for book-publishing purposes would be, not the Sinballix, but a third general book (like PLF and LSA)” ( Letters 263)20.

January 28, 1982 Burke wrote Rueckert, “I think the Symbolic has all been published, and merely needs a few editorial connectives” (Letters 288).

A Supplement to the Summary

In spring 1974 while Burke was Visiting Mellon Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, he attended a weekly “Burke” seminar taught by Trevor Melia in the Speech Communication Department. As a graduate student in the seminar, I occasionally saw Burke home after class. We talked more about poetry and criticism than rhetoric. (I liked Eliot and Frye; he didn’t much.)

Sometime in March Burke allowed me to copy the SM manuscript that he had brought with other papers on which he was working. I also made copies of the SM for Ted Windt and Trevor Melia (who subsequently gave a copy to Barbara Biesecker, who in turn gave one to James McDaniel). Over the years I have been public about having a different version and have believed it was generally known. 21 Sometime in the mid-1990s I even traded Robert Wess a copy of my SM for one of his PDC.

The manuscript I got from Burke was entitled “Poetics, ‘Dramatistically’ Considered,” but for the first 18 pages there was a running head of “Poetic Motive” which thereafter (pages 19-222) became “Symbolic.” The table of contents was not included (the 1994 table being in an entirely different, probably computer generated font). The last 47 pages (which were clearly to address “The Thinking of the Body”) were not part of the manuscript; those pages(223-69) also have “Symbolic” as their running head in the 1993 manuscript. Finally the SM was typed in a larger font with smaller margins (so the manuscript pages only roughly correspond). 22 The magnificent passage ending, “this handsome planet and its plenitude” which Rueckert cited in Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations (162) as being on page 391 of Burke’s Poetics (i.e., the end of the PDC) was on page 17 of my manuscript (the end of the first section, “The Poetic Motive”). Before discovering this difference, I assumed I had copied what is now referred to as the PDC.

Impediments to Reconstructing the Symbolic

Why Burke never finished the Motivorum in general or the Symbolic specifically will be addressed later in the essay. The question now is why has no one to date attempted a reconstruction? There are three problems to be addressed:

1) The relationship between dramatism and logology. Is the supposed early Burke from Counter-Statement through the Rhetoric superseded by a later Burke from Rhetoric of Religion on? Did Burke abandon dramatism and move on to logology? Or are dramatism and logology different aspects of a single system?

2) The aestheticization (or idealization) of Burke. Do we tend to read Burke metaphorically when we should read him literally?

3) The role of catharsis in his system (if there is one). Burke may take positions many find problematic, embarrassing, or even absurd on bodily aspects of catharsis; but given his acknowledging such positions discomfort him too, the question is, why develop and articulate such positions unless he is drawn to do so by his system? If such might be the case, should we not be struggling to understand why Burke is drawn to such positions rather than dismissing them as strange?

Each of these questions requires answers of considerable length. Given the constraints of this essay, each will be briefly addressed to contextualize arguments concerning the unfinished Motivorum.

1) The relationship between dramatism and logology

What are human beings? First, in general they are animals, bodies that are born and die; and in between their beginnings and their ends, bodies that eat, excrete, and reproduce. Secondly, they are specifically animals with logos, distinguished from all other bodies by their ability to learn language. Thus—defining human beings by genus and species—Aristotle’s “animals with logos” or Burke’s related “bodies that [are genetically endowed with the ability to] learn language,” 23 the definitions being much the same.

Aristotle’s animal, like Burke’s, learns and uses language. But language is a capacity that must be developed, a potentiality that must be actualized. The potential exists within each of us but is actualized only among us. We speak because we have been spoken to. We are called into conversation and community. Bodies that learn language, therefore, do so only from bodies that already use language; linguistic communication is learned only within a linguistic community—i.e., for Aristotle, the polis. Thus Aristotle’s “political animal.” 24

With logos comes reason. Like language, reason is a capacity that must be developed, a potential that must be actualized. Animals with logos learn to be rational as they learn language. They are not compelled to be rational. But, when they are being most fully and completely that which they most distinctively are, they are being rational. Thus Aristotle’s “rational animal.”

Ontologically, Aristotle describes human beings as political animals; epistemologically, he describes them as rational. Aristotle is not divided into political and rational periods; he does not shift from an early position to a later.

Burke describes the relationship between dramatism and logology in the same way Aristotle would describe that between political and rational. Asked “why two terms for one theory,” Burke explains that dramatism and logology “are analogous respectively to the traditional distinction (in theology and metaphysics) between ontology and epistemology” (“Dramatism and Logology” 89-90). 25

The outgrowth of an ethical approach to language (featuring the Negative) from a symbolic approach was truly a growth, a development of his system. When he recognized the need for making the distinction, Burke must have also recognized the need for making a second distinction between dramatism and logology. The Negative is the essence of language and central to logology (because it makes distinction and therefore abstraction possible). The ethical dimension of language—the dimension dealing with ethos (character) and ethics (conduct)—involves social and personal thou-shalt-nots. Both “Negatives” are hortatory for Burke, but they should not be conflated.

Yet conflated they are. The appearance of the ethics and the appearance of logology are confused by scholars, but not by Burke who is merely tracking down the implications of his terminology. Confusion is compounded when the poetic dimension of language is thrown into the mix. Then Burke is bifurcated (or even “trifurcated”), when Burke—like Aristotle—is actually one.

2) The aestheticization of Burke

Dramatism (the study of bodies genetically endowed with the ability to learn language) and logology (the study of the Negative as essential to language) are, respectively, Burke’s ontology and epistemology.

There is no shift from dramatism to logology. It is out of an ontological dramatism that an epistemological logology grows. Burke’s Motivorum grows from a trilogy investigating the logical, poetic, and rhetorical dimensions of language into a tetralogy investigating the ethical as well. Dramatism and logology, the Grammar, the Rhetoric, the Symbolic, and the Ethics are all part of the same vast enterprise.

If there is no shift from ontological dramatism to epistemological logology, there is certainly no shift from an earlier epistemologically oriented dramatism to a later ontologically oriented one. Burke has always been ontologically oriented. He could have been epistemologically oriented only if he had been essentially metaphorical prior to his declaration that dramatism is literal (“Dramatism” 448).

But Burke is not Erving Goffman, and dramatism is not dramaturgy. For Burke drama imitates life, so his representative anecdote is drama and his central term action. For Goffman theatre imitates life, so his representative anecdote is the stage and his central term performance. For Burke drama is literal; for Goffman theatre is metaphorical.

Burke employs drama, not as a metaphor for the analysis of human motivations, but as a “fixed form that helps us discover what the implications of the terms ‘act’ [action/motion] and ‘person’ [mind/body] really are.” Drama (“the symbolizing or imitating of action”) serves as the representative anecdote for dramatism (an “analysis of language, and thence of human relations generally, by the use of terms derived from the contemplation of drama.”) “Since the real world of action is so confused and complicated as to seem almost formless, and too extended and unstable for orderly observation,” argues Burke, “we need a more limited material that might be representative of human ways while yet having fixity enough to allow for systematic examination.” Great dramas are reflective (holding “the mirror up to nature—Hamlet III.ii)— i.e.,sufficiently complex and mature enough to be representative of human motives yet sufficiently stable to be methodically observable. In this respect they function as “equivalents of the laboratory experimenter’s test cases” (“Linguistic Approach to Problems of Education” 263-64; Rueckert, Essays 266).

Parallels between Burke’s representative anecdote and Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm; entelechial development and paradigm extension; Nature's recalcitrance and its resistance to paradigmatic explanation suggest Burke is scientifically oriented, adopting the (qualitative) naturalism of Aristotle and Spinoza (opposing the extremes of materialism and idealism), and seeking to develop empirically adequate ideas concerning “bodies genetically endowed with the ability to learn language” in order to free us from the consequences of linguistic confusion. Advancing drama (which imitates action and assumes motion) as his representative anecdote, he insists dramatism is literal, not metaphorical—and therefore classifiable as realism.

Not even the poetic metaphor advocated in Permanence and Change is metaphorical. There Burke advances a metabiology, the

view of man [sic] as “poet,” the approach to human motives in terms of action (with poetic or dramatic terminologies being prized as the paradigms of action, a term that leads happily into realms of both ethical and poetic piety, or into the scientific, too, by reason of the fact that “symbolic” acts are grounded in “necessitous” ones). . . . particularly stress[ing] the term “recalcitrance” as an essential corrective to the “poetic metaphor.” (PC 168)

Recalcitrance proves as intrinsic to the poetic metaphor as motion (the necessitous) is to action (the symbolic). In the last part of the book Burke synonymizes “metaphor” with “perspective” and “point of view”26 both of which are biologically grounded and thus ontologized—e.g., a point of view “must be considered as belonging to the universal texture, as actually existing. A grasshopper’s appetites, and the perspective or system of values that goes with them, are as real as any chemical” (PC 233; see also 256). In the Grammar he translates the Greek poiema, from which the English “poem” and “poetic” is derived, as “action” (41)—which presupposes motion. Between Permanence and Change and the Grammar basic terms have undergone only superficial change.

As with the first impediment, interpreters refuse to take Burke at his word, but a close examination of the text bears him out.

In “Psychology and Form” Burke defines form as the creation and satisfaction of an “appetite” (CS 31). The temptation is to aestheticize “appetite,” to interpret it metaphorically. For Burke the term is literal. If we cannot interpret “appetite” metaphorically, then we cannot we interpret “catharsis” in that way either. Nevertheless, we try.

3) The role of catharsis

In “Psychology and Form” Burke argues that eloquence is the result of an artist’s desire “to make a work perfect by adapting it in every minute detail to racial appetites” (CS 41, emphasis mine). Obviously Burke’s definition of “racial” is not ours. But, less obviously, his definitions of “desire” and “appetite” are not either. The tendency is to idealize or aestheticize these terms—form is metaphorically an appetite. But for Burke the terms have physicality—form is literally an appetite. Early in the essay Burke argues music is better suited to the psychology of form than the psychology of information. “Every dissonant chord cries for its solution,” he writes, “and whether the musician resolves or refuses to resolve this dissonance into the chord which the body cries out for, he is dealing in human appetites” (ibid. 34, emphasis mine).

For Burke form is creation and satisfaction of an appetite; there is hunger and relief, tension and release, desire and catharsis, excitation and purgation. Here in the 1920s are intimations of all that is most strange in Burke, eventual positions so foreign to aesthetic thought we refuse to consider them seriously.

The first Burke essay I read was on “Kubla Khan” in an Oscar Williams anthology. 27 I rushed to the library for more, checking out Language as Symbolic Action. I was impressed by how systematic Burke was, given constant reference to positions advanced in previous books. Then I read “Thinking of the Body.” I was embarrassed, even disgusted; Burke tells of his being embarrassed too. (e.g. LSA 330). I took the book back and read no more Burke for years. Even Rueckert, who more than anyone stresses the centrality of catharsis, rejects the essay as “some of the most tortured and absurd analysis” Burke ever wrote (Essays xiii).

In this regard Rueckert and I are no different from others. Most people avoid or set aside what is strange (most certainly if also disgusting). Most forget it, or if forced to acknowledge it, as scholars we dismiss it as the eccentricity of genius or psychologize it, assuming some formative Freudian episode from childhood. But what if the stone that interpreters reject is the system’s cornerstone?

We should instead struggle with the strange. Wresting with rather than dismissing the anomalous, we may discern logical bearings for a different view. Willingly suspending disbelief, we may find our way to a new interpretation. Believing, as Augustine asks, we may come to understand. To paraphrase cultural historian and ethnographer Richard Darnton, picking at documents where they are most opaque may “unravel an alien system of meaning,” the thread leading to “a strange and wonderful world view” (Great Cat Massacre 5). What is required is such an ethnographic reading of Burke.

To paraphrase what Burke says at the end of the section in the SM prior to his discussion of “The Thinking of the Body,” the reader may skip to the end of the following ethnographic reading designed to show as tediously as possible the textual evidence for and the coherence of an interpretation of Burke that treats “catharsis” as central to his entire system.

In “The Poetic Motive,”(the last chapter of the PDC and the first chapter of the SM), Burke identifies four motives intrinsic to language: naming, communicating, expressing, and consummating. The first three are unproblematic and unsurprising. The fourth involves thoroughly and systematically tracking down the implications of key terms. Such consummations are cathartic. Symbol-using animals are engrossed with “naturally” exercising symbols in such a way sheerly for the sake of doing so. “The most sustained gratification of symbol-systems,” says Burke, arises in contemplating “the inter-relationships that develop among the terms of the system.” Form unfolds, progressively revealing the potentialities of terminologies (“Poetic Motive” 59-60; “Dramatic Form–And: Tracking Down Implications” 55), an entelechial or perfectionist process working itself out in nomenclatures from fiction to philosophy to physics.

So why not in Burke, too? Why write an essay embarrassing yourself unless you are tracking down implications? Why take so strange a stance unless consummation has overwhelmed communication (“Poetry and Communication” 403), as Burke contends it can?

Speech itself according to Burke is cathartic. So maybe catharsis should be reconsidered, BUT as a philosophical rather than a literary problem, key to the mind-body, language-reality relationship at the heart of Burke.

Given the mind-body split inherited from Descartes, much of modern philosophy was concerned with the epistemological problem of knowledge. But simply placing “the body in the mind” to solve the epistemological problem-—how and what we can know of the world about us—was insufficient. (See Mark Johnson’s The Body in the Mind.) Placing “the mind in the body” to solve the ontological problem—who and what we are—(and as a bonus the epistemological one as well) was required to make us whole once more. Given his Christian Science background, Burke was drawn to psychogenic illnesses, hypnosis, placebos, etc.—and therefore catharsis.

If we give catharsis the philosophical attention it is due in Burke’s thought, much that seemed strange may come to make perfect sense. In this ethnographic reading Burke can be classified in terms of three thinkers—Aristotle, Spinoza, and Marx —and three “isms”—organicism, naturalism, and pantheism.

Aristotle and Spinoza were recognized as principal philosophers in the naturalist tradition at Columbia. In the Grammar rather than align Spinoza in terms of scene as some might expect, Burke realigns him in terms of action and passion, situating him within the naturalistic tradition (GM 146-52). Thereafter (again contra the expectations of some) he realigns Marx in terms of action too, dehistoricizing and reinterpreting him sub specie aeternitatis —i.e., in Spinozistic terms (GM 209-14).

Consistent with Burke’s realignment, it should be noted that Marx and Engels themselves were taken with Spinoza, believing him to have solved the fundamental ontological problem (the relationship of consciousness to being and thought to things). Lenin’s teacher Plekinov was a Spinozist. In early Soviet philosophy Spinoza was the second most read philosopher, honored as “Marx without a beard.” Problems arising in Spinoza were covered by observing 17th century biology’s sorry state or solved by turning to Aristotle.28 Philosopher Scott Meikle seeks to realign Marx, arguing that Marx assumes Aristotle’s metaphysics while his confused champions assume Hume’s (often turning to Althusser to solve problems created by their own misinterpretation).29 Historian R. A. Tawney aligns Marx with Aristotelian scholastics, arguing that medieval schoolmen anticipated his ethical and economic critiques.30

In aligning these philosophers, it is helpful to observe in terms of which positions they align themselves. Burke writes in the preface to Counter-Statement that “in so far as an age is bent, a writer establishes equilibrium by leaning,” either in the direction his age leans or in the opposite direction (vii). We too easily assume Burke leans from the materialism of modern science toward the idealism of language, in effect treating his distinction between motion and action as one between motion (studied by science) and action-minus-motion (studied by Burke). In fact Burke like Aristotle (or even Marx) before him leans from an atomistic, mechanistic orientation toward an holistic, organic one, in the process remaining open to science.

According to John Herman Randall and Marjorie Grene, Aristotle himself found the atomistic, mechanistic physics of his day deficient and the idealistic philosophy of Plato superfluous. Underlying particles and transcendental forms failed to explain the world he experienced. A practicing biologist, he found things sorted themselves out of the flux in defiance of philosophers, so he madeliving Nature the focal point of philosophical reflection (Grene 78-79, 227-28). The central fact to be grasped and understood was life, especially human life (Randall 5).31

According to Meikle, Marx in his own doctoral dissertation examined atomistic philosophies, concluding that “the metaphysical basis of atomism is weak in explanatory potential and problem-ridden where it is not incoherent” (Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx 15). His rejection of atomism was prior to his rejection of Hegel (his standing Hegel on his head, or, more properly—since Hegel was already upside down—standing him on his feet).

In the Grammar Burke observes that Marx’s reaction against Hegel’s idealism results not in materialism but “dialectical materialism” which Burke characterizes as “idealistic materialism”—i.e., naturalism or realism (200-01).

Likewise Burke’s reaction against the idealism of his Christian Science upbringing 32 results in his own naturalism or realism—though realism is the term Burke actually prefers, classifying all philosophical systems featuring act as realism—e.g., systems like Aristotle’s, Spinoza’s, Marx’s and his own (GM128, 227-74).

Opposition to the materialism of modern science might incline a person toward idealism, unless his opposition to idealism simultaneously inclined him toward materialism—exactly the fix in which Burke found himself along with Aristotle and Marx. In his characteristically “both/and” attitude (see Rueckert, Drama 8-34), Burke moved to the middle, taking up the position he had first encountered at Columbia—naturalism or realism, the dominant American philosophy for half the 20th century.

At Columbia Burke had been introduced to the naturalistic tradition of Aristotle, Spinoza, and Santayana. He had been encouraged to read Aristotle as a biologist,33 naturalism dovetailing nicely with organicism.

Organicism was being advanced in the 1920s by writers such as Henri Bergson and D. H. Lawrence. It was also being advocated by biologists seeking to establish biology as a science not reducible to physics.34 Burke found himself reading biologists and talking with physicians35 while writing a report on drug addiction for the League of Nations. Later in life his close friend William Carlos Williams was a doctor. The father of his childhood and life-long friend Malcom Cowley had been the family physician.36

It should come as no surprise then that Burke’s conception of the relationship between language, mind, body, and reality is informed by (1) naturalism (or realism), the mean between a reductive materialism and an anti-scientific idealism; and (2) organicism (biologism), the source for hierarchy (an organism’s organization) and entelechy (its development). Language is the entelechy of the human organism, generating mind, the highest (meta-biological) level of a body genetically endowed with the ability to learn language. Language itself mirrors biology (a terminology’s generating a hierarchy on the path to its entelechy) and possesses its own entelechy (an all-inclusive “Nature containing the principle of speech”—see RM 180).

If Burke’s naturalism dove-tailed nicely with his organicism, both dove-tailed nicely with his emerging pantheism. In 1928 Richard McKeon published his dissertation on Spinoza, a philosopher who became increasingly important to Burke as a latent pantheism emerged in his thought. Burke first mentions Spinoza seven years later in Permanence and Change, arguing that disputes between idealists and materialists would be dialectically dissolved by a biological point of view. Whether we call the fundamental substance idea or matter is insignificant, writes Burke, when mind-body is hyphenated. In this respect—he continues— idealism, materialism, and dialectical materialism merge into a kind of “dialectical biologism” that points toward a somewhat Spinozistic conception of the hyphenated mind-body as two integrally interlocking modes that are substantially one (PC 229).

Burke’s naturalistic, pantheisitc treatment of mind-body recalls Aristotle’s definition of human beings as “animals with logos” (see above) and pervades his system—from his early contention in “The Poetic Process” (CS 48) that inborn in our germ-plasm is the potential for speech (see Rueckert, Drama 11) to his much later (re?)definition of human beings in the 1970s as “bodies genetically endowed with the ability to learn language.”

The implications of Burke’s naturalistic, pantheistic mind-body are immense. If language is situated in the genes then language is ultimately situated in Nature, too. The “body genetically endowed with the ability to learn language” is grounded in and emerges from an all-inclusive “Nature containing the principle of speech” (hereafter NATURE)(RM 180), Burke’s equivalent to Aristotle’s “Prime Mover” and Spinoza’s “God-or-Nature.” Our nature or being constitutes an ontological metaphor for NATURE or Being. Our nature determines what we know of that all-inclusive NATURE.

What we do know is that the verbal and nonverbal attributes of human being must also be attributes of that Universal Being from which we spring else we could not spring from IT. If we deny those attributes of NATURE, we deny them of ourselves, for NATURE is (at least) our larger self. Burke asks us to revere this all-inclusive NATURE as a parent out of which the verbal and the nonverbal are undeniably born. Far from being barred by some impenetrable barrier, as its children we are bound to and can know NATURE as intimately as our very minds and bodies. Thus concern for deep ecology emerges from Burke's pantheism (as well as a need to re-evaluate the standard understanding of evolution in which the verbal evolves out of the merely nonverbal as less-than-verbal when it should be understood as emerging out of the more-than-verbal). 37

According to Burke, the essence of pantheism is found in a necessary relation between the integrally interlocking modes of mind and body. If mind and body are substantially one, that which is necessary for thought is necessary for extension, meaning that which is linguistically necessary is ontologically necessary too (see GM 72-74), especially given the synecdochic relationship between, and therefore the attributes shared by, human being and that Ultimate Being from which we spring.

If linguistic necessity coincides with reality, then investigating what Burke considers linguistically necessary enables us to discover what he considers real.

According to Burke, the two principles of merger and division are necessary to language along with a third principle of distinction that ambiguously shuttles between and partakes of the other two. Merger requires the absolute unity of the One, Burke’s god-term, an all-inclusive NATURE. Division requires some kind of “Fall.” Finally, distinction requires some intermediate “Eden.” Prior to the Fall we are organically “a part of” the larger whole, after the Fall “apart from” It. Prior to the Fall, we stand in apposition to NATURE, after in opposition.

On the human level, merger’s NATURE corresponds to the womb, distinction’s Eden to infancy, and division’s Fall to articulation (see UC75).

As human being is synecdochic of Being, so articulation is synecdochic of Creation. But human acts are partial; NATURE’s is total. Creation and articulation both constitute “Falls,” but Creation is a “proto-Fall” related to the Fall itself as potential to actual. Distinctions found in NATURE are potentially divisions; human articulation makes them actual (see RR 174).

Burke’s Absolute NATURE, like Spinoza’s, creates necessarily, expressing the modes implicit within ITSELF. Creation is "cathartic". Principles are expressed as processes; logically circular simultaneous essences are expressed as linear temporal existences (like a chord stretched into an arpeggio).

Articulation is necessary and cathartic too, human being's expressing itself by giving voice to the implications of language (see UC 75). 38 Articulation initiates a Fall into speech, but as we track down further implications, it inevitably leads us up stairs of abstraction that return us to NATURE. For Burke, to climb linguistically to that ultimate implication is to strive actually for mystic merger with the One.

Language leads to the Fall, but language leads also to a salvation of sorts. Though language causes the split between verbal and nonverbal (mind and body, human nature and NATURE), by means of language we can project blame onto the nonverbal and leave the thus burdened nonverbal behind in a verbal ascent to the One. We are saved by any purely linguistic act that is cathartic—such as dialectic or drama. Salvation lies in purging ourselves by purely linguistic means—weeping when Desdemona dies. By language, through language, beyond language.

But such salvation is fleeting. Language provides temporary solace by generating a mystic experience of wholeness through cathartic dialectic and drama. But that experience is shattered by further (linguistic) action of any kind. The experience can be maintained only by the ritual repetition of dialectic or drama. But repetition that at first provides solace eventually becomes a source of despair from which death is the only escape, a position characteristic of Zen Buddhism in which the Nirvana of nothingness and oblivion is sought39.

The pantheist’s ultimate problem is finitude, the source of his despair separation from the One. Final salvation comes only with the eschaton, the end of time and space, for their mere existence constitutes a kind of Fall since distinctions established by Creation are themselves potentially divisions. Ultimate salvation lies in the end of all distinction.

Death is the ultimate salvation for the whole of NATURE and for the human part as well. Only by dying is our distinctness, and inevitable divisiveness, from the Absolute overcome. Only by our dying is the distinction, and inevitable division, between verbal and nonverbal obliterated. By dying to time, we are born to eternity. By dying as parts, we are transformed into the whole. Our poor and partial lives enter into life far greater and more glorious. We merge into reality pure, unchanging, absolute. We become All when we become Nothing.

Is it merely coincidental that “Dramatism and Logology” (in which Burke declares dramatism his ontology and logology his epistemology) has never been collected? Nor “Dramatism” (in which Burke declares dramatism is literal, not metaphorical)? Nor either of Burke’s two “definitive” essays on catharsis—“On Catharsis, or Resolution, with a Postscript” and “Catharsis—Second View”? “Beyond Catharsis” and “Platonic Transcendence” were finally published in Unending Conversations in 2001. But do we really understand them apart from the conversation in which catharsis plays a leading role? If we never get to catharsis, how do we ever get “beyond” it to “transcendence”? Perhaps these texts are just a bit too inconvenient for standard interpretations, so interpreters find excuses to neglect them.

Hopefully such impediments in our path have been removed. Hopefully we have found that we cannot split Burke along dramatism versus logology lines; we cannot split Burke along early epistemological-metaphorical vs. late ontological-literal lines; we cannot make Burke an idealist opposed to a materialistic science, and we cannot make Burke a materialist standing his Christian Science idealism on its head; we cannot avoid the “catharsis problem” if we are to understand the Symbolic and its place in the Motivorum and dramatism as a whole.

A Cluster Analysis

That Burke has a “system” is not readily apparent because the systematic quality of his writing is more that associated with a poet than a philosopher. As is the case with literary artists, the system is highly personal and emerges for the reader only after study of the corpus. The later, more mature work often sheds the best light on the earlier in which patterns and concerns are first being articulated.

Midway through his career Burke began work on his trilogy starting with the Grammar in which he introduced the “pentad” (later referred to as possibly a “hexad”). But after publication of the Rhetoric, the Symbolic was not forthcoming. The third volume split into two, yielding a fourth on “Ethics.” If the Motivorum was to have been organized in four volumes, patterns of four might well prove to be the clues to how Burke's system is ultimately organized.

In the Grammar the discussion of the philosophical schools is organized into four, not five (or even six), chapters. “Purpose”(ends) and “agency”(means) are combined, with the latter sometimes being treated as a reduction of the former, much as “motion” is of “action.” “Attitude” is treated as a preparation for an act, making it “a kind of symbolic act, or incipient act” (i.e., “act”) or as a state of mind (i.e., “agent”). Thus we are left not with a pentad (or even a hexad) but a tetrad of “scene,” “act” (which can be a purpose in itself), “purpose” (which involves action for all purposes other than action for its own sake), and “agent.”

Still, it is not until we arrive at the Rhetoric of Religion that the pattern of four emerges most powerfully when Burke analogizes the Trinity with the form underlying all linguistic events, a form composed of a “thing” (Father), a “word” (Son), the “relation” between them (Spirit), and the event as a whole (Trinity). If we take this fundamental “linguistic trinity” seriously, a systematic structure appears:

the “tetrad”

  • scene corresponds to the thing
  • act corresponds to the word
  • agency-purpose corresponds to the relationship
  • agent corresponds to the whole

Burke’s tetralogy

  • the Grammar whose main term is substance (thing, i.e. the symbol using animal)
  • the Symbolic whose main term is catharsis (words, language)
  • the Rhetoric whose main term is identification (relationship)
  • the Ethics whose main term is the negative (the whole)

ways of using language

  • words about Nature (thing)
  • words about words (name, language)
  • words about the socio political (relationship, correspondence)
  • words about the supernatural drawing on the other three (the whole)

poetic motives

  • the indicative (the thing which we name)
  • the poetic (the language we develop or unfold)
  • the rhetorical (the relation we address)
  • the ethical (the whole we express)

offices of the orator related to universal desires (Rueckert, Drama 158)

  • teaching and the quest for knowledge (thing)
  • pleasing and the desire for beauty (name)
  • exhorting or persuading and the hunger for power and change (relationship)
  • expressing or portraying and the hope for self expression, moral excellence, and purification (the whole)

master tropes

  • metonymy (thing or scene)
  • synecdoche (name or act)
  • irony (relationship or purpose)
  • metaphor (the whole)

kinds of substance

  • familial (thing or scene)
  • directional (name or act)
  • geometric (relationship or purpose)
  • dialectic (the whole)

From these equations a table can be constructed, clustering what terms would be associated with what volume of the Motivorum:

A Cluster Analysis of the Motivorum

Grammar Symbolic Rhetoric Ethics
substance catharsis identification negative
scene act purpose-agency* agent
thing word relationship
words about things (Nature) words about words words about the socio-political words about the supernatural*
indicative: things we name poetic: terms we develop or unfold rhetorical: relationships we address ethical: the whole we express
teaching pleasing persuading expressing or portraying
knowledge beauty power & change self expression, moral excellence, purification
metonymy synecdoche irony metaphor
familial substance directional substance geometric substance dialectical substance

* see below for discussion

The table tells us a number of things. The Grammar and the Symbolic look more simple in their conception, the Rhetoric somewhat complicated, the Ethics more complicated still. To some extent there appears to be a part-whole relationship (synecdoche-metaphor) between the Symbolic and the Ethics that may make them difficult to separate at times. Burke, for example, notes personality can be viewed as a kind of “congealed conduct” (Rueckert, “Language of Poetry,” Essays 44).

The very complexity of the Ethics makes for difficulties in determining what may be associated with it without the table. What is often treated as a matter of logology (e.g., “Theology and Logology”), supposedly a step beyond an “abandoned” dramatism, can be associated with the Ethics. Words about the supernatural draw on words from the realms of the natural, the linguistic, and the socio-political; the supernatural has no words of its own. As Burke notes in the Rhetoric of Religion, “quite as language involves a principle of the negative in its very essence, so theology comes to an ultimate in ‘negative theology,’ since God, by being ‘supernatural,’ is not describable by the positives of Nature.” The supernatural would also be superpersonal (consistent with the cluster of terms including agent).

The Ethics is concerned with ethos (character, agent) from which the very word ethics (conduct) is derived. In his first letter to Rueckert, August 8, 1959, Burke writes, “I treat the negative under Ethics [sic] because of the close relation btw. character and the thou-shalt-not’s” (Letters 4). He goes on to say, “And inasmuch as the negative is a wholly linguistic invention, I take it that the keystone of the entire edifice is No” (ibid. 4-5), indicating in two sentences the difference between the logological (the essence of language) and the ethical (a dimension of language). The difficulty is the tendency to associate logology with the Ethics more than other parts of the Motivorum because of the negative, as we associate dramatism more with the Symbolic because of drama and catharsis. Many confusions may be cleared thanks to the inclusion of “The Language of Poetry, ‘Dramatistically’ Considered” in Rueckert’s Essays toward a Symbolic of Motives (though I would consider it more of a first chapter for the Ethics, because it involves the offices of the orator, i.e., an agent—see below).

