Clarke Rountree and Mark Huglen
Abstract: This essay introduces KB Journal and explains why the teachings of Kenneth Burke are a worthwhile study. We consider Burke's unique life and how it has contributed to the development of his ideas. We characterize Burke's corpora as providing a humanistic paradigm (in the Kuhnian sense of the term) for scholars to use to make the world a better place. Finally, we dedicate KB Journal to fulfilling Burke's goal in "operation benchmark," providing a forum for the exposition of his ideas and for our own interpretations, adaptations, extensions, appropriations, and challenges.
A JOURNAL devoted to the ideas of a single scholar ideally ought to do more than ponder those ideas; it should reflect something of his personality, his spirit, and his motives. We believe this journal can serve those purposes by providing a venue for an ongoing conversation with Kenneth Burke, and we hope to invoke something of his spirit as well. This essay explains why we think that enterprise is worthwhile.
As anyone who knew Mr. Burke can attest, he lived for the engagement of conversation, whether taking on a critic (friendly or otherwise) in print, discoursing while rowing visitors around his pond in Andover, New Jersey (where he would teasingly stop bailing out his leaky boat if you disagreed with him), or creating his own give-and-take exchange through the artifice of a dialogue (as he does so memorably at the end of The Rhetoric of Religion) or through his characteristically dialectical prose. Indeed, Burke himself called for such a dialogue over his ideas at the 1990 Kenneth Burke Conference in New Harmony, Indiana, dubbing it "operation benchmark," which he explained as follows: "I just want to suggest that the way we do it, is that we call it 'operation benchmark' in the sense that we start with what you say, but we only ask that you say, 'Burke says it this way, I say this,' with some reasons" (qtd. in Burks, 5). Following Burke's suggestion, we want this journal to serve as a benchmark to better understand his work and to address problems in our world.
For Burke, the "Unending Conversation" is an almost literal metaphor about human symbol using, language acquisition, the history of ideas, and social interaction. This metaphor has readers joining a party where an ongoing discussion is taking place, listening for a while to catch the drift, and then putting in their "oars" until the hour gets late and they must leave the conversation still heatedly in progress (Philosophy of Literary Form, 110-111). It is a humbling metaphor which reminds us that no one person can know how the conversation begins and ends, that we all enter symbol using midstream, and that none of us will have the final word. Although Kenneth Burke has literally exited the party, he still contributes to our ongoing conversation with a written legacy spanning more than seven decades and tackling some of the most profound ideas, writers, and challenges of the Western tradition.
Putting our own oar in the water of this ongoing conversation, this essay serves to set a tone for the direction of KB Journal, allowing for later editors to point this craft in a new but perhaps not radically different direction. We do so by focusing on the past and the future, asking what Burke has left us and what we hope to do with his ideas in these electronic pages.
Why Do Kenneth Burke's Ideas Intrigue Us?
One reason Burke's ideas have proven so resilient is the extraordinary crucible within which Burke's fertile ideas took shape. The circumstances of Burke's life as scholar and man are unique, quintessentially twentieth-century American (a source of blindness, some would argue), and unlikely ever to be even remotely approximated by any future fellow traveler.
If we work in a shamelessly post hoc fashion, it is easy to connect many dots in Burke's colorful life to show how Burke the man came to develop the corpus of ideas that intrigue us. We begin with an unquestionable raw intelligence that devoured everything, stretched its intellectual legs early, and looked at the world in the unique ways that genius alone permits. We may surmise that his near-fatal accident as a toddler shaped his ideas about fate, the body, and the value of life. Throw in the Harvard professors at Peabody High School, where Burke's six years of Latin and two years of Greek introduced him to language, translation, and classical ideas from the earliest days. Consider the family influences, from his Christian Science mother (who taught him ideas about body-mind and spirit-mind connections at an early age) to his father, the Westinghouse corporation bureaucrat whom Burke describes as having "faith in money" and "living on the edge of a fortune [and yet] broke" (Conversations, 00 10) (a lesson about the symbolic nature of money and the allure of capitalism). And his lifelong love of spirits provided its lessons about body-mind-language connections as well.
Burke's ideas began to take shape while he matured and worked among an amazing collection of brilliant and innovative minds, including Malcolm Cowley, James Light, William Carlos Williams, R. P. Blackmur, Richard McKeon, Marianne Moore, Howard Nemerov, John Crowe Ransom, Theodore Roethke, Robert Penn Warren, and many others. Without this fertile intellectual bed, Burke might never have aspired to be the Aristotle, Nietzsche, Marx, or Freud of his day—and we believe he will attain that stature for future generations.
Might we say that a lack of indoor plumbing at his house, yet a tennis court on his property, also contributed to his development of ideas? Is it relevant to point out that his somewhat unusual married life, marrying his first wife's sister, taught him difficult lessons about how body, soul, and symbols interact, working out "the trouble" in his only novel? Might his decision to educate himself rather than complete his last two years of undergraduate education contribute productively to his writing style and lack of respect for traditional disciplinary boundaries? Did it help or hinder him to be credible enough to accept mostly temporary teaching positions that required him to rely on his writing and editing abilities to earn a living? Burke worked more than half the century as a critic of fiction and non-fiction, music, theater, and society for The Dial, The New Republic, and dozens of other magazines and journals starting in 1920. In the spirit of Burke, we might say that his own life's circumstances were near-perfect conditions for his intended and unintended byproducts—his life and corpus.
We cannot measure how much it meant to live through World War I, the Red Scare, the Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. Perhaps at best it provided him with a lived sense of shattered illusions. "Big Lies" lead to unspeakable horrors, ideas can be pushed to their logological extremes, and old and new schemes can be reformulated for diverse purposes. Burke's decision to function as what we frame as "a language strategy consultant," who was poorly received at the 1935 Writers' Congress, taught him something about the blinders of worldviews. At the least his experiences provided him with a workshop for studied engagement with human symbol using.
And if Burke, like Nietzsche before him, was ahead of his time, unlike Nietzsche, he lived a life long and healthy enough for the world to catch up with his ideas while he could still clarify and extend them. He has become the most important rhetorical theorist of the twentieth century. He has required acknowledgment by those in literary criticism, even if he missed the opportunity to found a "school" with a large following. He has inspired sociologists, feminists, historians, political scientists, philosophers, composition pedagogues, psychologists, Marxists, classicists, structuralists, poststructuralists, pragmatists, postmodernists, and others less easily labeled.
Given the multidisciplinary nature of Burke's ideas, we want this journal to be multidisciplinary as well. We want it to serve as a common meeting ground, where we can gather those who currently utilize the teachings of this remarkable "wordsmith," keeping all of us abreast of the uses to which Burke is put forth in different fields, sharing bibliographies and insights, and enriching our ongoing conversations.
Kenneth Burke's Legacy
There is much to share, for Burke's legacy is great. We might say that Burke has developed a paradigm similar to those treated in Thomas Kuhn's classic work on scientific revolutions (though Burke might call them "orientations"). Kuhn argues that scientific paradigms are versions of reality that are accepted by a group of scientists because (1) they provide a coherent explanation for the results of their scientific experiments and (2) they are sufficiently open-ended to leave problems that are yet to be solved. Just as science moved from believing that the earth was the center of the universe to believing that the earth revolves around the sun, paradigms go through revolutions. Functioning like Burke's orientations, paradigms are worldviews that pare down what one sees so that one can better focus, scrutinize, and analyze that to which it directs the attention, even as one ignores what it draws attention away from. And, like many rich terministic screens, paradigms carry consequences for orienting one's vision. As Kuhn notes, paradigms provide firm answers to questions such as: "What are the fundamental entities of which the universe is composed? How do these interact with each other and with the senses? What questions may legitimately be asked about such entities and what techniques employed in seeking solutions?" (Kuhn, 4-5)
When we move from the world of things in motion to the more contested, less recalcitrant world of human interaction (encompassing literature, philosophy, art, music, politics, theology, and other symbolically-grounded endeavors), we have human orientations or paradigms, though they may not meet Kuhn's narrower definitions for science.1 Conceptualized as a series of concentric circles, Burke's "orientations" covers a more encompassing field of study than scientific paradigms. For those of us working in Burke's paradigm, however, our questions are similar to Kuhn's: What are the fundamental entities of which the symbolic universe is composed? How do symbols interact with each other and with symbol-using animals? What questions may be asked legitimately about such humans and their symbols, and what techniques employed in analyzing and evaluating them? And, adding a decidedly moral element (which is not fundamental to Kuhn's view of science): How can we avoid war, undermine demagogues, and arm ourselves against a linguistic slippery slope that threatens to hurt us, our neighbors, and our world? Burke provides initial answers to these questions, while leaving plenty for those who would engage his ideas to appropriate, clarify, elaborate, extend, and apply.
Whether one begins with Burke's most complete and coherent theory of humans as symbol users in his "Five Summarizing Essays" explaining his "Definition of Man" in Language as Symbolic Action, or takes synecdochal representations of his larger paradigm in his "Dictionary of Pivotal Terms," "chart, prayer, dream"; principle of entelechy, four master tropes, theory of entitlement, temporizing of essence, psychology of form, pentad, dramatism, logology, terministic screens, identification, things as signs for words, bureaucratization of the imaginative, or paradox of substance, among others, Burke offers a compelling and productive account of our symbolic world. Because Burke has produced such a treasure trove of new ideas, "we all tend to use bits and pieces of Burke" (Rueckert, 21), though his theory is complete enough to ground a Burkean sociology, literary criticism, and rhetorical theory, among other things.2
If Burke provides an adequate paradigm for accounting for our symbolic world, the breadth and depth of his writing, as well as the complexities of and continual challenges to that world, ensure that his paradigm leaves concepts and positions to be elaborated and questions to be answered, as many writers on Burke have noted: Bernard L. Brock and others have asked "Is dramatism metaphorical or literal?" (Brock et al.). Herbert W. Simons wonders whether Burke's insistence on seeing people as foolish rather than vicious allows for "warrantable outrage" in his system.3 Michael Calvin McGee argues that "ideology" provides a better approach to public persuasion than Burke's "philosophy of myth" allows (McGee, 1 and note 1). Frederic Jameson accuses Burke, surprisingly, of missing "the dark underside of language" (88). Frank Lentricchia tries to square an instance of what he sees as "cold-blooded platonism" with an otherwise postmodern Burke he finds in A Grammar of Motives (133).
In Kenneth Burke and Contemporary European Thought, Brock argues that Burke's corpus can be seen as three distinct phases, suggesting that his later work leaves behind the assumptions and critical stance of his earlier work (1-33). Angus Fletcher wonders why Burke "fails to give us an account of beauty" (173), raising the question of whether the Burkean paradigm might have room for a theory of aesthetics. Celeste Condit suggests that Burke's work, undertaken against the backdrop of World War II and the battle between capitalism and communism, needs to be updated to better mesh with our new "scene," and she calls for going post-Burke (as we have gone post-Marx and post-Freud). James W. Chesebro points out that theories grow out of human understandings and, as a consequence, are inherently limited by their monocentrism, logocentrism, and ethnocentrism; Burke's is no exception.
We can benefit from appropriating Burke critically with old problems and with emerging ones, from Shakespeare's plays to President Bush's "War on Terrorism" to the discourse of global warming. We can compare his work with that of other key thinkers, apply his paradigm to issues of race, class, gender, and the environment; and try to anticipate problems (the qualitative equivalent of social science's efforts at prediction). As experiments challenge and force extensions of or revolutions in the scientific paradigms, so too will our appropriations lead to tweaks, extensions, reformulations, and/or corrections of our theoretical itineraries and their underlying commitments and subscriptions.4 And we hope this work might just make the world a better place.
Making the World a Better Place
We believe that making the world a better place is an appropriate purpose for scholarship—particularly Burkean scholarship, which has been dedicated to such grand purposes as "purifying" war.5 We recognize that this purpose begs the question of what "better" might be. But it also recognizes what Burke long has taught us, that there is no neutral vocabulary for talking about the world and that even the words of scholars select, reflect, and deflect in an inevitably rhetorical fashion. Explicitly dedicating our inevitably biased, value-laden contributions to the scholarly dialectics to some good, at the very least, offers the benefit of frankness. And it puts values on the table, urging us to reflect upon what otherwise might lie more quietly beneath our scholarship.
As Burke has taught us, there is a great need for keeping our eye on the life of symbols in our human barnyard. Understanding the condition of division in the "identification/division" dialectic is a key to addressing our pragmatic scholarly purposes. Individuals and groups of people are in a continuous state of division and, therefore, are incessantly shoring up their situations through a continuous process of persuasion. Burke instructs in A Rhetoric of Religion in his creative dialogue between The Lord and Satan: "Humans live in a world of imperfect successions rather than the perfection of 'divine simultaneity,' where 'all ideas are seen at once'" (282). Burke's Satan states: "I see it! I see the paradox! Splendid! By their symbolicity, they [humans] will be able to deviate. A pebble can't make a mistake; it merely exemplifies the laws of motion and position; but an Earth-Man can give a wrong answer. At least in their mistakes, then, they will be `creative'à" (282). Burke's Lord replies: "Yes, and all sorts of new routes can be found, when you start putting things together piecemeal, rather than having everything there in its proper place, all at once, before you begin. Discursive terminologies will allow for a constant succession of permutations and combinations" (282).
We "shore up" the constant successions, permutations, and combinations to create routes for trajectories and projections—beings and Beings—cosmic, corporate, and personal. Some of our projections are productive and unmistakably beautiful, but others are unproductive and downright ugly. When we say that we can use Burke's teachings to "make the world a better place," we are referring to the initiation of productive projections—projections that will improve the human condition and our "communion" and communication in human relationships. An obvious reminder that some trajectories and projections can move us off course is Burke's famous critique of Hitler's Mein Kampf. Burke's concern was to "discover what kind of 'medicine'" that man had "concocted, that we may know, with greater accuracy, exactly what to guard against, if we are to forestall the concocting of similar medicine in America" (Philosophy of Literary Form 191). Today, the topics of terrorism, the "War on Terrorism," as well as globalization and its implications for cultural conditions and the world economy are intellectual "work zones" in need of further development.
When we say that we can use Burke's teachings to "make the world a better place," we are also referring to the difficulties of communication in everyday activities and encounters that are perhaps less obvious on the world stage but just as important for human relations overall. Carefully think this through: If humans are in an inherent condition of division and continuously shoring up the division for identification, we must understand with Burke that just "getting along with people is one devil of a difficult task, but that, in the last analysis, we should all want to get along with people (and do want to)" (Attitudes Toward History, Introduction). People live their lives in the difficulties of interpersonal contexts and encounters, in family contexts, and in organizational contexts. And the recalcitrant realities of political behavior at the local, state, and national levels are zones of human communication encounter where we need to improve our understanding of the everyday difficulties of communication. Burke's ideas are ready-made for further cultivating interpersonal studies, applied communication studies, gender studies, and family communication studies, and they could be further extended into organizational communication studies (where Tomkins and Cheney have done admirable work) and political communication (where Edelman, Brummett, and others have usefully drawn upon Burke).
Whether used quietly in the less glamorous but, arguably, more important critique of the subtlest forms of communication, or loudly on the visible stage of national and international politics, our hope is that Burke's teachings will be used to initiate productive scholarship and propel new and more beneficial stories in elaborating this grand human drama.
Through "operation benchmark," this journal will follow Burke's lead in encouraging a thorough understanding of our starting points through the explication and clarification of ideas, but we will not shy away from disagreements with those ideas—there are no sacred texts here. Indeed, it would be quite unBurkean and ultimately unproductive for an enterprise of this sort to devolve into hero worship. Nietzsche notwithstanding, we are reminded of a similar challenge faced by the magazines that sprang up to support users of Macintosh computers, which praised heavily the fledgling platform, and its various incarnations, lest criticisms undermine their raison d'etre. But eighty years of challenges to Burke's ideas have not dislodged a core of basic assumptions that have guided his work and have led to their more robust elaboration and extension, giving birth to a well-developed, resilient, and productive paradigm. We will see what develops as we move "toward the next phase." 6
Clarke Rountree is Associate Professor and Chair of Communication Arts at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Mark Huglen is Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Minnesota, Crookston.
1 Kuhn refers to "the mature sciences" as having paradigms, and appears to mean the natural sciences (5).
2 Rueckert mentions Hugh Dalziel Duncan's Burkean sociology in particular at 22. Several textbooks in rhetorical theory devote a chapter to Burkean rhetorical theory. See, for example, James L. Golden, Goodwin F. Berquist, and William E. Coleman, The Rhetoric of Western Thought. Burke's influence over literary criticism has been limited, as Frederic Jameson has noted (70), though he certainly offers a sufficient foundation for his own unique approach to literary criticism, as Stanley Edgar Hyman has shown. Additionally, there are arguably sufficient Burkean foundations for an ontology, an epistemology, and a linguistics.
3 Simons raised the issue of warrantable outrage in "Kenneth Burke, Karl Marx, and the Problem of Warrantable Outrage," a paper delivered to the National Communication Association convention, Chicago, 5 November 1999. More recently he has written about this issue in "The rhetorical legacy of Kenneth Burke," in W. Jost and W. Olmstead, eds., A Companion to Rhetoric and Rhetorical Criticism (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004): 152-168.
4 See Gregory Clark for a discussion of transcendence through itinerary rather than teleology (18-25).
5 Burke's dedication in A Grammar of Motives is Ad bellum purificandum, "Towards the Purification of War."
6 This was Burke's inscription in Clarke Rountree's edition of Permanence and Change, indicating Burke's recognition that extension would be forthcoming and, indeed, was welcome.
Brock, Bernard L. ed. Kenneth Burke and Contemporary European Thought: Rhetoric in Transition. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995.
Brock, Bernard L., Kenneth Burke, Parke G. Burgess, and Herbert W. Simons. "Drmatism as Ontology or Epistemology: A Symposium." Communication Quarterly 33 (1985): 17-33.
"Burke, Kenneth. A Grammar of Motives. 1945. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.
---. Attitudes Toward History. 1937, 1939. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
---. Language as Symbolic Action. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966.
---. The Philosophy of Literary Form. 1941. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.
---. A Rhetoric of Motives. 1950. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.
---. The Rhetoric of Religion. 1961. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970.
Burks, Don. "KB and Burke: A Remembrance." The Kenneth Burke Society Newsletter, vol. 9, no. 1, p. 5.
Chesebro, James W. "Extensions of the Burkeian System." Quarterly Journal of Speech 78 (1992): 356-368.
Clark, Gregory. Rhetorical Landscapes in America: Variations on a Theme from Kenneth Burke. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.
Condit, Celeste Michelle. "Post-Burke: Transcending the Sub-Stance of Dramatism." Quarterly Journal of Speech 78 (1992): 349-355.
Conversations with Kenneth Burke. [Videotaped Interviews] Iowa City: University of Iowa, 1986.
Fletcher, Angus. "Volume and Body in Burke's Criticism, or Stalled in the Right Place." In Representing Kenneth Burke. Eds. Hayden White and Margaret Brose. Selected Papers from the English Institute. New Series no. 6. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982. 150-175.
Golden, James L., Goodwin F. Berquist, and William E. Coleman. The Rhetoric of Western Thought. 6th edit. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., 1997.
Hyman, Stanley Edgar. The Armed Vision: A Study in the Methods of Modern Literary Criticism. Rev. edit. New York: Vintage Books, 1955.
Jameson, Frederick. "The Symbolic Inference; or, Kenneth Burke and Ideological Analysis." In Representing Kenneth Burke. Eds. Hayden White and Margaret Brose. Selected Papers from the English Institute. New Series no. 6. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982. 68-91.
Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edit. 1962; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.
Lentricchia, Frank. "Reading History with Kenneth Burke." In Representing Kenneth Burke. Eds. Hayden White and Margaret Brose. Selected Papers from the English Institute. New Series no. 6. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982. 119-149.
McGee, Michael Calvin. "The 'Ideograph': A Link Between Rhetoric and Ideology." Quarterly Journal of Speech 66 (1980): 1-16.
Rueckert, William. "Some of the Many Kenneth Burkes." In Representing Kenneth Burke. Eds. Hayden White and Margaret Brose. Selected Papers from the English Institute. New Series no. 6. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982. 1-30.
Robert L. Ivie, Indiana University
Abstract: George W. Bush is a Burkean devil of rhetorical seduction. His demagoguery in the service of empire masquerades as a test of Christian faith and of faith in a Christian man, calling on Americans to make their nation right with God by exterminating an international devil. His "war" is a bastardization of religious thought akin to Hitler’s "Battle." Understanding what these two disquieting discourses hold in common helps to identify a difference that is crucial to finding America’s democratic voice.
THE SIMPLEST STATEMENT is sometimes the surest sign that a fundamental attitude has become fixed in public culture. Jodi Crawford’s straightforward response to CBS Evening News correspondent Jim Axelrod on May 11, 2004 ("War") was just such an instructive moment. Axelrod’s election-year report came that night from Allentown, Pennsylvania, a so-called "swingtown" that anchorman Dan Rather billed as "a microcosm of America in most every way – including how it votes in presidential elections." Crawford’s husband was a National Guardsman with a year left on his tour of duty in Iraq. A soldier in his platoon had just been killed in combat. Crawford was understandably worried and wished that the war could suddenly end so that her husband could return home safely. Yet her faith in the president was unshaken. She would vote for George W. Bush "because he’s a Christian."
The war was turning undeniably bad. America’s occupation of Iraq was becoming a quagmire reminiscent of Vietnam. U.S. casualties were on a dramatic rise. Shocking pictures of American soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners appalled the nation and offended the world.1 Members of the international "coalition of the willing" were beginning to recall their troops from Iraq. Public opinion in Europe was overwhelmingly hostile to the U.S. invasion and occupation. Terrorist activity in Iraq and elsewhere was intensifying. Elite newspapers such as The New York Times were calling for the president to sack Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and to overhaul a failed foreign policy ("Donald Rumsfeld").
Yet, Jodi Crawford stood by her president and his aggressive policy of preemptive warfare because he was a Christian. Her simple declaration of faith opened a window on the nation’s soul for anyone to witness while watching and listening that evening. America’s war on Iraq was animated by religious conviction; it was a test of Christian faith and of faith in a fellow Christian; it was no more and no less than a war waged against evil, a fight to preserve the nation’s soul personified in its president. Americans were making themselves right with God at home and abroad by slaying the Devil’s henchmen. Down home in this microcosm of the nation, Christian America was crusading for a righteous cause and was determined to win an apocalyptic war of civilizations.2
Kenneth Burke, consistent with his penetrating critique of the "bastardization of fundamentally religious patterns of thought" in Hitler’s infamous "Battle," might very well consider Crawford’s simple expression of her Christian convictions to be something of a representative anecdote and, as such, evidence of a dire prediction come true. For this was the very kind of "medicine" that Burke warned could all too easily be concocted and consumed in America – a sinister, unifying snake oil that promised to cure the nation’s democratic vices and divisions with a dose of crude fascist magic. The materialization of this distorted religious motive was exemplified in the selection of an international devil figure. For Hitler’s Germany it was the international Jew; for Bush’s America it is the international Islamic terrorist. Once the international devil was essentialized, all "proof" of his deadly omnipresence was henceforth automatic and all of secular (now global) capitalism’s complex shortcomings could be simplified and too easily accounted for by projecting them onto a palpable and convenient scapegoat. By excising in this way the Babel of democratic voices "fallen upon evil days," the divided nation could ignore its internal inadequacies and focus instead on its unifying foreign foe. The curative function of the scapegoat mechanism caricatured religious thought, Burke observed, in order to advance a "noneconomic interpretation of economic ills" and to purify "imperialistic drives" in the image of a perfectly evil enemy, an image conveyed through the deceptive demagoguery of "endless repetition" and emotional trickery that left the nation’s problems unsolved and calamity at hand ("Hitler’s ‘Battle’" 219, 191-92, 194, 196, 200, 202-03, 204, 210, 217, 219-20; Burke’s emphasis).
Burke’s critique of Hitler’s "Battle" is a cautionary tale come true in Bush’s "war" on evil. The rhetoric of these two demagogues, although not the same, is disturbingly similar and equally powerful, each drawing from a common well of propaganda techniques to misappropriate a people’s sacred convictions. In each we see a strategic scaffolding of the theme of evil adapted uniquely to circumstances and culture. Hitler and Bush? Who would have thought that a likeness of any kind, let alone one of fascist demagoguery in the service of empire, might ever be drawn between this notorious German dictator (the persona of modern evil) and an American president, especially a Christian man?3 Yet, this was the very possibility that Burke foresaw in his appraisal of Mein Kampf even before the U.S. had entered World War II and inaugurated an American century now morphed into an open-ended and vaguely defined global "war" on terrorism.4 In Burke’s prescient words:
There is nothing in religion proper that requires a fascist state. There is much in religion, when misused, that does lead to a fascist state. . . . Our job, then, our anti-Hitler Battle, is to find all available ways of making the Hitlerite distortions of religion apparent, in order that politicians of his kind in America be unable to perform a similar swindle. ("Hitler’s ‘Battle’" 219)
Just as it would be misleading to reduce Bush’s rhetoric of "war" to a mere replica of Hitler’s "Battle," we could miss the significance of the differences between them without also observing what they hold rhetorically in common.
Indeed, Bush is the devil of rhetorical seduction for our time.5 He is, to clarify, a Burkean devil figure of the sort found in The Rhetoric of Religion, where Burke constructs a discourse between The Lord and Satan in which the latter is portrayed as an agile youth who wears a fool’s cap while speaking in friendly terms. The Lord is affectionately amused by his young, over-hasty, and mercurial interlocutor who suffers no nuance and delights in advancing simplistic solutions to complicated problems. "The idea of hell," The Lord cautions, "is the idea of a really perfect ending" (276, 312, 315-16.). And then the scene of the conversation suddenly goes dark and formless with a loud bang. Burkean evil is the error of hubris, the stupidity of pride and of denying the basic logological truth "that people are necessarily mistaken, that all people are exposed to situations in which they must act as fools, that every insight contains its own special kind of blindness" (Burke, Attitudes 41; Burke’s emphasis).
Blinded by terministic hubris and determined to make things simple, human societies and their spokespersons are all the more capable of bonding against a convenient scapegoat to the bitter and violent end. Evil, in this sense, is banal, not demonic in the traditional image of a fallen angel, as Hannah Arendt has observed about Adolf Eichmann. The doers of monstrous deeds refine stupidity into mundane thoughtlessness through the medium of "clichés, stock phrases, [and] adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct" (Arendt 3-4). Evil is thereby made into an ordinary, common, everyday, shallow, and routine phenomenon uninterrupted by moments of reflexivity. The banality of evil is the absence or collective loss of imagination, the calcification of a tragic frame of acceptance for want of a Burkean comic corrective. 6 Thus, Bush-the-thoughtless-president would speak for every Christian American in the mind-numbing and pretentious cliché of a righteous fight for freedom regardless of its monstrous consequences.
Demagoguery of this kind is habitually self-righteous and cynical – a Janus-faced discourse of public presidential pronouncements and secretive vice-presidential maneuvering, of irrepressible smirks accompanying gratuitous appeals to patriotism. Populist pretensions serve elitist interests without the slightest sign of embarrassment. Fractured, folksy speech is Bush’s bond with the people even as he promotes massive tax cuts for the rich and reduces social services for the rest while assuring the nation that this is best for everyone. It is a rhetoric of advertising and public relations gimmicks that knows no shame. It is a bold rhetoric that invokes freedom to justify coercion while eroding human and civil rights, that proclaims the principal excuse for invading Iraq irrelevant after no weapons of mass destruction could be found, and that stages Veterans Day presidential visits with hospitalized soldiers just ahead of cutting veterans’ benefits. It is a rhetoric that promises senior citizens reduced drug costs and greater choice but commits them to annual prescription cards while allowing providers to alter prices weekly. It is a rhetoric that claims to leave no child behind even while reducing funding for public education, that purports to respect the environment while opening it up to the degradations of unsustainable development, that announces a billion dollar investment in hydrogen-fueled automobiles but fails to mention that the research funds are dedicated to petroleum-based methods of generating hydrogen, and so on. 7
Such a rhetoric would self-destruct were it not a rhetoric of evil. 8 Indeed, the administration was floundering before 9/11, lacking political traction and public support. It took a devastating terrorist attack on Manhattan and the Pentagon by radical Islamists from the Middle East to sanction and sanctify American imperialism in the name of civilization but in the service of globalization. 9 The genius of this discourse was that it lay hidden in plain sight. Its duplicity was apparent for anyone to see but not to recognize as anything other than an expression of Christian duty and faith, at least by a governing majority. An unrestricted war on evil was declared that awful day to smite the enemies of God.
The open secret (perfected by Bush’s handlers in his first campaign for the presidency) was to stay on message and say it often. Thus, each presidential communication after 9/11 was laced with simple reassurances that Americans are good people defending themselves against evildoers. Of course, the president was careful to appeal overtly and directly to his fundamentalist Christian political base. Abortion, gay marriage, and secular education were among the sins against family values that he promised to prevent and punish. 10 But the rest of the nation was also implicated in the president’s moralistic discourse of American exceptionalism, undeterred even by graphic images of sexual humiliation perpetrated by U.S. soldiers on their Iraqi captives. These admittedly "abhorrent" practices, the president assured the world, did not represent the real America. The America he knew was "a compassionate country that believes in freedom" and "cares about every individual," and whose soldiers are "good, honorable citizens" sent to Iraq to "promote freedom" ("President Bush Meets"). Besides, the real atrocity was the brutal revenge beheading of "American citizen, Donald Berg." His "savage execution," Bush insisted, should remind Americans "of the true nature of our terrorist enemy, and of the stakes in this struggle" against "their barbarism" ("President’s Radio Address"). 11 Indeed, this discourse of good versus evil was so barefaced and unashamed that a U.S. Senator from Oklahoma and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, James Inhofe, could declare for all to hear, without a word of comment or contradiction from the White House, that he was appalled at those who were appalled by the photographic evidence of prisoner abuse ("Abu Ghraib Spin").
The president’s rhetorical strategy for constituting a moral majority was obvious to everyone. Newsweek’s lead article in its April 26, 2004 edition, for instance, was entitled "The Gospel According to George," the point of which was that Bush’s faith would "guide him – in Iraq and at the polls." He was delivering a "secular sermon on the strategic value of bestowing freedom upon the planet." Bush’s best speech writer, Mike Gerson, was a "master of the Biblical cadence." Bush "would rather preach than answer questions – or ask them. He leads and runs unapologetically on faith, dividing the world and the presidential campaign into two discrete spheres: one for patriots who believe in his policies and vision, and one for everyone else." He appealed to "a higher father" for moral strength rather than seek advice on Iraq from his own father. In Bush’s "Manichean" campaign strategy, Kerry was the treasonous nonbeliever (Fineman and Lipper). And much of America agreed with their president, including Darryl W. Jackson, who complained to Newsweek about its story being critical of Bush for leading unreflectively by faith and vision: "What could be more reflective and deep than distinguishing right from wrong, or good from evil? What nobler vision exists than one premised upon such deliberations?"