The Rhetoric should be interpreted in terms of purpose and agency. Burke moves toward the end of the book to a discussion of mysticism (a mysticism of ends associated with purpose in the Grammar) and ersatzmystiken (or a false mysticism, a mysticism of means associated with agency) (RM 332). War, for example, our most cooperative activity, is actually diseased cooperation. True cooperation cannot be achieved by opposition, because there must always be an enemy to oppose; there must always be something that divides us, an enemy in opposition to which we stand united. What is “achieved” is false; the end of union can never be achieved by means of division.

Again, for example, the pursuit of money constitutes a false mysticism. A surplus of something in the spring cannot be easily exchanged for a desired surplus of something else in the fall; money facilitates such exchange. A desired commodity is the end of exchange; money is but a means. The pursuit of money has no end other than the pursuit of money, and therefore is the endless pursuit of a means.

“Pure persuasion” constitutes a mysticism of means. Persuasion is a means to an end. If persuasion is pure (i.e., persuasion for persuasion’s sake) persuasion would constitute a perpetual means to no end, because pure persuasion could never come to its end. Burke’s notion of pure persuasion may be indicative of an intellectual’s skepticism concerning political action. Historically, Burke remained politically forever on the edge40—neither out far nor in deep41 (see below, “Beyond Catharsis").

The Symbolic deals with a similar action for the sake of action. But in this case, using language purely for the sake of using language would constitute an exercise of our being as bodies genetically endowed with the ability to learn language. Such exercise would of course prove pleasing—the more pleasing the more thorough and more complete the exercise. Here the Symbolic touches on logology and the Ethics, though logology would investigate the intrinsic tendencies in language itself, remaining in a more epistemological realm.

The Symbolic investigates actual ontological operations involving the relationship between the dual aspects of our being—verbal activity giving nonverbal pleasure. The central term for the Symbolic would therefore be “catharsis,” an experience central to our being as bodies that learn language, the relief from first speaking to being thoroughly, completely, finally done.

The first catharsis is the Crocean catharsis of articulation, when we find relief expressing ourselves as what we are, releasing the sheer pressure of language’s implicational structures no matter the complications to be encountered as a consequence. And the final Aristotelian catharsis of drama or the related (Platonic?) catharsis of dialectic, both of which lift us to a speechless, transcendent realm beyond catharsis, a realm of oneness beyond division. By language, through language, beyond language.

These deeper, ontological levels of what Burke terms universal catharsis operate at the same time on an historical level—as form must have content. Such historically situated catharsis would have a socio-political dimension whose investigation would be rhetorical and a personal dimension whose investigation would be ethical. Socio-political catharsis (which Burke terms civic catharsis) purges tensions endemic to the body politic, effecting but a temporary cure so long as the causes of tension exist—therefore proving to be conservative of the status quo. Personal catharsis (for which Burke has no particular term) would purge tensions associated with personal problems, perhaps effecting a symbolic cure if the poet were able to transform himself in the process (as with Augustine in the Rhetoric of Religion) or more likely proving to be but a method of coping (as with Coleridge in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” or “Kubla Khan” or Milton and Arnold in the Rhetoric’s opening chapter).

The cluster analysis also allows us to distinguish clearly what has often been conflated, even by Burke himself prior to 1953: (1) the poet himself (agent, his personal expression as it affects himself; the ethical dimension), (2) his poetry in itself (action, the symbol-using animal’s universal expression of itself through the thorough use of language, the development or unfolding of form; the poetic dimension), and (3) his rhetoric (purpose, the historically situated content addressed to an audience; the rhetorical dimension). These three perspectives parallel the approaches literature study cycles through—the stress on form in New Criticism (poetics) having been a reaction to the stress on the person of the artist (ethics), and the current rhetorical stress a reaction to the formalism of New Criticism.

Finally, terms clustered under the Grammar suggest a more empirical reading of Burke consistent with that suggested above (see “2) the aestheticizing of Burke”). In dramatism great dramas constitute representative anecdotes or paradigms for a qualitative Aristotelian scientist—“equivalents of the laboratory experimenter’s test cases” (“Linguistic Approach . . .” 263-64; Rueckert, Essays 266)—enabling him to develop adequate ideas about bodies that learn language so that we may be freed from the consequences of our linguistic confusion. In this light the Grammar differs little from the metabiology of Permanence and Change. Rather than abandoning the project, Burke can be seen to have moved on to what he probably considered a more adequate terminology.

These preliminaries complete, we can now turn to evaluating the supposed three versions of A Symbolic of Motives.

Essays toward a Symbolic of Motives

Two of my indispensable books on Burke are William Rueckert’s Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations and Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke. My copies from the 1970s are thoroughly marked up. I recommend them to my students and return to them often myself (quite often over the last month). Anyone who has read Rueckert can recognize my debt from the foregoing material—especially the stress on catharsis. As for On Human Nature, having a collection of “boik woiks” from 1967 to 1984 is invaluable. So I looked forward to the latest—Essays toward a Symbolic of Motives. But to be honest, the book is not what I expected, nor quite what Rueckert claims. I find myself quibbling—and quibbling it is—because the book, like On Human Nature, is invaluable as a collection of essential essays (early, in this case) well worth buying as a standard reference book alone. A first version of the Symbolic it is not. Rueckert’s title is a more accurate description, but even that proves problematic; Essays toward a Symbolic [as well as an Ethics] of Motives is surely less elegant but probably in the end more exact. My quibbling should not diminish the importance of his work, which he considered Burke’s last charge to him, accomplished despite chronic pain with great deference to other scholars and their own Symbolic projects.

According to Rueckert, the book is based on a footnote from the 1955 essay “Linguistic Approach to Problems of Education” that “consists of selected essays from among those Burke wrote and published between 1950 and 1955, which he clearly indicated were to be part of A Symbolic of Motives, as he originally conceived it” (xi).

My first quibble: Burke writes, “A work now in preparation, A Symbolic of Motives, will deal with poetics and the technique of ‘indexing’ literary works. Meanwhile, among articles by the present author already published on the subject are . . . ” (“Linguistic Approach”302; Rueckert, Essays xi). Burke is not saying the essays constitute a version of the Symbolic. He had already written over 70 percent of the PDC by 1952. Given similarities between the PDC and the SM, the essays he goes on to list resemble more of a collection of miscellaneous essays for a book-length appendix such as comes up in Burke’s letters over a couple of decades42—one for each of the last three volumes of the Motivorum to go with the shorter, but still considerable, appendix to the first. Williams suggests that Burke may have seen the third volume covering two books as early as 1951 (UC 10). If Burke “clearly indicated” these essays were to be part the Symbolic “as he originally conceived it,” he must have done so elsewhere; but if so, Rueckert doesn’t say.

Rueckert’s quotation of the footnote in Essays goes on to list eight essays: “The Vegetal Radicalism of Theodore Roethke,” “Three Definitions,” “Othello: An Essay to Illustrate a Method,” “Form and Persecution in the Oresteia,” “Imitation,” “Ethan Brand: A Preparatory Investigation,” “Mysticism as a Solution to the Poet’s Dilemma,” and “Fact, Inference, and Proof in the Analysis of Literary Criticism” (xi). But quoting the same footnote in Unending Conversations (120), he lists between “Imitation” and “Ethan Brand” a ninth essay, “Comments on Eighteen Poems by Howard Nemerov.”

Rueckert would appear to have forgotten the essay. Whatever his reason for excluding it, he does not explain. Nor does he explain his reason for excluding the “Mysticism” essay. Burke himself does not include the essay on Nemerov in his 1978 letter to Rueckert detailing what should be included in a book of essays in lieu of A Symbolic of Motives, but he does include the one on “Mysticism” (see Letters 234; Drama 291-92).

“Mysticism as a Solution to the Poet’s Dilemma” is an important essay, the first part “a reconstruction and exposition” of Burke’s material by Stanley Romaine Hopper (because Burke had lost his paper), the second and third parts subsequent additions by Burke. The essay might prove inconvenient for some, but it was important in developing the reading of Burke articulated throughout this essay. (See below, “4) Burke’s Anti-Rhetoricism” and “5) Burke’s Mysticism.”) Clearly Burke thought it important, listing it in the footnote and again in a letter 23 years later. Of the two excluded, the “Mysticism” essay, at least, should have been in the volume.

Rueckert drops the Nemerov essay but does include the Roethke one, consistent with the footnote and the 1978 letter as well as a long letter to William Carlos Williams from June 9, 1948—“As soon as I get through the Rhetoric, I shall then be free to concern myself wholly with the Poetic and Symbolic matters that delight me most—the stuff of Vol. III—and my thoughts on the Rutherford Cricket-eater [Williams] should go there, along with, among other things, my notes on Ted Roethke . . .” (East, Humane Particulars 137). Both essays are included in LSA, though the Williams essay was not published until 1963, shortly after his death. Given that Rueckert seeks to include the essays from the Symbolic as originally conceived, the Williams essay might have been included (or, given its inclusion in LSA, at least mentioned).

Of the nine footnoted essays, two are drawn from the PDC manuscript, “The Orestes Trilogy” and “Imitation.” The former is the complete, never before published text from the PDC, not the abridged version published in 1952 and republished in LSA in 1966—a welcome editorial decision. But the latter is the same as the article published in the autumn 1952 Accent rather than the PDC version. Williams has carefully compared the two (UC 25), noting small changes along with the excision of the final seven pages. Why not publish the full PDC text as was done with the Oresteia essay? Still, as is, the article has never been collected.

Along with seven of the nine essays, Rueckert includes four others: “The Language of Poetry, ‘Dramatistically’ Considered,” “Goethe’s Faust, Part I,” “Linguistic Approach to Problems of Education,” and “Policy Made Personal: Whitman’s Verse and Prose-Salient Traits.” But on August 8, 1959, in his very first letter to Rueckert, Burke explains the delay in the perpetually forthcoming Symbolic as due to the trilogy becoming a tetralogy. He characterizes the first three volumes in a few words, then says that the Ethics is “built around the negative, as per my articles in Quarterly Journal of Speech, 52-53; my article on Faust, in Chicago Review, Spring 55 also indicates a bit of this, as does my piece on language in Modern Philosophies and Education, edited by Nelson B. Henry” (Letters 3). Evidently Burke associated the second and third essays above with the Ethics rather than the Symbolic. And given its content and its functional similarity to “The Poetic Motive” opening the SM, the first essay might be reasonably associated with the Ethics, perhaps also as an opening chapter. Finally, given our characterization of the Ethics, the fourth essay might be associated with it as well. Thus a more accurate title for Rueckert’s volume might be Essays toward a Symbolic as well as an Ethics of Motives.

Burke also tells Rueckert in that first letter that one problem with the “Poetics volume is to decide whether I should leave it in one sequence, or also insert various incidental pieces (which otherwise I’ll collect in a separate volume)” (Letters 3). Rueckert perhaps should have paid greater heed to Burke’s comment and accordingly scrutinized Burke’s opening sentences in the footnote more carefully, then made a lesser claim about the Essays than he did. I would not describe the book as a first version of the Symbolic given the coherence of the PDC and the SM.

Quibble with Rueckert or not, we remain indebted to him for his work, completed over the last years of his life while suffering considerable pain. All of the chosen items are important and good to have collected—especially “The Language of Poetry,” “The Orestes Trilogy,” and “Linguistic Approach to Problems of Education” (though I would have preferred the whole essay), no matter into what volume of the Motivorum they would have been assimilated. Essays toward a Symbolic of Motives may not be exactly by-the-book. My advice is, still, buy the book anyway.

Poetics, Dramatistically Considered (see Appendices 1 & 2)

There is not much to say about the PDC that David Cratis Williams has not already said. The chronology he established by means of unpublished Burke-Cowley correspondence from the Newberry Library in Chicago conclusively indicates that Burke worked on the Symbolic from 1950 to '52, at which point the trilogy began to split into a tetralogy because of work on the Negative.

The cluster analysis suggests that concern for thou-shalt-nots being exploited for dramatic purposes in order to effect catharsis in socio-political and personal realms necessitated Burke’s more carefully distinguishing between the thou-shalt-nots of ethics (a dimension of language) and the Negative of logology (the essence of language).

From 1952 to 1955 Burke concentrated on the Ethics. In 1955 he returned to the Symbolic, working on it and the Ethics until 1958, when he distributed the PDC. Comparisons between the PDC and SM reveal the relationship between the manuscripts, including what parts were written when and whether or not they were included in the first draft. Two essays are critical to the investigation—“The Poetic Motive” and the Emerson essay.

“The Poetic Motive” (published in 1958) is stylistically right for a concluding chapter (with its magnificent last paragraph) but logically all wrong; it is obviously more appropriate as what it became, the first chapter of the SM. The essay is functionally similar to “The Language of Poetry” essay discussed above (published in 1954). The “Language” essay is the earlier and may have been intended as the eventual first chapter of the Symbolic. The essay’s title (“poetry”) compared to its content (“oratory”) suggests the title is a misnomer. Burke does discuss the overlap between poetry and oratory, but the bulk of the essay is concerned with a new fourth office Burke added to Cicero’s scheme, an office that would be associated more with the ethical than the poetic. Having started perhaps with Cicero’s scheme to classify the language of poetry, Burke may have found his essay heading off in another direction, probably not an uncommon experience as the Ethics began splitting off from the Symbolic. Having written the first essay, Burke may have used it as a template for an additional essay examining delights intrinsic to language-use (consistent with the Symbolic’s emphasis on using language for no purpose other than using language) as opposed to purposeful language associated with the offices of an orator (i.e., an agent with ethos).

Burke wrote “The Poetic Motive” sometime between 1954 and '58, the exact date being uncertain. The essay was probably written closer to 1958 given its date of publication that year and its having been tacked on to the end of the PDC despite its being an inappropriate concluding chapter (perhaps because much of the typing had been done by then). Burke apparently included the essay because he viewed it as integral to the Symbolic.

This essay’s having been included in the PDC, but moved in the SM, may tell us something about the SM—the end of the PDC (and therefore the SM as well) was probably the section on “Platonic Transcendence,” given the similar outlines resulting for the two books.

Material written but left out of the PDC tells us something as well. Recall that Burke wrote Cowley in June 1955 about having written but not having revised a “big item in my godam Symbolic” concerning Emerson’s long essay on Nature (Williams, UC 13). Presumably Burke refers to the essay “I, Eye, Ay—Concerning Emerson’s Early Essay on ‘Nature’ and the Machinery of Transcendence” published in 1966 in the Sewanee Review, Language as Symbolic Action, and Transcendentalism and Its Legacy. Burke worked (or sat) on the essay for over ten years, but then he sat on much of “On Catharsis, Or Resolution” for eight (1951-59). He never published the sections “Beyond Catharsis” or “Platonic Transcendence.” He did publish “Catharsis—Second View” (dating to 1956) in 1961, but neither of the “definitive” catharsis essays was ever collected.

I believe there is something significant about this constellation of essays (see below). All may have been part of the “catharsis problem” in which Burke was forever reporting himself entangled.

According to Williams (UC 15), Burke also left Stanford in spring 1958 with a new essay on E. M. Forster’s Passage to India (itself not published until summer 1966). The essay on Forster is referenced in the essay on Emerson (LSA 189) and the essay on Barnes’ Nightwood (ibid. 244) (not published either until 1966 in LSA, though it was “the distillation of several years’ discussion in the classroom”) (Letters 80). The cross-references are all related to the theme of effecting catharsis in terms of Burke’s interpretation of “beyonding” catharsis. Williams also reports that Burke was indexing Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in 1956 (UC 13). Material related to Forster’s Passage and Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway appears in the same section of the SM revised in the early 1960s.

The evidence suggests that the material and the eventual essays were probably being worked on at the same time—evidently the mid-1950s (though none of it was published then) when Burke was writing “Beyond Catharsis” for the PDC, but probably also in 1963 or 1964 when Burke turned to the material again (publishing most of it in 1966 in journals and LSA).

Though there is considerable continuity between the PDC and the SM, the evidence suggests there may have been even more than there appears to have been.

The Symbolic of Motives (see Appendices 3 & 4)

Between 1958 and 1960 Burke concentrated on the Ethics —i.e., the Rhetoric of Religion. But two sections from the PDC were also published as articles in 1958— “On Catharsis, or Resolution, with a Postscript,” one of the earliest (1951); and “The Poetic Motive,” probably the last. With the Rhetoric of Religion done in June, Burke returned to the Symbolic immediately.

Fifteen months later (October 4, 1961) Burke wrote Cowley that his attempt to abridge the PDC had resulted in 120 new pages instead—“Catharsis (First View)” formerly beginning on page 38 was now “Catharsis (Civic Aspect)” beginning on 134. Two months later (December 9) Burke wrote Rueckert from Andover, “I begin seriously to doubt whether I shall meet my self-imposed deadline for completing the revision of my Poetics material. (I had vowed to get it done by Dec. 31st, 11:59 P.M.) Just went to a doctor and found that my blood-pressure is up again. In some respects, final revision can do one more damage than first drafts. It’s a continual forcing oneself to go slow when one wants to race ahead. Hence the e’er-present invitation to blow one’s top” (Letters 22). But later that December (no exact date) Libbie reported to the Williamses more optimistically from Florida that Burke was finishing up his Symbolic and she was typing it (East, Humane Particulars 229).

Burke continued revising, adding 42 more pages of new material—expanding the section on “Catharsis (Civic Aspect)” by 27 pages; moving the next section on “Ostracism as ‘Cathartic’” from the PDC section “Beyond Catharsis” and adding 3 pages more; then expanding the following section on “Pity, Fear, Pride” by 12 pages and renaming it “Tragic Triad of Motives.” At the end of that section, in the subsection entitled “Catharsis and Transcendence” Burke writes of taking a “first look at transcendence” (SM ms.169), implying a further one—perhaps in a revised “Platonic Transcendence” near the end.

Thanks to Burke’s revisions, the first 74 pages in the PDC developed into 222 pages in the SM, ending with “A Break-Through,” a subsection advising the squeamish to skip over “Part Two” (obviously the revised “Thinking of the Body,” pages 223-269 of the SM) (SM ms. 220, 222) to “Part Three,” which would include discussion of “the allusiveness of tragedy” (i.e., “Beyond Catharsis”) and “consideration of tragedy in its grander aspects” (probably “The Orestes Trilogy”) (ibid.).

Meanwhile he was writing Cowley in April 1962—“the godam Poetics” was “NOT finished.” And seventeen months later in September ‘63—he would “pitch into finishing the Poetics” when done with his new “book of verse.” Then in May ‘64—his “only sorrow” was not getting “the godam Poetics wholly disentangled” before he had to head to the University of California at Santa Barbara. Finally in February ‘65—the University of California Press had come calling (Williams, UC 18).

But the period of 1962-65 was immensely productive—assuming articles from then would have appeared in the next years of 1963-66 when Burke published eighteen related to the larger Symbolic and Ethics volumes (with each volume perhaps having two books)43. The first essay of this period was “Thinking of the Body” and the last “I, Eye, Ay—Concerning Emerson’s Early Essay on ‘Nature’ and the Machinery of Transcendence.”

Williams infers from his analysis of the former that the 1958 PDC version was substantially the same as the “monster” chapter that “wrote itself” in spring 1951 (UC 24). Subsequently parts of “The Thinking of the Body” appeared in “On Catharsis, or Resolution” published in 1959. The 1963 Psychoanalytic Review version was substantially different from the PDC according to Williams (UC 27)—though for our purposes knowing that there are differences is more important than detailing what they are. The ’63 version was probably a revision on the way to the SM version which was plausibly completed before Language as Symbolic Action. Burke appears never to have been completely satisfied with the essay. Obviously he continued working on it. Burke may have published the 1963 second version in LSA with the thought of leaving himself the later third version to publish in the Symbolic.

The correspondence tells us that Burke was working on the Emerson essay in 1955 and considered it a “big item” in the Symbolic (Williams, UC 13). Thereafter it drops from sight except for Burke’s writing in reply to Rueckert’s first letter that he “hoped to make clearer the relation btw. dramatic catharsis and Platonic (dialectic)/transcendence”—a significant comment indicating one of the differences between the PDC and the SM. The essay can be linked thematically (via the “beyond” thematic) to essays on Barnes (LSA 244, 253), Forster (ibid. 227) and Coriolanus (ibid. 89)—all three of which were published in the spring, summer, and fall of 1966—and the sections “Beyond Catharsis” and “Platonic Transcendence.” Supposing that their 1966 publication means they were sent out for review approximately a year before they finally appeared—meaning spring, summer, and fall 1965—we should not be surprised to find Burke’s delivering a paper on “Rhetoric and Poetics” at a Symposium on the History and Significance of Rhetoric in May 1965 (ibid. x) echoing the same theme (ibid. 298-99). Similar themes (on transcendence) appear in “Thinking of the Body” (ibid. 342).

Burke had probably been working on the essays in 1964, since in 1965 he was editing LSA, but he wrote Rueckert on August 2, 1965, “The books of essays must now be finished for the press. (I don’t intend to revise them, but I do have a notion of adding comments designed to point up the continuity among them. If I can finish this job in the next few weeks, I could then settle on the Poetics. . . .)” (Letters 77).

In “Rhetoric and Poetics” Burke examines Aristotle’s classic formula (“through pity and fear effecting the catharsis of such emotions”); he notes that perainousa, the word translated as “effecting,” shares its etymological root with peran, meaning “opposite shore” (LSA 298). The same etymological theme is found in the section “Beyond Catharsis” from the PDC (see UC 58). There is a footnote to the same effect on the opening page of “Form and Persecution in the Oresteia” (LSA 125) pointing to the end of the Emerson essay (ibid. 200) in which he paints an image of longing for a farther shore from Virgil’s Aeneid that draws together the beyonding of catharsis peculiar to drama and the transcendence of a quashed catharsis (SM ms. 170) peculiar to dialectic.

We can surmise that prior to being tempted away to another book by the University of California Press (probably with a promise of publishing more given that an edition of Towards a Better Life soon followed) Burke had completed and Libbie had typed the SM manuscript through 269 pages. Internal evidence suggests that what remained of the SM would have looked much like the material following “Thinking of the Body” in the PDC (see Appendices 3 & 4); given Burke’s comment to Rueckert in his 1959 letter, it would probably have ended with something like the Emerson essay—a manuscript approaching 500 pages.

We know Burke believed there was enough material (either unpublished, uncollected, or published but revised) to constitute a Symbolic to which he could turn immediately following Language as Symbolic Action. Undoubtedly, he had preserved his publication options. Burke does write Rueckert on February 4, 1978 that “much that is in LSA belongs in the Sinballix” (Letters 245). But what part of the Symbolic? Burke may have only sacrificed the option of a book-length appendix.

Burke had in fact clearly held back five key essays when assembling LSA—“The Poetic Motive,” the two great essays on catharsis, “Beyond Catharsis,” and “Platonic Transcendence.” A completed manuscript might have included:

  • “The Poetic Motive” which had been published but not collected.
  • “Imitation” and “On Catharsis” which had been published but not collected both from the part of the PDC that was heavily revised and expanded in the SM.
  • “Thinking of the Body” whose second version had been published and collected, but whose third version remained unpublished.
  • “Form” which had been partially published and collected. “The Orestes Trilogy,” which had been both published and collected, for which further abridgement and/or revision may have been planned.
  • “Beyond Catharsis” which was unpublished.
  • “Catharsis (Universal Aspect)” which had been published but not collected for which some revision may have been planned.
  • “Platonic Transcendence” which was unpublished.
  • “I, Eye, Ay—Concerning Emerson’s Early Essay on ‘Nature’ and the Machinery of Transcendence” for which some revision may have been planned for the sake of continuity.

On September 25, 1969 Burke indicated to Cowley that finishing the Symbolic would be largely a job of “editing and typing” (Williams, UC 19). On January 28, 1982 Burke wrote Rueckert, “I think the Symbolic has all been published, and merely needs a few editorial connectives” (Letters 288). We should take him at his word.

Finally, based on internal evidence and external analogies, I believe the Symbolic was to end with Burke’s discussion of Emerson in which he sought to reconcile the “quashed catharsis” (or “catharsis by fiat” or “implicit transcendence”—SM ms. 170) peculiar to dialectic with the more traditional catharsis of drama by viewing both in terms of the priestly function of “pontificating”—i.e., interpreting a temporal or natural event in terms of an ultimate eternal or supernatural ground, building a bridge from the here and now to a realm Beyond (see “The Seven Offices” from 1958 in Attitudes Toward History 364-65).44

Both dialectic and drama “involve formal development,” says Burke, therefore both give us “kinds of transformation,” operating in terms of a “beyond” in dialectic and “victimage” in drama. But Burke goes on to observe that in dialectic there are traces of victimage, and in drama the cathartic “resolution ‘goes beyond’ the motivational tangle exploited for poetic enjoyment.” He even proposes translating Aristotle’s famous formula, “through pity and fear beyonding the catharsis of such emotions,” noting that the word normally translated “effecting” or “producing” (perainousa) is etymologically from the same root as peran meaning “opposite shore” (LSA 298-99, UC 58).

Burke imagistically merges dialectic and drama by reference to the sixth book of Virgil’s Aeneid where the shades are said to have “stretched forth their hands through love of the opposite shore.” He proceeds to a final passage that recalls the eloquent end of his Rhetoric:

Whether there is or is not an ultimate shore towards which we, the unburied, would cross, transcendence involves dialectical processes whereby something HERE is interpreted in terms of something THERE, something beyond itself. . . .
The machinery of language is so made that, either rightly or wrongly, either grandly or in fragments, we stretch forth our hands through love of the farther shore. . . . The machinery of language is so made that things are necessarily placed in terms of a range broader than the terms for those things themselves. And thereby, in even the toughest or tiniest of terminologies, terminologies that, on their face, are far from the starry-eyed Transcendentalism of Emerson's essay, we stretch forth our hands through love of a farther shore; that is to say, we consider things in terms of a broader scope than the terms for those particular things themselves. And I submit that, wherever there are traces of that process, there are the makings of Transcendence. (LSA 200)45

This great image of transcendence for Burke is of longing for death. If that farther shore so longed for is the world of the dead, the shore on which (we and) those wretched men stand is the world of the living. The image of that wailing throng is an image of man expelled from Eden. If the world after the Fall is like that shore where men stand pleading, life prior to the Fall would be like the life those men had known. They stand stranded between an old life and the new life that would be theirs if they could truly die. In choosing the image he does, Burke suggests that for us life is suffered, that death is longed for; that life is a prison, that death is our release. And what we long for is Life.

Continue to Part 2: Situating the Symbolic--Beyond Catharsis

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The Gordian Not: Untangling the Motivorum (2)

Richard H. Thames, Duquesne University

A continuation of Part 1: Seeking the Symbolic.


Beyond Catharsis

Underlying Burke’s system is an ahistorical, mystical ontology that ultimately leads to a depreciation of historical, political acts.46 Ultimately bodies that learn language are never truly exhorted to act. Burke’s representative anecdote is drama, involving symbolic action for itself alone; having no purpose outside itself, it would therefore be non-rhetorical and purposeless. But having no purpose outside itself does not mean having no effect on the world where disinclinations to action may have as much consequence as inclinations.

1) Burke’s Quietism

At the conclusion of the Grammar Burke advocates adopting an attitude of Neo-Stoic resignation (442-43). Like many intellectuals, he was skeptical of action, though his tendencies may have been liberal. He was understandably coy, then, about his bastard son “attitude.” Attitude may never have become a full-fledged term, because Burke suspected he would ultimately be analyzed more under its aspect rather than that of action. Action, for example, hardly characterizes his literary output (see Stanley Romaine Hopper’s comments below)—his novel is epistolary, his drama Platonic dialogue, his poetry predominately lyric (A Book of Moments).

If Burke does not end with attitude, he ends with contemplation, which, in medieval terminologies of motivation, was viewed as an act (GM 142)—as in the final lines of the Rhetoric where rhetoric is transcended (in a vision of “the beloved cynosure and sinecure, the end of all desire”) or the presumed final lines of the Symbolic where he would “stretch forth his hands through love of the farther shore.”47

Augustine tells us in the opening lines of his Confessions, “God has made us for Himself and our hearts remain restless until they rest in Him.” Theologian Paul Tillich48 translates for the modern world: God is the end of all our striving, that with which we are ultimately concerned. Our actions may be misdirected toward other ends (wealth, power, glory—other “gods”), but no substitute can fully satisfy (a position reminiscent of Burke’s pure persuasion—see previous discussion and discussion below). For Augustine and Tillich the theistic motive (though it may not be recognized as such) inspirits all aspects of our lives, so no account of human motivation is complete without it.

In Burke the theistic motive is secularized as hierarchic. The end of all striving becomes not God but a principle (such as money) that infuses all levels of a particular hierarchy and functions as God. Sheerly worldly powers take on the attributes of secular divinity and demand our worship. But for Burke, the hierarchic motive is itself ultimately linguistic, and the linguistic motive ultimately natural—meaning the natural world would encompass more than the merely material (i.e., Nature “as itself containing the principle of speech,” or NATURE—RM 180). The end of all linguistic striving then would be that NATURE which gives birth not simply to our bodies but also to language and our minds. Thus the theism of Augustine and Tillich is transformed into the naturalism of Burke. NATURE makes us symbol-using animals and our hearts remain restless until our symbols (through dialectic or drama) bring us to rest in IT. By language, through language, beyond language. We stretch forth our hands. . . .

Obviously, the larger claim here is that Burke is a mystic (see below). But there are many types of mysticism. The mystic need not dwell in attitude and inaction. The Quaker mystic, Rufus Jones, led a life of extensive political involvement. Many mystics have led similarly active lives, deeply committed to the addressing the world’s problems. Their mysticism energized them. But the type of mysticism advanced by Burke is different. His mysticism is intellectual and quietistic. Ultimately Burke would dwell with Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Spinoza, Santayana, and many more in active contemplation, though the modern as opposed to the medieval world would more likely consider it inactive instead. Burke’s true inaction, however, must be seen in relationship to his “Marxoid” trust in passion.