Indeed, from the beginning, religious faith was one of the fundamentals of what became "the most radical presidency in modern times," according to political commentators Eric Alterman and Mark Green. The Bush administration united the Republican Party around three extremist constituencies: "the religious right, big business and the neoconservative worldview." Bush himself was a "born again Christian" who lived (as G. K. Chesterton has said) in a "nation with the soul of a church." Although he remained true to big business interests and neoconservative ideologues while overseeing a revolution in U.S. priorities at home and abroad, Bush’s radical persuasion was most distinctly messianic. His faith freed him and his followers to "do the right thing" and "not worry about what comes next." Often, others of the same persuasion did the talking for him. Billy Graham’s son, the Reverend Franklin Graham, gave the invocation at Bush’s inauguration and later was invited to address soldiers in the Pentagon even after calling Islam "a very evil and wicked religion." Bush’s deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and war-fighting support, Lieutenant General William Boykin, characterized the war in Iraq as a fight with Satan and proclaimed that his God was bigger than the Muslim god, that his God "was a real God" and the enemy’s "was an idol." Just as Reverend Graham received no presidential rebuke, General Boykin was not removed from his post but instead affirmed as a fine soldier (Alterman and Green 2, 331, 4, 6, 338-39, 332).
Alterman and Green ask how Bush could get away with such extreme talk, and they answer their own question by listing some of his common tactics. His modus operandi, they observe, was "to say one thing and do another," getting away with it by offering vague answers while speaking in tautologies and non sequiturs. Sometimes he would talk left and govern right, doing the opposite of what he declared. Other times he would make assertions confidently that could not be disproved immediately. Another maneuver was to substitute an emotional obfuscation for a direct answer to a difficult question. Lying-by-reflex, yet another tactic, turned presidential misstatement into the banality of dishonesty. Additional stratagems included denying accessibility to uncooperative journalists and gearing up the right-wing attack machine to discipline prominent persons who occasionally spoke out against the administration. By these and similar means, Bush insured "that the massive political, social, economic, and environmental revolutions currently underway in America" would continue "taking place just beneath the radar screen of public debate"(Alterman and Green, 7-9, 334-38, 10).
Most importantly, Bush was able to muffle debate over what mattered by persisting in a righteous strategy of overt-but-unacknowledged deception. Secrecy, omission, misrepresentation, obfuscation, dissembling, lying, ad hominem, doublespeak, bullying, and worse were acceptable measures for a decent Christian man on a Christian mission (indeed, a crusade), so long as he remained fixed and true to his fundamental convictions. 12 Any and all means were justified by a holy end. This was the integrating theme of his post-9/11 presidency. All rhetorical roads led back to the "Rome" term of Christian faith, which many Americans could profess openly and most others were constrained by culture and propriety from publicly criticizing. And like Hitler’s innate nation of Aryans, itself a "sinister secularized revision of Christian theology," Bush’s America would be purified by dissociation with evil through a great battle with Islamic terrorism. Through this vessel of a perfect devil term, America would achieve its "symbolic rebirth," much as Burke noted that "the projective device of the scapegoat, coupled with the Hitlerite doctrine of inborn racial superiority, provides its followers with a ‘positive’ view of life." Moreover, this salvation by slaying a palpable and materialized scapegoat provided a "spiritual" motivation for global dominance that "was ‘above’ crude economic interests." The international terrorist was everywhere, requiring the American equivalent of "Aryan ‘heroism’ and ‘sacrifice’" to overcome the Islamic counterpart of "Jewish ‘cunning’ and ‘arrogance.’" Bush himself became the nation’s "one voice," its "inner voice," that stilled the parliamentary wrangle that was Babylon (Burke, "The Rhetoric of Hitler’s ‘Battle" 202-03, 205, 207-08).
As the president assured the graduating class of Concordia University, America’s moral ideals and convictions are endowed by the Creator and thus are universal to humankind. America’s gift of liberty to the world is the Almighty God’s gift to all of humanity. Bush was moved to emulate a great life, noting that "important work in this world can be done by towering figures." Just as Martin Luther changed history and every life holds the possibility of serving God, "all work – in an office, on a farm, in the home, or in the halls of government – should be done to the glory of God." And just as American soldiers "are sacrificing for the security and freedom of Afghanistan and Iraq," a good, decent, unselfish, courageous, compassionate, and loving people fighting for the glory of God "will not allow Afghanistan and Iraq to fall under the control of radicals and terrorists who are intent on our own destruction" ("President Delivers"). All of this because, as the president had said before at his ranch in Crawford, Texas on August 31, 2002, "Our nation is the greatest force for good in history" (quoted in Johnson 1).
Indeed, the arrogance of the president’s Christian humility (yet another pretentious distortion of religious principle), uttered in the name of an exceptional people, was extended in full force to shed the burden even of American shame so starkly documented by those digital images from Abu Ghraib. In a speech staged dramatically at the Pentagon, flanked by his vice-president, secretary of state, leading generals, and the recently pilloried secretary of defense, Bush insisted that the abuses perpetrated by a few misguided and unrepresentative U.S. soldiers, who would be held accountable for their disgraceful behavior, were a poor excuse for anyone "to question our cause and to cast doubt on our motives" as a nation or to disparage "the goodness and the character of the United States Armed Forces." America’s respect for its degraded and detained Muslim foe was founded on the promise of a sacred secular conversion of the now prostrate enemy to a higher calling and more civilized ways. In Bush’s transparently coded language, "We have great respect for the people of Iraq and for all Arab peoples – respect for their culture and for their history and for the contribution they can make to the world. We believe that democracy will allow these gifts to flourish . . . [that] freedom is the answer to hopelessness and terror; that a free Iraq will lead the way to a new and better Middle East; and that a free Iraq will make our country more secure" ("President Bush Reaffirms"). America would make itself safe with God by completing its mission of mercy and conversion in the Middle East. As Burke points out in A Rhetoric of Motives (xiii, 5-13), such killing and dying is powerfully symbolic of conversion, transformation, and rebirth: "For the so-called ‘desire to kill’ a certain person is much more properly analyzable as a desire to transform the principle which that person represents" (Burke’s emphasis). What is true of a person is even truer of a whole people.
How long the nation will continue to indulge itself in pious extremism is impossible to judge. The cycle of rightwing radicalism presently operating in the political mainstream began boldly over four decades ago with Barry Goldwater’s resounding declaration, as the Republican candidate for the presidency, that extremism in the name of liberty is no vice. It continued throughout Ronald Reagan’s presidency with his dogged determination to vanquish an evil Soviet empire. Previous to and continuous with this present cycle (sustained by Bush’s preemptive rhetoric of evil), America struggled through one Red scare after another, including the infamous era of McCarthyism. Indeed, Americans by now may have become thoroughly habituated to the demagoguery of Orwellian rhetoric in one form or another.
One hopes that is not the case, and Robert Reich believes that it isn’t. Although he acknowledges that radical conservatives (whom he calls "Radcons") have dominated public discourse and set the national agenda, he insists that the majority of Americans are ripe for returning to more sane and less fearful politics. True American ideals are more liberal and mainstream than in their Radcon caricature, and "liberals have always stood in sharp opposition to fanaticism and violence, and against religious bigotry, totalitarianism, and nationalist zealotry." Moreover, real conservatives are cautious and skeptical of "big ideas, grand plans, risky moves" and revolutionary agendas like those advanced by radical conservatives. Yet the vocal alliance of right-wing ideology and evangelical Christianity has left liberals and the Democratic Party in silent disarray. To understand rightwing radicalism, Reich pointedly observes, one must understand its "notion of evil":
To Radcons, the major threat to the security of our nation, the stability of our families, our future prosperity, and the capacity of our children to grow into responsible adults is a dark, satanic force. It exists within America in the form of moral deviance – out-of-wedlock births, homosexuality, abortion, crime. It potentially exists within every one of us in the form of sloth and devastating irresponsibility. It exists outside America in the form of "evil empires" or an "axis of evil."
There’s no compromising with such evil. It has to be countered with everything we have. Religious faith and discipline are the means of redemption. Punishment and coercion are the only real deterrents. Fear is the essential motivator.
This is the "overarching principle" that "connects Radcon foreign policy and domestic policy with evangelical Christian fundamentalism" and that constitutes "a coherent system for thinking about and dealing with any problem" (Reich 6, 17, 9, 22). All rhetorical roads lead to and depart from this Manichean premise.
Reich makes as good a case as anyone for resisting the present banality of evil, a debilitating condition of warped and thoughtless moralizing that, as I have argued here, has been expressed overtly and shamelessly by the Bush administration in order to make the international Islamic terrorist into an all-too-perfect-and-convenient scapegoat for what ails the United States. The rhetoric of evil constructs a shallow patriotism, Reich observes, a crass "America First" chauvinism, rather than "a positive patriotism that’s better suited to our time." He offers several good reasons for supporting a hopeful and reformist version of patriotism that preserves civil liberties, protects the right of democratic dissent, upholds the nation’s moral integrity and credibility in international relations, and assumes one’s fair share of the burden of citizenship and responsibility for others. This is a moral patriotism, he argues, that keeps church separate from state and thus does not impose any particular religious belief on public policy. Nor does it generate its moral urgency by demonizing the Other. It is a "sensible public morality" instead of ideological rant or religious dogma, a restored liberal morality that encourages rational argument and actual debate (Reich 146-47, 186-89).
The ways of reason and rhetoric, however, are never quite the same, and political culture is constituted rhetorically, as is political reason. If Kenneth Burke is correct, this means politics as a dramatistic act is inflected toward tragic frames of acceptance and rituals of redemption through victimization that can be ameliorated more or less by persistent efforts to articulate consciousness-raising comic correctives. Burke’s liberalism is, I think, ultimately more pragmatic than Reich’s and certainly not dogmatic like Bush’s religious demagoguery. One cannot hope to overturn radical conservatism and rightwing Christian fundamentalism, at least not in the near term but I suspect never, because it is a mere permutation of the deeply ingrained cultural principle of victimage, which is "redemption by vicarious atonement." As Burke so well understood, "The Bible, with its profound and beautiful exemplifying of the sacrificial principle, teaches us that tragedy is ever in the offing. Let us, in the spirit of solemn comedy, listen to its lesson. Let us be on guard ever, as regards the subtleties of sacrifice, in their fundamental relationship to governance." Such guilt can be processed case by case but never finally resolved. No one myth can be made true and all others made false. Symbolic action must always balance myth and logic, holding each accountable to the other, so that societies might hope to muddle through the tangled complexities of political relations. There can be no perfection without bringing the human drama to a violent close (Burke, Rhetoric of Religion 219, 235-36, 241, 258).
In this sense, the Burkean lessons of Hitler’s "Battle" would seem to apply to our understanding of Bush’s "war" on evil; we should be forewarned and hopefully somewhat inoculated, even motivated to resist and reply. And yet something about Bush remains distinct. Like Hitler’s rhetoric, Bush’s demagoguery lacks subtlety of appeal. Both discourses are blunt instruments of propaganda, non-apologetic, perfectly banal, and thus truly mendacious. Hitler, though, bastardized religious patterns of thought to valorize Nazi gangsters as German saviors and deployed sexual imagery to feminize the masses so that they could be led by the Fuhrer as the Aryan folk’s dominant male orator, wooing them ultimately to command them and vanquishing the rival Jew who would poison their blood. The equations of this associative argument worked out so that Germany’s salvation and idealism equaled absolute obedience to Hitler’s inner voice (Burke, "Hitler’s ‘Battle’" 219-20, 195, 207). The similarities here are noteworthy but not sufficiently instructive. Munich became Mecca, and Hitler supplanted God in the Third Reich, which was a religious abomination and sheer heresy. No such sacrilege would ever persuade Americans to abandon their church or to worship the state and its dictator.
Bush, ultimately, is a Christian man who remains rhetorically subordinated to the true God. He is a believer, not even a prophet, an ordinary, purified, and reborn man of the people, a leader of a worthy (even exceptional) nation, not a king or tyrant. He is firm in his faith and decisive in his decisions, proudly (even arrogantly) humble before God whom he worships along with his fellow citizens instead of expecting the people to worship him. He represents his people before their Lord and sends them on their holy mission. He is fallible but unbending in his basic purpose, always moving forward true to the cause, undistracted and undeterred by misguided criticism or other impediments, guided only by God, faith, and intuition. Bush’s rhetoric of evil, then, is a much purer rhetoric of religion than Hitler’s "Battle," and far more persuasive under present circumstances than any more authentic replica of Nazi rhetoric could have been. Thus, it does not quite ring true to label Bush as Hitler’s rhetorical heir, even though he qualifies as a Burkean devil. Analogies are never identities and can be misleading if they are taken as such. Bush like Hitler bends religion to rhetorical purposes but unlike Hitler never transcends religion, and thus one is ultimately shamed into silence. This is the hard lesson about Bush’s "war" on evil that Americans must somehow learn in order to recover their more nuanced democratic voice without losing their claim to faith. The price of silence is too high.
1 As one alert reader of the Boston Globe pointed out, members of the Bush administration systematically euphemize troublesome behavior, characterizing a pattern (and apparently a policy) of torture by U.S. soldiers, including deadly beatings and rape, as isolated incidents of "abuse," "excesses," "humiliation," and "having sex" with a female prisoner (Verrillo).
2 This is a theme consistent with the religious fault line between the West and Islam perceived by Huntington. For an update, see Lifton.
3 A cluster of characteristics commonly associated with fascism include deploying the themes and imagery of the nation’s dominant religion for propaganda purposes, demonizing enemies to serve as scapegoats for unifying the nation, appealing repetitively and blatantly to nationalism and patriotism, pandering to fear and national security, undermining human and civil rights, militarizing society while expanding the power of law enforcement agencies, favoring a corporate culture of business and industrial power while suppressing labor, controlling news media and stifling dissent, and promoting an expansionist foreign policy. There are other common features such as contempt for intellectuals and the arts, corruption and cronyism, election fraud, and sexism. For a recent report on the perceived relevance of such traits to the current Bush administration, see Stille. For a critique of what he calls a neo-fascist militarization of American political culture, see Giroux.
4 Burke’s classic essay on Hitler’s "Battle," found in The Philosophy of Literary Form (the original edition of which was published in 1941), initially appeared in the summer issue of 1939 in The Southern Review. For a discussion of the metaphorical quality of the Bush administration’s so-called war on terrorism, see Ivie, "Rhetorical Deliberation." It should be noted, too, that Bush-administration "neocons" and architects of the preemptive warfare doctrine are fond of referring to their labors as the inauguration of a second American century. A useful treatment of these neocons is provided in James Mann.
5 Freelance journalist Wayne Madsen portrays Bush as a different kind of devil, something incurably evil in the conventional sense instead of egregiously and dangerously wrong in the Burkean sense. Noting that Bush "proclaims himself a born-again Christian," Madsen argues that he is instead a neo-Christian who wallows in "a ‘Christian’ blood lust cult," which is a "cultist form of Christianity, with its emphasis on death rather than life," and that he embeds himself in "Goebbels-like speech fests" in military settings. Pope John Paul II, according to Madsen’s account, worries that "Bush’s blood lust, his repeated commitment to Christian beliefs, and his constant reference to ‘evil doers’ . . . bear all the hallmarks of the one warned about in the Book of Revelations – the anti-Christ."
6 I extrapolate here from Burke’s discussion of frames of acceptance and rejection and the comic corrective in Attitudes toward History 30-44, 166-75. As Burke scholars know well, the "comic" in comic corrective does not translate into laughter primarily or even necessarily. Instead, it refers to the lesson of humility learned non-fatally by unmasking pretension before over-inflated protagonists over-reach themselves with drastic and irreversible consequences, as in tragedy. "Like tragedy," Burke writes, "comedy warns against the dangers of pride, but its emphasis shifts from crime to stupidity. . . . [by] picturing people not as vicious, but as mistaken" (Burke’s emphasis 41). The critic’s comic corrective returns a degree of complexity and flexibility to an otherwise reified and overly simplified definition of reality, or tragic frame of acceptance, that functions as a social motive. "A well-balanced ecology requires the symbiosis of the two": tragic frame and comic corrective (167). Without the comic corrective, the tragic frame leads easily to victimage, but together they "enable people to be observers of themselves, while acting . . . [with] maximum consciousness" (Burke’s emphasis, 171). As Rueckert so clearly explains, "Many of the modifiers for comic are terms that stress the need for a wider frame, one that is an amplifying device rather than a diminishing or reductive one; there is a need for a perspective that includes an awareness of ambivalence and irony, that promotes the ability to see double, to use and recognize metaphor, to see around corners, to take multiple approaches. In other words, the comic perspective must acknowledge that life – reality – is not static but is always in process and that we must adopt a frame that accounts for the true complexity of the human situation and resists the mind’s compulsion to reduce this complexity to an oversimplified, orderly set of terms" (119; Rueckert’s emphasis).
7 Indeed, a cottage industry has cropped up just to keep track of the Bush administration’s many misrepresentations, equivocations, and prevarications. In addition to the regular online postings of The Daily Mislead and other such sites, numerous books are available, including Rampton and Stauber; Huberman; Schulz; Hentoff; Kellner; Franken; Moore; and many more.
8 For other treatments of Bush’s rhetoric of evil see Ivie, "Evil Enemy"; and Ivie, Democracy and America's War on Terror.
9Much has been written recently on the theme of American empire and globalization. See, for example, Bacevich; Michael Mann; Newhouse; Garrison; Johnson; and Boggs.
10 For a popular expression of this reactionary worldview, see Savage
11 A little more than a week later, in a nationally televised address from the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Bush insisted that "this vile display [the decapitation of the young American] shows a contempt for all the rules of warfare and all the bounds of civilized behavior. It reveals a fanaticism that was not caused by any action of ours and would not be appeased by any concession" ("President Bush’s Address").
12 Multiple examples exist of the administration taking direct action to besmirch its critics, including the apparently retaliatory outing of a CIA agent who was the wife of former U.S. diplomat, Joseph C. Wilson, after he made public that the purported Iraq-Niger uranium deal was a hoax, the same deal that the president had cited as evidence of WMD and as grounds for invading Iraq. Similarly, Richard A. Clarke, who served Bush and before that Clinton as National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counterterrorism, anticipated and suffered attacks from the Bush administration on his loyalty and credibility after publishing his widely publicized and critical book, Against All Enemies. Perhaps more routinely, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, Lawrence Di Rita, charged in a public letter published by the Washington Post that the Washington Post’s concern over the administration’s violations of the Geneva Conventions was no better than the despicable behavior of the errant soldiers in Abu Ghraib ("The Policy of Abuse").
"The Abu Ghraib Spin." Editorial. New York Times on the Web 12 May 2004. 12 May 2004 http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/12/opinion/12WED1.html.
Alterman, Eric, and Mark Green. The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America. New York: Viking, 2004.
Arendt, Hannah. The Life of the Mind. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.
Bacevich, Andrew J. American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2002.
Boggs, Carl, ed. Masters of War: Militarism and Blowback in the Era of American Empire. New York: Routledge, 2003.
Burke, Kenneth. Attitudes toward History. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.
---. "The Rhetoric of Hitler’s ‘Battle.’" The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1973. 191-220.
---. A Rhetoric of Motives. 1950. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969.
---. The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology. 1961. Berkeley: U of California P, 1970.
Clarke, Richard A. Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror. New York: Free Press, 2004.
The Daily Mislead. http://daily.misleader.org/.
"Donald Rumsfeld Should Go." Editorial. New York Times on the Web 7 May 2004. 6 May 2004 http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/07/opinion/07FRI1.html.
Fineman, Howard, and Tamara Lipper. "The Gospel According to George." Newsweek 26 April 2004: 18-21.
Franken, Al. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. New York: Dutton, 2003.
Garrison, Jim. America as Empire: Global Leader or Rogue Power? San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004.
Giroux, Henry A. The Terror of Neoliberalism: Authoritarianism and the Eclipse of Democracy. Boulder, Colorado: Paradigm Press, 2004.
Hentoff, Nat. The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.
Huberman, Jack. The Bush-Hater’s Handbook: A Guide to the Most Appalling Presidency of the Past 100 Years. New York: Nation Books, 1993.
Huntington, Samuel. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966.
Ivie, Robert L. Democracy and America's War on Terror. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, in press.
---. "Evil Enemy Versus Agonistic Other: Rhetorical Constructions of Terrorism." Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies 25 (2003): 181-200.
---. "Rhetorical Deliberation and Democratic Politics in the Here and Now," Rhetoric and Public Affairs 5 (2002): 277-85
Jackson, Darryl W. Letter. Newsweek 10 May 2004: 20.
Johnson, Chalmers. The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004.
Kellner, Douglas. From 9/11 to Terror War: The Dangers of the Bush Legacy. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.
Lifton, Robert Jay. Super Power Syndrome: America’s Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press and Nation Books, 2003.
Madsen, Wayne. "Bush’s ‘Christian’ Blood Cult: Concerns Raised by the Vatican." Counterpunch 22 April 2003. 5 June 2004 http://www.counterpunch.org/madsen04222003.html.
Mann, James. Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet. New York: Viking, 2004.
Mann, Michael. Incoherent Empire. London: Verso, 2003.
Moore, Michael. Dude, Where’s My Country? New York: Warner Books, 2003.
Newhouse, John. Imperial America: The Bush Assault on the World Order. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.
"The Policy of Abuse." Editorial. Washington Post 16 May 2004. 17 May 2004 http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A30039- 2004May15?language=printer.
"President Bush Meets with Alhurra Television on Wednesday: Interview of the President by Alhurra Television, the Map Room." Office of the Press Secretary 5 May 2004. 16 May 2004 http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/05/20040505-5.html.
"President Bush Reaffirms Commitments in Iraq." Office of the Press Secretary 10 May 2004. 17 May 2004 http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/05/20040510-3.html.
"President Bush’s Address at the Army War College." Transcript. New York Times on the Web 24 May 2004. 24 May 2004 http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/24/politics/25PTEX-FULL.html.
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"President’s Radio Address," Office of the Press Secretary 15 May 2004. 16 May 2004 http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/05/20040515.html.
Rampton, Sheldon, and John Stauber. Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq. New York: Penguin, 2003.
Reich, Robert B. Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.
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Savage, Michael. The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Schools, Faith, and Military. Nashville: WND Books, 2003.
Schulz, William F. Tainted Legacy: 9/11 and the Ruin of Human Rights. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press and Nation Books, 2003.
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Robert Wess, Oregon State University
Abstract: Why say "representative anecdote" rather than simply "representative"? The addition of "anecdote" follows from Burke’s theorizing of language as "a part of" rather than "apart from" reality. This theoretical model allows Burke to combine realism with linguistic skepticism. This model also suggests how ecocriticism may combine antifoundationalism with a foundational ecological realism. Tentative exploration of the possibilities of a representative anecdote for Burkean ecocriticism considers Burke’s discussions of technology, apocalypse ("Towards Helhaven"), "our biologic genius" (Permanence and Change), and "Counter-Nature," with anecdotal material drawn from Karen Tei Yamashita’s prize-winning, experimental novel, Through the Arc of Rain Forest.
There is one little fellow named Ecology, and in time we shall pay him more attention
--Kenneth Burke, 1937
IN "REVEALING NATURE: TOWARD AN ECOLOGICAL CRITICISM," first published in 1990, Glen A. Love points tellingly to a seeming anomaly in literary studies:
Race, class, and gender are the words which we see and hear everywhere at our professional meetings and in our current publications. But curiously enough . . . the English profession has failed to respond in any significant way to the issue of the environment, the acknowledgment of our place within the natural world and our need to live heedfully within it, at peril of our very survival. (226)
This trio of race, gender and class has even been dubbed the "holy trinity of literary criticism" (Appiah and Gates 625). One effect of this development in literary studies of particular interest to Burke scholars is a blossoming of interest in Burke’s discussions with Ralph Ellison about the representation of race in American culture.1
A common argument against this "holy trinity" is that it politicizes literary studies, deflecting attention away from aesthetic and poetic issues. However common, this argument is an oversimplification. Consider that if politics is the sole motivation involved, then it is difficult to see why literary studies got a trio instead of a quartet that included the environment along with race, gender, and class. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, after all, appeared in 1962, one year before Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, and eight years after the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The first Earth Day was 1970. In other words, the politics of the environment and the politics of race, gender, and class became prominent during the same period. Love accentuates the point that the neglect of the environment in literary studies during the 1970s and 1980s cannot be attributed to the politics of professors: "most of us in the profession of English would be offended at not being considered environmentally conscious and ecologically aware" (227). Professors attending to race, gender, and class in the classroom often no doubt attended to the environment as well, only outside the classroom. To comprehend the emergence of this "holy trinity," one needs to attend not just to politics but to theory as well. Politics and theory married happily in the areas of race, gender, and class, but in the area of the environment they did not even start dating.
While ecocriticism began during the 1990s to become visible in literary studies, it developed independently of the theoretical developments in the preceding decades that fostered the interest in race, gender, and class; and to this day, it remains relatively marginal compared to the continuing interest in this trio.2 Some argue that ecocriticism, to overcome this marginality, needs ultimately to engage the theory that effectively discouraged attention to the environment:
An ongoing challenge for ecocritical practice is to get critical theory and ecology to address each other in ways they do not now sufficiently do. To pointedly oversimplify the situation, I would say that critical theory, in its fixation on the constructed character of representation neglects ecology; and ecology, in turn, must suffer its embarrassment in employing theory that threatens always to tar it as "foundationalist." (Roorda 173; italics added)The italicized words can help to pinpoint the theoretical ideas that led literary studies to neglect the environment while becoming preoccupied with race, gender, and class.
Take the example of patriarchy. To say that there is a hierarchy of sexes rooted in biology is to "essentialize" and to speak as a "foundationalist." The theory that fostered interest in the "holy trinity" overturned such thinking by uncovering ways that representations "construct" what they represent. From this standpoint, one can "deconstruct" patriarchy by demonstrating that it is a "construct" that emerged in history, not a reality rooted in biology, a demonstration that puts this regressive construct into the memory bank of history and prepares the way for a new construct of gender relations. Such constructs may be called linguistic, cultural, or social, but in all cases the premise is that they are built up through linguistic and cultural practices in society. Constructionism fostered interest in the "holy trinity" because it provided theoretical arguments for overturning regressive essentialisms and foundationalisms. Theory and politics met and married happily.
Things are different when one turns to nature and the environment. Whereas the criticism of race, gender, and class seeks to shift from natural essences to cultural constructs, ecocriticism seeks to go in the opposite direction, from constructs to a nature independent of culture imposing limits and necessities that culture can do nothing to alter. Reduction of nature to the status of a mere construct is a problem rather than a liberation. It is thus easy enough to see why constructionists would attend to race, gender and class in the classroom, while reserving their concern for the environment for activities separate from their academic work.
Fredric Jameson sums up the dilemma succinctly. On the one hand, he observes, "Nature is thus surely the great enemy of any antifoundationalism or antiessentialism. . . . To do away with the last remnants of nature and with the natural as such is surely the secret dream and longing of all contemporary or postcontemporary, postmodern thought" (Seeds 46). On the other hand, the heyday of antifoundationalism and antiessentialism in theory coexists with the emergence and flourishing of interest in nature: "How antifoundationalism can thus coexist with the passionate ecological revival of a sense of Nature is the essential mystery at the heart of what I take to be a fundamental antinomy of the postmodern" (Seeds 46-47). For Jameson, this dualistic conjunction of mutually exclusive categories is a historical phenomenon that can only be explained with the help of historical materialism; integrating the two sides of the antinomy theoretically is impossible.
Jameson notwithstanding, such a theoretical integration is precisely the purpose of the present essay. Burke is ideally suited for this enterprise insofar as his work combines realism with theorizing about language characteristic of antifoundationalism. Burke’s theory of the "representative anecdote" will serve as our focal point: first, we will consider it as a general theoretical model; then, we will offer some "notes" toward the development of an anecdote suitable for a Burkean mode of ecocriticism.
Representative Anecdotes in General
"The Representative Anecdote," a chapter in A Grammar of Motives, begins,
Men seek for vocabularies that will be faithful reflections of reality. To this end, they must develop vocabularies that are selections of reality. And any selection of reality must, in certain circumstances, function as a deflection of reality. (59)
Burke’s use of the terms "reflection," "selection," and "deflection" to characterize terminologies is well known, but it is likely that most people know these terms from their appearance in a later essay, "Terministic Screens." The central place of these terms in both texts is a sign of their close connection. If there is a difference between the two, it is because "Terministic Screens" is more abstract, so much so that the theoretical force of the inclusion of "anecdote" along with "representative" may be lost. Whether that is the case, however, is debatable. Consider Burke’s explanation of the source of the term "terministic screens":
One thus may argue that "Terministic Screens" is built around an "anecdote" drawn from photography.
When I speak of "terministic screens," I have particularly in mind some photographs I once saw. They were different photographs of the same objects, the difference being that they were made with different color filters. Here something so "factual" as a photograph revealed notable distinctions in texture, and even in form, depending upon which color filter was used for the documentary description of the event being recorded. (45)
Why say "representative anecdote" rather than simply "representation"? What is the significance of the addition of "anecdote"?
If, as Burke theorizes, any terminology is a "selection" and is therefore a "reflection" of some things and a "deflection" away from others, then terminologies do not reproduce reality, as assumed in the naïve verbal realism that foundationalism typically presupposes, but construct it, as claimed in antifoundational theory. In other words, the trio of "selection," "reflection," and "deflection" is enough to produce an antifoundationalist theory of "representation" compatible with one side of Jameson’s antinomy. But Burke also insists that the development of a terminology requires an "anecdote":
Dramatism suggests a procedure to be followed in the development of a given calculus, or terminology. It involves the search for a "representative anecdote," to be used as a form in conformity with which the vocabulary is constructed. (Grammar 59)
It is the requirement of the anecdote that allows Burke, as we will see, to incorporate the other side of Jameson’s antinomy.
In "The Representative Anecdote" chapter in the Grammar, Burke counterpoints dramatism to behaviorism. Identifying the behaviorist’s animal experiments as the anecdote that prompts the "selection" that informs behaviorism’s terminology, Burke faults this anecdote as unrepresentative because it leaves out the linguistic prowess one finds in humans. By including language, dramatism succeeds where behaviorism fails. Such deliberations about whether an anecdote is representative or unrepresentative parallel the Supreme Court’s when it decides whether the factual and legal circumstances of a particular case make it a suitable "test case" for a significant legal issue. In both, a particular part of reality (anecdote, test case) is evaluated on the basis of how well it represents this reality in general, or at least the dimensions of this reality relevant to one’s concerns.
Conceived as an anecdote, a representation is thus "a part of" reality, not "apart from" it, as in the "prison-house" metaphor that Jameson uses in the title of his study of the linguistic theorizing informing the structuralist tradition, The Prison-House of Language, a mode of theorizing rooted in Saussure’s conceptualization of language as a system of "differences without positive terms" (Prison-House 15). John Steinbeck thinks in the spirit of "a part of" in Sea of Cortez, based on his 1940 boat trip with Edward R. Ricketts to study marine life in the Sea of Cortez (i.e., Gulf of California). Steinbeck remarks that while the purpose of their trip was to record empirical observations of invertebrates and their activities, they recognized in advance,
We could not observe a completely objective Sea of Cortez anyway, for in that lonely and uninhabited Gulf our boat and ourselves would change it the moment we entered. By going there, we would bring a new factor to the Gulf. Let us consider that factor and not be betrayed by this myth of permanent objective reality. (3-4).