2) Burke’s Marxoidism

Burke was not particularly drawn to political action. As noted before, his tendencies may have been liberal, even radical (like many of his friends’), but he had no faith that political action would solve the world’s problems, for most of the world’s problems were endemic to language. There could be no rhetorical solution (socio-political action) to an ontological problem (our division from one another and from Nature due to language).49 Rhetoric might compensate for division (RM 22), but it could never cure. The cure is the homeopathic medicine of catharsis or transcendence prescribed in the Symbolic.

If there were something to turn to in lieu of such medicine, Burke would turn to passion, not action—the recalcitrance of Nature and the body as corrective to the waywardness of language’s entelechial generation of socio-political, economic systems. Such passion would constitute a Marxoid materialistic corrective to the idealistic world. Note Marxoid, not Marxist.

In the Grammar Burke argues that, so far as dramatistic terminology is concerned, Marxist philosophy begins by grounding agent(idealism) in scene (materialism) but requires a systematic featuring of act given its poignant concern for ethics; in other words, Marx, an “idealistic materialist,” should be grammatically classified with Aristotle and Spinoza as a “realist” (or “naturalist”)—like Burke. Consequently, Burke offers “a tentative restatement of Marxist doctrine formed about the act of class struggle”—what he calls a “somewhat Spinozist” characterization consistent with Soviet philosophical thought during the ‘20s and ‘30s but also with Burke’s own philosophical stance (GM 200-01, 209-13).

There may be significant similarities between dramatism and Marxism, but Burke is heterodox. He accepts the idealistic-materialistic dialectic as descriptive of the dynamic underlying social change, but not the Marxist eschatology. Sub specie aeternitatis all revolutions are for Burke essentially the same, ultimately leading to but another revolution, one system of inequality being replaced by another that perhaps may be for a moment more adequate to the demands of a particular time and place, but only for a moment until the entelechia of the system’s genius is pursued.

Burke features action but never revolution. As revolution nears, rhetoric becomes increasingly apocalyptic, evincing an attitude that Burke abhors. Where the revolutionary fervently seeks victimage (“off with his head”), Burke calmly seeks transformation. If he would be moved to act, he would act with reluctance, with the sad sense that action was a necessity—but such an attitude would change the act’s quality. Where others would want blood, Burke would be bloodless, but resigned.

Burke would balance action and inaction in a manner consistent with Richard Whately, but even more so (surprisingly enough) with Thomas Kuhn given the significance of recalcitrance. In Whately the impulse for change is checked by privilege accorded the status quo (given the Platonic suspicion that change leads to turmoil and chaos). Argument for action must overcome presumption for inaction. Advocates of change bear the burden of proof.

In science, the same rules of presumption apply. Kuhn contends the reigning paradigm is privileged. But the recalcitrance of Nature produces anomalies that resist paradigmatic explanation, eventually leading to crisis, revolution, and the reign of a new paradigm. Ideally, change would be brought about by rhetoric, not violence—not such as physicists bombing cyclotrons.

Burke’s interpretation of such change is also Marxoid; like Kuhn, he assumes no direction toward an ultimate end, rather an endless repetition of cycles. Kuhn (and perhaps Burke) would measure progress as distance from rather than movement toward. But Burke, given his critique of modern science and technology, was reluctant to characterize any changes in the modern world as progressive. In fact he would have seen increasing concern for ecology as an instance of Nature’s recalcitrance, a materialistic resistance to the idealistic waywardness of modern science and technology. 50

Burke replaced the idea of progress (“and its bitter corollary, decadence”) with that of an ahistoric norm—the notion that the aims and genius of bodies that learn language have remained fundamentally the same; that language may tempt us to stray far from our biological sources, but our bodies repeatedly struggle “to restore, under new particularities, the same basic patterns of the good life”; that historic orientations change, but “the essentials of purpose and gratification” do not, for they are grounded in neurological structures that remain the same (PC 159, 162-63, 271).

Recalcitrance gives rise to more adequate ideas—“the suffered is the learned”—helping us to free ourselves from the consequence of linguistic confusion (DD 31-32; GM 38-41). Recalcitrance then should give rise not to trivial but necessitous change.

3) Burke’s Conservatism

Burke’s ahistoric, even apolitical attitudes—his quietistic resignation, his trust in recalcitrance—cannot themselves evade the historically situated world. Action may remain suspect, but both action and inaction have socio-political consequence.

Drama may involve linguistic action for itself alone. So on the one hand, universal catharsis effected by drama would be ontological, healing for a moment the breach between verbal and nonverbal—by language, through language, beyond language. But on the other, civic catharsis would be partisan and political—i.e., conservative.

Drama in and of itself might be homeopathic and medicinal, exploiting tensions in the body politic for dramatic purposes, heightening the emotion, then effecting purgation as a “cure.” Outside the drama, the world re-entered remains the same. Drama helps us cope with things as they are; it constitutes a ceremonial rhetoric that aids in managing and maintaining the status quo. Drama’s “purposes” are purely internal to itself (linguistic action for itself alone), but it does have external—conservative —consequence. 51

Rueckert reminds us (Drama 128) that Burke’s representative anecdote is not merely drama but ritual drama—i.e., purgative-redemptive. Playwright Bertolt Brecht argues not all drama is such. He advocates a non-Aristotelian, anti-cathartic drama whose central term is not identification (by means of which the audience enters empathetically into the drama), but alienation (by means of which empathy is held in check for the sake of intellectual deliberation rather than emotional purgation).

As a Marxist, Brecht would consider his drama didactic; the less ideologically inclined would consider it rhetorical. In Ciceronian terms, Brecht would teach us (because knowing the truth leads to acting upon it); others would move us to action. Didactic or rhetorical, the socio-political intent of anti-cathartic drama would be to stimulate thought and action; whereas cathartic drama would stir emotion, then rest in resignation (emotions that are the impetus for action, emotions that further change having undergone purgation). 52

Anti-cathartic Brechtian drama would be activist; cathartic Burkeian drama would not. If the representative anecdote for a system of thought were conservative, the system would be too. Had Burke chosen Brechtian rather than Aristotelian drama as his representative anecdote, the resulting system would not be recognizably Burkeian.

Ironically Burke himself has advocated the adoption of Brechtian technique—specifically, the method of perspective by incongruity as a means for encouraging re-orientation. Like alienation, incongruity at first disorients, then puzzles and intrigues, then hopefully stimulates thought which may eventually lead to change. Re-orientation might seem to be no more than change in attitude, but attitudes after all are incipient acts.

If there is any early Burke that late Burke left behind, it would be a true appreciation for the immense rhetorical power of this device. Permanence and Change is one long perspective by incongruity; and meta-biology a perspective by incongruity that forces a re-orientation of thought about meta-physics along more Aristotelian (and Burkeian) lines.

Had Burke pursued this device further, we might have come to know a different Burke, one more open to rhetoric. But the direction had already been chosen with the mystic inclinations in Permanence and Change itself, if not the cathartic form in Counter-Statement. 53

4) Burke’s Anti-Rhetoricism

The virtues of rhetoric are two, according to Thomas Conley in Rhetoric in the European Tradition: rhetoric is 1) a system for managing uncertainty and 2) a method for avoiding violence. For Conley, the need for rhetoric arises out of uncertainty. For Burke, however, the need for rhetoric arises out of mystic and linguistic absolutes—division and a desire for merger (see GM402-04). Rhetoric is the exploitation of uncertainty, and its very essence is war.

Burke would consider the phrase the “virtues of rhetoric” oxymoronic rather than descriptive of his position. Burke’s characterization of rhetoric is less recognizably Isocratic, Aristotelian, or Ciceronian than Platonic especially when his medicine for the rhetoric that ails us is drama or Platonic dialectic. Rhetoric for him “is par excellence the region of the Scramble, of insult and injury, bickering, squabbling, malice and the lie, cloaked malice and the subsidized lie” (RM 19). His study of rhetoric leads us through “the state of Babel after the Fall,” through “the Wrangle of the Market Place, the flurries and the flare-ups of the Human Barnyard, the Give and Take, the wavering line of pressure and counterpressure, the Logomachy, the onus of ownership, the War of Nerves, the War" (RM 23).

Burke concedes that rhetoric may have “its peaceful moments: at times its endless competition can add up to the transcending of itself. In ways of its own, it can move from the factional to the universal.” But, but, but, but, but, he continues (like a rational egoist conceding altruism does exist—as disguised egoism ), “its ideal culminations are more often beset by strife as the condition of their organized expression, or material embodiment. Their very universality becomes transformed into a partisan weapon. For one need not scrutinize the concept of ‘identification’ very sharply to see, implied in it at every turn, its ironic counterpart: division” (ibid.)

The cluster analysis associated the terms act with the Symbolic and purpose with the Rhetoric. Understanding why Burke would characterize rhetoric the way he does requires going roundabout through a discussion of pure action before returning to a strangely purposeful purposelessness of pure persuasion—i.e., the essence of rhetoric.

In dramatism the central term is act, the other four terms being derived from it. For Burke, “a fully-rounded vocabulary of motives will locate motives under all five aspects” of the pentad. But in doing so there would be a tendency “to slight the term, act, in the very featuring of it.” What then would be an act whose motive was the act itself? What would be pure action?

Burke turns to a long and complex analysis of the Act of Creation. His analysis indicates pure action would be magical, arbitrary, new. If the scene is there already, and the nature of the agent given, along with the instrumental conditions and the purposes, then novelty could be found only “if there were likewise a locus of motivation within the act itself,” a newness not already present in the other elements (GM 65). In brief, says Burke, there must be “some respect in which the act is causa sui, a motive of itself” (ibid. 66).

Considering a protracted act, such as writing a long book (poetic action for Coleridge being the “dim analogue of Creation”), the act of writing would bring up “problems and discoveries intrinsic to the act, leading to developments that derive not from the scene, or agent, or agency, or extrinsic purposes, but purely from the foregoing aspects of the act itself.” That is, he continues, there would be “nothing present in the agent or his situation that could have led to the final stages of this act, except the prior stages of the act itself, and the logic which gradually takes form as the result of the enactment” (GM 67).

Burke characterizes as “poetic” the use of language for its own sake. Bodies that use language take an intrinsic delight in the “architectonic” or “developmental” exercise of language, the

engrossment in tracking down the implications of a symbol-system (as when a geometry, for instance, is reduced to a set of definitions, axioms, and postulates, and then various propositions are demonstrated to be deducible from these principles—or when looking closely at one term, we discover a whole cluster of ideas implicit in it and disclosable by methodical analysis of it). The most sustained gratification of symbol-systems is in such contemplation of the inter-relationships prevailing among the terms of the system. (“Poetic Motive” 60)

Bodies that use language take delight in the sheer exercise of their being, in doing that which distinguishes them from all other animals, in using language purely for the sake of using language, of acting purely for the sake of acting alone (Rueckert,“Language of Poetry” Essays 38).

It is by language that we are tempted into articulation and Fall into division out of a desire to give full expression to all the possibilities of language; and it is through giving full expression to language, in following it thoroughly and completely through all its possibilities, that we are carried beyond language and division to a transcendent realm of merger. There is Crocean catharsis in getting it going and Aristotelian catharsis in getting it done.

The catharsis effected through dialectic or drama (an act) has a universal aspect through which ontological divisions are cured; and a partisan aspect through which historical divisions are but momentarily overcome, in that the drama or dialectic must be situated in a particular time and place (scene) with personal and socio-political consequence (i.e., outside the short run nothing really changes). Burke was to have investigated the personal dimension in the Ethics (associated with agent) and the socio-political in the Symbolic—though it would more properly belong to the Rhetoric (associated with purpose and agency). The author and the audience by means of their identification with dramatic or dialectical terms are purged of divisive tensions and thus enabled to cope for a moment with their personal and their public lives within an ongoing status quo.

Identification is more normally associated with writers and readers (or spectators) of a literary text (or performance). Burke appropriates this poetic or dramatic term for rhetoric through the analysis of literary texts—Milton’s Samson Agonistes and Arnold’s “Empedocles on Etna” and “Sohrab and Rustum” (though ironically, such identifications would come to be more properly investigated in the Ethics once it had split from the Symbolic). It is through identification that a person enters the text or performance and is carried to catharsis.

To the extent that ontological divisions are overcome by means of catharsis in its universal aspect, the poetic identifications (actually the consubstantiality—see below) that make(s) it possible to enter the text or performance would be considered benign. But to the extent that historical divisions (be they personal or socio-political in nature) are never truly overcome by means of catharsis in its more partisan aspect, those rhetorical identifications that make it possible to enter the text or performance would ultimately be considered malign.

In brief, the Symbolic would investigate identifications (consubstantiality) that make(s) for the end of division in transcendent merger; whereas the Rhetoric would investigate problematic identifications or misidentifications that make for perpetual division (see Trevor Melia’s 1970 review of the Rhetoric in Philosophy and Rhetoric).

The key term in the Grammar was substance. “The nearest equivalent in the areas of persuasion and dissuasion,” Burke tells us, would be identification. Clearly the two terms are not synonymous. A’s being identified with B is not the same as A’s being consubstantial with B, but A's being “consubstantial” instead—i.e., Burke has set the term off in quotation marks, implying identification is merely like consubstantiality (RM 21). Operations described in the Symbolic succeed because they are based on consubstantiality—all bodies that learn language are substantially the same; whereas operations described in the Rhetoric are problematic because they are based merely on identification—bodies that share interests merely identify. Rhetoric thrives on the confusion.

Burke tells us that “identification is affirmed with earnestness precisely because there is division” (RM 24). There would be no strife in pure identification and none in absolute division. “But put identification and division ambiguously together, so that you cannot know for certain just where one ends and the other begins, and you have the characteristic invitation to rhetoric” (ibid. 25). Of course, putting them together is easier when rhetoric operates in the covert, unconscious, half-intentional realm of Burkeian identification rather than the overt, conscious, fully intentional realm of Aristotelian persuasion.

In that realm of the confused and not fully articulate, Burke invites us “to collaborate in spying [emphasis mine] upon ourselves with pious yet sportive fearfulness, and thus helping to free one another from the false ambitions that symbolism so readily encourages” (“Poetic Motive” 63).

Poetic action for itself alone brings Peace; rhetorical action brings War. War is “the ultimate disease of cooperation” (RM 22), 54 the ultimate instance of “putting identification and division ambiguously together.” War is the ultimate disease of malign (or malignant) identification; the ultimate instance of “ideal culminations” beset by “strife as the condition of their organized expression or material embodiment,” of ideal culminations whose “very universality becomes transformed into a partisan weapon” (ibid. 19). War for Burke is a special case of peace—“not as a primary motive in itself, not as essentially real, but purely as a derivative condition, a perversion” (ibid. 20)—much like evil for Augustine.

War is the ultimate instance of pure persuasion in contrast with pure action. If persuasion were a means to an end, then pure persuasion (i.e., persuasion for persuasion’s sake) would constitute a perpetual means to no end, because pure persuasion could never come to its end. So, if what we ultimately seek is the end of all division (i.e., merger or union), then in war the unity we seek could never be attained except as diseased union and never maintained except by means of perpetual division. True unity could never be achieved by opposition, because there would always be a need for an enemy to oppose, an enemy in opposition to which we would stand united. Merger or union would be due to division. What we would achieve then would be false. Pure persuasion would be perverse in that it would be seeking never to achieve that which it would be ever seeking to achieve. 55

In the Grammar Burke claims the philosophical stance corresponding with the featuring of purpose (or end) would be mysticism (128). Insofar as agency (or means) may be treated as a reduction of purpose (much as motion is treated as a reduction of action) (310), the stance corresponding with such featuring of agency would be a reduction of mysticism, a false mysticism, an ersatzmytiken which would goad men as if by demons.

For when means become ends, and are sought to the exclusion of all else, then the man [sic] for whom they are thus transformed does indeed identify himself with a universal purpose, an over-all unitary design, quite as with mystic communion. He has a god, and he can lose himself in its godhead. He is engrossed, enrapt, entranced. And the test of such substitute mysticisms, we have said, is the transforming of means into ends.56

There are mysticisms of sex, money, drugs, crime, and “other such goadings that transform some instrumentality of living into a demonic purpose. Thus, too, there is the mysticism of war” (RM 331-32).

The ersatzmystiken of war is the ultimate instance of pure persuasion and therefore the essence of rhetoric.

There may be objections that there are forms of pure persuasion less ominous than those demonically goading us. (After all, Augustine only took a couple of apples.) There would be coquettery. But all forms of pure persuasion are essentially the same—the means to an end becomes an end in itself (flirting just to flirt). Supposedly innocent coquettishness could lead to misunderstanding and more trouble than enough. Such would be the tendency of all pure persuasions.

Flirtations do have their purposes, leading perhaps to love; and when love by flirtation is attained, flirtation does transcend itself. Rhetoric in its ideal culminations would be love. The end of rhetoric would be peace, rest, love—and at the same time the end or cessation of rhetoric, when rhetoric would transcend itself. And we stretch forth our hands through love. . . . 57

There is love in Aristotle, whose God is “the motionless prime mover that moves all else not by being itself moved, but by being loved” (GM 254); love in Augustine, whose “God has made us for Himself" so "our hearts remain restless until they rest in Him”; and love in the variation in Burke, whose NATURE has made us language-using animals, so that our hearts remain restless until language brings us to rest in IT. There is love in Plato in the Phaedrus and love in Spinoza, whose crowning motive was “the intellectual love of God” (ibid. 151). And so, in a vision of “the beloved cynosure and sinecure, the end of all desire” the Rhetoric (333) and rhetoric ends transcendently.

5) Burke’s Mysticism

Over the decades critical response to Burke has varied from appreciative to adverse. Hostile critics have chastised him for being radical or revolutionary on the one hand and conservative or anti-revolutionary on the other. Rueckert explains these hostile charges from a chronological, developmental perspective—the perspective that forms the basis for both his own study of Burke and his edition of others’ critical evaluations. Burke, he says, was “always essentially radical, revolutionary, open: he was the great acceptor and synthesizer . . . who was committed to change (change or perish, he once said) without the loss of what was permanent and valuable.” Around the mid-1950’s, however, the dramatistic vision finally set and “the radical drive that produced it began turning conservative to defend its own. . . . The truth had been revealed; the energies were now expended on applications and defense” (Critical Responses 244).58

But this chronological explanation for the contradictory antagonisms Burke provokes in his critics is not wholly adequate, not even for Rueckert. He suggests another reason that goes more to the heart of the matter. Burke’s “language-centered view of reality” prompts two kinds of opposition. The extraordinary emphasis “on purely verbal analysis and on the study of verbal system building as an end in itself” that goes with a language-centered view of reality “tends to encourage a curious kind of stoical withdrawal into an ironic contemplation of human affairs” (Critical Responses 255). Thus, Burke is opposed as a conservative whose thought encourages maintenance of the status quo.

At the same time “this language-centered view of reality always tends toward the mixing, the pluralism, the breaking down of the old categories” to which many critics of Burke object (Critical Responses 255). “Verbal action becomes the prime human act and the difference, in kind and value, between verbal acts tends to be forgotten in the emphasis on verbalization as such” (ibid. 122). Thus, Burke is opposed as a radical whose thinking threatens traditional systems of thought and action.

But the language-centered explanation is not adequate either given Burke’s position on the relationship between body and mind in bodies that learn language; it’s too idealistic.

If we approach Burke as a mystic, more sense can be made of his system and the harsh and contradictory reactions critics have had toward it. Howard Nemerov describes Burke as “radical,” “explosive,” a “lyric and rhapsodic philosopher whose entire effort is to make every poor part contain the glorious, impossible whole” (“Everything, Preferably All at Once,” Critical Responses 197-98). What are the Many when ever before Burke shines a vision of the One? How exasperating for those who do not share that vision, who insistently point to the need for clear distinctions, who turn pale and puffy at the slightest inclination toward ambiguity. But, besides Burke the radical, there is also Burke the conservative, the mystic. What is time when ever before Burke eternity shines? How infuriating for those who insist we can act meaningfully within history’s arena, who call us to forsake the heights of mystic attitude and inaction, who exhort us to come down and engage in righting wrongs.

Within the discipline of rhetoric, though the first critique (that Burke is radical) has been articulated more than once, the second (that Burke is conservative) has to my knowledge seldom been advanced. Those who attack Burke for failing to maintain proper distinctions between rhetoric and poetic attack with arguments amounting to the assumption that failure to maintain hard and fast distinctions is criminal in itself. But those who hail Burke as champion of a “new” rhetoric embrace his thought without themselves considering the consequence. Admonishers and admirers both seem blind to the ahistorical character of his work and its apolitical implications. They wax indignant, they wax indulgent, seldom noticing that in Burke’s system incentive to historical action is everywhere on the wane.

Rhetoric traditionally has been concerned with the public realm—i.e., with man’s place in the polis; so too with Burke. Of the “offices of the orator” borrowed from Cicero, Burke writes that the first (to teach, the scientific or indicative function) and the third (to move, the rhetorical or persuasive function) are externally oriented; but the second (to please, the poetic function) is internally oriented. Burke:

Man [sic] being the typically language-using species, there is for him an intrinsic delight in the sheer exercising of his distinctive characteristic (language, or symbol-using in general). This delight in itself is not addressed either to “reality” or to “the auditor.” It is a delight in the internal consistency of a symbolic structure as such. (Rueckert, “Language of Poetry” Essays 38)

But what if the products of an internally oriented act were externally directed, without critical unawareness of its difference from “reality” or “the auditor”?

Artists may be fully aware of writing a poem or play or novel, but they are not always fully aware of everything they are producing. They often incorporate elements in a work that are organically related to the whole but are not "consciously intended." To the extent that we are all artists (bodies that learn language engrossed in the sheer exercise of our distinctive trait), we would do the same, but not always with the awareness of "writing"—i.e., giving form to our desires or experiences. We would be ignorant or unaware in two and ultimately three regards—(1) our linguistically motivated act of giving form (writing a drama); (2) our linguistically motivated act of tracking down implications of our original action; and (3) our unconscious projection of such linguistic acts (dramas) onto human relations where real rather than stage blood is spilt upon the ground.

In his (rather strident) review of the Rhetoric in 1950, Richard Chase criticizes Burke for characterizing our interactions with the world in just such a fashion, writing that for Burke every aggressive act begins in

man’s incorrigible delight in creating symbols and becomes reflexive, in the sense that as an aggressor you are really only using your victim as a device for purging or transforming a principle or “trait” within yourself. Thus, on Mr. Burke’s own implicit assumption that the extensions of linguistic method are reality, are human events translated into a ghostly dumb show.

For Burke, he continues, the play’s the thing. “Nobody has ever taken so literally the idea that all the world’s a stage. Behind every human event there lurks man’s natural desire to perform symbolic acts” (“The Rhetoric of Rhetoric,” Critical Responses 253).

Chase attacks Burke’s Rhetoric as less a “Rhetoric” than a “metapolitics.”

One will be disappointed if one expects from Mr. Burke as rhetorician a firm and adequate idea of politics—and such an idea surely must be implied by (though not confused with) any responsible investigation of rhetoric. The book carries a very heavy charge of political implications, but the author, like so many of his admirers and so much of the modern world, is beyond politics. He has no idea of man as a social animal, no idea of the state, no idea of democratic, socialist, or even aristocratic institutions, and no idea, in any concrete form, of either the philosophy or the rhetoric of politics. He has “purified” politics and political man out of existence. (Critical Responses 252)

Chase is being a bit hard on Burke, but even Rueckert admits his essential attack holds. Commenting on Chase’s review, he writes that Chase objects to Burke’s tendency toward “purely verbal manipulation and problem solving,” because it is “essentially conservative and anti-revolutionary, because it substitutes verbal for real solutions and hence encourages the maintenance of the status quo. . . . There can be no question that this tendency does exist, powerfully, in Burke and that it supports the motto—toward the purification of war—of A Grammar of Motives” (Critical Responses 255).

I agree and at the same time disagree with Rueckert, pointing not to Burke’s language-centered view of reality but his mysticism as the culprit. His ahistorical, mystical ontology leads to his depreciation of historical, political action. His inclinations to inaction (being in fact disinclinations to possibly disruptive change) are consequentially conservative. But Burke’s Platonic suspicion of change on the one hand is balanced on the other by his Marxoid faith in the recalcitrance of Nature and the human body. Continuing action of the same kind grows increasingly problematic, encountering obstacles that eventually create pressure for change.

Burke analyzes this dialectic in Permanence and Change where he argues that historic institutions result from the externalization of non-historic, biologic patterns. These externalized patterns bring forth recalcitrances that eventually frustrate the same biologic needs satisfied at an earlier stage or other equally important biologic needs (PC 228-29, 257). Increasing recalcitrance leads to new patterns being externalized and embodied in new institutions, in turn bringing forth new by-products, new orders of recalcitrance, new patterns, and so on.

No matter Burke’s Platonic distaste, rhetoric would seem of necessity to be involved in such a process of change. And, given Burke’s critique of the modern world’s orientation, his writings would seem of necessity to be rhetorical—unless he believes that in his analysis he has arrived at Truth. In which case, his Platonic rejection of rhetoric is matched by his Platonic embrace of a dialectic that transcends rhetoric.

In the Grammar Burke describes the process by which we come to greater understanding (actually the dialectic of tragedy) in terms of poiema (a deed, doing, action, act; anything done; a poem), pathema (the opposite—a suffering, misfortune, passive condition, situation, state of mind; of the same root as our word “passive”), and mathema (the learned). An act (action) performed entails a sufferance (passion), which entails new insights (more adequate ideas), a moment of transcendence arising when the sufferer (who had originally seen things in unenlightened terms) is enabled to see in more comprehensive terms, modified by his suffering (GM 39, 41, 67, 241, 264-65).

Burke himself must have had such a moment—not just one among many in a continuing cycle of change, but a transcendent mystical moment when truth was manifest; and not the 1950s as Rueckert would have it (Critical Responses 244), but in the 1930s. He writes that during the early days of the Great Depression, there existed “a general feeling that our traditional ways were headed for a tremendous change, maybe even a permanent collapse.” At such times when “traditional ways of seeing and doing (with their accompanying verbalizations)” begin to lose their authority,” when the certainties by which we live are easily, inevitably brought into question, mysticism flourishes. The mystic seeks certainties sounder than those provided by the flux of history; he seeks “the ultimate motive behind human acts”—i.e., “an ultimate situation common to all men”—by “seeing around the corner of our accepted verbalizations” ( PC 221-23). Burke responded to those difficult times by writing a book—Permanence and Change—in search of the ultimate motive behind our acts, the ultimate situation common to all men.

Ultimately what all bodies genetically endowed with the ability to learn language have in common is the capacity for “action” (which assumes motion); ultimately the motive they have in common is action for the sake of action, the desire to give complete and thorough expression to the implications of language, no matter the consequence, following language itself to its ultimate ends—a motive Burke calls “poetic” or “linguistic” and a process he calls “dialectic.” Thereafter, all his endeavors are shaped by a desire to be one with that universal motive. The end of every action is contemplation of and conformity with the absolute, transcendent ground toward which language stretches. Burke sets out to write the vast piece of poetry, to unravel the vast dialectic that becomes his system. His project, in conforming to the linguistic motive, exemplifies the only kind of action that can be valid—not action as we normally conceive of it, but action for its own sake—symbolic action, dialectic.

Burke is led to develop dramatism—a qualitative science (consistent with Aristotelian naturalism) that would enable us to develop more adequate ideas concerning the extent to which we tend “to misjudge reality as inspirited by the troublous genius of symbolism” (“Poetic Motive” 63), and thereby to free ourselves from linguistic confusion (consistent with Spinoza’s conviction that to know the causes moving us is to fall victim to them no longer).

Burke’s adequate ideas would replace rhetoric as modern science’s facts would have replaced opinion—his system having been characterized by himself as a type of realism after all. In Dramatism and Development Burke tells of an ailing Eskimo tribe diagnosed as suffering from mercury poisoning. The diagnosis, he says, “was like an ‘adequate idea’ that freed them from this particular biological bondage” (DD 31). But where the semanticist’s notion of adequacy is empirical (a naming adequate to the named), Burke’s (like Spinoza’s) would be ethical (GM 148). Dramatism, says Burke, locates the ground of freedom not in the realm of physics and biology but in the realm of symbolic action (according to Spinoza, the realm of “adequate ideas” about the nature of necessity) (DD 30-32).

Having come to an adequate understanding of language and the unacknowledged extent to which linguistic motives complicate our lives, Burke would have dramatism train us “for generation after generation, from our first emergence out of infancy, and in ways ranging from the simplest to the most complex, depending upon our stage of development, to collaborate in spying upon ourselves with pious yet sportive fearfulness,” and thereby “free one another from the false ambitions that symbolism so readily encourages” (“Poetic Motive” 63).

Spinoza, says Burke, tells us that “our desires are beset by confused and inadequate ideas” because “the human essence is limited,” our being “necessarily but parts of the total divine Substance.” To that extent “the desires that characterize our nature fall on the side of the passions. But insofar as we do acquire adequate ideas, our endeavor can lead to action, power, virtue, perfection, the rational way of life” (GM 148-49).

Burke’s adequate ideas would replace rhetoric as Plato’s truths would have. 59 If Chase would criticize Burke for translating them into a “ghostly dumb show,” he would no doubt criticize Plato for translating human events into a “shadow play.” Like Plato, Burke would have us “see the light” and thereby escape our bondage, ceasing our ignorant participation in projected drama. But unlike Plato, he would seem to have envisioned no polity. Burke would be more Philosopher Teacher than Philosopher King. He would dedicate his life, not to persuasion, but to explication of his philosophy which, like Spinoza’s, was to be considered “an enterprise for so changing our attitude towards the world that we can be in the direction of peace rather than the direction of war” (i.e., the realm of rhetoric)—not a “mere change of heart” but a change prepared by “vigorous intellectual means” (GM 141-42). Chase again would seem more perceptive than he knows when he says, Burke is beyond politics, that he has “purified” politics and political man out of existence (Critical Responses 252).