Similarly, by theorizing ways that words, however antifoundational in functioning as "selections," are nonetheless real and have real effects, Burke’s theorizing is consistently in the spirit of "a part of" rather than the "apart from" of the prison-house metaphor. For example, in the Grammar, Burke counters the positivist argument that would dismiss as nonsense any statement that could not be verified empirically:
So, one could, if he wished, maintain that all theology, metaphysics, philosophy, criticism, poetry, drama, fiction, political exhortation, historical interpretation, and personal statements about the lovable and the hateful--one could if he wanted to be as drastically thorough as some of our positivists now seem to want to be--maintain that every bit of this is nonsense. Yet these words of nonsense would themselves be real words, involving real tactics, having real demonstrable relationships, and demonstrably affecting relationships. (57-58)
In other words, even constructs, however much they may be "nonsense" by positivist standards, are nonetheless a part of reality (like Steinbeck’s boat), involving tactics and relationships, and having effects. Even when Burke deploys his often-repeated distinction between "motion" and "action," he avoids lapsing into a variant of the Cartesian dualism by connecting these two realities. It is conceivable, he suggests, to have "motion" without "action":
if all verbalizingly active animals were erased from the world (as they in all likelihood some day will be) despite the absence of such speech acts there would still be the motions of the winds and tides, of the earth’s revolutions about the sun, the processes of geology, astronomic unfoldings in general, etc., all going their way without the benefit of verbal clergy here on earth. ("Words as Deeds" 160)
But "action" without "motion" is not possible:
For the "act" of speaking (and of interpreting an utterance) is made possible only by its grounding in two aspects of motion; namely: (a) such physiological motions as the neural processes involved in speaking, hearing, interpreting, and the like; (b) such environmental motions as the vibrations in the air which carry the words from speaker to hearer. . . . Written words would depend on visual rather than auditory kinds of environmental motion, Braille on motions involved in touch. ("Words as Deeds" 164)
Language is a part of the reality of the body and its physical situation, not apart from it. As Burke puts it in later writings, in a formulation to which we will return later, humans are "bodies that learn language."
One possible source for Burke’s preference for "a part of" over "apart from" can be found in the way he conceptualizes the term "representative anecdote" in "Four Master Tropes," included as an appendix in the Grammar, but originally published earlier, in 1941. Synecdoche is the trope that frames Burke’s consideration of the problem of "representation" (Grammar 507-11), and the idea of the "representative anecdote" appears at the end of the section devoted to this trope (510-11). The year 1941, moreover, saw the appearance of The Philosophy of Literary Form, where Burke’s consideration of symbolic action encompasses "the matter of synecdoche, the figure of speech wherein the part is used for the whole, the whole for the part, the container for the thing contained, the cause for the effect, the effect for the cause, etc. Simplest example: `twenty noses’ for `twenty men’" (25-26). Burke adds, "The more I examine both the structure of poetry and the structure of human relations outside of poetry, the more I become convinced that this [synecdoche] is the `basic’ figure of speech, and that it occurs in many modes besides that of the formal trope" (26).3 As a formal trope, a synecdoche may, of course, take the form of the whole substituting for the part or the part for the whole, whereas the synecdochic logic of the representative anecdote, because the anecdote is a part of reality, is limited to the substitution of the part for the whole.
Conceived as a synecdoche, a representative anecdote is thus a part (selection) standing for (reflection) but not coinciding with (deflection) the whole that contains the part. "Twenty noses" is a "selection." It "reflects" a part of the reality of twenty people and it "deflects" attention from other parts. The "anecdote" in this example consists of the "twenty noses." Whether it is "representative," suitable as a "test case" for one’s purposes, is a matter for deliberation.
Burke’s core synecdochic assumption is that no selection can reproduce the whole of reality. One’s anecdotal selection is always a part of reality but it can never be the whole of reality. A terminology by its very nature is reductive in its necessary selectivity. Even a cosmology, Burke stresses in the Grammar, is "a reduction of the world to the dimensions of words" (96).
Burke’s "a part of" antifoundationalism needs always to be distinguished from the "apart from" Saussurean antifoundationalism informing the structuralist and poststructuralist tradition. Burke’s synecdochic logic works by presupposing a reality larger than the scope of any anecdote. The premise, in other words, is that there is a containing reality in general as well as contained anecdotes in particular. By contrast, the Saussurean premise that language is a system of differences with no positive terms eliminates even the limited "reflection" that the synecdoche allows. Burke’s "reflection" is always also a distortion insofar as "deflection" is always present. But at least there is the "reflection" of "twenty noses" for twenty people, whereas the Saussurean differential model results in Derrida’s "there is nothing outside the text" (158), which the "prison-house" metaphor captures in visual terms. At bottom, the differential model turns the relation between words and what is "out there" beyond words into a dualism in which one is "apart from" the other, analogous to the way that Descartes conceives mind as apart from matter. Burke’s "a part of" synecdochic logic refuses such dualism, presupposing instead containing whole and contained part, a la Spinoza, the first great critic of Descartes (see Grammar 146-47 for a contrast between Descartes and Spinoza that aligns Spinoza with Burke’s dramatistic orientation). In The Philosophy of Literary Form, while discussing the term "chart," a precursor of the later terms "representative anecdote" and "terministic screen," Burke observes,
Only a completely accurate chart would dissolve magic, by making the structure of names identical with the structure named. This latter is the kind of chart that Spinoza, in his doctrine of the `adequate idea,’ selected as the goal of philosophy. . . . A completely accurate chart would, of course, be possible only to an infinite, omniscient mind" (7).
The whole is beyond our reach, accessible only to "god," but we are a part of it, not apart from it. While we cannot comprehend it absolutely, we can profitably deliberate about which anecdotes provide the most suitable test cases for representing it.
In suggesting, as noted earlier, that the synecdoche is "the `basic’ figure of speech," Burke concludes that "synecdochic representation is thus seen to be a necessary ingredient of a truly realistic philosophy" (Philosophy 26). Offering examples of sensory, artistic, and political representation, Burke insists that in each case there is a real part in a real whole and that the former can realistically serve to represent the latter. In different situations, there may be more or less room for deliberation about which part does the best job of representing the whole, but by virtue of this synecdochic realism there is always a part linked to the whole that contains it. This realism is antifoundational insofar as the part does not reproduce the whole, as naïve verbal realism presupposes, but constructs it, as antifoundationalism insists. But in Burke’s synecdochic antifoundationalism, the constructing part is "a part of" the larger reality beyond human constructions, the ultimate containing whole that may be equated to "nature" (as defined later, in the second part of the present essay). From this standpoint, antifoundationalism and nature are not at odds. Burke’s synecdoche thus displaces Jameson’s antinomy.
Notes toward a Representative Anecdote for Burkean Ecocriticism.
The term "ecocriticism" implicitly prefers the "eco" of ecology to the "enviro" of environment. Cheryll Glotfelty explains the difference:
enviro- is anthropocentric and dualistic, implying that we humans are at the center, surrounded by everything that is not us, the environment. Eco-, in contrast, implies interdependent communities, integrated systems, and strong connections among constituent parts. (xx)
Insofar as humans see themselves as surrounded by an "environment," they tend to overlook the fact that they are simultaneously the environment for nonhuman organisms. More generally, while living things respond to what environs them, they become, in their responses, that which environs other things. "Ecology" ("everything is connected") captures monistically what "environment" tends to obscure dualistically. This difference is equivalent to the difference between "a part of" ("eco") and "apart from" ("enviro")
In his seminal coining of the term "ecocriticism," William H. Rueckert is on the "eco" side of this distinction. He proposes, "Energy flows from the poet’s language centers and creative imagination into the poem and then, from the poem (which converts and stores this energy) into the reader" (109-110). Textual activity, in other words, involves a process analogous to the transfers of energy that occur within ecosystems to sustain life. Like human activity in general, textual activity is a part of the web of connections sustaining and/or threatening ecosystems. A representative anecdote for Burkean ecocriticism should arguably participate in this web on two levels: (1) it should incorporate the web in its anecdotal model (the "eco" principle of "a part of"); (2) it should itself participate in this web by heightening our awareness of it (as Burke sought to heighten "our consciousness of linguistic action generally" [Grammar 317]).
Deliberations about the choice of a representative anecdote can be lengthy, as Burke shows in reviewing the deliberations that led to his choice of the U. S. Constitution as an anecdote to represent the purification of war (Grammar 323-38). These deliberations, moreover, started Burke down the road from what he originally envisioned as an introductory chapter, "The Constitutional Wish," to what we know as A Grammar of Motives. With this example of how complex such deliberations can become, the deliberations about a representative anecdote for Burkean ecocriticism offered here are conceived as "notes" rather than a final product, an "oar" that hopes to start a "conversation" on this topic in the "parlor" of the KB Journal.
The anecdote I will introduce to start this "conversation" is a plot from a novel, Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rain Forest. A representative anecdote is in a sense a starting point. As Burke explains:
The informative anecdote, we could say, contains in nuce the terminological structure that is evolved in conformity with it. Such a terminology is a "conclusion" that follows from the selection of a given anecdote. Thus the anecdote is in a sense a summation, containing implicitly what the system that is developed from it contains explicitly. (Grammar 60)
A particularly clear example is the anecdote from photography, cited earlier, that Burke introduces in "Terministic Screens." The "color filters" yielding different photographs provide the anecdotal model for the terminology of selection, reflection, and deflection evolved in conformity with it. Hence, after summarizing Yamashita’s plot, I will turn to Burke to discuss four of its components: (1) technology, (2) apocalypse, (3) life’s creativity, and (4) "counter-nature." In this fashion, Burke texts will provide "the terminological structure . . . evolved in conformity with it [the anecdote]."
Yamashita’s plot is built around the Matacao, a mysterious plastic substance with unusual properties, including magnetism, which begins to force its way through the surface of the earth in cleared areas in the Amazon rain forest. Initially it seems to be a geographical name for the place characterized by this substance but when it begins to be discovered in other places as well, it becomes the name for the plastic substance itself. With the Matacao, Yamashita takes a kind of ecological poetic license. Just as one can take poetic license with science to produce science fiction, Yamashita takes poetic license with dimensions of the ecological crisis to produce the Matacao and to make it the protagonist in her novel, which is essentially about the beginning, middle, and end of the Matacao.
When the Matacao appears, it attracts widespread attention. Numerous characters from three continents, linking the developed north to the underdeveloped south, are drawn to it. There is also worldwide speculation about its origins, which are not revealed until the end, when it is revealed, in Yamashita’s principal exercise of poetic license, that the Matacao originates in enormous landfills in highly developed parts of the earth. Material in these landfills is pressured into lower layers of the earth’s mantle, where it becomes molten enough to be squeezed through underground veins to virgins areas of the earth, where it surfaces.
An American entrepreneur discovers that Matacao plastic possesses properties making it suitable for a myriad of new technologies that make possible the production of new infrastructure and a wide range of products. It even begins to appear possible to use it to make synthetic food as well as other substitutes for natural things. Matacao feathers, for example, prove to be indistinguishable from natural feathers. Near the end of the novel, an amusement park called "Chicolandia" is created entirely out of Matacao plastic:
Everything in Chicolandia was being made of Matacao plastic, from the roller coasters to the giant palms, the drooping orchids and the buildings. . . . The animated animals, also constructed in the revolutionary plastic, were mistaken for real animals until people questioned their repetitive movements. . . . (168)
"Chicolandia" is thus similar to the "Culture-Bubble" in Burke’s "Towards Helhaven" (to be discussed shortly) insofar as each is designed to dramatize a technological remaking of the totality of reality.
As the plot moves towards its conclusion, however, it does not allow us to forget our earthly status in the cosmos. In the plot’s crowning irony, as the characters seem to separate themselves more and more from the earth through their miraculous technological exploitation of the Matacao, these characters remain in fact as embedded as ever in ecology’s web of connections, as they eventually are forced to realize in the plot’s apocalyptic climax.
Yamashita prepares for her conclusion midway through the novel when she underlines the creative dimension in ecology’s web of connections by juxtaposing (1) the multiple cultural uses of the Matacao that flourish when it is first discovered with (2) the diverse animal responses to a mysterious junk yard, filled with abandoned aircraft and cars, in the Amazon forest. Animals, it is discovered, exploit and even feed off this junk in diverse ways.
The ecological value of diversity is dramatized near the end of the novel when an epidemic strikes. Many die, but not all. It is stressed that a certain percentage of the population proves to be immune to the disease. Homogenizing effects of capitalism are part of the reason for the epidemic but an underlying biological diversity based on random genetic variation protects the species from extinction. The homogenizing effects of capitalist exploitation of the Matacao, however, are another matter. These effects, produced in the name of markets and profits, quickly wipe out the cultural diversity that initially flourishes at the Matacao, thus preparing for the catastrophic apocalypse that concludes the novel. Bacteria appear that can feed on Matacao plastic. The homogenizing effects of technological exploitation of Matacao plastic turn out in the end to create conditions allowing these bacteria to flourish as never before. The homogenizing effects of the technological exploitation of the Matacao eliminate the protections of diversity. Destruction of the technological world is total. The corporate chief who spearheaded the technological development of Matacao plastic leaps to his suicidal death. Human survivors are left with ruins.
Technology is the most obvious area of overlap between Yamashita and Burke. Technology becomes particularly prominent in Burke’s later writings. As Burke explains in the "Afterword" that he wrote for the 3rd edition of Permanence and Change,
I need not decide, or ask the reader to decide, whether such a high development of Technology is to be celebrated or to be classed as a compulsion. I am but asking that we view it as a kind of "destiny," a fulfillment of peculiarly human aptitudes. Viewed thus, Technology is an ultimate direction indigenous to Bodies That Learn Language, which thereby interactively develop a realm of artificial instruments under such symbolic guidance. (Permanence 296)
It is hard to imagine that there can be much debate about the inclusion of technology as one of the components in any anecdote for Burkean ecocriticism. Whether the same can be said for apocalypse, the second of the four components I am proposing, is no doubt more debatable. Other "oars" may very well have different ideas.
My principal Burkean justification for including this component is Burke’s Helhaven narrative, which envisions, in Burke’s words, "an apocalyptic development whereby technology could of itself procure, for a fortunate few, an ultimate technological release from the very distresses with which that very technology now burdens us" ("Towards Helhaven" 61). This "apocalyptic development" is "HELHAVEN, the Mighty Paradisal Culture-Bubble on the Moon" (62). Projecting an apocalyptic future goes beyond factual realities like technology, of course, to words that by positivist standards are "nonsense," but as we have already seen Burke insists that such words are nonetheless realities that can produce real effects.
Other "oars" may argue that the Helhaven essays ("Towards Helhaven" and "Why Satire") are so central to Burke’s identifiably ecocritical concerns that they should be the basis for any anecdote for Burkean ecocriticism (that was my own first thought before I decided, at least tentatively, to use Yamashita’s plot instead). The principal reason for my preference is that Yamashita’s plot includes more fully than the Helhaven essays my third component, life’s creativity, as Burke discusses it in Permanence and Change.
Before turning to this third component, however, some consideration needs to be given to an issue relevant to the inclusion of any apocalypse, regardless of whether it is the one in Yamashita or the one in the Helhaven essays. This issue revolves around the relation of the present and the future. Burke defines it in his consideration of the grammar of "present" and "future": "the present forever is, whereas the future forever is not" (Grammar 334). In making this observation, Burke’s concern is that the purification of war not be conceived as a future that, by definition, can never be the present. He contrasts religious and secular futurisms, preferring the former to the latter insofar as the religious strategy projects a future that can be realized in the present:
We might bring out the contrast in doctrinal tactics between religious futurism and secular futurism thus: Whereas both would merge present and future, religious futurism does so by reducing the future to the present, whereas secular futurism reduces the present to the future. That is, the religious tactic says: Find what now is within you, and you have found what you will be. The secular tactic says: Find what will bring you promises, and you have found what is worth doing now. (Grammar 334)
For the purification of war, Burke wanted something realizable in the present rather than in a future that "forever is not." The ecological crisis is a very different context, where one fears ecological catastrophe is realizable in the present, perhaps not immediately, but sooner or later. At the same time, one does not want to project apocalyptic catastrophe into a future that "forever is not," since one then need not worry, since the catastrophe will never come.