Though the question of polity might be suspended, the question of how such an ethic would be sustained cannot. Community of necessity would be involved if Burke were to be other than a hermit—perhaps some semi-monastic arrangement such as Coleridge planned, peopled by poets and philosophers (vowing poverty, but not chastity) who would work the fields, whose meals would be symposia; a place suited to an Agro-Bohemian, where Burke could write while dwelling in the midst of music and ritual. But if community, then seemingly the inevitability of rhetoric. Failing such arrangements, perhaps a purposefully anachronistic retreat such as Andover where some daily discipline could be maintained while Burke corresponded with like-minded people and communicated his vision of truth to the world beyond. Perhaps a college where he could teach with no further institutional commitment.

In some such circumstance Burke could dedicate himself to his life-long task. Archaic man would have found sustenance immersing himself in ritual, symbolically slaying time so that all could be transformed, reinvigorated, reborn again and again and again and again, in eternal repetition (see Eliade); Burke would instead collapse ritual action into a state of mind where he could stand in eternity’s light and view the world in terms of a Beyond.

Drama’s medicine is catharsis and whether the catharsis effected is historical (civic or personal) or ontological, the cure would be problematic as well as temporary, necessitating an eternal repetition unto death; dialectic’s medicine is transcendence, in which catharsis is quashed or exists by fiat (SM ms. 170). The principle of transformation operates in catharsis through victimage, in transcendence in terms of a beyond, building a bridge between disparate realms, and thereby infusing or inspiriting things here and now with a new or further dimension (LSA 189-90)—i.e., the world as sacramental with every poor part containing the glorious, impossible whole (Nemerov, Critical Responses 197-98).

Stretching forth his hands each day—engrossed in tracking down and contemplating the inter-relationships prevailing among the terms of a system (“Poetic Motive” 60), whether the system were his own or one he was examining; constantly reminded of linguistic operations, how they unfold, what they ultimately imply; aware that wherever there are traces of the process of considering things “in terms of a broader scope than the terms of those particular things themselves, there are the makings of Transcendence” (LSA 200)—stretching forth his hands each day from the land of life and language to the silent realm beyond (dialectically designated the broad estates of death)60 in “a benign contemplation of death,” a thanatopsis, Burke is led (as was Santayana, as was the pious Christian) to live “a dying life” (GM 222-23).61

For all his insight, Burke would leave drama (and the agon of the world) behind and take up dialectic (and its rest and resolution). He would have drama teach us tolerance; but drama may also tempt us into problematic actions as we project internal drama onto the external world and spill real blood upon the ground. Burke would seem anxious to resolve the differences between drama and dialectic, so that he can move on to the one, the primus inter pares, the foremost among equals (see GM 140, 149). The Grammar starts with drama but ends with dialectic (the upward way of Platonic transcendence and the downward way of its translation back into time with the story of Pier Gent; then the “Dissolution of Drama” by dramatism, the dramatic act by the lyric state; and the end in Neo-Stoic resignation); the Rhetoric ends with the transcendence of rhetoric (and its problematic drama and identifications) in a mystical vision of God; and the Symbolic would seem to end with dialectical transcendence and a vision of Beyond.

It may be that Burke was as suspicious of catharsis as was Brecht; that both forsook rhetoric, believing they spoke Truth but finding difference ways to spread the Word. Brecht’s way was artistic through didactic drama, Burke’s philosophical through dialectic. Brecht took to the stage and the craft of writing plays; Burke took to the pulpit and the priestly task of “pontificating”—i.e., interpreting a temporal or natural event in terms of an ultimate eternal or supernatural ground. Brecht was a Marxist, Burke a Marxoid mystic.

In 1952 Burke gave a talk on “Mysticism as a Solution to the Poet’s Dilemma.” The modern poet, he claimed, is faced with the difficulty of creating “an ordered and (in some sense) unified work of art within a context whose chief characteristics are disorder, lack of order, or partial orders—that is, ambiguities or strife.” Mysticism provides the means for overcoming that dilemma. Just as the oxymoron combines contradictory elements in a single expression, so mysticism combines contradictory elements by referring them to some common ground lying beyond all contradiction (“Mysticism as a Solution” 95-98).

In commenting on Burke’s talk, Stanley Romaine Hopper writes that “while this appropriation of mysticism as a means is fruitful beyond a doubt,” mysticism as an end “results always in a contemplative mode.” If an art is founded on mysticism as an end, he asks,

will its strategies not be limited to such evocative uses as will fall within the mode—to poetry of ideation rather than of action [drama], to adapt a distinction used elsewhere by Burke? But this may be a serious limitation. It may suggest that a poetry of mysticism, for all its contemplative uses, may, from the religious or the existentialist points of view, be the subtlest of all romanticisms. It may be, that is, the fundamental escape from reality as “engagement,” as meeting, as reconciliation in the dynamic context of personal relations. (Mysticism as a Solution" 104-5).

Burke certainly appears to have followed the advice he himself gives the poet. And true to Hopper’s suspicion, the resulting poetry is poetry of ideation rather than action—his novel epistolary, his drama dialectical, his poetry lyric.

Burke may have turned to mysticism as a means of making sense of a century of strife. More likely he was already mystically inclined. Mysticism, he writes, “may offer solutions of structure and strategy to the artist of a purely esthetic kind,” but “their power to sustain the artist in his interpretation of life, experience and reality, is insufficient if they are appropriated in a purely esthetic way.” The strain is evident in Yeats, says Burke, and also “though in more intricate ways, in a poet so devout as Hopkins” (“Mysticism as a Solution” 103).

Burke’s appropriation was more than purely esthetic. Still, like Santayana he draws back at times from the full implications of his doctrine. Now and then the strain appears; here and there are hints of mystic accidie: “As a person we want another person, not just a symbol for that person” (LSA 342). Then death is Death, and life is dear.

6) Burke’s Criticism

When we say rhetoric, we can mean either of two things—the practice or the study (rhetorica utens or rhetorica docens, respectively, according to Burke). Up to this point the practice of rhetoric has been our subject. The question has been, What rhetorical practices does Burke’s system encourage? The answer has been, None. Burke has discouraged action and encouraged contemplation (symbolic action) instead. As far as is possible within this life, then, we are to stop being rhetors and start being poets (or dialecticians), stop using rhetoric and start contemplating it. Indeed, we are to transcend the practice by means of the study. 62 Much as before Burke would be more Philosopher Critic rather than Philosopher King.

But contemplation as advocated by Burke raises serious hermeneutic questions. Presuppositions will surely shape any observation he makes, interpretation sans presupposition being impossible. So the question becomes, how appropriate are his presuppositions to the material under study when, before word one is written, rhetoric is eschewed and poetry embraced.

Let us take, as an example, any of the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. There can be no doubt that King was engaging in rhetoric, that he meant to induce action (and form attitude as incipient action). He urged men and women to act within history, within the polis, and he believed their actions within the here-and-now meaningful.

Burke would immediately discount the rhetorical aspect as “factional” (even though he himself might agree with King!) For him King’s rhetoric would be meaningful only insofar as it transcended (ceased to be) rhetoric. Burke would emphasize the poetic aspect as “universal.” Poetry transcends history and politics, transcends the here-and-now. The rhetorical content of King’s speeches would be of but passing importance, the poetic form of lasting consequence. Without Burke most of us would fail to appreciate King’s true significance, or fail at least to appreciate it immediately. But as their factional content faded into the past, the speeches would become transparent to their universal form. What was once rhetoric would be appreciated as poetry instead. We will see then as Burke sees now.

Surely King would have resisted any such interpretation. In fact, any person holding a philosophy proclaiming that meaningful action can be taken within the arena of history would resist an interpretation denying the meaningfulness of such action. Any Christian (such as King) would accuse Burke of totally misconstruing his basic motivations, as would a Muslim or a Jew; and for all of Marx’s profound influence on Burke, any orthodox Marxist would say the same. Muslims, Christians and Jews along with Marxists believe action within the here-and-now is valid. Does not God act in history for Muslims, Christians and Jews? Did not God send Mohammed, Moses, and the prophets? Did not God himself come down from heaven and enter into history in the person of Jesus? Did not Marx himself criticize the idea of all being made right in some transcendent realm and call instead for revolution? No true Muslim, Christian, or Jew, no true Marxist could stand idly by as Burke cut the very heart from the body of his thought.63

7) Our Familiarism

The Symbolic is central to Burke’s system. Its centrality has not been readily apparent because the two great essays on catharsis have never been collected; the collected works on catharsis have been easily dismissed as eccentricities; “Beyond Catharsis” and “Platonic Transcendence” were not published until recently; and the significance of the Emerson essay has never been established (and is hardly ever cited). The PDC has not been widely distributed; the SM hardly at all and it is but a fragment. To have the whole argument, to have before us now the PDC and the reconstructed SM, is to know catharsis is central to the system—not aesthetic catharsis, but physical catharsis, established early in “Psychology and Form,” as the fundamental philosophical problem at the heart of the system, the relationship between the dual aspects of our being as bodies genetically endowed with the ability to learn language. An idealistic reading of Burke can be no more sustained than a Platonistic reading of Aristotle.

The extent to which this emerging portrait of Burke seems strange, however, is not simply the extent to which we have been denied the Symbolic’s argument, but also the extent to which we have endeavored to make him familiar. “Beyond Catharsis” and “Platonic Transcendence” were not published until recently, but their ideas were not unknown. Beyond those two, everything else was out there, though perhaps in such a way as to make neglecting the inconvenient easy. Perhaps the extent to which we did not really know him is the extent to which we did not really try.

We suppose Burke is one of us, when he should be less familiar and more strange. He was born in the 19th century. He left for college before World War I and never finished. His mind was fully formed before the Great Depression and World War II. He was seventy, having published most of his corpus, when Baby Boomers left for college and protested Vietnam. But, because he hung on into the ‘90s and became an intellectual grandfather for so many, we thought we knew him. We did not. A re-issued edition of Rueckert’s Critical Responses would be a good start on correcting false impressions. Jack Selzer and Ann George remind us of context we have forgotten or never known.

Burke was never an academic nor any of the things most academics are today. His mysticism, his quietism, his stoicism, his conservatism, his anti-rhetoricism in no way resemble our activism, our politicism, our liberalism or even radicalism, our rampant rhetoricism. His naturalism contrasts with our idealisms (loudly denied). His great self-suspicions in no way resemble our brazen self-assurances. His mind was classic and medieval. Ours is modern and post. He was steeped in history. We typically are not. We celebrate fragmentalism. He most assuredly did not. His way was systematic and synthetic, ours more piece-meal. Despite his urban upbringing in Pittsburgh, he chose to live as a rural poverty statistic without electricity until 1951 and without indoor plumbing until the 1960s when Libbie’s illness forced him to move on from his well-water and outhouse (Rueckert, Encounters 51, 90 fn 2 and 3). We live in a thoroughly digital age.

We suppose we compliment Burke most when we recognize his true genius in his anticipation of the philosophical fashions that currently fascinate us.

When we are not assuming Burke is like us, we are assuming he is not like us in stereotypical ways, that his values run contrary to our politically correct ones—e.g., he is supposedly phallo- and Euro-centric (“a dead white male”).

Some feminists have opposed Burke because of his stance on hierarchy. Consistent with his organicism, he does consider hierarchy natural, but he develops his ideas with a sophistication his critics have never matched.64 The critique of Burke is generic—behind the revolutionaries’ demand for equality (no hierarchy) is the demand for but a different system of inequality (hierarchy), as George Orwell reminds us in Animal Farm (“All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.”). There would be an old system based on competition and a new based on cooperation—but both would constitute hierarchies.

Once at a convention, I was asked along with other participants on a panel, “What movements within the discipline would discourage greater acceptance of Burke?” I answered “feminism.” All nodded in agreement. The next time round we were asked, “What movements within the discipline would encourage greater acceptance of Burke?” I answered “feminism.” The panel erupted. But Burke’s organicism is consistent with many feminist (as opposed to merely revolutionary) and ecological concerns. (See Thames, “Nature’s Physician,” fn. 20.)

On the same panel Burke’s supposed Euro-centrism came up. There is no doubt of the great appreciation Burke has for Western thought (though his opposition to many of its modern manifestations should never be forgotten). Burke’s mysticism has deep roots in Western tradition. But mysticism has deep roots in Eastern tradition too. For example M. Sivaramkrishna finds great use for Burke in general and his Emerson essay in particular in “Epiphany and History: The Dialectic of Transcendence in A Passage to India,” one of the essays collected in Approaches to E. M. Forster: A Centenary Volume, edited by Vasant Anant Shahane and published in New Delhi in 1981.

If there was cookie-cutter Aristotle, there is cookie-cutter Burke beyond the endless pentadic analyses (which the cluster analysis indicates would not be specifically rhetorical anyway). We too easily assume Burke is one of us, appreciating and protesting what we would. But, as The Lord says in Prologue in Heaven, Burke “is more complicated than that.”

Summing Up

Burke worked on the Symbolic intensively for two years (1950-52), whereupon the trilogy began to split with work on the Negative necessitating a tetralogy. From 1952-55 Burke concentrated on the Ethics. In 1955 he returned to the Symbolic, working on it and the Ethics until 1958, when he distributed the PDC (in which he failed to include items later included in the SM), whereupon he concentrated on the Ethics again. Finishing work on the Rhetoric of Religion in 1960, Burke returned to the Symbolic immediately, revising and expanding the PDC. He worked intensively on the emerging SM until 1964, when he was approached by the University of California Press. In 1965 Burke finished work on Language as Symbolic Action (containing essays from both the Symbolic and the Ethics) and returned to the Symbolic once again (having withheld key essays from LSA). Even after Libbie’s death, Burke sought to finish editing his third volume of the Motivorum, finally giving up in 1978, declaring it had all been published, needing only editorial connections. Neither Burke nor anyone else collected the two definitive essays on catharsis; he never published “Beyond Catharsis” and “Platonic Transcendence” (though they were published in Unending Conversations in 2001)—the four essays he probably considered his Symbolic’s heart. If we were to reconstruct a completed SM, it would include the unfinished SM (269 pages); the remaining PDC (approximately another 200 pages) somewhat revised, minus “The Poetic Motive” (now the opening section of the SM), an essay neither Burke nor anyone else collected; and the Emerson essay, somewhat revised for continuity—close to 500 pages.

Had Burke ever published the complete tetralogy, systematically working out dramatism (his ontology) and logology (his epistemology), ultimately there would have in all probability been a Rhetoric, a Symbolic, and an Ethics (to go with the Grammar), each volume consisting of two books following a theory-criticism format given the mass of material he had generated. Rueckert’s Essays toward a Symbolic [and an Ethics] of Motives and Burke’s Rhetoric of Religion (missing the devices) seem more like the critical second book-length appendices of the Symbolic and the Ethics, respectively. Language as Symbolic Action seems like a combination of the theoretical first and the critical second of the Symbolic, plus the theoretical first and perhaps an item or two from the critical second of the Ethics, along with miscellaneous essays.

Why did Burke never complete the Motivorum?

I believe untangling the two volume (four book) Symbolic and Ethics was difficult in itself. Lines between a rhetorical and a poetic approach were not always clear. What might start as a poetic approach could metamorphose into an ethical one. Every approach was in some fundamental way logical as well, with dramatistic (ontological) issues overlapping logological (epistemological) ones.

I believe, as Rueckert did, that Burke became “a victim of his own genius” (Essays xv). One thing always led to another and then another whose implications he had to track down. There was always a new twist in the last phase that led him on to a new endeavor. If all of the Symbolic had been published and merely needed “a few editorial connectives” (Letters 288), why linger with time short over work that others could finish when there were more pressing items he had to address. What he did address makes perfect sense—an aging man, he wrote about his body (and bodies like his that learn language) and his God. And since both were significant aspects of his system, he wrote about them systematically.

Most of all, I believe there was Libbie and mortality. Libbie was a great champion of the Symbolic (Rueckert, Letters xiv) on which he was working from 1960-64, just before her illness manifested itself late in 1966. Burke was approaching his own three score and ten. Perhaps Language as Symbolic Action was a way of gathering it all together—just in case, for either or both of them, though he did preserve his publishing options for the Symbolic. Given the psychosomatic symptoms unique to each past project (Williams, UC 7), Libbie’s being identified with the Symbolic 65 and then her dying in 1969 may have led Burke to associate the work with his own mortality. Such morbid associations are hardly unknown among artists. 66 They figure into Burke’s own work on Keats. Burke harbored no comforting thought of going gentle into that good night nor of being with Libbie in eternity. He “out-lived them both” by twenty-four years, a quarter of his life, still writing, still talking (as well as he could)—vital to the end. When he died, he died without spilling the drink in his hand. Perhaps he felt to finish the Symbolic of all his books was to be finished after all—if he were ever truly to be done summing up, he would have done himself in. So he left without bothering to tidy his papers; he left us conversing instead, haggling about the Symbolic and Ethics and Motivorum and more.

Let us give thanks then, as Auden said, for Burke’s “personal song and language,” indeed, for the tangle he has left us, “Thanks to which it’s possible for the breathing still to break bread with the dead.”67


Thanks to David Blakesley of Purdue University and Parlor Press; Scott Vine, Reference Services Librarian at Franklin & Marshall College; Janie Harden Fritz, Ron Arnett, and Calvin Troup (and my other colleagues at Duquesne University who helped and encouraged me in this marathon endeavor) as well as my research assistant Celeste Grayson and my Burke seminar.

Thanks to Bill Rueckert whose words drew me into the endless conversation and clued me in to the goings on in the parlor.

Thanks to Clarke Rountree for his patience with this essay.

And finally, special thanks to my wife for her even greater patience with me.


1. The backbone of chronologies for the manuscripts that Williams developed depended upon his study of the only partially published Burke-Cowley correspondence at the Newberry Library in Chicago. None of the critical letters are contained in Paul Jay’s Selected Correspondence. The Burke community (and I, in particular) are indebted to him for his meticulous work.

2. “The Vegetal Radicalism of Theodore Roethke” (Winter ‘50-51), “Three Definitions” (Spring ‘51), “ Othello: An Essay to Illustrate a Method” (Summer ‘51), “Comments on Eighteen Poems by Howard Nemerov” (Winter ‘51-52), “Freedom and Authority in the Realm of the Poetic Imagination” (‘51 conference), “Form and Persecution in the Oresteia” (Summer ‘52), “A ‘Dramatistic’ View of Imitation” (Autumn ‘52), “ Ethan Brand: A Preparatory Investigation” (Winter ‘52), “Thanatopsis for Critics: A Brief Thesaurus of Deaths and Dyings” (October ’52), “Mysticism As a Solution to the Poet’s Dilemma” (‘52), “Fact, Inference, and Proof in the Analysis of Literary Criticism” (‘52 conference), “A Dramatistic View of the Origins of Language” (October & December ’52, February ‘53), and “Postscripts on the Negative” (April ’53). See James H. East, The Humane Particulars.

3. See Williams’ discussion ( UC 9-10). Also see below discussion of Rueckert’s Essays.

4. Burke indicates in his very first letter to Rueckert (August 8, 1959) that the QJS articles, the Faust essay the first section of which was “The Language of Poetry, ‘Dramatistically Considered”), and “Linguistic Approach to Problems of Education” (from editor Nelson B. Henry’s Modern Philosophies and Education) are part of the Ethics (Letters 3). The “enclosed offprint” was probably “Rhetoric—Old and New,” Journal of General Education, V (April 1951), 202-09. Education plays an important role in Aristotle’s Ethics (character involving customs or manners and upbringing).

5. Burke writes tongue in cheek to William Carlos Williams on Christmas Eve that he is “in the thick of speculation on Catharsis. It’s a gruesomely easy subject to gas about, so I’m having one devil of a job trying to condense it into solidities . . .” (East, Humane Particulars 202).

6. See Rueckert, Letters 12 (July 20, 1960): “On Words and the Word,” December 1956; the Confessions, April 30, and Genesis, May 9, 1957.

7. In June 1958, having included the Oresteia essay in the PDC, Burke indicated to Cowley that he could not decide on “the advisability of retaining the long blow-by-blow description” (Williams, UC 15), suggesting he was contemplating its inclusion in another book (as above) or its abridgement which he had already undertaken.

8. See footnote 4 above. In response to Rueckert’s question about promised but still unpublished material on Coleridge, Freud [“Thinking of the Body” essay?], and Hemingway, Burke affirms it will be included in the Symbolic. The question, of course, is where—if there are to be two books in the third volume of the tetralogy, probably the second.

9. Upon finishing the Rhetoric of Religion Burke wrote Cowley in June 1960, “Well, ennihow, it’s done—so I can plague myself in other ways, such as reverting to my Poetics, into which this Logology stuff intruded, or out of which it protruded, though in such a way that required separate treatment” (Williams, UC 14).

10. Burke wrote Cowley (Williams 17) concerning the contract on January 7, 1961. According to Williams, “at the time [Burke] signed a contract with Beacon Press for the publication of The Rhetoric of Religion, he declined their offer ‘to sign for the Poetics on the same terms,’ concerned that ‘the manuscript is not in the same degree of readiness’” (emphasis mine). But Burke had already written otherwise to Rueckert (Letters 6) on January 7, 1960: “If all goes as planned, I’ll sign another document soon for the Poetics material (though I’m being a bit coy, since other notions keep cropping up, so that I can’t be sure of getting the damned thing finished by any specified date.)” So, Burke may or may not have signed a contract. But Burke wrote to Rueckert (Letters 6) on May 24, 1963: “I got so disgruntled with Beacon for their treatment of Rhetoric of Religion, I cancelled my contract with them for the Poetics Ms.” Assuming he could not cancel a contract he had not signed, Burke appears to have had a contract, though he doesn’t report when he signed or when he terminated it.

11. Burke indicates to Rueckert that he intends to include the Poe essay (“The Principle of Composition”) in his Symbolic (Letters 32, June 18, 1962). The question, again, is where; the answer, probably the same as before—in a second book.

12. Approximately 77 ms. pages of new material plus 35 more of material originally in PDC (2 having been dropped from “Imitation (Mimesis)”), plus 5 ms. pages (gained from additional titles as well as double-spaced footnotes and block quotes) yields 117 ms. pages—close to Burke’s reported 120. Move “Poetic Motive” to the beginning of the manuscript and the total comes to approximately 133 pages. “Catharsis (Civic View)” begins on 134.

13. East misidentifies the manuscript, confusing the Symbolic with Language as Symbolic Action. See fn. 326 on p. 270.

14. 1963—“The Thinking of the Body”; “Commentary on Timon of Athen”; “Definition of Man.” 1964— “On Form”; “Shakesperean Persuasion— Antony and Cleopatra”; “Art—and the First Rough Draft of Living”; “The Unburned Bridges of Poetics, or, How Keep Poetry Pure?” 1965—Somnia ad Urinandum, More Thoughts on Action and Motion”; “ Faust II —The Ideas Behind the Imagery”; “Terministic Screens”; “Rhetoric and Poetics” (paper presented in May 1965 & published in LSA). 1966—“Version, Con-, Per-, and In (Thoughts on Djuna Barnes’ novel, Nightwood”; “Formalist Criticism: Its Principles and Limits”; “Kubla Khan: Or, A Vision in a Dream by Samuel Taylor Coleridge”; “Dramatic Form—and: Tracking Down Implications”; “Social and Cosmic Mystery: A Passage to India”; “Coriolanus—and the Delights of Faction”; “I, Eye, Ay—Emerson's Early Essay on ‘Nature’ Thoughts on the Machinery of Transcendence.”

15. Burke wrote Rueckert on November 15, 1967 (Letters 119), “the biggest reason of all for me to hate the very word ‘Pr*gr*ss.’”

16. Burke’s May 26 letter to Rueckert and his wife reads (Letters 151):

Dear B&B— Libbie is no longer with us. She got free sometime 5/25 A.M. She was so greatly pleased about the dedication of the book—and her last afternoon here, she was surrounded by the family, all of us in a good mood. I kissed her goodnight (and we said goodnight with total love, as we didn’t every night). And she went to sleep, and never woke up. And she is still so necessary to me, I’ll quasi-commune with her. There were few oldsters who were so close. K.B.

17. See above. In September 17, 1956 Burke wrote Cowley of his hopes for heading to Florida in the new year with “notes for the fourth book” (Williams, UC 13).

18. Now realized by Scott L. Newstok (ed) in Kenneth Burke on Shakespeare with Parlor Press (2007).

19. Burke mentioned the “Sinballix wolume” in a January 13, 1978 letter (Letters 241). Rueckert’s response (not included in the correspondence) provokes the list which is as it appears in Burke’s letter with items included in Rueckert’s Essays in bold and items in his On Human Nature in bold italics.

I agree with your notion that my tentative twist anent the various Sinballix items was wrong. Here’s the list, roughly to date:
Kinds of Criticism; Three Definitions; Othello; King Lear; Burke and Hopper on “Mysticism”; Thanatopsis for Critics; A ‘Dramatic’ View of Imitation; Ethan Brand; Symbol and Association; The Poetic Motive; The Carrot and the Stick (?); On Catharsis, or Resolution; Catharsis - Second View; Dramatic Form - Tracking Down Implications; Comments (?Western Speech, 68); Kermode Revisited; Poetics [sic] and Communication; On Creativity - A Partial Retraction; Towards Helhaven; Doing and Saying; Dramatism and Development (probably just the second); As I was Saying; Why Satire; Dancing With Tears in my Eyes; Towards a Total Conformity (?); Invective Against the Father (possibly Words Anent Logology?); possibly comments on my review of Steiner’s After Babel, binnuz I think that my pernt [sic] about the necessarily analogical aspect of language is basic, otherwise no expression could be applied to two situations, since no two situations are identical in detail. Hence, my theory of “entitlement” must be reaffirmed. I forget whether I ever showed you the stuffo on “(Nonsymbolic) Motion/ (Symbolic) Action (which Critical Inquiry is to publish, and of which I believe I should publish at least portions. And I incline to feel that some of the Theo-Logo stuff should be referred to, in a kind of Summing-up. . . .
Incidentally, the items I listed are not in the order of their appearance. But I’d be most grateful for any suggestions pro or con, incl. possibility that you may have quite different emphases in mind. (Incidentally, over and under and before and behind it all, keep reminded that ultimately this job is replacing archetype with entelechy, as per the second of the two Clark U. essays on Dramatism and Development.)

See also Rueckert’s Drama 291-92.

20. Perhaps what became On Human Nature

21. In 1982 at the Eastern Communication Association (ECA) Conference in Hartford, Connecticut (on a panel sponsored by then First Vice-President James Chesbro!), Jane Blankenship, Rueckert, and I presented papers to which Trevor Melia responded. The next day at the main event organized by Chesbro, Bernard Brock and Parke Burgess presented papers to which Burke responded.

I had always thought (though I may well be mistaken) that in conversation over the course of the conference the possibility of different manuscripts had been mentioned—if not there then surely in Philadelphia at 1984’s Burke Conference or the ECA Conference that immediately followed. One late night conversation at the Hartford hotel bar between Herb Simons, Melia, and me did lead to our planning the ‘84 Conference where the Kenneth Burke Society was founded.

People may not have much cared what I had to say given Rueckert’s position that the SM (the 1993 manuscript that was a near duplicate of my 1974 manuscript) was a first draft of the PDC—though why Burke would be carrying around the first draft of a 1958 manuscript in 1974 was never addressed. Most likely, they simply forgot.

22. A significant portion of my dissertation—Mystical Ontology in Kenneth Burke: Consequences for His Theory of Rhetoric—was dedicated to the Symbolic and the Ethics, Burke’s mystical ontology being central to ritual catharsis involving verbal-nonverbal relations. References were to the published articles rather than the manuscript whenever possible. The cluster analysis of Burke’s Motivorum (see below) was part of the dissertation, though the presentation was more (actually overly) systematic.

23. Burke used this phrase in a dinner conversation with me and Barbara Biesecker among others on November 5, 1987 at the SCA Convention in Boston. See Burke’s essay “In Haste” (330): “. . . our bodies being physiologically in the realm of nonsymbolic motion, but genetically endowed with the ability to learn a kind of verbal behavior I call symbolic action.” Also “(Nonsymbolic) Motion/(Symbolic) Action” (811-12): “ . . . our anthropoid ancestors underwent a momentous mutation. In their bodies (as physiological organisms in the realm of motion) there developed the ability to learn the kind of tribal idiom that is here meant by symbolic action.” And “. . . the mutation that makes speech possible is itself inherited in our nature as physical bodies.” See also Burke’s 1981 essay, “Variations on ‘Providence’” (Letters 274).

24. See John Herman Randall, Jr., Aristotle 253-55. Randall is another of the great Aristotelians to emerge from Columbia University early in the 20th century along with Richard McKeon and Burke. The temporal versus the logical relationship between the language-user and the language-using community is a problem Burke works through in “A Dramatistic View of the Origins of Language”—evolution being a problem that Aristotle never had.

25. The interviewers at All Area in 1980-81 get this matter right—they describe “Bodies That Learn Language” as a work in progress, “the final reduction of his epistemology Logology, which he distinguishes from his ontology Dramatism” (On Human Nature 341).

26. Burke also synonymizes “metaphor” and “perspective” in his “Four Master Tropes” essay (GM 503-17).

27.Master Poems of the English Language. See Rueckert, Letters 69, 73, and 80. At the time I was taking an independent study in “Poetry and Theology” from homiletics professor David Buttrick, then of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, later of Vanderbilt Divinity School.

Buttrick was a great fan of Burke. His lectures introduced me to rhetoric and the problems of catharsis in preaching. His analysis of the parables influenced the subsection below on “Burke’s Conservatism.” Buttrick contended that the parables constituted a sophisticated blend of identification (e.g., hiring more workers as the day went on with the harvest still not done) and alienation (paying all of the workers the same amount no matter how many hours they worked). A Burkeian analysis would have to be built around perspective by incongruity. See Buttrick, Speaking Parables.

28. See Frederick M. Barnard’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries on “Spinoza, Benedict (Baruch)” and “Spinozism”. See also G. L. Kline (ed.), Spinoza in Soviet Philosophy. Bernard observes that Spinoza’s conatus (the drive toward self-preservation) has been interpreted as one ancestor of Freud’s libido. He notes, “Spinoza also anticipated Freud in the view that to become aware of causes which move us is no longer to fall victim to them.” See also David Bidney, The Psychology and Ethics of Spinoza. Spinoza may seem an odd choice as a major influence on Burke. Marx and Freud are cited more often. But an interest in them could lead quite naturally to an interest in Spinoza. Finally, see Richard McKeon’s doctoral dissertation, The Philosophy of Spinoza: The Unity of His Thought.

29. See Meikle’s “History of Philosophy: The Metaphysics of Substance in Marx” in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Marx (304). See also Meikle’s Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx and Aristotle’s Economic Thought.

30. See Religion and the Rise of Capitalism 36.

31. Aristotle’s own father was physician to Phillip in the court of Macedonia—the contact that led to Aristotle’s tutoring Alexander.

32. See On Human Nature 367. Asked in the All Area interview if he were “rebounding against a kind of naïve Marxism” in Permanence and Change, Burke confessed to rebounding against Christian Science instead, saying, “There’s an awful lot about that book that was really secularizing what I learned as a Christian Scientist. All this psychogenic stuff . . . there’s no other secular book in the world where you find so much of that published at the time. I got that from Mary Baker G. Eddy, and secularized it!” See Michael Feehan, “Kenneth Burke and Mary Baker Eddy,” UC 206-24.

33. See Sterling Lamprect’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on “Woodbridge, Frederick J. E.” Woodbridge taught philosophy (1902-37) and served as dean of the faculty (1912-29) at Columbia. He founded and edited the Journal of Philosophy which he used to lure John Dewey to Columbia. His was the guiding spirit of contemporary naturalism (Joseph Blau, Men and Movements in American Philosophy 300). Herbert Schneider (Blau’s contemporary at Columbia) numbers him among the founders of American realism—the terms naturalism and realism tended to be use synonymously at the time—along with Dewey, Morris Cohen, C. S. Peirce, George Herbert Mead, C. I. Lewis, and Alfred North Whitehead (History of American Philosophy 517; see also Sources of Contemporary Philosophical Realism in America). According to Lamprecht his influence as a teacher “went deep and is clearly responsible for the revival in the United States of Aristotelian trends of thought.” He taught Burke (a course in Bergson—Seltzer, Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village 186), McKeon (who dedicated his Philosophy of Spinoza to him), Randall (who became the Woodbridge Professor of philosophy), Blau, and Herbert Hantz (Biological Motivation of Aristotle). William Shea, a student of Randall and Blau, reports that debate over Woodbridge’s ideas occurred even in the early 1970s among senior faculty at Columbia–“men who had studied under him or considered his work so much a part of the school’s traditions that they studied it carefully” (Naturalists and the Supernatural 167).

34. See J. H. Woodger, Biological Principles, cited twice by Burke—though incorrectly (as J. M. Woodger, p. 93; as M. H. Woodger, p. 232). Woodger was a leading biological theorist and the father of organismic biology. See T. A. Gouge’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on “Woodger, Joseph Henry,” and Morton O. Beckner’s entry on “Organismic Biology” as well as his Biological Way of Thought. Marjorie Grene’s Portrait of Aristotle also discusses the movement (which drew on Aristotle).

35. See On Human Nature 347: “Endocrinologists, they’d tell me anything.” From the All Area interview.

36. Inclined toward homeopathy and a Swedenborg to boot.

37. See Richard H. Thames, “Nature’s Physician: The Metabiology of Kenneth Burke,” Kenneth Burke and the 21st Century.

38. A Crocean rather than Aristotelian catharsis (LSA 188).

39. Death is a solace “when the ravages of time make men ready to leave life,” says Burke (RR 306). “It’s a solace to know that one is not condemned to have to live forever. In the implications of the irreversible flow of time there is also a promise of freedom.”

40. A tendency much discussed with Kathleen Farrell (Literary Integrity and Political Action: The Public Argument of James T. Farrell).

41. See Robert Frost, “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep,” The Poetry of Robert Frost, New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1969, p. 301.

42. In an April 22, 1958 letter to Cowley, Burke writes, “As for the various analyses of particular works or authors I have published in gazettes (pieces of a few thousand words each): I may not use them at all, but simply offer them as a separate volume” (Williams, UC 14). In a June 13, 1958 postcard to Cowley after multi-lithing the PDC Burke writes that he will, as he did with the Grammar, “probably add an appendix containing some of [his] essays already published in magazines” (Williams, UC 15).

43. See footnote 14 for the list of articles.

44. Though they share Cicero’s offices as a starting point, this essay and the “Language of Poetry” essay are quite different.

45. Note how this passage recalls the discussion of substance in the Grammar.

46. The thesis of my dissertation (endnote 20 above) and a theme of my paper at the ’82 ECA convention. Prior to the convention Melia had reminded Burke of my dissertation and told him about my paper. After responding to Brock and Burgess (and much to my surprise and surely the surprise of much of the audience who had no idea who in the world he was talking about), Burke launched into “this guy Thames” who said he was ahistorical.

47. Burke’s discussion of Santayana (along with Aristotle and Spinoza, one of the major philosophers studied at Columbia in Woodbridge’s time) is illuminating: Biological action being equated with utility in Santayana, says Burke, spiritual action would transcend it. Spiritual action, itself being a fulfillment, would “love to dwell upon fulfillments”; so, its ultimate delight would be in the contemplation of essence,

which in the last analysis is a benign contemplation of death. The realm of essence is thus ultimately a thanatopsis. And though Santayana draws back at times from the full implications of his doctrine, reminding himself and us that he belongs to the world of rational Greek materialism, it is his serene doctrine of essence that seems most distinctive of him. . . Reading him, we do feel that it might be enough to cultivate the contemplation of essences, simply through love of dwelling in the vicinity of terms at rest and at peace, terms that would serve as much as terms can to guide us through a long life of euthanasia. (GM 222-23)

Pious Christians, Burke continues, are urged to “live a dying life” (ibid. 223).

48. Coincidentally, Tillich taught at Columbia University’s Union Theological Seminary and is buried in New Harmony, Indiana, the location for the first conference of the new, legally formed nonprofit corporation, the Kenneth Burke Society.

49. “NO HOPE!” Burke exploded one evening in the 1974 seminar when provoked by Robert Ezzell, a homiletics professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He meant no hope of heaven, but clearly meant “no hope” in other ways as well, because the issue was the impossibility of a rhetorical solution to an ontological problem.

50. See Richard Thames, “Nature’s Physician: The Metabiology of Kenneth Burke,” Kenneth Burke and the 21st Century.

51. Burke writes in Dramatism & Development (14-15) that George Thomson (Aeschylus and Athens) “puts us on the track of symbolic devices whereby tragedy (in its role as a civic ceremony) can symbolically transcend modes of civic conflict that, in the practical realm of social relations, are never actually resolved within the conditions of the given social order (and the conflicts ‘natural’ to it),” thereby necessitating repetition—“Hence tragic purges, twice a year.”

52. An excellent example is the recent Off-Broadway (later on Broadway) hit musical Urinetown. The story is set in a near-future in which disastrous water shortage has led to political and corporate control of all water, including (being delicate) the water each of us makes. There is a ban on all private toilets; people have to pay to pee and are prosecuted if they don’t comply. (Burke would have been intrigued!) The theme is corporate and political corruption and greed. The music and dance are entertaining, but their treatment is integral to the message, consistent with their perfection by Kurt Weill and Brecht as alienation effects. Recent musicals that rely on the same effects are Cabaret and Chicago by Kander and Ebb. See John Willett’s translation of Brecht on Theatre and John J. White’s Bertolt Brecht’s Dramatic Theory.

53. The distinction between poetic and rhetorical is probably born out of the distinction between the psychologies of form and of information. The distinction is itself a recasting of the form-content dichotomy. Form is ahistorical, its appeal being generic—i.e., it appeals to bodies that learn language as bodies that learn language in general; while content is historically situated, its appeal being more specific—i.e., it appeals to bodies that learn language in a particular time and place. The appeal of form lasts; it bears repetition. The appeal of information becomes dated or historically irrelevant; it requires something new—often the imaginative resurrection of historical context so that the information is seen in a new light.

Burke’s observations are pertinent to the academy. Courses in the sciences could be built on the psychology of form, but more often they are built on the psychology of information given the body of new information being continuously developed. Unfortunately, many courses in the humanities are taught the same way, when there is no corresponding body of new information and when form could be found by tracing historical development. Rather than develop form, teachers introduce new perspectives as new developments, eulogistically redefining avoiding boredom as keeping up with new ideas—i.e., staying in fashion. Courses in the social sciences are taught like those in the sciences though the challenges are more like those found in the humanities. Rather than develop form, teachers introduce new vocabulary as new information, eulogistically redefining staying in fashion as keeping up to date with progress in the field—i.e., calling fashion science.

54. Burke’s terminology here is suggestive of Plato who spoke of philosophy in terms of health as medicine (or nutrition) and gymnastic (or exercise) with rhetoric respectful of philosophy or truth being respectively cookery or cosmetic; and rhetoric separate from philosophy or truth being respectively like junk food or liposuction both of which may seem good but are actually harmful.

55. Pure persuasion would be “a single need, forever courted, as on Keats's Grecian Urn” (Rhetoric 275), where the lover eternally leans to kiss his love: “Forever wilt thou love and she be fair.” The lovers dwell in a state of suspended animation, divided, forever denied the consummation they seek.

In a way, the image of the unburied throng stretching forth their hands for love of the farther shore would also be an image of pure persuasion, to the extent that they can never cross until there remains are properly interred. Creon’s decision to inter but one of Antigone’s brothers would have condemned him to eternal wailing from the wrong side.

56. For Aristotle, money is a means to commodity exchange; wealth is a means to the good life. The pursuit of a means such as money or wealth is end-less and therefore irrational. For Augustine and Tillich, the pursuit of money or wealth or power is endless and ultimately unfulfilling because they do not constitute true ends; the ultimate end of all our striving is God whether we realize it or not.

57. Burke develops a decidedly naturalistic account of the mystical experience which, he claims, would have its bodily counterpart even if attributed to supernatural sources. Following the work of neurologists like Charles Sherrington (cited throughout the corpus), Burke explains that movement is made possible by the coordinated flexing and relaxing of opposed muscles. If conflicting impulses expressed themselves simultaneously, if nerves controlling opposed muscles all fired at once, movement would be impossible. The pronounced sense of unity to which mystics habitually testify could involve just such a neurological condition, and terms of pure action and/or total passivity would accurately describe such a state (PC 248; GM 294; RM 330-31).

If a taste of new “fruit” is knowledge—or, given Burke’s sly allusion to “forbidden fruit,” if sexual intercourse is considered carnal knowledge—then the experience of a rare and felicitous physical state would be so too. The mystic, reasons Burke, would be convinced his experience was “noetic,” conveying a “truth” beyond the realm of logical contradiction, constituting a report of something from outside the mind, a “communication with an ultimate, unitary ground” (RM 330-31). The sense of attainment accompanying it would be “both complete and non-combative,” suggesting a oneness with the universal texture as thorough as that experienced in the womb (PC 248)—or, dare one suggest, sexual orgasm. Burke might be coyly suggesting just such an interpretation—and such an interpretation would explain a mystic’s recourse to erotic imagery.

Of interest is philosopher/theologian Jacques Maritain’s letter to Burke (6 March 1949) reacting to this naturalist explanation (perhaps a passage shared from the forthcoming 1950 Prentice-Hall edition of the Rhetoric?): “I read your page on mystical experience with great interest and great dissent. I do not deny, of course, the bodily counterpart, but I think that (when mystic experience is genuine) it is only tuning–or weakness and deficiency–of the instrument. The content of this experience cannot be explained by any nervous state of ‘inner contradiction’ and any unusual sensory condition. The process that you describe, and which makes the noetic value of the experience obviously illusory, seems to me to apply to quietist, spurious mystical states. When the mystic state is to be ascribed to supernatural sources, it must have a supernatural content, both knowledge and love. Did you read Bergson’s pages on mystical experience and nervous disturbance in Les Deux Sources [de la morale et de la religion] ? They seem very wise to me.” (Kenneth Burke Collection, Pattee Library, the Pennsylvania State University)

Continuing along the same lines, we should note Burke’s comments regarding “the tearful outbursts of an audience at a tragedy as a surrogate for sexual orgasm,” with 18,000 Athenians weeping in unison as an analogue of “what was once a primitive promiscuous sexual orgy” (Dramatism & Development 14; GM 186). The analogy is particularly apt given Mircea Eliade’s analysis of the centrality of sex and victimage in his study of the archaic ontology implicit in myth and ritual (Myth of the Eternal Return). See Thames, Mystical Ontology in Kenneth Burke (dss.)

58 .Rueckert’s stance is similar to the standard account of generational change in the sciences that Kuhn undercuts—a young man’s discoveries become an old man’s dogmas. Paradigm change comes from scientists that are young (James Watson) or new to the field (Francis Crick) because they are more likely to lack the degree of commitment to the paradigm typical of other scientists.

59. Obviously the empirical “facts” of modern science are not equivalent to Plato’s rational “truths.” Though Plato was an idealist and Aristotle and Burke naturalists, Plato’s influence on both would still be possible.

60. See Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Your face is like a chamber where a king,” Collected Sonnets 37.

61. See above, endnote 47. See also “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), an important expression of the culture of death in 19th century America. Gary Wills reminds us of that culture’s significance in his chapter on the rural cemetery movement in Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America (60-89).

See also “Thanatopsis for Critics: A Brief Thesaurus of Deaths and Dyings,” mentioned in Burke’s January 13, 1978 letter to Rueckert (Letters 241) as an essay to be included in the Symbolic. Another of the essays never collected.

62. In the Grammar (442) Burke says the practice of rhetoric (rhetorica utens) “would cause us great unhappiness could we not transcend it by appreciation”—i.e., the study of rhetoric (rhetorica docens). As we shall see, even the study of rhetoric has its problems. Also, though Burke may have thought himself able to transcend the practice by the study, most are not, instead getting angry and perpetuating it. But then we lack Burke’s great self-suspicion and so storm on in self-assurance, convinced our outrage is warranted.

63. Rueckert writes, Burke put the “third version” of the Symbolic together around 1963. He gave copies to Trevor Melia and others [see “A Supplement to the Summary” above] when he was in Pittsburgh in 1974, but “nobody did anything with it” until he [Rueckert] sent a copy to Williams and Henderson (Letters xii). Much of the above two sections were copyrighted in 1979. The author now believes he should have been less reticent about venturing outside his discipline of rhetoric to deal with the Symbolic.

64. Hierarchy exists in every concrete circumstance, since those who find themselves in a particular circumstance are more or less capable of understanding and/or acting within it (insofar as people are individual). At the same time hierarchy is also fluid and dynamic, given shifting circumstance, and complex, given overlapping circumstances (an employer asking an employee to do something the employer is incapable of doing). Since different hierarchies value different abilities, no hierarchy is fair to all—though people may consider hierarchies that value their own abilities more than fair. The values on which hierarchy is based are matters of consensus (or coercion); they are chosen, making all who choose them or acquiesce in their choice ethically responsible for the consequences.

Hierarchies emerge out of seminal choices, developing and elaborating themselves on the path to their entelechy (like the zygote to the adult). As hierarchies approach their entelechies they encounter recalcitrances, for they seek to impose themselves as hegemonic systems, final and total answers to what are in their origins but partial responses to one set of frustrations rather than others. Recalcitrances call forth new responses which in turn develop hierarchically as the seminal choices on which they are based gained acceptance.

See “2) Burke’s Marxoidism” above.

65. Burke did take a copy of Libbie’s typed manuscript with him on his literary rounds. One evening in the 1974 seminar he was moved by the discussion to pull the manuscript out of the briefcase he always carried, open it to the appropriate page, and discuss Mrs. Dalloway. I remember his pointing out the similarity between her name, Clarissa, and one of her prime qualities, being “querulous.”

It is interesting to note in this regard that Burke often referred to the former Miss Elizabeth Batterham as his “better half.” Of course Burke had onomatopoetic nicknames for all his friends and correspondents. Bill Rueckert was “Billions” and “Billiards,” Trevor Melia “the Meliorist.” Readers are therefore advised to take note of observations such as, “Intimacy with a woman must always argue special intimacy with some word or words like or nearly like the sound of her name. So they [the names of Augustine’s mistresses, “toys” or “trifles”] are there, shining out like unseen stars, ambiguously split perhaps between terms in the constellation of the divine and terms for the problematic body.” Burke notes that the term “toy” or nuga would be one possibility to explore (RR 83).

As in all things Burke, the intriguing borders on the bizarre—in this case “joycing.” Because his methods of joycing are built on Grimm’s laws of language change which in turn are built on the means by which consonants are physically produced, Burke suggests there is a deep physical significance to rhyme and puns, etc., because the physical production of words may speak more to how they are organized in the brain than their meaning. In word associations children are more likely to associate given words with similar sounds (homonyms) than similar meanings (synonyms). Burke’s observations along these lines are often ignored or dismissed, perhaps because they obligate idealistic wordsmiths to acknowledge a degree of physicality that makes them uncomfortable—that calls to mind mortality.

66. There was a 19th century superstition that no great composer would live to write a tenth symphony (Beethoven’s having completed only nine). Gustav Mahler initially avoided writing a ninth, calling the symphonic song-cycle following his eighth symphony Das Lied von der Erde instead. So his ninth was really his tenth and the tenth that he thoroughly sketched out was his eleventh. And thus he cheated death.

67. The first stanza of Auden’s poem (“The Garrison”) appropriately reads:

Martini-time: time to draw the curtains and choose a composer we should like to hear from, before coming to table for one of your savoury messes.

I remember making “Burkas” (vodka favored with scotch or bourbon) at his apartment in Pittsburgh. I don’t remember much after making them. Burke alternated drinking and taking pills for his insomnia so that he would not get hooked on either.


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Conley, Thomas M. Rhetoric in the European Tradition. Reprint ed. Chicago; University of Chicago Press, 1994.

East, James H, ed. The Humane Particulars: The Collected Letters of William Carlos Williams and Kenneth Burke. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003.

Eliade, Mircea. The Myth of the Eternal Return: Cosmos and History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (Bollingen paperback), 1971.

Feehan, Michael. “Kenneth Burke and Mary Baker Eddy.” Eds. Greig Henderson and David Cratis Williams. Unending Conversations: New Writings by and about Kenneth Burke. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2001. 206-224.

George, Ann and Jack Selzer. Kenneth Burke in the 1930s. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007. Feehan, Michael. “Kenneth Burke’s Discovery of Dramatism.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 65 (1979): 405-11. George, Ann and Jack Selzer. Kenneth Burke in the 1930s. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007.

George, Ann and Jack Selzer. “What Happened at the First American Writers’ Conference.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly (Spring 2003): 47-68.

Gouge, T. A. “Woodger, Joseph Henry.” Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Paul Edwards. New York: Macmillan and Free Press, 1967.

Grene, Marjorie. A Portrait of Aristotle. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.

Hantz, Harold Donovan. The Biological Motivation in Aristotle. New York: Columbia University Press, 1939.

Harkness, Georgia. Mysticism: Its Meaning and Message. Nashville, TN: Abington, 1973.

Henderson, Greig and David Cratis Williams, eds. Unending Conversations: New Writings By and About Kenneth Burke. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2001.

Hook, Sidney. “Is Mr. Burke Serious?” Partisan Review 4 (January 1938): 44-47; also in Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke: 1924-1966. Ed. William H. Rueckert. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969. 97-101.

---. “The Technique of Mystification” Partisan Review 4 (December 1937): 57-62; also in Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke: 1924-1966. Ed. William H. Rueckert. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969. 89-96.

Johnson, Mark. The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Kline, George L., ed. and trans. Spinoza in Soviet Philosophy: A Series of Essays Selected and Translated with an Introduction. London: Routledge Kegan Paul, 1952.

Lamprecht, Sterling. “Woodbridge, Frederick J.E.” Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Paul Edwards. New York: Macmillan and Free Press, 1967.

McKeon, Richard. The Philosophy of Spinoza: The Unity of his Thought. New York; London; Toronto: Longmans, Green and Company, 1928.

Meikle, Scott. Aristotle’s Economic Thought. London: Oxford University Press, 1980.

---. Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx. London: Duckworth Publishers, 1985.

---. “History of Philosophy: The Metaphysics of Substance in Marx.” Cambridge Companion to Karl Marx. Ed. Terrell Carver. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. 296-320.

Newstok, Scott L., ed. Kenneth Burke on Shakespeare. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2007.

Randall, Jr., John Herman. Aristotle. New York: Columbia University Press, 1960.

Rueckert, William H., ed. Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke: 1924-1966. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969.

---. Encounters with Kenneth Burke. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

---. Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives: 1950-1955. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2006.

---. Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations. 2d ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

---. Letters from Kenneth Burke to William H. Rueckert: 1959-1987. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2002.

Rueckert, William H., and Angelo Bonadonna, eds. On Human Nature: A Gathering Where Everything Flows, 1967-1984. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Schlauch, Margaret. “A Review of Attitudes toward History.” Science & Society 2 (1937-38): 128-32; also in Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke: 1924-1966. Ed. William H. Rueckert. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969. 105-09.

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---. Sources of Contemporary Philosophical Realism in America. New York: Irvington Publishers, 1964.

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The Gordian Not: Appendix 1

Appendix 1: PDC (Poetics, Dramatistically Considered) Summary

1 “Poetic,” “Aesthetic,” and “Artistic” *
Approximately 3 ms. pages published as “Unburned Bridges” (UC 25)

7 Logic of the Terms *

14 Imitation (Mimesis) #
First 17 ms. pages published as “Dramatistic View of Imitation” (UC 25); republished in Rueckert’s Essays.

38 Catharsis (First View)
Approx. 5 ms. pages published as “On Catharsis, or Resolution” (UC 25-26)

56 Pity, Fear, Pride ]
Published as “On Catharsis, or Resolution” (UC 26).

75 The Thinking of the Body
Revised, abridged, and published as “On Catharsis, or Resolution” & “Thinking of the Body” (UC 24, 26-27). “The Thinking of the Body” is included in LSA.

179 Form *

200 The Orestes Trilogy
Abridged and published as “Form and Persecution in the Oresteia”; later included in LSA. The essay draws heavily from both “Form” & “Orestes Trilogy” (UC 23).

281 “Beyond” Catharsis *
See below for discussion.

320 Catharsis (Second View)
Published as “Catharsis—Second View” (UC 28) .

329 Vagaries of Love and Pity
Published as “Catharsis—Second View” (UC 28) .

335 Fragmentation
Published as “Catharsis—Second View” (UC 28) .

361 Platonic Transcendence *

375 The Poetic Motive
Published as “The Poetic Motive” (UC 29).

(Still missing: Section on Comic Catharsis; further references to individual works, illustrating various observations by specific examples; batch of footnotes indicating various other developments; appendix reprinting various related essays by the author, already published in periodicals.) [According to Williams related essays referred to by Burke include “Three Definitions” (1951), “Othello: An Essay to Illustrate a Method” (1951), “The Anaesthetic Revelation of Herone Liddell” (1957), and “On the First Three Chapters of Genesis” (1958). Only “The Thinking of the Body” and “Form and Persecution in the Oresteia” are included in LSA.]

* included in “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics” as mostly unpublished

# included in Rueckert’s Essays toward a Symbolic of Motives as uncollected

The Gordian Not: Appendix 2

Appendix 2: PDC Material Published to Date

1-6 Approximately 3 ms. pages of PDC published as

  • “Unburned Bridges of Poetics, or How to Keep Poetry Pure.” Centennial Review 8 (Fall 1964): 391-97. [UC 25]

    Additional material published in

  • “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics,” Unending Conversations, pp. 35-80 (as section on “‘Poetic,’ ‘Aesthetic,’ and ‘Artistic,’” pp. 35-38).

7-13 Published in

  • “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics,” Unending Conversations, pp. 35-80 (as section on “Logic of the Terms,” pp. 38-42).

14-37 Approximately 17 ms. pages of PDC published as

  • “A ‘Dramatistic’ View of Imitation.” Accent 12 (Autumn 1952): 229-41. [UC 25]

    Republished in

  • Rueckert (ed), Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motive, pp. 5-18.

38-55 UNCOLLECTED: Approximately 5 ms. pages of PDC (38-40, 43-44, 47) published in

  • “On Catharsis, or Resolution, with a Postscript.” Kenyon Review 21 (Summer 1959): 337-75. [UC 25-26]

56-74 UNCOLLECTED:Large sections published in

  • “On Catharsis, or Resolution, with a Postscript.” Kenyon Review 21 (Summer 1959): 337-75. [UC 26]

75-178 Revised, abridged, and published as

  • “The Thinking of the Body: Comments on the Imagery of Catharsis in Literature,” Psychoanalytic Review 50 (Fall 1963): 25-68. Later collected in LSA, pp. 308-43.

    Incorporates part of

  • “On Catharsis, or Resolution, with a Postscript.” Kenyon Review 21 (Summer 1959): 337-75. [UC 23, 26-27]

179-99 Published in

  • “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics,” Unending Conversations, pp. 35-80 (as section on “Form,” pp. 42-51).

200-80 Abridged and published as

  • “Form & Persecution in the Oresteia. ” Sewanee Review 60 (Summer 1952): 377-96.

    Later collected in

  • LSA, pp. 125-38. [UC 23]

    Published in

  • Rueckert’s Essays (103-47) in the original, unedited version corresponding to PDC 200-80.

281-319 Published in

  • “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics,” Unending Conversations, pp. 35-80 (as section on “Beyond Catharsis,” pp. 52-70).

320-60 UNCOLLECTED: Published as

  • “Catharsis—Second View.” Centennial Review of Arts and Science 5 (Spring 1961): 107-132. [UC 28]

361-74 Published in

  • “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics,” Unending Conversations, pp. 35-80 (as section on “Platonic Transcendence,” pp. 70-77).

375-96 UNCOLLECTED: Published as

  • “The Poetic Motive.” Hudson Review 40 (Spring 1958): 54-63. [UC 29]


  • Unpublished material: 20 ms. pages
  • Uncollected material: 90 ms. pages
  • Published in LSA: 185 ms. pages
  • Published in UC: 84 ms. pages
  • Published in Essays: 17 ms. pages  

Poetics, “Dramatistically” Considered

Approximate page totals for the existing manuscript

PDC page #




















































































The Gordian Not: Appendix 3

Appendix 3: SM (Symbolic of Motives) Summary

Part One

1 I. The Poetic Motive

  • 1 Symbolism an “Unmotivated Motive”
  • 2 Deflections from the Poetic Motive
  • 4 Special Role of the Negative
  • 6 Intrinsic Delights of Symbolism
  • 13 Compulsive Aspects of Symbolism
    16 ms. pages moved from the end of PDC

17 II. Nature of the Project

  • 17 The Project as a Whole
  • 21 “Dramatistic” and “Scientistic”
  • 25 Plan of This Particular Book
    Approximately 12 ms. pages of new material
    “Plan of This Particular Book” (29) alludes to the “Orestes Trilogy” and to Dante’s Divine Comedy (see below, “Beyond Catharsis”).

29 III. Preparatory Etymology

  • 29 Specific and General Nature of Terms
  • 31 Poetic, Aesthetic, Artistic
  • 32 Beauty and War
  • 34 Imagination
  • 37 Classification and Propriety
  • 39 In Sum
  • 41 The Sublime
    Approx. 8 ms. page expansion of “Poetic, Aesthetic, Artistic” from PDC
    Considerably revised with some paragraphs from the PDC’s “Poetic, Aesthetic, Artistic” incorporated.

44 IV. Aristotle’s Dramatistic Terminology

  • 44 Literal and Analogical Terms
  • 48 “Poetics” Viewed Deductively
  • 54 Concealed and Fragmentary Dramatism
  • 57 Dramatistic Transformations
    Approximately 9 ms. page expansion of “Logic of the Terms” from PDC
    Considerably revised with some paragraphs from the PDC’s “Logic of the Terms” incorporated.

60 V. Imitation (Mimesis)

SM 60-79 corresponds to PDC 14-30 and Rueckert 5-18 (“Dramatistic View of Imitation”); SM 80-85 corresponds to PDC 31-35.

  • 60 “Imitation” Usually Conceived Too Scientistically
  • 66 Definitions of “Entelechy”
  • 74 Entelechy and Myth
  • 77 Imitation of Tensions
  • 80 Verisimilitude
  • 83 Imitation, Copy, Record
  • 85 Perfection
    2 ms. pages (PDC 35-37, starting “In sum . . .”) dropped. 5 new ms. pages added. Old and new sections end with the same long footnote (single-spaced in PDC, double-spaced in SM thus, adding a page).
  • 91 Individuation and Amplification #
    14 ms. page of new material

105 VI. The Language of Thisness #

  • 105 General and Particular #
  • 108 “Concrete” Words Are Abbreviations for Situations #
  • 113 “Universalizing” a Plot #
  • 115 Generalized Outline of Mrs. Dalloway #
  • 118 Similar Outline of A Passage to India
  • 122 Outline of Coriolanus
  • 123 Problem of Literary Genera #
  • 125 A Definition of A Passage to India as a Literary Genus
  • 126 “Poetic Affect” as a Critical Postulate #
    24 ms. pages of new material

129 VII. Recapitulation

5 ms. pages of new material

Approximately 77 ms. pages of new material plus 35 more of material originally in PDC (2 having been dropped from “Imitation (Mimesis)”—see above) plus 5 ms. pages (gained from additional titles and with double-spacing footnotes and block quotes) yields 117 ms. pages—close to Burke’s reported 120. Move “The Poetic Motive” to the beginning of the manuscript and the total comes to approximately 133. (Another possibi­lity—the 120 pages reported by Burke included “The Poetic Motive” but not the 13 pages section “Nature of the Project” which plausibly could have been added later).

134 VIII. Catharsis (Civic Aspect)

  • 134 Catharsis, Religious and Secular
  • 136 “Entelechial” View of Tragedy
  • 140 Euripides’ Trojan Women
  • 144 How Civic Catharsis Might Operate
  • 153 For Personalizing of Conflict (Antigone, Oresteia, Medea)
  • 155 Civic Motive Personalized in Alcestia
  • 160 Coriolanus and Timon of Athens Contrasted
  • 164 Ibsen’s Master-Builder (Civic and Personal Motives)
  • 167 A “Hypothetical Case”
  • 169 Catharsis and Transcendence
    Burke writes of taking a “first look at transcendence” (169), implying a further look—perhaps in a revised “Platonic Transcendence.”
  • 176 In Sum
    27 ms. pages of new material
    “Catharsis (First View)” (PDC 38-56) covers SM 134-152; SM 153-179 are new.