Burke indicates how the essence of a present situation may be defined narratively from the standpoint of either the past or the future. In the Grammar, he limited himself to the past, but later, he revised his earlier formulation:
When considering "the temporizing of essence" in the Grammar, we were both put on the trail and misled somewhat by the suggestions in the word "prior." Following its leads, we saw how the search for "logical" priority can, when translated into temporal, or narrative terms, be expressed in the imagery of "regression to childhood," or in other imagery or ideas of things past. This concern with the statement of essence in terms of origins (ancestry) caused us to overlook the exactly opposite resource, the statement of essence in terms of culminations (where the narrative notion of "how it all ends up" does serve for the logically reductive notion of "what it all boils down to"). (Rhetoric 15)
From this standpoint, then, an apocalyptic narrative may be seen not as a future that forever is not, but as a way of defining the present in terms of the logical conclusion (future) of present practices. Such a future would not be a mere "forever is not." Rather it would be like the lung cancer ("how it all ends up") that tells us what smoking at the present time "boils down to."
Burke’s vision of Helhaven is conceived precisely as such a "temporizing of essence" that looks to the future rather than the past. As Burke observes,
There you glimpse the principle behind the vision [of Helhaven]. . . . We need but extend to "perfection" the sort of conditions we already confront in principle when we buy bottled water because the public water supply is swill; or when a promoter, by impairing the habitability of some area (as, for instance, with a smeltery or a jetport), makes profit enough to build himself a secluded, idyllic estate among still uncontaminated lakes, meadows, and wooded peaks. ("Towards Helhaven" 61).
In other words, the "Culture-Bubble" on the moon (apocalyptic future) "temporizes the essence" of present practices such as the substitution of technologically produced bottled water for water polluted by technology. 4
The specific form of Helhaven’s apocalypse (technological production of a "Culture-Bubble" to replace what technology destroyed) appears in Yamashita’s plot in the technological exploitation of Matacao plastic to begin to replace natural objects themselves with Matacao substitutes indistinguishable from the originals, just as Burke’s Culture-Bubble includes things like "an actual manmade shoreline, with waves, and breakers, splendid for surfing, and the best white sand for luxuriating on the beach (though protected from the sun and exposed only to a scientifically designed substitute" ("Towards Helhaven" 62). But in Yamashita’s plot, unlike the Helhaven narrative, such replacements do not themselves constitute the plot’s apocalyptic conclusion, which involves natural processes contrasting the protections of biological diversity (the epidemic) with the absence of such protections (the bacteria eating the Matacao). Other "oars" may cite this difference as a reason for preferring the Helhaven essays to the Yamashita plot.
But before doing that, I would urge looking to Yamashita’s plot for an anecdotal counterpart to Burke’s discussion of life’s creativity, my third component, in Permanence and Change. A principal text that serves as a basis for this discussion is D. H. Lawrence’s provocative claim that "growing crops make the sun shine" (Permanence 222, 231-32, 250-55, 258-61), a claim that Burke subjects to his test of "recalcitrance" (258-61). Ultimately, the core issue boils down to identifying exactly what it is in the present that one wishes to define futuristically. The apocalypse in the Helhaven narrative defines the essence of the present practice of using technology to create replacements for what technology destroyed in the first place. Burke’s discussion of Lawrence offers an orientation that may lead one to wish to foreground different features of our present situation.
Burke concedes that Lawrence’s claim cannot be accepted on its face: "The objection to Lawrence’s statements is that they have not yet undergone the scope of revision required by the recalcitrance of the material which would be disclosed were we to extend them into all walks of investigation" (256). Revising Lawrence, Burke counterpoints positivism to Lawrence:
The positivist, looking upon the universe as created, says that the last chapter [crops] flows inexorably from the conditions laid down in the first chapter [sun]. Lawrence would look upon the universe as being created. He would restore the poetic point of view. Behind the effrontery of his assertions, he seems to be saying simply that the last chapter is not caused by the first, but that all the chapters are merely different aspects of a single process. (231-32)
In other words, the fundamental reality is the totality of interconnections that sustain life. This totality works not by linear causality (the half-truth that the sun makes the crops grow) but by the ecological causality of interdependent parts (sun light is part of the totality of life on earth, whereas on Mars, it is part of the totality of lifelessness). Lawrence, Burke suggests, restores the poetic viewpoint in focusing on the creativity at the heart of life: "the creative, assertive, synthetic act. He [Lawrence] would stress or ignore, in accordance with the authority of our biologic genius as he conceives it to be" (259). (Incidentally, insofar as Permanence and Change is also trying to restore the poetic viewpoint, one may read Burke’s discussion of Lawrence as a roundabout way in which Burke subjects himself to his test of "recalcitrance.")
While one associates creativity most directly with human activity, one needs also to recognize that there is creativity in the evolutionary processes that invent new species, even if they work by way of coincidences of random genetic variation and "natural selection." "Selection" on the side of human reality; "natural selection" on the side of nonhuman reality, which needs to be extended to include the biological level of human life, the "motion" that makes "action" possible. What "natural selection" will do to or for us depends on the "selection" informing our own programs of action.
Life’s creativity makes it impossible to map in terms of mechanistic causality the process whereby organisms respond to what environs them and in doing so produce effects that environ others. Because of the creativity rooted in "selection" and "natural selection" what comes into organisms and what goes out does not move in a straight, wholly predictable linear line. Because of selectivity, there is always a degree of creativity on both human and nonhuman sides in the ecological web of life ("everything is connected").
Nature is today perhaps best defined as equivalent to this open, creative system, which contains human and nonhuman forces, neither of which totally controls the other, as in global warming, an effect of human and nonhuman interaction resulting in a hybrid with human and nonhuman components. As a hybrid, nature is no longer independent in the sense of pure nature (i.e., nature free of human fingerprints), but it nonetheless remains independent in the sense that it is a force that can produce effects that humans can neither anticipate (unintended consequences) nor alter without changing their own practices (e.g., the changes that would be needed to reverse global warming). In this hybrid nature, humankind is a part of nature not apart from it, as modernity, beginning with the Cartesian dualism, has tended to think.
Yamashita’s apocalypse reveals a nature that takes this hybrid form insofar as human selection (technological creativity) interacts with natural selection (bacteria that can feast on Matacao plastic), resulting in a catastrophe that defines the limits of humankind’s control of the Earth’s ecosystem. In other words, this apocalypse defines in futuristic terms the essence of the present in the comprehensive terms one finds in Burke’s discussion of Lawrence. The present practice of using technology to create replacements for what technology destroyed (the Helhaven apocalypse) can still be part of the story, but the Permanence and Change material allows one to tell a larger story, one that both incorporates the ecological web of life and participates in this web by heightening our awareness of it, just as Burke, as noted earlier, sought to heighten our consciousness of linguistic action.
Burke’s "Counter-Nature," the last of my four components, encompasses transformations of the nonhuman like the substitution of a technologically engineered Matacao world for the nonhuman world, but it encompasses much more. As Burke stresses, "Counter-Nature" includes not only "immediate" but also "remote" consequences of human transformations of nature that together "introduce conditions of livelihood (including grave manmade threats to survival) quite alien to the state of nature to which our prehistoric ancestors successfully adapted" (Permanence 296). The technological Matacao world exemplifies the "immediate" consequences that tend to preoccupy us as we consume innovation after innovation in our consumer culture. But the greatest dangers often prove to be unintended consequences of technological innovation (e.g., global warming). These are more "remote," typically making their presence felt long after the introduction of the technologies that produce them unintentionally.
The phenomena that Burke calls "Counter-Nature" prompt Michael Serres to observe, "Global history enters nature; global nature enters history: this is something utterly new in philosophy. . . . [W]e receive gifts from the world and we inflict upon it damage that it returns to us in the form of new givens" (4, 43). Global warming would be an example of a "new given," not a "given" without human fingerprints (the traditional object of scientific study) but a "given" with such fingerprints (which poses for science the new problem of sorting out human and nonhuman causes, as in debates about global warming where one can find different calculations about the roles played by human and nonhuman forces). Yamashita’s Matacao is emblematic of such "new givens," as accentuated in the novel by the debates about its origins that eventuate in the discovery of the human and nonhuman forces that produced it. In such "new givens," as Serres suggests, history ceases to be a purely human story told against an unchanging natural backdrop. Instead, nature and history become inextricably intertwined in the production of "Counter-Nature." Yamashita’s plot thus encompasses both the "immediate" and "remote" transformations of the nonhuman that Burke includes within the scope of "Counter-Nature," which seems destined to replace what used to be nature with the new hybrid nature we are beginning to live within today.
In this fashion, then, Burke texts on technology, apocalypse, life’s creativity, and "counter-nature" can provide a "terminological structure that is evolved in conformity" with the anecdote of Yamashita’s plot. It is hoped that the deliberative "notes" offered here about a representative anecdote suitable for Burkean ecocriticism are enough to start a "conversation" on this topic. To move this "conversation" along, other "oars" may (a) tweak and/or critique my proposal, (b) offer different anecdotes (Burke tells us how he experimented with a number of them in developing his anecdote for the purification of war), (c) propose ideas for different components to look for in an anecdote, or (d) add whatever other thoughts may come to mind. Your "oar" is welcome.
Robert Wess is Associate Professor of English at Oregon State University.
1 See Albrecht, Arac, Genter, Parrish, Pease, and Scruggs. Going beyond literary studies, see Crable and Eddy.
1 The term "ecocriticism" was coined by William H. Rueckert, the dean of Burke scholars, in an article first published in 1978 and later reprinted in The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, but it did not begin to be widely used until the 1990s.
3 As I have suggested elsewhere (Wess 112-17), Burke scholars might profit from attending less to what Burke says about metaphor and more to what he says about synecdoche.
4 Similar examples appear in "Why Satire, with a Plan for Writing One," where Burke also includes the following formulation: "Even now, the kingdom of Helhaven is within you" ("Why Satire" 80), a perversion of religious futurism in which the future to be feared is emergent in the present. Note that an ecocritical anecdote may be designed to encourage a present reality insofar as it seeks to encourage the present practices needed to avert ecological catastrophe. From this standpoint, an analogue to religious futurism would be appropriate for an ecocritical anecdote.
Albrecht, James M. "Saying Yes and Saying No: Individualist Ethics in Ellison, Burke, and Emerson." PMLA 114 (1999): 46-63.
Arac, Jonathan. "Toward a Critical Genealogy of the U. S. Discourse of Identity: Invisible Man after Fifty Years." Boundary 2 30.2: 195-216.
Appiah, Kwame Anthony and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eds. Identities. Spec. issue of Critical Inquiry 18.4 (1992): 625-884.
Burke, Kenneth. Attitudes toward History (1937). 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.
---. A Grammar of Motives (1945). Berkeley: U of California P, 1969.
---. Language as Symbolic Action. U of California P, 1966. 44-62.
---. On Human Nature. Eds. William H. Rueckert and Angelo Bonadonna. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003.
---. Permanence and Change (1935). 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.
---. The Philosophy of Literary Form (1941). 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California, 1973.
---. A Rhetoric of Motives (1950). Berkeley: U of California P, 1969.
---. "Terministic Screens." Burke, Language 44-62.
---. "Towards Helhaven: Three Stages of a Vision." Burke, On Human Nature 54-65.
---. "Why Satire, with a Plan for Writing One." Burke, On Human Nature 66-95.
---. "Words as Deeds." Centrum 3.2 (1975): 147-68.
Crable, Bryan. "Kenneth Burke’s Dialogue with Ralph Ellison." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 33.3 (Summer 2003): 5-25.
Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976.
The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Eds. Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1996.
Eddy, Beth. The Rites of Identity: The Religious Naturalism and Cultural Criticism of Kenneth Burke and Ralph Ellison. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2003.
Genter, Robert. "Toward a Theory of Rhetoric: Ralph Ellison, Kenneth Burke, and the Problem of Modernism." Twentieth Century Literature 48.2 (Summer 2002):
Glotfelty, Cheryll. "Introduction: Literary Studies in an Age of Environmental Crisis." Ecocriticism Reader xv-xxxvii.
Jameson, Fredric. The Prison-House of Language: A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1972.
---. The Seeds of Time. New York: Columbia UP, 1994.
Love, Glen A. "Revaluing Nature: Toward an Ecological Criticism." Ecocriticism Reader 225-40.
McKibben, William. The End of Nature. New York: Random House, 1989.
Parrish, Timothy L. "Ralph Ellison, Kenneth Burke, and the Form of Democracy." Arizona Quarterly 51.3 (Autumn 1995): 116-48.
Pease, Donald E. "Ralph Ellison and Kenneth Burke: The Nonsymbolizable (Trans)Action." Boundary 2 30.2 (2003): 65-96.
Roorda, Randall. "KB in Green: Ecology, Critical Theory, and Kenneth Burke." The ISLE Reader: Ecocriticism, 1993-2003. Eds. Michael P. Branch and Scott Slovic. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2003. 173-87.
Rueckert, William H. "Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism." The Ecocriticism Reader 105-23.
Scruggs, Charles. "The Ever-Emerging City in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man." Sweet Home: Invisible Cities in the Afro-American Novel. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1993.
Serres, Michel. The Natural Contract. Trans. Elizabeth MacArthur and William Paulson. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1995.
Steinbeck, John. The Log from the Sea of Cortez. 1951. New York: Penguin Books, 1977.
Wess, Robert. Kenneth Burke: Rhetoric, Subjectivity, Postmodernism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.
Yamashita, Karen Tei. Through the Arc of the Rain Forest. Minneapolis: Coffee House P, 1990.
Jo Scott-Coe, University of California, Riverside
Abstract: The extensive writings of St. Augustine and Kenneth Burke, though partially "canonized," are popularly domesticated by an academic clericism which attempts to divorce each writer’s religious concerns from their literary-critical vocabulary—even if that means disregarding, bracketing, or chopping up the more complex visions offered by whole books or collections. When we re-address intersections between the rhetorical and linguistic, between the secular and theological, we can examine how both thinkers worked inside conventions of their respective times to re-envision—even "convert"—such conventions on their own terms. To read Burke and Augustine in this way means to dislodge a conventional center which seems "obvious" merely because we neglect to examine its history and assumptions.
Men seek for vocabularies that will be faithful reflections of reality. To this end, they must develop vocabularies that are selections of reality. And any selection of reality must, in certain circumstances, function as a deflection of reality.
—Kenneth Burke, on "Scope and Reduction,"
A Grammar of Motives (1945)
FOR ALL MODERNITY'S OVERT SKEPTICISM about theological doctrine, it is worth noting how dogmatic boundaries have become conventional among the humanities—as if designating secular "denominations" inside the university: This is rhetoric; that is criticism; this is literature; that is theology. By extension, students tend to study this writer as rhetorician, that one as literary critic, and so on, suggesting that genre itself can be equally dogmatic. Further, students and instructors in particular disciplines who choose to "cross over" into other denominations of study or genre can be dismissed as dilettantes or academic "heretics." Even vogues of "interdisciplinarity" suggest that it is certainly a big step to bridge subject-matter bounds.1
Media scholar Marshall McLuhan, theologian and critic Walter Ong, S.J., and Puritan historian Perry Miller have argued that much of the tendency towards academic compartmentalization, quantification, and "fundamentalism" can be traced to 16th century logician Peter Ramus, who effectively advocated a method of student instruction that separates dialectic from rhetoric (Kuhns; Bizzell & Herzberg cited hereafter as RT 557-583). Ramus himself tells us in Arguments in Rhetoric against Quintilian: "I consider the subject matters of the arts to be distinct and separate. The whole of dialectic concerns the mind and reason, whereas rhetoric and grammar concern language and speech" (RT 570). As a key to his distinction, Ramus sought to separate judgment from invention, as if to "purify" logic from Sophistic influence (RT 571-573).