180 IX. Ostracism as “Cathartic”

  • 180 Plutarch’s “Tragic” View of Ostracism *
    Moved from the end of “Beyond Catharsis” (PDC 312-19; UC 66-70)
  • 188 Ostracism and Victimage in General
    3 ms. pages of new material

191 X. Tragic Triad of Motives

  • 191 Pity
  • 199 Fear
  • 202 Pride
  • 214 Money, Sex, and Tragic “Restfulness”
  • 218 The Four Kinds of Tragic Victim
  • 220 A “Break-Through”
    Approximately 12 ms. pages of new material
    “Pity, Fear, Pride” from PDC 56-74 covers SM 191-212 (an approximately 3 ms. page expansion). New material covers 213-22. “A Break-Through” alludes to Part Two which Burke says the squeamish may skip [“Thinking of the Body”] (220-22) and Part Three which will include discussion of “the allusiveness of tragedy” (220) [“Beyond Catharsis”] and “consideration of tragedy in its grander aspects” (220, 222) [“The Orestes Trilogy”].

Part Two

223 I. The Thinking of the Body

  • The Imagery of “No-No”

230 II. Hermeneutic Problem of Bodily Euphemisms

238 III. Bodily Analogues of the Tragic Triad

  • “Radiations”—and Their Range
  • In Sum, on Body-Imagery
    “The Thinking of the Body” from PDC presumably abridged
    This section begins on PDC 75; PDC covers another 300 pages to the beginning of “The Poetic Motive” which was moved to the beginning of the SM. If reconstruc­tion of the rest of the SM is accurate, the manuscript would cover over 500 pages, depending on how or if Burke intended to edit “The Thinking of the Body.”

Part Three

270 I. Form

  • “Form and Persecution in the Oresteia” from PDC

xxx II. The Orestes Trilogy

  • “Form and Persecution in the Oresteia” from PDC
  • Williams says SM’s table of contents does not include the Oresteia essays (UC 19); but Burke says in “Plan of This Particular Book” that he will “give a close analysis of Aeschylus’ Oresteia” (see above, SM 29) —one of several comments alluded to by Rueckert (UC 109).
  • Published in Rueckert’s Essays in the original, unedited version.

xxx III. “Beyond” Catharsis

Minus “Plutarch’s View of Ostracism” (PDC 312-19).* See above, “Ostracism as Cathartic” (SM 180-88). In “Plan of This Particular Book” (see above, SM 29) Burke alludes to an analysis of Dante’s Divine Comedy included in this section (PDC 294-96; UC 58-59). Apparent summaries of the original section can be found in “Rhetoric and Poetics” (LSA 298-99); discussion of “the Beyond” can also be found in “I, Eye, Ay—Concerning Emerson’s Early Essay on ‘Nature,’ and the Machinery of Transcendence” (LSA 186-200).

xxx IV. Catharsis (Universal Aspect)

In a PDC footnote (52), Burke says the sexual character of catharsis will be considered in a later chapter, “Catharsis (Second View).” The same note appears in an SM footnote (148) but with the new chapter title.

xxx V. Platonic Transcendence [Drama, Catharsis—Dialectic, Transcendence?]

Burke’s further look (?) at transcendence implied earlier (SM 169), perhaps incorporat­ing the Emerson essay (itself incorporating elements of “Beyond Catharsis,” see above) which appears to be Burke’s maturest discussion of catharsis and transcen­dence. Williams cites Burke’s June 1955 letter to Cowley (UC 13) in which he speaks of not yet having revised a new section—a “big item in my godam Symbolic”—devoted to Emerson’s essay on “Nature,” but Williams never mentions it again. Burke seems not to have incorporated the Emerson essay into the PDC manuscript which Williams has dated 1957-58, suggesting that the essay perhaps was to be incorporated later. Discussion of comic catharsis would perhaps have preceded it. The Emerson, Djuna Barnes [“Version, Con-, Per-, and In- (Thoughts on Djuna Barnes’s Novel Nightwood), LSA, pp. 240-253, see especially p. 244], and E. M. Forster [“Social and Cosmic Mystery: A Passage to India,” LSA, pp. 223-239] essays are published in 1966 and “Rhetoric and Poetics” in 1965; all involve some discussion of “the beyond,” or “beyonding,” suggesting that Burke is still working hard on the SM in the mid-1960s—specifically on the issues of “drama and catharsis, dialectic and transcendence.”

# included in “Glimpses into a Labyrinth of Interwoven Motives” as unpublished

*included in “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics” as mostly unpublished

The Gordian Not: Appendix 4

Appendix 4: SM Material Published to Date


    Published as
  • “The Poetic Motive,” Hudson Review 40 (Spring 1958): 54-63. [UC 29]


    Approximately 12 ms. pages of new material


    Approximately 8 ms. pages of new material Considerably revised expansion of PDC 1-6, partially published in both
  • “Unburned Bridges of Poetics, or How to Keep Poetry Pure,” Centennial Review 8 (Fall 1964): 391-97. [UC 25] and
  • “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics,” Unending Conversations, 35-80 (as section on “‘Poetic,’ ‘Aesthetic,’ and ‘Artistic,’” 35-38).


    Approximately 9 ms. pages of new material Considerably revised expansion of PDC 7-13, partially published in
  • “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics,” Unending Conversations, 35-80 (as section on “Logic of the Terms,” 38-42).


    SM 60-85 corresponding to PDC 14-35 (36-37 were dropped) was slightly revised, truncated, and published in both
  • “A ‘Dramatistic’ View of Imitation,” Accent 12 (Autumn 1952): 229-41. [UC 25] and
  • “A ‘Dramatistic’ View of Imitation,” Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, 5-18.
  • SM 85-89 is new material except for long footnote on PDC 37


    Approximately 6 ms. pages of new material (SM 118-22,125) Remainder published in
  • “Glimpses into a Labyrinth of Interwoven Motives,” Unending Conversations, 81-98.
  • Some material may be drawn from LSA, pp. 81-97 and 223-39.


    Approximately 5 ms. pages of new material


    SM 134-52 corresponds to PDC 38-56 which was published in
  • “On Catharsis, or Resolution, with a Postscript,” Kenyon Review 21 (Summer 1959): 337-75. [UC 25]
  • Approximately 27 ms. pages ( SM 153-79) of new material.


    Approximately 3 ms. pages (SM 188-90) of new material SM 180-88 corresponds to PDC 312-16 which was published as
  • “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics,” Unending Conversations, 35-80 (within section on “Beyond Catharsis,” 66-70).


    Approximately 13 ms. pages of new material
    SM 191-212 corresponds to PDC 56-74, an expansion of approximately 3 ms. pages.
    SM 213-22 is new.
    PDC 56-74 was published in
  • “On Catharsis, or Resolution, with a Postscript,” Kenyon Review 21 (Summer 1959): 337-75. [UC 25]


    A thoroughly revised, abridged version of PDC 75-178
    A thoroughly revised version excerpted from PDC 75-178 and published as
  • “The Thinking of the Body: Comments on the Imagery of Catharsis in Literature,” Psychoanalytic Review 50 (Fall 1963): 25-68.
  • Later collected in LSA 308-43. [UC 23, 26-27]

270-371? PUBLISHED

    SM 270 ff. presumably corresponds with PDC 179-199 which was published as
  • “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics,” Unending Conversations 35-80 (as section on “Form,” 41-52).
  • PDC 179-199 and 200-280 was abridged and published in
  • “Form & Persecution in the Oresteia , ” Sewanee Review 60 (Summer 1952): 377-96.
  • And later collected in LSA 125-38. [UC 23]
    PDC 200-280 (the edited LSA 128-38) was published in its original, unedited form as
  • “The Orestes Trilogy,” Essays toward a Symbolic of Motives, 103-47.

372-402? PUBLISHED

    Presumably corresponds to PDC 281-311, “Beyond Catharsis” published in
  • “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics,” Unending Conversations 35-80 (within section on “Beyond Catharsis,” 52-66).
  • SM 180-88 corresponds to PDC 312-16 which was published as
  • “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics,” Unending Conversations 35-80 (within section on “Beyond Catharsis,” 66-70).
  • In “Plan of This Particular Book” (SM 29), Burke alludes to an analysis of Dante’s Divine Comedy included in this section (PDC 294-96; UC 58-59).>br> Apparent summaries of original section can be found in >
  • “Rhetoric and Poetics,” a talk presented at a Symposium on the History and Significance of Rhetoric, May 1965, under the auspices of the Dept. of Classics at the University of California, Los Angeles.
  • First published in LSA 298-99. Discussion of “the Beyond” can also be found in the essay on Emerson (see below).


    The SM 148 reference to a later chapter on “Catharsis (Universal Aspect)” corresponding with the PDC 52 reference to a later chapter on “Catharsis (Second View)”covering PDC 320-360 which was published as
  • “Catharsis—Second View,” Centennial Review of Arts and Science 5 (Spring 1961): 107-132. [UC 38]


    Burke’s further look (?) at transcendence implied earlier (SM 169).
    Presumably corresponding to PDC 361-374 and partially published in
  • “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics,” Unending Con­versations 35-80 (as section on “Platonic Transcendence,” 70-77).
  • Perhaps incorporat­ing the Emerson essay—itself incorporating elements of “Platonic Transcendence”—which appears to be Burke’s most mature discussion of “catharsis and transcendence.”
  • “I, Eye, AyConcerning Emerson’s Early Essay on ‘Nature,’ and the Machi­nery of Transcendence,” Sewanee Review 74 (Fall 1966): 875-95. Later collected in LSA 186-200.
  • The essay is equivalent to approximately 30 ms. pages. Williams cites Burke’s June 1955 letter to Cowley (UC 13) in which he speaks of not yet having revised a new section—a “big item in my godam Symbolic”—devoted to Emerson’s essay on “Nature,” but Williams never mentions it again. Burke seems not to have incorporated the Emerson essay into the PDC manuscript which Williams has dated 1957-58, suggesting that the essay perhaps was to be incorporated later. Discussion of comic catharsis would perhaps have preceded it. Essays on Emerson,
  • Djuna Barnes: “Version, Con-, Per-, and In- (Thoughts on Djuna Barnes’s Novel Nightwood), Southern Review, n.s. 2 (Spring 1966): 329-46. Later collected in LSA 240-253],
  • and
  • E. M. Forster: “Social and Cosmic Mystery: A Passage to India,” Lugano Review 1 (Summer 1966): 140-55. Later collected in LSA 223-239.
  • were published in 1966 and “Rhetoric and Poetics”(see above) in 1965; all involve some discussion of “the beyond,” or “beyonding,” suggesting that Burke is still working hard on the SM in the mid-1960s—specifically on the issues of “drama and catharsis, dialectic and transcendence.”


  • Unpublished material: 135 ms. pages
  • Uncollected material: 98 ms. pages
  • Published in LSA: 158 ms. pages
  • Published in UC: 117 ms. pages
  • Published in Essays: 107 ms. pages

Symbolic of Motives

Approximate page totals for the existing manuscript

SM page #














































































*a 47 ms. page revision of the second version in LSA 308-43

Symbolic of Motives

Approximate page totals for the supposed remainder

SM page #




































*the original 81 page section is edited and revised as LSA 125-38

Symbolic of Motives

Overall approximate page totals for the reconstructed volume

SM page #














The Gordian Not: Appendix 5

Appendix 5: Essays towards “An Ethics of Motives” 

Speculation on the essays that would have been included in the final volume “On Human Relations” (aka “An Ethics of Motives”): tentatively

  • “The Language of Poetry, ‘Dramatistically’ Considered” (Rueckert, Essays 36-48). * Originally the first part of “Goethe’s Faust, Part I” (below).
  • “Linguistic Approach to Problems of Education,” (selections, Essays 261-82). * The original article appears in Modern Philosophies and Education , Nelson B. Henry (ed).
  • “A Dramatistic View of the Origins of Language” (LSA 419-79).
  • “Postscripts on the Negative.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 39 (April 1953): 209-16. (LSA 469-79).
  • “Goethe’s Faust, Part I” (LSA 139-62). *
  • Faust II—The Ideas Behind the Imagery” (LSA 163-85).
  • “On Words and the Word” (RR 7-42).
  • “Verbal Action in St. AugustineConfessions” (RR 43-171).
  • “The First Three Chapters of Genesis” (RR 172-272).
  • Numerous essays built around poets’ biographies that involve symbolic solutions to personal problems or which involve the generation and the purgation of guilt. Determination involves a more careful reading of essays in Language as Symbolic Action (e.g. “Version, Con-, Per-, and In- (Thoughts on Djuna Barnes’ Novel Nightwood)” given Rueckert’s characterization of the novel as a work much “concerned with the negative.” (UC 105), Rueckert’s On Human Nature, and his Essays toward a Symbolic (e.g., “Policy Made Personal: Whitman’s Verse and Prose Salient Traits.”)

* See Burke’s letter to Rueckert, August 8, 1959 (Letters 3): the Ethics is “built around the negative, as per my articles in Quarterly Journal of Speech, 52-53; my article on Faust, in Chicago Review, Spring 55 also indicates a bit of this, as does my piece on language in Modern Philosophies and Education, edited by Nelson B. Henry.”

The cluster analysis of terms to be associated with the Ethics is consistent with the above speculations. Hopefully the “notes on the fourth book” Burke planned on taking to Florida in early 1957 (Williams, UC 14) will one day be found like the manuscript SM.

Looking for the Figure in the Carpet of the Symbolic of Motives

Robert Wess, Oregon State University

Abstract: As William H. Rueckert notes, Essays toward a Symbolic of Motives is one of the three texts that one must work through to know what Burke’s A Symbolic of Motives is about. One way to work through these texts is to consider theoretical difficulties Burke encountered in his Symbolic project. The chief difficulty revolved around whether to divide the project into two, Ethics and Poetics, and to theorize each in a separate book, or to combine both of these into one unified Symbolic. Burke seems both to have moved toward such a division and to have resisted going all the way in the hope of finding a basis for unification. In the end, he left us neither two books nor one, but this failure may ironically help us to better appreciate the theoretical rigor he sought to achieve in his “motive” books.

With Essays toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950-1955 (ETSM), the late William H. Rueckert, long the “dean” of Burke studies, added in his final year a fitting capstone to his long list of contributions to Burke studies. Alone among Burke scholars, Rueckert corresponded with Burke about the Symbolic for decades.1

As Rueckert notes, ETSM is the earliest of the three known versions of the Symbolic (“Introduction” xi). It is based mainly on a 1955 Burke text listing articles envisioned at the time as parts of the Symbolic.2 The other versions are unpublished manuscripts: Poetics, Dramatistically Considered (PDC) and A Symbolic of Motives (SM)3. As David Cratis Williams shows, SM follows PDC4 chronologically. PDC seems complete, but the “contents” page does list things “still missing,” whereas SM is clearly incomplete.5 “[T]o know what Burke’s never published A Symbolic of Motives is all about,” Rueckert concludes, “we have to work our way through all three of his versions of it” (“Introduction” xiv).

Burke evidently didn’t give up on the Symbolic until 1978, after which he thought of it as possibly a collection of essays, like Philosophy of Literary Form and Language as Symbolic Action, rather than as a coherent theoretical work (Rueckert, “Kenneth Burke’s” 115, Kenneth Burke 291). Given all the years Burke devoted to the Symbolic, his failure to complete it is no doubt the effect of multiple causes arising in different contexts. There are, moreover, many Burkes, not just Burke the theorist (Rueckert, “Some”). Interactions among these Burkes may very well have played a role in Burke’s failure to see the Symbolic through to publication (Williams 20, 30; Jay 360; Rueckert, “Introduction” xiii-xiv). How the many Burkes may have interanimated one another over Burke’s long career is the task that only a great biographer, with the imagination to invent a new biographical form, is likely ever to complete. Burkeans may have to await such a work for a version of the Symbolic story satisfactory to all.

While it’s likely that only part of this story can be illuminated by consideration of theoretical difficulties Burke encountered, such consideration can help one to work one’s way through ETSM and the changes that appear in the later PDC and SM. Beginning in the early 1950s, the theoretical problem that Burke mentions most often in correspondence (e.g., Letters 3 and Williams 8-13) is still with him in 1967, at which time he seems to envision a solution as he observes that the Symbolic’s “study of individual identity”

would include both poetic and ethical dimensions, inasmuch as both the character of the individual poem and the character of the individual person embody “equations” (explicit or implicit assumptions as to what fits with what). At some stages along the way, I saw this third volume splitting into two. But now that so many of my speculations about Poetics have been treated in the theoretical and analytical pieces of which Language as Symbolic Action is comprised, I dare believe that I can revert to my original plan and finish the project in one more book. (Counter Statement 222)6

Ironically, moreover, attention to Burke’s apparent theoretical failure in his Symbolic project may result in greater appreciation of the rigor he achieved in his best theoretical work. An autodidact, Burke operated independently of the protocols of academic writing in general or those of any discipline in particular, so to academic readers Burke often seems undisciplined. Even friendly readers sometimes seem to feel it’s necessary to forgive Burke and cut him some academic slack. Examples of this appear in Wayne Booth’s 1974 Critical Inquiry essay, to which Burke responds, “[I]t’s the places where Booth forgives me that make me uncomfortable. At those times Booth makes me scare myself” (“Dancing” 31). But if Burke really needed the forgiveness Booth offers, it’s difficult to see why he wouldn’t have been content to throw together material from the three versions of the Symbolic he left us to round out the Grammar, Rhetoric, and Symbolic trilogy that he promised.

Whether the “character of the individual poem” and the “character of the individual person” should be theorized in separate books or together in one thus appears to have been Burke’s main theoretical problem. Separation sometimes appeared to be the logical way to go, but a final commitment to it seems to have been difficult. Why separate? Why resist separation? Focusing on the “poem” suggests a possible answer to the first question; focusing on the “person,” a possible answer to the second. Each possibility requires a separate section.

"Character of the Individual Poem"

In the middle decades of the twentieth century, debates about the nature of the “poem” were dominated by formalists (preeminently the New Critics but also the Neo Aristotelians at Chicago), who valorized intrinsic analysis of the literary work over extrinsic analysis of its connections to its author or historical period. This formalism separated “poem” from “person.” During the decades of their ascendancy, formalists transformed the academic study of literature, turning it away from positivistic historical study of the backgrounds of literature to “close reading” of literary works. “The Intentional Fallacy,” the title of an essay dating from 1946 (Wimsatt), became a commonplace term used to sharpen the separation of the work from its author. Even when Wayne Booth advocated consideration of the author in his seminal 1961 book, The Rhetoric of Fiction, he felt it necessary to do so in the form of an author “implied” by the text that he distinguished from the real person who authored the text (75).

This formalist reasoning was informed by a modernist valorization of the work of art as a transcendent world apart from everyday life. In the world of modernism, the vitality of art takes the place of a defunct religion. Burke expresses a similar view in Permanence and Change:

A corrective rationalization must certainly move in the direction of the anthropomorphic or humanistic or poetic. . . . The reference to poetry rather than to religion seems necessary for many reasons. Perhaps foremost of all is the fact that poetry, through never having been institutionalized, does not stand about as the Church does, like a big deserted building, with broken windows and littered doorways. (65)

No doubt because of his early aestheticism, Burke was never altogether immune to formalism’s appeal. In “The Poetic Process,” first published in 1925, Burke makes a formalist argument of his own: “Mark Twain, before setting pen to paper, again and again transformed the bitterness that he wanted to utter into the humor that he could evoke” (Counter Statement 53). In life Twain was one thing, in art another. But Burke also became convinced that there were deep connections between text and author, so deep that through writing a text an author could undergo a “rebirth.” His own experience with his novel, Towards a Better Life, strengthened this conviction if it didn’t originate it (Toward vi-vii; “Thinking” 338 39). Burke’s analysis of such connections focused on what he called “equations,” as in the 1967 statement quoted above. His interest in these appears at least as early as Counter Statement, where it’s argued that art can be “objective” when there is consensus in a culture about “what is heroic, what cowardly, what irreligious, what boorish, what clever, etc.” (192). As such consensus breaks down, art becomes “subjective” because artists can find the “irreducible minimum of belief” they need only in their “personal range of experiences” (194). Each writer develops his or her idiosyncratic “equations.” No longer obvious as in “objective” periods, “equations” become unique to each writer, informing the “personality” of “person” and “poem.” To uncover such “equations,” Burke developed his theory of “indexing” literary works, which is the one specific thing about the Symbolic that he mentions in the 1955 statement on which ETSM is based. This theory provides the best standpoint from which to see what distinguishes ETSM from the later versions of the Symbolic. From the standpoint of this theory, moreover, there is continuity between “person” and “poem” so that there is no need to divide one from the other. This standpoint, in other words, represents the side of Burke ready to resist the formalist side that would separate “person” from “poem.”

Burke’s interest in the “personality” of writer and text is in the ascendancy in 1941, in his study of Coleridge in the title essay of The Philosophy of Literary Form, where he counters the formalist argument in strong terms:

But to grasp the full nature of the symbolic enactment going on in the poem, we must study the interrelationships disclosable by a study of Coleridge’s mind itself. If a critic prefers to so restrict the rules of critical analysis that these private elements are excluded, that is his right. I see no formal or categorical objection to criticism so conceived. But if his interest happens to be in the structure of the poetic act, he will use everything that is available and would even consider it a kind of vandalism to exclude certain material that Coleridge has left, basing such exclusion upon some conventions as to the ideal of criticism. The main ideal of criticism, as I conceive it, is to use all that is there to use. (23; see also Grammar 451)

Formalism is “vandalism” because it limits the range of evidence available to scrutinize for “equations.” The Burke who insists on the continuity from “person” to “poem” is the Burke who insists on using “all that there is to use.”

In its most extreme form, formalism would contend that each individual work is autotelic, an artistic world unto itself, that must be scrutinized independently even of other works by the same author. Burke counters this argument a few years after his Coleridge study in “The Problem of the Intrinsic,” which specifically addresses the Chicago Neo Aristotelians:

Indeed, insofar as the writers do abide by their pretensions, and begin with each analysis anew, their interpretation of the principles by which a given poem is organized is mere “prophecy after the event.” (Grammar 473)
“Prophecy after the event,” used dyslogistically here, later becomes, as we’ll see, a eulogistic term for Burke.
A later step in Burke’s response to formalism is a tripartite structure of analysis: For these pages (part of a work in progress, A Symbolic of Motives) belong in a section called “Theory of the Index.”. . . [We] plan to take another work as text, Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner,” for which we have specified three orders of analysis: (1) The sort of observations one might make if one had only the single poem, in isolation, and did not even know its author; (2) the sort of observations that would be in order if one knew the author, and could treat the poem in a context with Coleridge’s other poetry; (3) the sort of observations one might make if he could also consider Coleridge’s essayistic writings, notes, letters, biographical data, and the like. This is part of a project for “The Carving-out Of a Poetics,” that aims to meet the canons of Poetics as a special field, while at the same time considering the wider realm of linguistic action generally. (ETSM 77-78)7

While this structure appears to make room for a formalist analysis (level one), in practice it stops short of a truly formalist conception of the “poem,” as Burke himself implicitly acknowledges in “Poetics in Particular; Language in General,” an essay to be considered below.

Much of ETSM is structured around this tripartite structure. As Rueckert observes, what most distinguishes ETSM is its dominant focus on analyses of individual texts and writers; such analysis continues in PDC and SM, but it is subordinated to an overarching concern with a theory of tragedy and the cathartic process (“Introduction” xviii). All three levels of the structure appear in the Whitman chapter, “Policy Made Personal,” which is divided into three parts, with each part focusing mainly albeit not exclusively on one of the three levels. “Vegetal Radicalism” limits itself to levels two and three. “Ethan Brand” limits itself to one and two. Focusing on Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, “Fact, Inference and Proof” confines itself almost exclusively to level one, providing Burke’s most thorough example of “indexing” a single work. These essays illustrate how Burke may have, in his initial conception of the Symbolic, combined consideration of “poem” and “person” in one structure.

Two essays in ETSM that anticipate Burke’s later emphasis on tragedy are “Othello” and “The Orestes Trilogy.” The “Orestes” chapter actually comes from PDC, where it’s the only chapter that focuses on a single text. In neither the “Othello” nor the “Orestes” chapters, however, is “the thinking of the body” as prominent as it eventually becomes in the later work on catharsis.

There is one significant new development in the early 1950s in Burke’s analysis of the “personality” to be found in symbol-using: the theory of the negative. The negative even seems to be the reason Burke begins using the term “ethics” to refer to this dimension of symbol using. Discussing his progress on his Symbolic in correspondence, Burke remarks, “And for the Ethics Character, Personality the Great Lore of No-No, Huh-uh, Mustn’t, and the ways of life that congeal about it, or shatter around it” (qtd. in Williams 12). This new dimension of Burke’s analytic repertoire appears in ETSM in two companion essays: “Language of Poetry” and “Goethe’s Faust,” with the first serving as a theoretical introduction to the second. It’s conceivable that the idea of dividing “person” from “poem” may have been occasioned by the emergence of the negative as a way to analyze the “person” to supplement the “indexing” of “equations.”

The idea of dividing “person” and “poem” entailed a revision in Burke’s conception of language. Instead of three dimensions (grammar, rhetoric, symbolic), there are four (grammar, rhetoric, ethics, poetics), as defined in 1959, in “On Catharsis, or Resolution,” which combines material from a number of chapters in PDC:

Poetics as here considered is part of a scheme involving what I take to be the four aspects of language. Besides Poetics there are: Logic (or “Grammar”), the universal principles of linguistic placement; Rhetoric, language as addressed, as hortatory, and as designed for the stimulating or transcending of partisanship; Ethics, language as a medium in which, willy nilly, writer and reader express their identities, their characters, either as individuals or as members of classes or groups. The Poetic dimension of language concerns essentially the exercise of linguistic resources in and for themselves, by an animal which loves such exercise because it is the typically language using animal. (340)8
The same fourfold appears in “Poetics in Particular” (28 29), where Burke also offers a tripartite structure that contrasts with the one in ETSM:
In the cause of method, one must not confuse these three quite different procedures: (1) Saying only what could be said about a work, considered in itself [Poetics]; (2) saying all that might be said about the work in terms of its relation to the author, his times, etc. [Ethics]; (3) while meeting tests of the first sort (discussing the work intrinsically, as a poem) also making observations of the second sort (concerning its possible relation to nonpoetic elements, such as author or background). (41)

In this new scheme, there still is a place for personal “equations” linking text to writer, but they are limited to level two.9

One can see in concrete terms the difference this new structure makes by contrasting Burke’s treatment of Joyce’s Portrait in “Fact, Inference and Proof” with his treatment of Poe’s “The Raven,” which is the focus of “Poetics in Particular.” Burke concedes that Poe’s poem, because it is both built around a beautiful dead woman and is written by Poe, surely calls for attention from the “ethics” standpoint (26), but he insists that these considerations need to be excluded rigorously in poetic analysis, which can give purely poetic reasons for building a poem around such a subject matter (26-27). In the new tripartite structure of levels of analysis, level one (poetic) is rigorously distinguished from level two (ethics). In theorizing this analysis, the term “prophecy after the event” returns but now it’s used eulogistically:

I’d simply ask that the original poem be treated as the authoritative intuition which the critic then translates into terms of its nature as a kind of poetry, with its corresponding kind of principles and proprieties. And such a procedure might be profitably pursued, even though it led eventually to the discovery that each poem, like a Thomistic angel, is the only one of its kind. From inspection of the poem, the critic will formulate its principles. Then reversing the process, and prophesying after the event, he will test his formulations by “deducing” or “deriving” the poem from the principles. (37)

It’s possible that there is an anticipation of this “angelism” in ETSM in “Three Definitions,” where each definition is narrower than the one before it, with the last focused on a single work: (1) lyric in general, (2) Platonic dialogue as a literary species, (3) Joyce’s Portrait. “Three Definitions” is thus a companion to “Fact, Inference and Proof,” which focuses on level one in ETSM’s tripartite structure of analyses. But even though the focus is on level one, there are still a few places where connections surface to suggest that the “personality” in the text is equivalent to the “personality” of the author (51, 58, 61). “Fact, Inference and Proof” doesn’t draw the sharp line between ethics and poetics that appears in “Poetics in Particular” because it conceives even the individual text as a congealed form of “personality.” Limiting oneself to level one simply limits the evidence available to “index” the “equations” that define “personality.” The Burke ready “to use all that there is to use” is free to use all three levels or to limit himself to two or one, as ETSM illustrates.

Burke’s incorporation of a formalistic poetics into his theorizing coincided with his theorizing of a “poetic motive,” equated to an “unmotivated motive” (“Poetic Motive” 54). An anticipation of this motive, albeit a bit roundabout, appears in ETSM in “A `Dramatistic’ View of Imitation,” a key essay for the related terms “perfection” and “entelechy” that play such an important role in Burke’s later writings. These terms appear earlier, but they take on a new significance after this essay.10 Furthermore, as Rueckert notes, this “imitation” essay is notable because it reappears in both PDC and SM as well (xvi). Burke uses “entelechy” to interpret Aristotle’s conception of mimesis or imitation. Burke’s argument is that imitation isn’t a photographic copy of life but a “perfection” of it. Literature doesn’t give us copies of real villains or heroes, but of the “perfect” villain, the “perfect” hero, etc. From this conception of imitation, it is but a short step to ask, “what exactly would be the `perfection’ of a symbol using animal?” The answer is “the poetic motive”: “If man is by nature the symbol using animal, then it should follow that, for the full manifesting of his essence, he must find some intrinsic satisfaction in the use of symbols simply for the sake of symbol-using” (“Poetic Motive” 54). “The Poetic Motive” thus adds a new level to the “person”: in addition to the level of “personality” (ethics), there is the level of the entelechial perfection of the symbol using species (poetics).11 But as we’ll see, the “poetic motive,” by adding a new dimension to the “character of the individual person,” also helps to create a new theoretical possibility in which language and body can join to house ethics and poetics together.

Chapters entitled “The Poetic Motive” appear in both PDC and SM.12 It’s the final chapter in PDC and the first in SM. This reversal parallels one that occurred in the writing of the Grammar. In correspondence, Burke writes, “The five terms with which the work now begins were settled upon toward the end of the first version, and the book was turned around accordingly” (letter to Cowley: see Jay 292; see also “Questions” 333).13 It is hard to imagine why Burke would have taken such trouble if, as has been suggested, his basic mode of writing was “parataxis” (Booth, “Many Voices” 179) or “fragmented” and “nonlinear” (Condit 207). How important could the order of the whole be if his mode of thought was paratactic, fragmented, nonlinear, etc? It makes more sense to think that Burke “turned around” his whole manuscript to find the architectonic structure that he needed to make his theoretical case. The shift in the position of the “The Poetic Motive” in PDC and SM suggests that he tried to do something similar for the Symbolic but in this case the shift didn’t work. That, however, may simply be another sign of his commitment to theoretical rigor in his major works. Nothing less than “perfection” would do. We’ll return to this point in concluding.

So much, then, for the reasoning that might have led Burke to consider dividing the poetic and ethical sides of his Symbolic into separate theoretical categories, each with a book of its own. But instead of completing this division, he seemed to resist it.14

“Character of the Individual Person”

Burke started his work on the Symbolic with the conception of the “individual” that appears in the prospectus included in the Rhetoric:
our third volume, Symbolic of Motives, should be built about identity as titular or ancestral term, the “first” to which all other terms could be reduced and from which they could then be derived or generated, as from a common spirit. . . . The Symbolic should deal with unique individuals, each its own peculiarly constructed act, or form. These unique “constitutions” being capable of treatment in isolation, the Symbolic should consider them primarily in their capacity as singulars, each a separate universe of discourse (though there are also respects in which they are consubstantial with others of their kind, since they can be classed with other unique individuals as joint participants in common principles, possessors of the same or similar properties). (21-22)
Problems with this conception are implicit in this statement of it. “Identity” is to be the “ancestral” term from which everything can be “derived or generated” yet the “unique individual,” presumably equivalent to “identity” as the central focus, is “constructed” and “constitut[ed],” thus derived not ancestral. And in the end, the unique individual is not independent of “consubstantiality” with others, so how unique is it? These problems have their source in changes in Burke’s thinking about the individual, particularly during the 1930s. As Burke tells us in recounting the development of his thought, he came to stress
interdependent, social, or collective aspects of meaning, in contrast with the individualistic emphasis of his earlier Aestheticist period. (The earlier individualism had itself been modified by association in a pranksome kind of literary “gang morality” loosely linking several young writers who liked to think of themselves as a monster-loving “advance guard.” Counter Statement 214 15)
This earlier “individualistic emphasis” appears in extreme form in John Neal, Burke’s “hero” in his novel. In the first paragraph of his narrative, Neal alerts the reader, “When finding that people held the same views as I, I persuaded myself that I held them differently” (Towards 3). Preoccupied with setting himself apart, Neal in the end cuts himself off from everyone and his narrative disintegrates into unconnected fragments.15 In Attitudes toward History, Burke proposes that the “so-called `I’ is merely a unique combination of partially conflicting `corporate we’s’” (264). This would explain why the “individual” he initially anticipates theorizing in the Symbolic is not independent of “consubstantiality” with others. Furthermore,
Bourgeois naturalism . . . [believed] an individual’s `identity’ is something private, peculiar to himself. And when bourgeois psychologists began to discover the falsity of this notion, they still believed in it so thoroughly that they considered all collective aspects of identity under the head of pathology and illusion. That is: they discovered accurately enough that identity is not individual, that a man “identifies himself” with all sorts of manifestations beyond himself, and they set about trying to “cure” him of this tendency.
It can’t be “cured,” for the simple reason that it is normal. (Attitudes 263). The “I,” then, is not “ancestral,” but derivative, the effect of putting the multiples “we’s,” in their varying proportions of importance, into some kind of order. How is that done? Through the act, as theorized in the dialectic of constitutions. Burke almost says as much in speaking of individuals as “unique `constitutions.’” As I’ve suggested elsewhere, the Grammar and the Rhetoric together provide Burke all the theoretical tools he needs to account for the “individual” envisioned for the Symbolic at the time of the writing of the Rhetoric (Wess, Kenneth Burke 136, 190, 228). Hence, it’s not surprising to find Burke, in his work on the Symbolic, developing a new way to conceive the individual. In “Catharsis Second View,” the second of his catharsis essays based on material from PDC, Burke begins:
In our first view of Catharsis, because we were working primarily with Greek models we stressed the civic nature of the “pollution” for which tragedy concocts a remedy. But there is a sense in which even elations or sorrows shared by us as members of a collectivity are experienced by us as individuals, quite as each person at a public banquet derives a particular gratification from the particular food that is eaten by him in particular. The centrality of the nervous system is a principium individuationis whereby, no matter how collective the nature of our symbol systems and of the socio political structures that go with them, our pleasures and pains are our own naturally inalienable private property. (“Catharsis Second View” 107)16
In his debate with Fredric Jameson, Burke reiterates this point in a context in which he contrasts it with customary conceptions of “individualism”:
as I state at the start of my essay on “(Nonsymbolic) Motion / (Symbolic) Action” [we’ll turn to this essay later]. . . I locate the individual (as distinct from the kind of “ideological” identity that is intended in a social term, such as “individualism”) in the human body, the “original economic plant,” distinct from all others owing to the divisive centrality of each body’s particular nervous system. (“Methodological” 404; see also 413)

In “individualism,” individuals are “consubstantial” with one another in a culture that valorizes the attributes of individualism, and such individuals are not “ancestral” but “constituted” as they acquire these attributes. Contrastingly, at the level of the unique body, there is no consubstantiality (my food goes into my stomach and no other even if the food I eat is a sign of the culture that shaped me) and this body, in its biology, is independent of culture.

With (1) the “body” thus serving as the principle of individuation combined with (2) the “poetic motive” as the linguistic principle distinguishing the symbol-using “species” of animal, Burke had in place a theoretical framework that could conceivably have produced a Symbolic to complete the trilogy he originally promised. The Grammar “deals with a level of motivation which even wholly rival doctrines of motives must share in common” (442), as illustrated by the way rival doctrines of “substance” can be derived linguistically from different pentadic choices. The Rhetoric deals with language in its partisan uses: the “Human Barnyard” (23). And the Symbolic, by theorizing the combination of motion (body) and action (language) in each individual symbol using animal, would give the trilogy an ontological rock on which to stand. This rock would privilege poetics (“poetic motive”), but it would be too foundational simply to stand besides ethics, as if the two could be equal partners requiring independent theorizing in separate books. In a Symbolic based on this model, ethics would be subordinated to the ontological conditions that make possible the “equations,” appearing in both “poem” and “person,” that define personality.

Signs appear in correspondence that Burke did indeed see the Symbolic as the place to complete his thinking, stretching over decades, about the relation of motion and action in the symbol using animal (Letters 1/24/78, 5/11/78). As long as this possibility seemed conceivable, Burke might very well have resisted going ahead with theorizing ethics and poetics in separate books.17

But the most important sign is the prominence in PDC and SM of both the “poetic motive” and “the body.” From the standpoint of the poetic motive, the assumption is that the intrinsic satisfaction in symbol using is enhanced when symbol using is deployed to resolve, through the cathartic process, social tensions that resist easy resolution. From the standpoint of the body, the assumption is that catharsis involves the body, but Burke’s thinking about the precise nature of this involvement seems inconclusive insofar as he leaves us with two competing formulations. The irony is that the formulation that is most convincing is the one that gets the least attention by far.

In conceiving the cathartic process, Burke draws heavily on Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, but he also touches briefly on comedy and lists comic catharsis among the things “still missing” in PDC, so he envisioned a poetics that theorized at least two genres and possibly also the lyric, conceived as a variant of Platonic transcendence (“Catharsis” 132). Burke’s theorizing of genres in this poetics differs from his approach in Attitudes toward History, where a chapter is devoted to “poetic categories.” In the context of that work’s focus on historical change, literary genres or “categories” are distinguished on the basis of whether they promote “acceptance” or “rejection” of reigning symbols of authority. By contrast, in the context of his concern with catharsis, Burke’s theorizing of genres is best seen from the standpoint not of historical change but of the “purification of war.”

Burke’s conception of the cathartic process is built around “pride,” “fear,” and “pity,” with “pride” standing for the quality in the tragic protagonist that is on the slope toward “war” because of the resentment it arouses in others. It is the source of the social tensions that the protagonist embodies. It might be more precise, Burke suggests, to name this quality after each protagonist: “oedipism,” “antigonism,” “promethean,” etc. (“On Catharsis” 348). While this quality is a source of social tensions, when it is embodied in a complex protagonist, it can be mixed with enough positive qualities, so that the tragedy “make[s] us fear for the very class of citizen against whom we might otherwise feel angry,” and this fear, in turn, prepares us to feel pity when catastrophe befalls the protagonist (“Catharsis” 131-32). Tragedy ends with pity, but pity is on the slope toward love. Comedy, by contrast, moves farther toward peace and love (“Catharsis” 132).

In one of Burke’s formulations of the role of the body in the cathartic process, the process completes itself in a bodily response:

So far as the body participates directly in the producing of catharsis by the organizing of symbol systems, its two typical expressions are laughter and tears. The striking thing about both these modes of release is their nature as completions, fulfillments. . . . Also, although as responses to works of art they arise out of purely symbolic processes, at the same time they are both intensely physical. Thus, there is a sense in which they perfectly bridge the gap between man’s nature as sheer animal and his nature as sheerly `rational’ or `spiritual’ (as symbol-user). (“Catharsis” 107-8).

Surprisingly, however, the attention Burke gives to this integration of motion (body) and action (language) is dwarfed by the far more extensive attention he gives to his other formulation, which is based on “the thinking of the body,” and which, in Rueckert’s judgment, results in “some of the most tortured and absurd analyses [Burke] ever wrote” (“Introduction” xiii).18

“The thinking of the body,” a phrase Burke borrows from Yeats, first appears in the Grammar in the “`demonic trinity,’ the three principles of the erotic, urinary and excremental” (303, 302; see also Yeats). These bodily functions become a big part of Burke’s theorizing of catharsis when they become cathartic purgings correlated to the tragic trinity of pride (excremental), fear (urinary), and pity (erotic).19 But investigation of these correlations leads Burke to stress,

Please note that in pursuing such a line of thought we should not be deriving tragic catharsis from bodily processes. Our theory would be turned in exactly the opposite direction. We should be saying simply that, when catharsis attains its full poetic statement (as it must if it is to be thorough), its terminology may also be expected to re enact some or other of these bodily analogues. . . . For our purposes, the imagery of bodily catharsis is viewed not as “causative,” but simply as a language that is naturally available to poets who would “give body” to ideas of purgation. (“On Catharsis” 355, 358)

Ironically, in the context of catharsis, the phrase “the thinking of the body” thus turns out to be something of a misnomer. If the body is not “causative” but simply the source of imagery of bodily catharsis that the poet should use “to be thorough,” the “thinking” is really the poet’s not the body’s.

By contrast, examples of genuine “thinking of the body” appear in “Somnia ad Urinandum: More Thoughts on Motion and Action,” where Burke modifies Freud by considering some dreams that seem not to fit his theory of dreaming. Burke’s main examples are dreams involving urination that prompt the dreamer to awake to the urgent need to urinate as quickly as possible. In such a dream, there is a genuine “thinking of the body” in which the body communicates its need by sublimating it in the form of the dream. If the “demonic trinity” sublimated itself similarly during the cathartic process, there would be a profound integration of motion and action. But while it is easy to imagine oneself witnessing a tragedy, experiencing catharsis, and in the end wiping away a few tears, it’s a stretch to imagine the body, during the same process, causing sublimations of defecation, urination, and orgasmic release. That is why Burke stresses that the “demonic trinity” is not causative of cathartic imagery, but in doing so, he moves away from integration of motion and action to disintegration. “The thinking of the body” appealed to Burke profoundly, but it seems, in his theorizing of catharsis, to have led to a theoretical dead end, with cathartic imagery appearing only in “analogues” to the body that are separate from the body. Such analogues conform to the principle in “(Nonsymbolic) Motion” that Burke emphasizes by repeatedly spelling it out in capitals: “DUPLICATION.”

“(Nonsymbolic) Motion,” also included among the texts Burke mentions in one of his discussions of the Symbolic (Letters 1/24/78), begins with Burke putting his “motion action pair” in competition with “such distinctions as body mind, spirit matter, superstructure substructure, and Descartes’ dualism, thought and extension” (140). At this philosophical level, “the thinking of the body” is left out of consideration, but the body as Burke’s principle of “individuation” is front and center. The “self,” Burke argues, must be “defined in terms of polarity,” grounded on one side in “the centrality of the nervous system” and on the other in cultural identifications (144-45). The two sides can be linked by “DUPLICATION” (145), but evidently nothing more. Transcending the division between the two sides would require something “like that which orthodox Western religious imagine, in promising that the virtuous dead will regain their `purified’ bodies in heaven” (162-63). Some “art heavens” try to do something comparable (163-64), but one is hard pressed to find in this essay any way to move beyond duplication to genuine integration.

One can conclude that what Burke had in mind for the Symbolic is evident from what he left us, but it is doubtful that one can determine from this material what he would have found satisfactory enough to publish. We only know for certain that he worked and reworked his material to try to satisfy himself, just as he did with the Grammar, as noted earlier. The Rhetoric seems also to have undergone similar major revisions before Burke was satisfied. In a letter to Richard McKeon in November 1947, Burke writes that he is headed to Florida with ample material for the Rhetoric. He writes McKeon again the following February to report that he has completed 100,000 words and that happily everything seems under control. The book, at that point, had two parts structured dialectically: one devoted to the upward way, covering rhetoric and dialectic, the other to the downward way, covering what he dubs the “world of publicity.” Obviously major changes occurred between this substantial draft and the book we know. Burke thus wrote for both the Grammar and the Rhetoric a great deal of material that could conceivably have ended up, like the extensive material he wrote for the Symbolic, fragmented in articles and incomplete manuscripts. But in the case of the first two, Burke solved his theoretical problems and found the architectonic structure he needed the latter dependent on the former whereas in the case of the Symbolic he evidently did not.

No doubt there are playful features in Burke’s writing, but they should not obscure the figures in the complex carpets of his major works as well as the evidence that he took considerable pains to perfect them. Such figures may be difficult to grasp, because perceiving them depends less on noting evidence supporting particular ideas advanced along the way than on noting how an overall structure is crafted like a plot in which one part prepares for another. When Burke speaks of ideas as functioning like characters advancing a plot (e.g., “Poetic Motive” 60 61), he has such structures in mind.20

Burke’s main focus was devising methodologies of interpreting textual material. He seems to have worked by going back and forth between (1) interpreting specific texts in extraordinarily close detail and (2) reflecting on and developing the theoretical assumptions underlying his interpretations.21 This combination is unusual: people good at detailed interpretation are often suspicious of abstract theory and theorists often never get very detailed in applying their theories. Burke, by contrast, seemed to rely on an ongoing dialectical interplay between theory and practice to strengthen his work at each level. In the case of his “motive” books, Burke undertook to develop not only elaborate methods of interpretation but to justify these methods with architectonic structures of complex, philosophical argument. Such grounding requires the “plot” structures he found for the Grammar and the Rhetoric, but evidently not for the Symbolic.


1 For Rueckert’s list of all the Burke letters he received discussing the Symbolic, see “Kenneth Burke’s” 114-15. For these letters, see Burke, Letters. Some details from these letters also appear in Rueckert’s comprehensive list of texts that might have been incorporated into the Symbolic (Kenneth Burke 288-92).

2 The list appears in Burke’s “Bibliographical Note” at the end of “Linguistic Approach to the Problems of Education” (302). Rueckert’s “Introduction” reproduces this list (xi), but mistakenly omits one article on it: “Comments on Eighteen Poems by Howard Nemerov.” Two other titles on the list are not in ETSM: “Mysticism as a Solution to the Poet’s Dilemma” and “Form and Persecution in the Oresteia,” though in the case of the latter, ETSM publishes for the first time “The Orestes Trilogy,” which is the chapter in PDC of which “Form and Persecution” is an abbreviated version. The texts on Burke’s list that do appear in ETSM are “`Dramatistic’ View of Imitation,” “Ethan Brand,” “Fact, Inference and Proof” “Othello,” “Three Definitions,” and “Vegetal Radicalism.” Drawing on his many discussions with Burke about the Symbolic, Rueckert also includes four other texts from the 1950-55 period: “Language of Poetry,” “Goethe’s Faust,” “Policy Made Personal,” and selections from “Linguistic Approach.”

3 Throughout, “SM” will be used to refer to the Symbolic of Motives manuscript, while “Symbolic” will refer to the whole project encompassing ETSM, PDC, and SM, but never completed in a book Burke published.

4 Williams’s recounting of this chronology is based on extensive consideration of Burke’s correspondence from the 1950s and 1960s. Rueckert’s “Kenneth Burke’s `Symbolic of Motives’ and `Poetics, Dramatistically Considered’” presupposes that SM was written before PDC, but in an Appendix, Rueckert generously recounts that Williams’s essay, written without the benefit of a copy of the SM manuscript, convinced him that SM is the one that comes later (“Kenneth Burke’s” 113-14). Internal evidence adds additional support for Williams’s argument. On SM 106, a reference to The Rhetoric of Religion, published in 1961, presupposes that it has already appeared. By contrast, Burke sent Rueckert a copy of PDC in 1959 (Letters 8/8/59; Rueckert, “Introduction” xii).

5 For the “still missing” list, see Williams 22, or Wess, Kenneth Burke 244. Portions of both PDC and SM have been published. In addition to the “Orestes Trilogy” chapter from PDC in ETSM, see Unending Conversations 35-80 (from PDC) and 81-98 (from SM). See Williams 22-29 for PDC’s table of contents along with a valuable discussion of the revisions Burke made in most of the chapters he published in article form. See Rueckert “Kenneth Burke’s” 117 19 for the table of contents in SM.

6 I assume Burke’s intended meaning is that he hopes to incorporate both poetic and ethical dimensions into the Symbolic he envisioned in 1967, though his statement is not altogether without ambiguity. The idiosyncratic nature of Burke’s notion of the “ethical dimension” is evident in his equation of it to “the character of the individual person.” By “ethics,” then, Burke has in mind something close to Aristotle’s “ethos,” or the use of character to effect rhetorical persuasion. Burke sometimes makes this connection explicit (“Language of Poetry” 41) but usually he does not. If one loses sight of this connection, it’s easy to misconstrue what Burke means in his references to his work on an “ethics.”

7 This passage does appear on ETSM 77-78, but it contains some errors, so my quotation comes directly from page 45 of the original: “Ethan Brand: A Preparatory Investigation,” Hopkins Review 5 (1952): 45-65.

8 An anticipation of this fourfold conception of language appears in ETSM in “The Language of Poetry,” which builds on Cicero’s three “offices of the orator” (inform, please, move) to which Burke adds a fourth to deal with the ethical, which he relates to Aristotle’s conception of the speaker as one of the means of persuasion (41). By the time Burke gets to “On Catharsis, or Resolution,” however, he seems no longer to need Cicero to provide a framework for its presentation.

0 Burke uses level three, which shifts back and forth between “poetics in particular” and “language in general,” in “Formalist Criticism: Its Principles and Limits,” where he settles scores with some of his formalist antagonists, principally Cleanth Brooks, but also Rene Wellek and R. P. Blackmur.

10 In a 1979 essay, Burke traces anticipations of his uses of the terms “perfection” and “entelechy” all the way back to The Philosophy of Literary Form, where, as he puts it, “I hadn’t yet quite got to it” (“Symbolism” 220).

11 The “poetic motive” also appears in the later “Poetics in Particular,” which separates the poetic motive from the other uses of language more sharply (28 29) than does “The Poetic Motive,” which centers the poetic motive in literature, but seems to find a degree of symbol using for the sheer pleasure of symbol using, the defining characteristic of the poetic motive, in other dimensions of language as well.

12 The published article entitled “The Poetic Motive” is essentially the same as the version in PDC. The version in SM is unchanged for the first two thirds (54-61 in the published article) and for the final two paragraphs (63). The changes (bottom of 61 through the top of 63) strengthen the note of caution that in the original is largely limited to the closing paragraphs. This revision is closer to Burke’s recognition that “perfection” can also be “rotten” and that “entelechy” can lead to “Helhaven.”

13 Some evidence of this reversal survives in the book itself. Burke tells us that he started with material under the title “The Constitutional Wish,” envisioned simply as an introductory chapter to his “material on rhetorical strategies and symbolic acts” but that he started working backwards as he found that he needed to justify starting with the constitutional material so that the chapter grew into a book with the constitution material appearing toward the end (Grammar 323). The pentad itself, Burke tells us, “seemed to cluster about our thoughts about the Constitution as an `enactment’” (Grammar 340), thus emerging last of all. The whole manuscript was then reorganized to arrive at the book we know today.

14 Remarks in PDC indicate that Burke saw that work as part of the Symbolic, not as one book separate from a book on ethics. By contrast, SM begins by presenting itself as a poetics separate from ethics, but it is never completed.

15 Looking back retrospectively at this earlier individualism Burke can see how it exemplifies a “gang morality.” Neal may try to distinguish himself even from those who share his views, but he can’t distinguish himself from those who, like himself, similarly do all they can to distinguish themselves from those who share their views. Individuals who do all they can to so distinguish themselves are, in this respect, all alike, loosely linked members of a “gang.” In the Rhetoric, especially in his material on Veblen Burke shows how such individuals are really conforming with one another in trying to “out-imitate” one another in being the “perfect individual” who is different from everyone else (131).

16 Anticipations of this formulation appear in the Rhetoric (e.g., 130).

17 A possible complicating factor is the shift, as Rueckert argues, in Burke’s interest from poetics to logology (Kenneth Burke 235 36). The relation of motion and action is, of course, as relevant to logology as to poetics, but the Symbolic was for Burke always the place where literature would be the focus, so this shift in interest may have diminished the importance of the Symbolic in Burke’s mind.

18 In PDC, a chapter called “The Thinking of the Body” takes up 104 of the manuscript’s 391 pages; this chapter is the basis for “The Thinking of the Body” chapter in Language as Symbolic Action. In SM the topic of “the thinking of the body” takes up the final 49 of this incomplete manuscript’s 269 pages.

19 An example of the “demonic trinity,” independent of its later matching with the tragic trinity, appears in ETSM (94-95). This matching evidently begins while Burke is working on the Oresteia. As noted earlier, ETSM includes “The Orestes Trilogy,” which is the chapter in PDC that is the basis for “Form and Persecution in the Oresteia,” published in 1952 and among the essays in Burke’s 1955 list on which ETSM is based. While “Form and Persecution” is shorter than “The Orestes Trilogy,” it also adds a passage, in both the 1952 original (378) and the later reprinting (126), in which Burke sketches where his work on the Oresteia fits into the work in progress that became PDC, and this passage indicates how the matching occurred when he wondered what might be bodily analogues for pride, fear, and pity. He calls this matching a “calamity” initially. In SM he renames it a “break through,” which is the term Rueckert uses (“Introduction” xviii ix).

20 For an attempt to trace the “plot” of the Grammar, see Wess, “Kenneth Burke’s `Dialectic of Constitutions.’”

21 Even Burke’s notorious interpretation of Keats’s “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” as “Body is turd, turd body,” which Burke concedes he probably should have saved “for fun at a drunk party” (“Dancing” 24), is an interpretation deploying methodological assumptions Burke could defend with rigor (“As I Was Saying” 20-24).

Works Cited

Booth, Wayne C. “The Many Voices of Kenneth Burke, Theologian and Prophet, as Revealed in His Letters To Me.” Unending Conversations 179-201.

---. The Rhetoric of Fiction. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1961.

Burke, Kenneth. “As I Was Saying.” Michigan Quarterly Review 11 (1972): 9 27.

---. Attitudes toward History. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.

---. “Catharsis Second View.” The Centennial Review 5 (1961): 107 32.

---. “Comments on Eighteen Poems by Howard Nemerov.” Sewanee Review 60 (1952): 117-31.

---. Counter-Statement. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1968.

---. “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes.” Critical Inquiry 1 (1974): 23 32.

---. “A `Dramatistic’ View of Imitation.” Burke, Essays 5-18.

---. Essays toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950 1955. Ed. William H. Rueckert. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor P, 2007.

---. “Ethan Brand: A Preparatory Investigation.” Burke, Essays 77-102.

---. “Fact, Inference and Proof in the Analysis of Literary Symbolism.” Burke, Essays 49-73.

---. “Form and Persecution in the Oresteia.” Burke, Language 125-38. Reprinted from Sewanee Review 60 (1952): 377-96.

---. “Formalist Criticism: Its Principles and Limits.” Burke, Language 480 506.

---. “Goethe’s Faust, Part I.” Burke, Essays 283-310.

---. A Grammar of Motives (1945). Berkeley: U of California P, 1969.

---. Language as Symbolic Action. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966.

---. “The Language of Poetry, `Dramatistically’ Considered.” Burke, Essays 36 48.

---. Letters from Kenneth Burke to William H. Rueckert, 1959-1987. Ed. William H. Rueckert. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor P, 2003.

---. “Linguistic Approach to Problems of Education.” Modern Philosophies and Education. The Fifty-Fourth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part 1. Ed. Nelson B. Henry. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1955. 259 303. Abridged version in Burke, Essays 261-82.

---. “Methodological Repression and/or Strategies of Containment.” Critical Inquiry 5 (1978): 401 16.

---. “Mysticism as a Solution to the Poet’s Dilemma.” Spiritual Problems in Contemporary Literature: A Series of Addresses and Discussions. Ed. Stanley Romaine Hopper. New York: Institute for Religious and Social Studies, 1952. 95-115.

---. “(Nonsymbolic) Motion / (Symbolic) Action.” Burke, On Human Nature 139 71.

---. “On Catharsis, or Resolution.” The Kenyon Review 21 (1959): 337 75.

---. On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows 1967 84. Ed. William H. Rueckert and Angelo Bonadonna. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003.

---. “The Orestes Trilogy.” Burke, Essays 103 47.

---. “Othello: An Essay to Illustrate a Method.” Burke, Essays 148-86.

---. Permanence and Change. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.

---. The Philosophy of Literary Form. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California, 1973. ---. “The Poetic Motive.” Hudson Review 11.1 (1958): 54-63.

---. “Poetics in Particular; Language in General.” Burke, Language 25 43.

---. “Policy Made Personal: Whitman’s Verse and Prose-Salient Traits.” Burke, Essays 220-57.

---. “Questions and Answers about the Pentad.” College Composition and Communication 19 (1978): 330-35.

---. A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. ---. The Rhetoric of Religion. Berkeley: U of California P, 1961.

---. “Somnia ad Urinandum: More Thoughts on Motion and Action.” Burke, Language 344-58.

---. “Symbolism as a Realistic Mode.” Burke, On Human Nature 210-25. ---. “The Thinking of the Body.” Burke, Language 308-43. ---. “Three Definitions.” Burke, Essays 19-35. ---. Towards a Better Life. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966.

---. “The Vegetal Radicalism of Theodore Roethke.” Burke, Essays 187 219.

Condit, Celeste. “Kenneth Burke and Linguistic Reflexivity: Reflections on the Scene of the Philosophy of Communication in the Twentieth Century.” Kenneth Burke and Contemporary European Thought: Rhetoric in Transition. Ed. Bernard L. Brock. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1995. 207-62.

Jay, Paul, ed. The Selected Correspondence of Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley: 1915-1981. New York: Viking, 1988.

Rueckert, William H. “Introduction.” Burke, Essays xi-xxi.

---. Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations. 2nd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1982.

---. “Kenneth Burke’s `Symbolic of Motives’ and `Poetics, Dramatistically Considered.’” Unending Conversations 99-124.

---. “Some of the Many Kenneth Burkes.” Encounters with Kenneth Burke. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1994. 3-28. Unending Conversations: New Writings by and about Kenneth Burke. Ed. Greig Henderson and David Cratis Williams. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2001.

Wess, Robert. Kenneth Burke: Rhetoric, Subjectivity, Postmodernism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.

---. “Kenneth Burke’s `Dialectic of Constitutions.’” PreText 12 (1991): 9 30.

Williams, David Cratis. “Toward Rounding Out the Motivorum Trilogy: A Textual Introduction.” Unending Conversations 3-34.

Wimsatt, W. K. “The Intentional Fallacy.” The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry. 3 18. Co-authored with Monroe C. Beardsley. Reprinted from Sewanee Review 54 (1946).

Yeats. W. B. “The Thinking of the Body.” The Cutting of an Agate. New York: Macmillan, 1912.

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KB Journal Adds Premium Content for KBS Members

Clarke Rountree, University of Alabama in Huntsville

A number of years ago, Ed Appel, who had been a member of the Kenneth Burke Society for many years, asked a reasonable question: What do I get for my membership dues? That question haunted me for three years when I served as Treasurer of the Kenneth Burke Society. It haunted me because, frankly, the answer was: Not much. We offered a very good newsletter, though it came out only occasionally. For those attending the Triennial Conferences of the Kenneth Burke Society, often there was a conference fee discount for members. About the only good news I could offer was that the dues were low: $20 per year or $50 for three years (and half that for students).

We can now add that one of the benefits of membership is support of KB Journal. Obviously, though, this is not a benefit limited to members of KBS. We made a decision when we launched the journal in 2004 that it would remain freely available to anyone who happens upon our website. It just makes sense to share research on Burke with as wide a community as possible.

With this issue, however, the benefits of membership have just gone up significantly. We are happy to announce a new feature of KB Journal that offers premium content exclusively to members of the Kenneth Burke Society. While the bulk of the journal, including archived issues, will remain freely available to everyone, anyone wishing to access this premium content will need to create a (free) account at KB Journal site and then purchase a membership in the Society. The Treasurer will adjust your account so that it gives you access to the new premium content.

So, what do you get for your dues now? Your membership connects you to valuable resources for Burke scholars. First and foremost, KBS underwrote the most significant upgrade of our bibliography of works about Kenneth Burke since Bill Rueckert’s bibliography in Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke, 1924-1966. The number of those sources has almost doubled, from about 800 to over 1500. These include, for the first time, dissertations and theses about Burke, as well as hundreds of abstracts on both old and new sources. The new “Works about Kenneth Burke” not only has more sources, it also comes in a number of useful forms, including arrangements by author, title, and date; subsets of the whole bibliography that focus on dissertations and theses, books, journal articles, and book reviews; and a full bibliography that includes abstracts. I discuss and draw upon this bibliography extensively in my essay in this issue, “Burke by the Numbers.” See Premium Bibliographies (KBS members only!).