With that in mind, we must acknowledge how inherited and currently accepted conventions for engaging texts are circumscribed by assumptions and traditions which are not merely "neutral" or "descriptive," though they may be habitual—even ritualistic. Well-aware that my own selections of texts and subsequent analysis will inevitably "select" certain angles and "deflect" others, I nevertheless seek to examine how texts written by St. Augustine and Kenneth Burke can be read against the Ramistic scene, even as they have been Ramistically "re-formed" in modern anthologies. I propose that such a reading is necessary in order to expand discourse among disciplines, particularly between the "religious" and the "secular."
The extensive writings of Augustine and Burke, though partially "canonized," are popularly domesticated by an academic clericism which attempts to divorce each writer’s religious concerns from their literary-critical vocabulary—even if that means disregarding, bracketing, or chopping up more complex visions offered by whole books or collections. Yet Burke’s theory of "logology" (words about words) cannot be separated from the language and allegorical structures of Christianity. Likewise, Augustine’s pre-conversion interest in "pagan" philosophy/religion and classical Ciceronian rhetoric ultimately informs not only his critical vocabulary (his own "words about words"), but also his culminating theological interests, arguments, and goals.
Both writers engage and interrogate traditions and vocabularies of their respective times, even as they aim to articulate revised or "new" unifying theories. When Augustine, through painstaking exploration, borrows rhetorical and pagan conventions as a catholicizing strategy towards Catholic theological unity, he rejects any temptation towards "simplification" which Ramus will popularize one thousand years later. But on a more subtle level, in his preoccupation with forming and protecting a canon of Biblical texts, "true" interpretational strategies and doctrine, Augustine anticipates, in a preliminary way, the drives of Ramus’s "method-ism." Unlike Ramus, however, Augustine identifies his rhetorical motives—laying them open to more direct challenge. Burke employs dramatistic strategies which likewise generate alternatives to modes of Ramistic simplification; and, like Augustine, identifies rhetorical motives and certainties of his own. Ironically, in using doubt as a directing principle,2 Burke transforms his own "paradox of substance," so that logology can be interpreted as a "trans-substantiation" of theology for a secular age—a move which deflects typical labels of categorization, challenging university denominalists and theological fundamentalists alike.
Examining the Ramistic "Scene"
First, we should take a brief look at how Ramus’s influence becomes evident in the tendency to accept academic boundaries as unexamined (if not invisible) "givens." Placing Ramus in historical context, McLuhan situates his impact in the context of nascent Renaissance print culture: "The new homogeneity of the printed page seemed to inspire a subliminal faith in the validity of the printed Bible as bypassing the traditional oral authority of the church." He continues, "It was as if print, uniform and repeatable commodity that it was, had the power of creating a new hypnotic superstition of the book as independent of and uncontaminated by human agency" (176; my emphasis).3
Ong’s extensive study, Ramus: Method and the Decay of Dialogue, traces far-reaching implications of Ramus’s work. Ong identifies particular tendencies of Ramism which ring familiar to anyone who has worked in the field of education: favoring textbooks rather than manuscripts; preferring "teachability" and pedagogical efficacy rather than complicated or intricate questions of intellectual depth; advocating quantitative rather than qualitative modes for "assessment" of learning;4 and using monologue rather than dialogue in classroom delivery. Importantly, Ong emphasizes Ramus’s dislike of "doubt" in the educational process. Citing his famous rejection of Aristotle, Ong comments that, for Ramus, "Aristotle is at his worst when he refuses to be dogmatic or magistral, questioning and doubting rather than teaching" (161). Ong attributes Ramus’s tendency against experimental openness to his "horror of ambiguity and abstractionism," no doubt related to "his adulation of mathematics" (205).5
Ong notes that, long before Ramus formally declared his rejection of Catholicism, he had a reputation for being a "secret Protestant" (28). In fact, Perry Miller suggests that Ramism lent itself well not only to pedagogical changes of the 16th and 17th centuries but to theological gestures of early Protestantism, particularly among Puritan groups. For one thing, he points out Ramus’s "dichotomy of invention" between "artificial" arguments (those demonstrable to any direct observer at any time) and "inartificial" ones (which "must be taken on trust, on testimony") (129). Miller notes that New Englanders used this dichotomous doctrine to declare the text of the Bible itself privileged as an "inartificial argument," deriving its testimony from witnesses (130). In addition, New England preachers used Ramus’s rejection of the syllogism ("the student of Ramus was expressly warned to use it as sparingly as possible") to compose sermons from sequences of axioms rather than tracing steps of doctrinal logic from A to B to C (134).6
In the name of both simplification and logic, Ramus sought to eliminate the rhetorical or dialectical need to trace origins of doctrine when preaching, or teaching, or both—thus constructing an approach which tended to rely on the apparently impersonal authority of text and its "self-evident" propositions. Miller writes: "This was a logic for dogmatists; it assumed that decency and order prevailed both in the mind and among things. Therefore, the crowning achievement of the system was its doctrine of method" (138). "Method," even now, retains its blatantly pedagogical overtones but, as Ong points out, the word also was claimed by "enthusiastic preachers who made an issue of their adherence to ‘logic’"—namely, then, "methodists" (304).7
Ong provides evidence that the "seedbed" of Ramist influence following Ramus’s death was Germany (295-298), so it is little wonder that Friedrich von Schiller alludes to the prominence of Ramist trends in section six of his sixth Letter on the Aesthetic Education of Man in 1795. Although he attributes the phenomenon to "civilization" itself and what he calls an "increase of empirical knowledge," he also blatantly refers to "sharper divisions between the sciences," and "the separation of rank and occupation." Most importantly, he states that "The intuitive and the speculative understanding . . . have withdrawn in hostility to take up positions in their respective fields" (Leitch et al. 576). Ong echoes Schiller’s note about empiricism when he points explicitly to "the effects of typography on Ramus’s hardening style of logic" (Kuhns).8
Clearly, Ramism creates an interrelationship among paradigms of textual privilege, pedagogical "methodism," knowledge commodification, and Puritan theology. The absence of Ramus from the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (Leitch et al.; henceforth NATC)—his accepted "relegation," ironically, to studies in what is currently termed "rhetoric"—serves as peculiar evidence that Ramus’s influence has been successful, even if it remains unacknowledged. Ong himself characterizes this "curiously anonymous" influence by stating that the very configuration of academic books literally perpetuates Ramus’s impact as part of a "great deposit of textbook literature dealing with the most familiar of our ideas which is rewritten in every generation, while remaining so much a part of the universal heritage that no one can believe it has ever changed or even derived from a particular source" (9; my emphasis).
For our purposes, Ramus’s influence culminates in the NATC’s amazing underestimation of Burke. A self-educated "man of letters" who wrote prolifically from the margins of academe—he attended Columbia but did not take any degree9—Burke tends to be most acknowledged inside the domain of rhetoric and composition. While Burke himself did not address Ramus or his impact on the study of language and text, his early insight that "selections" of terms necessarily "reflect" and "deflect" certain interpretational values seems relevant to a discussion of conventions used to separate literary criticism from rhetoric and theology.10 Like Augustine, the "proto-semiotics" theorist who was equal parts theologian and trained rhetorician, Burke delves into language not merely as an artifact but as a center for meaning and persuasion. For both writers, dialectic and rhetoric may be distinguishable enterprises, but they do not operate in isolation from one another.
Connections: Augustine and Burke
To begin, let us examine the academic ground—a legacy of Ramistic dichotomies and divisions—which domesticates Augustine and Burke, specifically.
One of the most indicative examples of the compartmentalizing trend
to maintain distinctions between "criticism" and "rhetoric," or "criticism" and "theology," can be found in the bifurcation of Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana, or On Christian Doctrine, by two prominent anthologies. The editors of the NATC omit any selections from Book Four—by far the most self-consciously religious section. Similarly, editors of Bedford Books/St. Martin’s Press The Rhetorical Tradition (RT) include only Book Four in their pages (although introductory material quotes selections from the first three books). Such dissection of material within a single work tends to simplify Augustine’s wrestlings with problematic intersections among words (signs), eloquence, and meaning—on both religious and linguistic levels. In fact, Augustine’s theological interests inform his definitions of critical terms. While he attempts to distinguish between secular signs and religious purposes for using them, the language of religious allusion and example pervades both levels of his analysis. Augustine’s pre-modern assumptions about authority and order inform all his painstaking ruminations on linguistic convention.
Burke functions as a twentieth century parallel, a modern secular counterpart, to Augustine. Prolific to the extreme, his work is difficult to anthologize, so that isolated and fairly uncharacteristic selections such as what the 2001 edition of NATC includes serves drastically to reduce the complexity of Burke’s writing which, as even the editors themselves admit, tends towards a "Whitmanesque embrace of everything" (NATC 1271). The text selected for Burke, one might say, appears on the surface to be more easily "teachable" than his other texts.11 Titled "Kinds of Criticism," the essay appeals to the Ramistic "eye" in that it proceeds with subdivisions and headings for "types" of critical method, even though the content is much less pedantic than its form suggests. Burke’s ultimate emphasis on merging and interplay among types of criticism in fact parallels his overall emphasis on convergences of terms—particularly in the relation between logology and theology.
In stressing the overlap between the linguistic and rhetorical/religious for each writer, distinct agendas become apparent. Where Augustine seeks to resolve conflict, doubts, and heresies in thoughtfully evolving rules of orthodoxy about exegesis and "God as Word," Burke throughout his career sought a way to "manage" or "read" dissension of all types by analyzing language. If Augustine was a proponent of a theistic, pre-modern Gospel of texts, Burke represents a modern, even post-modern, gospel of experimentation and doubt—a brand of non-theistic metaphysics in the tradition of Nietzsche (Southwell 5-6). Using what he termed "logology," or "words about words," Burke can be read as a kind of linguistic theologian, whose particular evangelism seeks conversions not of souls but of terminologies and social transactions. Burke’s approach highlights the relationship between dialectic and rhetoric, as does Augustine’s, but at the same time models a posture of questions rather than certainties. Forms of inquiry thus function as a kind of goal, becoming a new content for constructive dialogue.
Undeniably, Burke’s logological interests are rooted heavily in the language and allegorical structures of Christianity. Similarly, Augustine’s original, pre-conversion interest in "pagan" philosophy and classical Ciceronian rhetoric ultimately informs not only his critical vocabulary (his own "words about words") but his theological interests and goals as well. The dramatic overlap of rhetorical and linguistic, secular and theological terms and complexities create vivid intersections for both writers—intersections which serve as grounds for two different kinds of transformation. In short, Ramistic designations for either writer will not serve.
Language and Theology in Augustine
To read Augustine against a Ramist grain, I must establish that no dichotomy exists between his theological and linguistic concerns—despite
their separation via textbooks. In addition, I must demonstrate that Augustine’s attempts to incorporate pagan-classical rhetoric into his doctrinal (that is, his teaching) concerns represent an intentional blend rather than an accident.
On Christian Doctrine and The Trinity will be our primary focus.
In On Christian Doctrine, Augustine places his discussion of linguistic signs and conventions within an overtly theological framework. Considered historically, as the gospels were yet to be formally compiled together as a set of privileged texts, Augustine’s writing can be seen as the work of "a controversialist, defending the correct doctrine of a young and volatile Christian church against various heresies," and thus "transforming for sacred use his old ambition to be a secular lawyer" (RT 381).12 As a rhetorician, Augustine was well-versed in strategies the new church could employ for reaching nonbelievers and establishing its credibility in a non-Christian world. However, his rhetorical purpose was also bound deeply to a concern for establishing standards of linguistic interpretation.
Augustine is widely known to appropriate or draw from other traditions what he thinks can advance the new faith. In Book Two of On Christian Doctrine, for example, Augustine states frankly:
If those who are called philosophers, especially the Platonists, have said things which are indeed true and are well-accommodated to our faith, they should not be feared; rather, what they have said should be taken from them as unjust possessors and converted to our use. (RT 384)
Augustine’s shameless certainty, here of "truth," reflects the Platonic tradition to which he refers, but he straightforwardly declares the need for philosophic incorporation, almost pillaging the previous tradition to accommodate the new one. It makes sense, then, that Augustine’s voice at different points in On Christian Doctrine sounds at once like the voice of critic, rhetorician, and religious teacher. On the whole, he transforms Isocrates’s kairotic spirit of suiting subject to time and place (i.e., "fitness for occasion"; 44), within a Pauline doctrine of "being all things to all men" in order to achieve persuasive success—and thus to build up a Christian community. One could argue that this move attempted to transform the Protean myth, in a reach to resolve questions of doctrine through linguistic shape-shifting.
Augustine binds linguistic terms with theological allusions and metaphors to provide a coherent ground for his set of Christian conventions. Book One, for example, begins with the connection between religious "doctrine" and "signs": "All doctrine concerns either things or signs, but things are learned by signs" (NATC 188). From here, he goes on to distinguish positivist objects (wood, cattle, stone) from their symbolic counterparts in the Bible, and finally concludes in this section that words themselves, as signs, are also "things" (188). Thus Augustine uses religious—i.e. rhetorical—purposes to create motivational contexts for understanding linguistic signs. This maneuver is reinforced by the fact that "doctrine" can also be translated in the classical sense as "teaching" or "instruction" (RT 386).
Books Two and Three rework the appeals of Book One. Book Two opens with the most detached critical analysis of secular/linguistic terms, while its remaining sections—and all of Book Four—repeatedly examine language in a theological context. In the rare, more "purely" secular moments, Augustine transitions from a definition of doctrine to a definition of signs as "things which cause us to think of something beyond the impression the thing itself makes upon us." Specifically, he develops two categories of signs, the "natural" and the "conventional," by contrasting natural processes (smoke signaling fire) and conventional, interactive gestures (such as facial expressions) (NATC 188). Sections II and III transform Augustine’s idea of the latter into religious terms. He writes, "Living creatures show these signs to one another for the purpose of conveying . . . the motion of their spirits or something they have sensed or understood" (189; my emphasis).
It is crucial to note the rhetorical priority in the above passages: conventional signs are communicative attempts to connect understandings between creatures. Significantly, Augustine stresses this principle once more before returning again to a discussion of "signs given by God . . . in Holy Scriptures": "Nor is there any reason for signifying, or for giving signs, except for bringing forth to another mind the action of the mind in the person who makes the sign" (NATC 189). Thus, we observe the socializing context within which Augustine implies the rhetorical motives behind his own use of signs—logically and evangelically, to "bring forth" a "motion of spirit." Affirming a connection between words, motive, and listening, he argues that there is no point in using language or being eloquent merely for the sake of doing so.
Augustine allows for "expression of meaning" even beyond words, through the senses, when he describes Biblical acts, particularly Christ’s, as messages in themselves. He uses, in fact, the word "sacrament" (NATC 189) which, in the Catholic tradition, refers to an outward sign, instituted by Christ’s action, to provide grace. Yet, perhaps conscious that people may only know of Christ’s acts through the literal narrative of the Bible, Augustine repeatedly emphasizes that "words have come to be predominant for signifying whatever the mind conceives if they wish to communicate it with anyone" (189)—ultimately even analogizing signs indicated by sound or visual cues as being "like so many visible words" (189). Here we see that Augustine’s notions of "correct instruction" will play a key role in reading verbal, literal, visual, and aural signs to suit a Christian exegesis.