A second premium content in the new members’ area can quickly offset the cost of your membership: We have arranged KBS member discounts on books from a variety of publishers of books by Burke and those who study him (KBS members only!). These include the venerable University of California Press, Parlor Press, Roman & Littlefield, and Say Press.

Finally, we have included PDF archives of the Kenneth Burke Society Newsletter.

If you would like access to these valuable resources, please use the easy, online Paypal system now available to join (or rejoin) the Society. The dues you pay to KBS will be used to continually update the bibliography and to develop new premium content, as well as to support the activities of the Society, including its triennial conference. By the fall we hope to add a new bibliography of dissertations and theses listed by keyword, university, and director. We also will seek to expand the number of sources that include abstracts.

Are you happy now, Ed? I thought so.

Burke by the Numbers: Observations on Nine Decades of Scholarship on Burke

Clarke Rountree, University of Alabama in Huntsville

I recently oversaw an extensive updating of the widely available bibliography of secondary sources on Kenneth Burke for the Kenneth Burke Society, which sponsors KB Journal. The earlier bibliography was assembled by Dave Blakesley from several sources, including Bill Rueckert’s Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke, 1924-1966, Richard H. Thames’ bibliography in The Legacy of Kenneth Burke, and additional work by assistants working for Dave and me. This updated bibliography nearly doubles the number of sources of the original bibliography (from just over 800 to well over 1500), adding theses and dissertations on Burke, as well as essays and books retrieved through the wonderfully efficient electronic databases available today. Almost half of these entries now have abstracts as well.

As noted elsewhere in this issue of KB Journal, this new bibliography will be offered as premium content on this website for members of the Kenneth Burke Society. We do not draw the distinction lightly between what is free and what requires a membership and a password. Yet, the modest fee required to join the Society is no barrier to any serious Burke scholar who wishes to access this content, or the other premiums offered in the members-only area. (See our note on the new member’s area in this issue.) However, without the support of dues-paying members, we would not have the resources to provide such goodies. In any event, the bulk of KB Journal will remain freely available to everyone.

This essay offers some reflections on the new bibliography, whose incorporation into a robust database has allowed me to search, sort, and extract a few interesting facts and figures about secondary work on Burke. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not much with figures—I’m rhetorician through and through, almost allergic to what my counterparts on the social science side of the communication studies house talk about. Nevertheless, I must admit that numbers can sometimes offer their own insights. So, I offer this essay to give readers a glimpse into what we’ve been pulling from the Burke mines during the past few months.

The Big Picture

My goal in this update was to be over inclusive, rather than under inclusive. This has led me to include some sources that are not singularly focused on Burke or his ideas, but incorporate a discussion or use of Burke or his ideas in substantial ways. My research team typically used keyword or subject term searches to find sources. If there was a question about the significance of the Burke content, I made a quick review of the source. So, for example, I included a book edited by communication scholar Michael J. Hyde on The Ethos of Rhetoric, not because any single essay discusses Burke at length, but because Burke is referenced on about 15% of the volume’s pages.

On the other hand, works which simply cite Burke did not pass the test—that would lead to a bibliography in the tens of thousands. So, for example, I did not include one of the most unusual uses of Burke in an opening excerpt to a computer science essay on pattern matching published in Computational Intelligence journal, quoting Burke:

When a philosopher invents a new approach to reality, he promptly finds that his predecessors saw something as a unit which he can subdivide, or that they accepted distinctions which his system can name as unities. The universe would appear to be something like a cheese; it can be sliced in an infinite number of ways—and when one has chosen his own pattern of slicing, he finds that the other[’s] cuts fall at the wrong places. (Levinson and Fuchs qtg. Burke from Klir)

Likewise, I could not include Maynard Solomon’s passing quotation of Burke in analyzing Beethoven’s “Diabelli” Variations as a sort of Empsonian pastoral (though such references to Burke in music criticism are rare). And Donna R. Techau’s reliance on Burke’s discussion of the etymology of the word define in discussing marriage for Liturgy journal is just too brief for inclusion, however interesting.

Nonetheless, I have attempted to be exhaustive in this bibliography, though there inevitably will be sources I have missed. (If KB Journal readers know of published sources on Burke not included, please send them to me or other KB Journal editors.) For example, book chapters and encyclopedia or dictionary entries are less well represented in databases than other kinds of sources. Electronic databases are less likely to have older materials (assuming some sources were not picked up by Rueckert or others in earlier bibliographies). Some minor publications are not in databases, such as many state journals in communication. (I included my own publication in a state journal because I knew about it; if you have some, please send them to me.)

Given these caveats on my attempt to exhaust the literature, as of this writing the total number of secondary sources on Burke is 1537. These include the following sources:

Type of Source Number of Sources
Journal Essays 728
Theses & Dissertations 444
Books 162
Book Sections 146
Magazine/News Articles 54
Reference Entry 1
Videotape 1
Website 1

Ignoring distinctions between different types of sources (whereby a book and a book review both count as “one”), it is notable that something was published about Burke every year since 1924, with the exceptions of 1930, 1940, 1943, and 1944. This tradition of works about Burke began with a slow trickle that turned into a torrent by the 1980s. Below are the numbers of sources about Burke published during the decades since the 1920s. Obviously, our own decade, already beating six of the other eight decades covered, has yet to be completed.

Decade Works on Burke
1920s 8
1930s 36
1940s 34
1950s 50
1960s 82
1970s 119
1980s 400
1990s 490
2000s 321

In the next section, I review these decades briefly, mostly sticking to my number-driven terministic screen in highlighting “major” Burke scholars, which I define quantitatively (and arbitrarily) as those who have published at least five works about Burke. However, I drop this standard in discussing major book authors and those, such as Fredric Jameson, who have contributed to notable moments in Burke scholarship.

Decades of Burke Scholarship

Most of the secondary works on Burke from the 1920s to 1940s are book reviews; fifty-eight of seventy-eight essays are explicitly focused on reviewing a particular book by Burke. By the 1950s, the first dissertations and books on Burke began appearing, as well as theoretical and critical essays. Importantly, in a 1950 review of A Rhetoric of Motives (Ehninger), the speech communication field discovered Burke and began its six-decade love affair with him. By the 1960s, social scientists had discovered Burke, including sociologist Hugh Dalziel Duncan and political scientist Murray Edelman. The interest of literary scholars continued, notably, that of Bill Rueckert, who began building upon his 1956 dissertation on Burke in publishing the first edition of Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations, as well as Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke, 1924-1966. Communication scholars Jim Chesebro and the late Leland Griffin published their first essays on Burke.

By the 1970s, interest in Burke spread across the academy. Joseph Gusfield and Michael Overington joined Duncan from sociology. Hayden White began drawing upon Burke for history. Wayne C. Booth, Harold Bloom, Tim Crusius, Michael Feehan, Stanley Edgar Hyman, Don Jennerman, Rene Wellek, and others took up Burke for literary studies. Rising stars from communication offered their first Burke essays, including Jane Blankenship, Barry Brummett, Richard Gregg, Bob Heath, Bob Ivie, and Phil Tompkins. Bernie Brock and Robert L. Scott published a widely-read textbook in rhetorical criticism that featured a chapter on Burkean criticism. The relatively new journal, Philosophy & Rhetoric, featured five articles about Burke (Abbott; Ambrester; Blankenship, Murphy, and Rosenwasser; Melia; and Pedigrew), drawing philosophers’ attention to his work. Recherches anglaises et americaines, a French journal of English and American culture, literature, and art (now defunct), published a special issue on Burke in 1979 (Susini). Notable exchanges occurred between Burke and Wilbur Samuel Howell, then Burke and Fredric Jameson.

In the 1980s more Burke scholarship was published than in all six previous decades combined. The first Kenneth Burke conference was in Philadelphia in 1984 and the Kenneth Burke Society was formed shortly afterward. Many more scholars—especially from communication, literature, and composition—looked to Burke for insights. In addition to those mentioned from previous decades, another wave of communication scholars published for the first time on Burke, including Ed Appel, Cheree Carlson, Phyllis Japp, Paul Jay, Andy King, Mark Moore, Clarke Rountree, Richard Thames, and David Cratis Williams. Literary scholars publishing on Burke included Rick Coe, Greig Henderson, Tilly Warnock, Bob Wess, and W. Ross Winterowd. The Department of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa produced an eight-hour series of videotaped interviews with Burke (Conversations with Kenneth Burke).

Kenneth Burke died in 1993, but interest in his work grew throughout the 1990s in both size and intensity. In 1992 Celeste Condit published an essay in The Quarterly Journal of Speech suggesting that perhaps it was time for rhetorical scholars to go post-Burke (as feminists have gone “post-feminist”), sparking a heated exchange with Phil Tompkins and George Cheney. Chesebro added his own ideas for extending Burke’s system in an article in the same journal (“Extensions”). This intense exploration of Burke’s ideas is emblematic of the 1990s, which has become the most prolific decade for works about Burke (though the 2000s are close behind already). Forty Burke-related books were published during the decade, including three collections from Burke conferences (Chesebro, Extensions of the Burkeian System; Brock, Kenneth Burke and Contemporary European Thought; Brock, Kenneth Burke and the 21st Century) and Barry Brummett’s Landmark Essays on Kenneth Burke. Books by Barbara Biesecker, Crusius, and Wess put Burke into conversation with postmodernism. Jack Selzer’s book on Burke in Greenwich Village provided insight into the intellectual environment that fueled Burke’s thought. Chris Carter devoted a book to Burke’s notion of scapegoating. Martin Behr published a book on Burke’s thought and a second, with Rick Coe, on Burke and composition. British scholar Stephen Bygrave offered a volume on Burke and ideology. Indian scholar Satish Gupta published a book on Burke’s literary theory. Stan Lindsey offered a study of Burke and Aristotle. And Bill Rueckert offered perhaps his most mature assessment of Burke in Encounters with Kenneth Burke. This fervor over Burke was reflected in graduate schools, which produced over 180 theses and dissertations on Burke during the decade.

The 2000s have begun with a bang for Burke studies. Twenty-five Burke-related books have appeared, with two more scheduled for publication this year. Three volumes include Burke’s work with that of his colleagues and commentators: Burke’s exchange of letters with William Carlos Williams (East), his correspondence with Bill Rueckert (Rueckert, Letters), and an edited volume by Greig Henderson and David Cratis Williams, Unending Conversations, which includes unpublished work of Burke’s, as well as recent and past publications by notable Burke commentators. Ross Wolin took on the massive task of resituating Burke’s eight major theoretical works within their social and political contexts in The Rhetorical Imagination of Kenneth Burke. Rhetorical critics applied Burke to several book-length works: David Bobbitt took on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Camille Lewis looked at Bob Jones University’s discourse of religious fundamentalism, Stan Lindsey used “representative anecdote” to unpack the Book of Revelations, and Clarke Rountree used the pentad to explore constructions of court motives in the election-ending case of Bush v. Gore. British scholar Laurence Coupe followed on a 1990s book on myth with a 2004 book examining Kenneth Burke on Myth. Greg Clark used Burke to explore the practices of American tourism. Beth Eddy considered identity in Burke and Ellison. Robert Garlitz used logology to shed light on literary criticism. Books by Dave Blakesley, by Mark Huglen and Basil Clark, and by John D. Ramage used Burke to teach rhetorical theory to students. Stan Lindsay published his concordance to Burke’s work. Almost one hundred theses and dissertations have been completed so far in the 2000s. Finally, KB Journal, the first journal devoted exclusively to the study of Burke and his ideas, was launched in 2004 by Huglen, Rountree, and Blakesley (and soon adopted by the Kenneth Burke Society) and has quickly become the leading publisher of journal essays on Burke for the decade, with 34 of 178 entries.

Notable Firsts

The first essays about Burke appeared in reviews of The White Oxen in 1924. The database lists the first specifically dated review as 11 October 1924, by Gorham Munson in The Literary Review (“An Amazing Debut”), with The New York Times’ anonymous book review coming almost two weeks later (“Psychological Drama”). Matthew Josephson reviewed on November 16th for The New York Herald Tribune. Malcolm Cowley’s review for The Dial is dated as 1924, with no month listed.

Gorham Munson also appears to have written the first book chapter on Kenneth Burke in 1928: "In and About the Workshop of Kenneth Burke" in Destinations; a Canvass of American Literature since 1900. Burke received notice in various books on criticism from the 1930s and 1940s, though the first full-length book devoted exclusively and explicitly to Burke would come in 1957, with George Knox’s Critical Moments: Kenneth Burke’s Categories and Critiques.

Knox is also credited with completing the first dissertation focused on Burke, “Kenneth Burke as Literary Theorist and Critic,” at the University of Washington in 1953. Other notable, early, dissertations include, Virginia Holland’s “Aristotelianism in the Rhetorical Theory of Kenneth Burke,” completed in 1954 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Bill Rueckert’s 1956 University of Michigan dissertation, “The Rhetoric of Rebirth: a Study of the Literary Theory and Critical Practice of Kenneth Burke.” The first dissertation outside of literature and speech was Frederic Lionel Diamond’s “Murder in Toronto: A Ten Year Study: 1966-1976,” completed in 1979 at York University in Canada.

Disciplinary Interests

I am currently editing a series for KB Journal entitled “Burke in the Fields.” For this series I have recruited top Burke scholars in various fields to write about the uses of Burke in their particular disciplinary homes. This began with a review of Burke in communication studies by Barry Brummett and Anna M. Young. Reviews currently in the works will look at Burke and composition studies, literary studies, the social sciences, and international scholarship. Those in-depth reviews will be qualitative, but here I simply want to make gross numerical observations about Burke’s importance to various fields. The shortest route to that is to look at the journals publishing work about Burke and his ideas.

Works about Burke and his ideas have been published in 324 different journals (including a few high-brow magazines). The largest number of these journals come from literary studies, with an astonishing 100 different titles publishing Burke-related work. By contrast, communication studies has featured works about Burke in only 38 different journals (though, notably, we have far fewer journals in our discipline). Interdisciplinary journals in rhetoric (such as Philosophy & Rhetoric, Pre/Text, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, and Rhetorica), in the arts and sciences (e.g., Bucknell Review), and in the humanities (e.g., Angelika) feature Burke in 20 different titles. Seventeen general interest journals or magazines (such as The Nation and The American Scholar) and sixteen sociology journals discuss Burke. You can find Burke studies in about a dozen journals each in composition studies, cultural studies, and religion. Beyond that, journals in American studies, anthropology, art, business, education, history, linguistics, philosophy, political science, and science feature Burke in journals numbering in the single digits.

When you examine the numbers of works published in each field, the dominance of literary studies is displaced by communication studies, where 226 essays have been published, compared to 179 essays in literary studies. However, the interdisciplinary journals in rhetoric include enough territory for either communication or literary scholars to argue over dominance, with 157 essays. Composition studies, sociology, and general interest periodicals are closely tied for third place at about 30 essays each. Linguistics and religion have about a dozen apiece, followed by single digits for all the other areas I have mentioned.

The greatest single disseminator of Burke’s ideas through secondary literature has been The Quarterly Journal of Speech, which boasts 77 essays on Burke-related issues. Second in line is KB Journal, whose singular focus on Burke has yielded 34 sources in three years. Rhetoric Review and Western Journal of Communication include 28 essays. Another regional communication journal, Communication Quarterly boasts two dozen essays. Rhetoric Society Quarterly offers a respectable twenty. The greatest champion of Burke studies in the balkanized arena of literary studies is American Literature with twelve.

Altogether, the journals traditionally associated with the “speech” and “English” disciplines—including rhetoric, composition, and literature—account for almost ninety percent of all journal articles in Burke scholarship. Obviously, the interest of both fields in rhetoric in the broadest sense—perhaps the focus of Burke’s most significant contributions—explains why the greatest number of scholars drawing on Burke come from these fields.

Naming Names

In reviewing Burke scholarship through the decades, I already have identified many “major” Burke scholars. (To those who have done important work that fell short of my five-work standard, let me plead my stalwart adherence to the number-driven terministic screen that overlooks quality.) Nevertheless, it is worth taking note of those scholars who have been most prolific in Burke studies.

Bill Rueckert, the late “Dean” of Burke studies, leads the pack with 15 works spanning fifty years, from his 1956 dissertation to an essay published in KB Journal just last year. Two scholars are credited with 14 works on Burke: the late Bernie Brock and Dave Blakesley. Bernie’s 1965 dissertation drew upon Burke in discussing political communication (“A Definition”), beginning five decades of work on Burke, including editing two volumes from Triennial Burke conferences. Dave Blakesley, whose primary scholarship is in rhetoric and composition, has made his mark much more recently and more quickly. His tireless efforts to support Burke scholarship include the development and maintenance of two major websites (his “Virtual Parlor” and this journal’s website), the founding and oversight of Parlor Press, which has published several Burke-related books; his own book on dramatism, and a just-published volume of Burke’s poems he edited with Julie Whitaker, as well as bibliographies, articles, and book reviews. Jim Chesebro, who drew upon Burke for his work in communication studies for decades, follows closely with 13. Bob Wess and Clarke Rountree are tied at a dozen each. Tim Crusius ties Hugh Duncan at 11 (though Duncan gets credit for multiple publications of two books). Greig Henderson of literary studies and Barry Brummett of communication studies are tied at 10. Mark P. Moore and Phil Tompkins have nine each, while Ed Appel, Michael Feehan, and Paul Jay come in with eight apiece. Bryan Crable and Mark Huglen have seven. Rick Coe, Malcolm Cowley, Bob Heath, Richard Thames, Tilly Warnock, David Cratis Williams, and W. Ross Winterowd have a half-dozen each. Scholars with five Burke-related works include Cheree Carlson, Chris Carter, Laurence Coupe, Bernard Duffey, Bob Ivie, Phyllis Japp, Don Jennerman, Stan Lindsay, and Jeffrey Murray.

This list of prolific Burke scholars is dominated by men. I’ll leave it to other scholars to explain this (though perhaps Celeste Condit would contend that we need to go post-Burke to feminize our scholarship). Only Tilly Warnock, Cheree Carlson, and Phyllis Japp meet my “major scholar” benchmark of five or more Burke-related publications. However, the future looks a bit brighter, with young scholars including Debra Hawhee (named top new Burke scholar at the 2005 Triennial Burke conference), Ann George (with four publications in the 2000s), and Kathleen M. Vandenberg (with two in 2005), making headway. Also coming on strong this decade are Blakesley, with eight publications in the 2000s, Mark Huglen with seven, Bryan Crable with six, and Greg Clark, Jeffrey Murray, and Dana Anderson with three each. These young scholars represent the future of Burke studies and of KB Journal.

On the other hand, we don’t want to forget the contributions of those legions of scholars who dabble in Burke, enriching their own particular scholarly projects when Burke offers something particular they seek. And there are many such scholars—the mode (to use one of those statistical references) for number of publications by an individual scholar in Burke studies is a solid “one.” Roughly a thousand different scholars have published a single work about Burke.


It is the nature of quantitative measures to grossly simplify the complex. That is a great advantage for looking across nine decades of work on Burke and saying something informative and interesting. I hope this introduction to the new bibliography has intrigued you, despite the limitations of its numerical bias. I believe this brief review demonstrates at least three things: (1) that Burke studies is strong and growing, (2) that “speech” and “English” have supplied and continue to supply the largest number of Burke scholars and publication outlets (though scholars from a dozen fields have found him useful), and (3) that lots of scholars dabble in Burke while a handful have devoted much of their scholarly lives to his work. This essay is a tip of the hat to the devotees, both young and old.

For the convenience of Burke scholars who want to join (or rejoin) the Kenneth Burke Society and delve more deeply into the updated bibliography I drew upon for this essay, the following configurations of this bibliography are provided in the new Members area of this journal:

All Sources
• With Abstracts (by author)
• By author
• By date
• By title
• By author
• By date
• By book title
Journal Articles
• By author
• By date
• By article title
• By journal (then date)
Theses and Dissertations
• By author
• By date
Book Reviews
• By book title
• By author
• By date

Works Cited

Abbott, Don Paul. "Marxist Influences on the Rhetorical Theory of Kenneth Burke." Philosophy & Rhetoric 7 (1974): 217-33.

Ambrester, Roy. "Identification Within: Kenneth Burke's View of the Unconscious." Philosophy and Rhetoric 7 (1974): 205-16.

Appel, Edward C. "The Tragic-Symbol Preaching of the Rev. Dr. Wallace E. Fisher." Journal of Communication and Religion 10 (1987): 34-43.

Behr, Martin, and Richard M. Coe. Critical Moments in the Rhetoric of Kenneth Burke: Implications for Composition. Winnipeg, Man.: Inkshed Publications, 1996.

---. Continuity and Change in the Thought of Kenneth Burke. Ottawa: National Library of Canada, 1992.

Biesecker, Barbara A. Addressing Postmodernity : Kenneth Burke, Rhetoric, and a Theory of Social Change. Studies in Rhetoric and Communication. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997.

Blakesley, David. The Elements of Dramatism. Boston: Longman, 2002.

Blankenship, Jane, Edwin Murphy, and Marie Rosenwasser. "Pivotal Terms in the Early Works of Kenneth Burke." Philosophy and Rhetoric 7.1 (1974): 1-24.

Bloom, Harold. A Map of Misreading. New York: Oxford UP, 1975.

Bobbitt, David A. The Rhetoric of Redemption: Kenneth Burke’s Redemption Drama and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s "I Have a Dream Speech". Communication, Media, and Politics Series. New York: Roman & Littlefield, 2004.

Booth, Wayne C. "Kenneth Burke's Way of Knowing." Critical Inquiry 1 (1974): 1-22.

Brock, Bernard Lee. "A Definition of Four Political Positions and a Description of Their Rhetorical Characteristics." Dissertation. Northwestern University, 1965.

---, ed. Kenneth Burke and Contemporary European Thought : Rhetoric in Transition. Studies in Rhetoric and Communication. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995.

---, ed. Kenneth Burke and the 21st Century. Albany: State U of New York P, 1999.

Brock, Bernard L. and Robert L.Scott. Methods of Rhetorical Criticism. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.

Brown, Merle Elliott. Kenneth Burke. University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969.

Brummett, Barry. Landmark Essays on Kenneth Burke. Davis, CA: Hermagoras P, 1993.

Brummett, Barry. "Presidential Substance: The Address of August 15, 1973." Western Journal of Communication 39 (1975): 249-59.

---, and Anna M. Young. "Burke in the Fields: Some Uses of Burke in Communication Studies." KB Journal 2.2 (2006).

Burke, Kenneth. Late Poems 1968-1993. Ed. Julie Whitaker and David Blakesley. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2005.

Bygrave, Stephen. Kenneth Burke: Rhetoric and Ideology. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Camtwell, Robert. "Second Person Singular." Rev. of Towards a Better Life by Kenneth Burke. The Nation 9 March 1932: 289.

Carlson, A. Cheree. "Gandhi and the Comic Frame: Ad Bellum Purificandum." The Quarterly Journal of Speech 72 (1986): 446-55.

Carter, Chris Allen. Kenneth Burke and the Scapegoat Process. Oklahoma Project for Discourse and Theory. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

Chamberlain, John. "Mr. Burke's Experiment in the Novel." Rev. of Towards a Better Life by Kenneth Burke. The New York Times Book Review 31 January 1932: 2.

Chesebro, James W. "A Construct for Assessing Ethics in Communication." Central States Speech Journal 20 (1969): 104-14.

---. "Extensions of the Burkeian System." The Quarterly Journal of Speech 78.3 (1992): 356-68.

---. Extensions of the Burkeian System. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1993.

Clark, Gregory. Rhetorical Landscapes in America: Variations on a Theme from Kenneth Burke. Studies in Rhetoric/Communication. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.

Coe, Richard M. "It Takes Capital to Defeat Dracula: A New Rhetorical Essay." College English 49 (1986): 231-42.

Condit, Celeste. "Post Burke: Transcending the Sub-Stance of Dramatism in the Forum: Burke Revisited and Revised." The Quarterly Journal of Speech 78.3 (1992): 349-55.

Conversations with Kenneth Burke. Eds. Clarke Rountree and Judy Smith. University of Iowa Department of Communication Studies, Iowa City, IA, 1987.

Coupe, Laurence. Kenneth Burke on Myth: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Cowley, Malcolm. "Gulliver." Rev. of The White Oxen by Kenneth Burke. The Dial 77 (1924): 520-22.

Crusius, Timothy W. Kenneth Burke and the Conversation after Philosophy. Rhetorical Philosophy and Theory. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999.

Crusius, Timothy W. "Kenneth Burke's Theory of Form in Rhetorical Interpretation." Recherches anglaises et americaines 12 (1979): 82-97.

Diamond, Frederic Lionel. "Murder in Toronto: A Ten Year Study: 1966-1976." DAI 43.05A (1979): 01.

Duncan, Hugh D. Symbols and Social Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.

East, James H., ed. The Humane Particulars: The Collected Letters of William Carlos Williams and Kenneth Burke. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2003.

Edelman, Murray J. The Symbolic Uses of Politics. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1964.

Eddy, Beth. The Rites of Identity: The Religious Naturalism and Cultural Criticism of Kenneth Burke and Ralph Ellison. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Ehinger, Douglas. Rev. of A Rhetoric of Motives by Kenneth Burke. The Quarterly Journal of Speech 36 (1950): 557-58.

Feehan, Michael. "Kenneth Burke's Discovery of Dramatism." The Quarterly Journal of Speech 65 (1979): 405-11.

Frank, Armin Paul. Kenneth Burke. New York,: Twayne Publishers, 1969.

Garlitz, Robert. Kenneth Burke's Logology and Literary Criticism. Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2004.

Grattan, C. Hartley. "A Novel Not a Novel." Rev. of Towards a Better Life by Kenneth Burke. The Saturday Review of Literature 19 March 1932: 604.

Gregg, Richard B. "Kenneth Burke's Prolegomena to the Study of the Rhetoric of Form." Communication Quarterly 26 (1978): 3-13.

Gregory, Horace. "The Man on the Park Bench." Rev. of Towards a Better Life by Kenneth Burke. The New York Herald Tribune Books 31 January 1932: 2.

Griffin, Leland M. "A Dramatistic Theory of the Rhetoric of Movements." Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke, 1924-1966. Ed. William H. Rueckert. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1969. 456-78.

---. "The Rhetorical Structure of the 'New Left' Movement, Part One." The Quarterly Journal of Speech 50 (1964): 113-35.

Gupta, Satish. Kenneth Burke's Literary Theory. New Delhi: Anmol Publications, 1995.

Gusfield, Joseph R. "The Literary Rhetoric of Science: Comedy and Pathos in Drinking Driver Research." American Sociological Review 4 (1976): 16-34.

Hazlitt, Henry. "Two Critics." Rev. of Counter-Statement by Kenneth Burke. The Nation 1932: 77.

Heath, Robert L. "Kenneth Burke on Form." The Quarterly Journal of Speech 65 (1979): 392-404.

Henderson, Greig E. Kenneth Burke: Literature and Language as Symbolic Action. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988.

Henderson, Greig E., and David Cratis Williams. Unending Conversations : New Writings by and About Kenneth Burke. Rhetorical Philosophy and Theory. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2001.

Holland, Laura Virginia. "Aristotelianism in the Rhetorical Theory of Kenneth Burke." DAI 15.01 (1954): 146.

Howell, Wilbur Samuel. "The Two-Party Line: A Reply to Kenneth Burke." Quarterly Journal of Speech 62 (1976): 69-77.

Huglen, Mark E., and Basil B. Clark. Poetic Healing: A Vietnam Veteran's Journey from a Communication Perspective. revised ed. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2005.

Hyde, Michael J. The Ethos of Rhetoric. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.

Hyman, Stanley Edgar. "Kenneth Burke and the Criticism of Symbolic Action." The Armed Vision: A Study in the Methods of Modern Literary Criticism. Rev. ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1955. 327-85.

Ivie, Robert L. "Presidential Motives for War." The Quarterly Journal of Speech 60.3 (1974): 337-45.

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Japp, Phyllis M. "A Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down: Dr. Conwell's 'Feel Good' Cultural Tonic." Speaker and Gavel 27 (1989-1990): 2-10.

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Jennermann, Donald L. "Some Freudian Aspects of Burke's Aristotelean Poetics." Recherches Anglaises et Americaines 12 (1979): 65-81.

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Jost, Walter. Rhetorical Investigations: Studies in Ordinary Language Criticism. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004.

King, Andrew A. "St. Augustine's Doctrine of Participation as a Metaphysic of Persuasion." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 15.3/4 (1985): 112-15.

Klir, G. J. Architecture of Systems Problem-Solving. New York: Plenum Press, 1985.

Knox, George. Critical Moments: Kenneth Burke’s Categories and Critiques. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1957.

---. "Kenneth Burke as Literary Theorist and Critic." DAI 13.06 (1953): 351.

Levinson, Robert and Gil Fuchs. “A Pattern-Weight Formulation of Search Knowledge.” Computational Intelligence 17.4 (2001): 783-811.

Lewis, Camille. Romancing the Difference: Kenneth Burke, Bob Jones University, and the Rhetoric of Religious Fundamentalism. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007 (forthcoming).

Lindsay, Stan A. A Concise Kenneth Burke Concordance. West Lafayette, IN: Say Press, 2004.

---. Revelation: The Human Drama. Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Press, 2000.

Melia, Trevor. Rev. of A Rhetoric of Motives by Kenneth Burke. Philosophy and Rhetoric 3 (1970): 124-27.

Moore, Mark P. "Uniting Individuals: Barry Goldwater's Rhetoric of Paradox." Journal of the Northwest Communication Association 16.1 (1988): 1-24.

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---. "In and About the Workshop of Kenneth Burke,” in Destinations; a Canvass of American Literature since 1900. New York: J.H. Sears and Co., 1928. 139-59.

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---. "The Rhetoric of Rebirth: A Study of the Literary Theory and Critical Practice of Kenneth Burke." DAI 17.06 (1956): 238.

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---, and George Cheney. "On the Limits and Sub-Stance of Kenneth Burke and His Critics." The Quarterly Journal of Speech 79.2 (1993): 225-31.

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Wess, Robert. "Frank Lentricchia's Criticism and Social Change: The Literary Intellectual as Pragmatic Humanist." Minnesota Review 27 (1986): 123-31.

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White, Hayden. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1973.

---. Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978.

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