Appropriately, near the middle of Book Two, Augustine explicitly addresses the problems of division among users of lettered signs, suggesting that the confusion of Babel represents a moment when "not only the minds" but the voices of men became dissonant (NATC 190). Having established such discordancy, he implies at once the need for authority (convention) and communication (translation). In fact, we can read "translation" as a linguistic form of theological conversion, even more stridently as ascendancy, since it attempts to bring one set of terms and idioms into the language of another. It is clear that Augustine is bothered by an emerging tension between principles of inclusion versus distinction in Book Two Section X, where he writes: "There are two reasons why things written are not understood: they are either obscured by unknown or by ambiguous signs. For signs are either literal or figurative" (190). Latent here is his assumption that written signs can and should be understood, which raises the question of how new conventions can resolve ambiguity.
Despite his attempt to illustrate the literal versus the figurative with yet another scriptural example (the ox), and despite his call in Section XI of Book Two for the "sovereign remedy which is a knowledge of languages" (NATC 190), Augustine does not clarify until Book Four the particular authorities to be used for distinguishing "true" reading or translation from "false": "It is the duty, then, of the student and teacher of the Holy Scriptures, who is the defender of the true faith, and the opponent of error, both to teach what is right, and to correct what is wrong" (RT 388). Thus, Augustine’s exploration of words/signs and meaning may emerge from his classical training and does, in fact, borrow Platonic language of the "right," "good," and "true"—but his aim is to advance a new convention of faith and a Christian construct of charity. His exposition in Book Three, of what "lettered men should know"—the grammar of tropes such as allegory, enigma, and metaphor, even irony—becomes fundamentally necessary as "a solution of the ambiguities of Scriptures" (NATC 192), as opposed to mere self-education or secular savviness.
In Book Four, Augustine goes on explicitly to locate the imperative behind linguistic knowledge. Teachers and priests must possess eloquence and wisdom in order to impact students and congregants:
For what is the good of correctness of speech if the understanding of the hearer does not follow it, since there is absolutely no reason for speaking if they for whose instruction we speak are not instructed by our speaking? And so Cicero has said . . . that an orator ought to speak in such a way as to instruct, to please, and to persuade. (RT 395-96)
In his emphasis here on accuracy for a purpose—persuasion to instruction, and thus towards an acceptance of Christian tradition and church authority—Augustine applies again his classical training to the Christian "moment," transforming the preparations demanded in traditional "pagan" oratory into an ecclesiastical sensitivity. The very concept of spiritual conversion parallels Augustine’s call to synthesize the purposes of "correct" speech: To provide instruction, to provide "pleasure" (or emotional connection), and to persuade—all at the same time. Struggling to resolve the difficult ambiguities of scripture is meant to induce humility and obedience, and thus no "easy" instruction or list of conclusions will serve the same transformative purpose.13
Ultimately, in The Trinity, Augustine’s trinomial approach to speech is complemented by the Trinity as a doctrinal concern. He conflates scriptural authority and "purely" linguistic matters, as when he writes:
There are numberless instances in scripture where similar statements are made about the word of God, which is scattered in the sounds of many languages through the hearts and mouths of men. But it is called the word of God, therefore, because a divine and not a human doctrine is handed down. (NATC 195)
In this translation, the passive construction of Augustine’s phrases—"it is called" and "it is handed down," rather than "we call" or "Christians hand down"—
underscores again that a new universal authority is being offered as an objective principle. Here also we are reminded of Plato’s concept of Forms (transcendental signifieds) as anchors not only "in principle" but also as an ultimate Reality, made even more urgent given the social and linguistic "scatterings" among human beings.
In The Trinity, we find an ultimate reciprocity between theological convention and linguistic terms. This occurs when Augustine discusses the opening passages of John’s Gospel, attaching the Christian construction of God-and-Christ-as-Word with the "word of God" which is literally scriptural (NATC 195). In addition, his focus on the triune nature of God (as Father, Son and Holy Spirit simultaneously) can be read as enacting a conversion or melding of the three classical rhetorical concerns—Logos (God), Pathos (Son), and Ethos (Spirit)—resonating with Augustine’s earlier conflation of instructiveness, appeal, and persuasion.14
Augustine’s exploitation of pagan or secular terms, concepts, and associations to further a Christian rhetorical appeal certainly operates as a move towards orthodoxy as opposed to gnosticism, Manicheanism, or other worldviews deemed heresy at the time. Augustine’s ultimate alignment with a catholic (that is, universalizing) Christianity and its canonization of the four Gospels—excluding, say, the "secret" Gospel of Thomas or the Apocryphon of John (Pagels xv-xvi)—is mirrored now in academia’s blatant use of the word "canon" to privilege literary texts within individual disciplines. On some level, the early selection and privileging of texts for the Christian canon prefigures gestures made by textbook makers for all levels of education. What makes Augustine’s direction different from Ramus’s is that it preserves an open rhetoric of authority and tradition more readily identifiable for direct challenge.
Burke’s Logological Transcendence
Throughout his career, as is well-known, Burke revisited religious themes, terminologies, and texts, perhaps most extensively in The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology, published in 1961. Through logology, Burke further complicates Augustine’s conflation of religious purposes and secular terms by using "the close study of theology and its forms . . . to provide us with good insight into the nature of language itself as a motive" (RR vi). In effect, a paradox of logology mirrors back Burke’s "paradox of substance."15 While the approach depends upon theology, Burke says, logology itself remains secular. Nevertheless, he puts the connection to theology in fairly urgent terms: "This text RR is intended to show why any secular theory of language that ignores the hints provided by theology is bound to be inadequate, whether or not theology is ‘true’" (RR 14n).
There is much compelling and interesting disagreement about the extent to which Burke "dissembled" his own rhetorical, even religious, "motives" in his discussions of logology.16 However, I will argue that Burke, in particularly un-Ramistic fashion, manages two things at once: a secularization of theology and a theologizing of language. Burke’s ultimate achievement could be called a paradox of "trans-substance"—even trans-substantiation—for terminologies, using analytical gestures which move, to put it metaphorically, from Word to flesh to bread, and back again to words. In "Counter-Gridlock," Burke makes a powerful declaration of such transformations: "Love is a personalized word for communication . . . There’s communion in love, shared communion" (Rueckert and Bonadonna 371).17 Burke’s writings make clear that his recurring posture of doubt and inquiry is not cynical or nihilistic, but re-socializing and seeking connection. In light of his urgent humanism, it makes sense that Burke would reject or seem to toy with questions meant simply to "place" or position him as a "kind" or "brand" of theologian or philosopher.18 At the same time, however, Burke refuses to ignore the impact of religiosity upon what literary-critical circles deem to be "purely" secular, psychological, or historical concerns.
Burke’s treatment of Augustine as rhetorician and theologian serves as a locus for examining the apparently paradoxical motives of logology. He engaged Augustine’s Confessions at length in The Rhetoric of Religion, but he also extensively addressed De Doctrina Christiana in A Rhetoric of Motives (1950). What Burke notices, even admires, about Augustine provides insight as to the critical principles latent in Burke’s own theoretical framework. In a chapter titled "Traditional Principles of Rhetoric" in the earlier text, he writes:
The rhetoric with which Augustine is exclusively concerned, a rhetoric for persuading audiences to a Christian way of life, does not aim at systematic observations about the art of ‘proving opposites.’ His treatment is at once both narrowed and widened: narrowed in the sense that it is concerned only with the use of words for one purpose, the teaching of Christianity; widened in the sense that the persuasion it would establish was a doctrine of universal motivation. (RM 74-75; his emphasis)
Burke goes on to point out Augustine’s "close analysis of Biblical texts, which he selects and studies for their craftsmanship," and while he compares Augustine’s "literary appreciations" to Longinus’s, Burke emphasizes that Augustine is nevertheless always writing as "propagandist of the Faith," as "a master of apologetics . . . whose sensitiveness to communication problems was sharpened by the memory of harsh conflict within, of inner voices at one time opposing each other like rivals in debate" (75). Burke seems to respect Augustine’s use of dialectic in the service of rhetoric—particularly in his conversion and conflation of terms to expand a Christian appeal.19
Burke’s terms of appreciation for the theologian as persuader and teacher connect fundamentally to his own interests in close-reading, communication, social interaction, and "conflicts of voices."20 There are no easy ways to separate the theological from linguistic implications of these interests, despite what we might identify as Burke’s persistent "disclaimers." In fact, towards the end of his career, logology becomes a deeply urgent concern. In his introduction to the collection of Burke’s writings from 1967-1984, Rueckert notes that Burke in fact moves away from modes of "text-centered" analysis and becomes "relentless" in his explanations and applications of logology—particularly as challenges against hyper-technologism and environmental destruction (Rueckert and Bonadonna 1-6).21
The association between God and language is complex for Burke. As if anticipating dismissal in a world suspicious of "traditional" religions, he tends to couch logology’s theological fixations in distant language or passive syntax, even as he stresses the "genius" of theology. In his 1979 essay, "Theology and Logology," Burke writes:
Logology involves only empirical considerations about our nature as the symbol-using animal. But for that reason logology is fascinated by the genius of theology; and all the more because, through so much of our past, theologians have been among the profoundest of our inventors in the way of symbolic action. Also, everywhere logology turns, it finds more evidences of the close connection between speech and theologic doctrine. (153)
Later in the same essay, he emphasizes how the narrative of Genesis "tells the story of a divine word’s informative power" (166). Language becomes "symbolic action" as we read descriptions of God’s creative acts (when God said "let there be light," light came to exist), as well as in the office accepted by Adam, the proto-human, for identifying, through names, what God had made.22
Logologically, Burke locates one of the most profound indicators of human agency in what he calls the linguistic "invention of the negative." Yet even here he analogizes his linguistic concepts to Christian conventions:
. . . To our knowledge, the Law, be it St. Paul’s or Jeremy Bentham’s, is the flowering of that humanly, humanely, humanistically, and brutally inhumanely ingenious addition to wordless nature, the negative, without which a figure like Satan would be logologically impossible, as it also would be impossible to put a sign next a live wire saying, "Danger, don’t touch." ("Theology" 171)
Notice Burke’s shameless continuum of judgments regarding the "ingenious" negative—running the gamut from simply "human" to "brutally inhumane." He demonstrates an awareness of the divergent intentions and (ab)uses of human distinctions, suggesting that in any polarity, "yes" and "no" problematically imply one another. Such a dependence between affirmation and denial, acceptance and rejection, returns us again to the paradox of substance:
Implicit in polar terms, there is a timeless principle . . . which not only warns against the wiles of Satan but creates the need for Satan. In regards to the logology of the case, Adam’s fall was in the cards from the start in the sense that his task, as the "first" man, was to represent the principle of disobedience that was implicit in the possibility of saying "no" to the first "thou shalt not." ("Theology" 172; his emphasis)
In Burke’s terms, then, even as Adam disobeys God’s commandment, he thus says "yes" to something else—curiosity? Independence? An attraction to sin? Burke’s point that this convergence emerges precisely from polarity itself revises and complicates what Augustine attempted to affirm simply as Christ’s "yes, yes, no, no" admonitions for the speaking faithful (NATC 195). It also challenges diagrammatic understandings of "truth" or simplistic axioms offered as"self-evident" in the mode of Ramus.23 Burke’s strategies of critical identification and transformation actually resemble Augustine’s in reverse, with the profound distinction being that Burke’s logological approach moves towards an orthodoxy of uncertainties rather than certainty.
Nevertheless, Burke’s direction is grounded in undeniably humanistic—even catholic (universalizing)—priorities. This is revealed in his recurrent definition of man as "the symbol-using animal," as well as his distinction between human beings in action and mere bodies in motion.24 He writes:
Logology . . . is in an intermediate position between theology and behaviorism . . . . It is as dualistic in its way as theology is, since logological distinction . . . is as "polar" as theology’s distinction between mind and body or spirit and matter. Logology holds that "persons" act, where "things" but move or are moved. ("Theology" 156; his emphasis)
This fundamental belief in human agency as it connects to language underscores an idealizing tendency which also protects Burke from the charges of relativism advanced by some early critics, such as Allan Tate. As Samuel Southwell puts it, "Burke leaves us on a knife-edge border of a unifying metaphysics" (166). Ironically, in its dance between classical "grounding" and a spirit of ultimate openness, Burke’s logology reads on some level as a return to the gnostic tradition which Augustine certainly would have considered heresy during his time. It would also be too "uncertain" or "ambiguous" for Ramus and his disciples.
Beginning in such early works as Counter-Statement (1931), Burke inhabits a strange middle territory between idealism and relativism.25 He clearly situates the "symbol-using animal" within traditional conventions of a "pre-existing" natural world. Favoring Aristotle’s idea that successful art satisfies appetites found in the minds of its audience members, Burke refers to "inherent potentialities" in man as the common ground:
Over and over again in the history of art, different material has been arranged to embody the principle of the crescendo; and this must be so because we "think" in a crescendo, because it parallels certain psychic and physical processes which are at the roots of our experience. (CS 45)
We thus have the potential of frustration when art, or language, fails to make its connection or impression upon our "human roots." Burke echoes here Augustine’s concern that speech make a unified impact on the "whole" person. In addition, he affirms that even the "natural" exists within a kairotic "scene" of changing conventions, thus renewing Augustine’s practical concerns for those who would be trained, not as artists, but as religious teachers: "When the emphasis of society has changed, new symbols are demanded to formulate new complexities, and the symbols of the past become less appealing of themselves" (CS 59).26 By implication, efforts to engage language must reflect a flexible, even fluid, discipline.
The complimentary terms Burke uses in his close-reading of 19th and 20th century writers reveals that an admiration for tension and ambiguity might demonstrate social purposes. In the "Adepts" chapter of Counter-Statement, Burke traces the interrelation between personal papers, literary texts, and biographies of Flaubert, Walter Pater, and Remy de Gourmont. Burke points out the uncomfortable contradiction between Flaubert’s "aesthetics" and his actual "product" (6-9), stating that he "finds himself midway between two contradictory attitudes: one, a love of ‘mouthings, lyricism, the flying of big birds, the sonorities of prose; the other, a desire to make the reader feel his books ‘almost materially’" (7). Likewise, Burke distinguishes Pater as "interested in laying numerous angles of approach" to his subject matter (12), wherein a "contemplation of permanent things served primarily to strengthen his depiction of the evanescent" (15). Finally, Burke points out de Gourmont’s driving imperative as being "venturesome" (17), stating that the author located even in the subject of futility "a delight where his predecessors found despair" (19). Commenting at length on de Gourmont’s "characteristic ambivalence," Burke writes, "A conflict of attitudes gives his work considerable liquidity. . . . Thoroughly godless, for example, he always manifested a passionate interest in Catholicism" (20).
Similarly, Burke pairs Gide and Mann as writers whose works attempt to "make us at home in indecision, to humanize the state of doubt" (CS 105). Such "doubt" serves as a creative ground wherein "what is lost in . . . moral certitude is gained in questioning and conscientiousness" (96). Unlike Augustine, who transposes the certainties of classical thinkers into new Christian doctrines, Burke here close-reads literary texts for affirmations of instability as a generating principle. In doing so, he also contradicts the "horror" against ambiguity expressed in Ramist Puritanism—as manifest in academic as well as religious attitudes towards literature.
By idealizing paradoxes as they relate to the work of literary artists, Burke sets up a translation of aestheticism for linguistic, and eventually theological, terms. Ultimately, his trust in "approximate communication" (CS 79) essentializes the basis for a logological approach to texts:
While it is dialectically true that two people of totally different experiences must totally fail to communicate, it is also true that there are no two such people, the "margin of overlap" always being considerable (due, if nothing else, to the fact that men’s biologic functions are uniform). (CS 78)
Here he expresses the value of social connection, which, as noted before, Burke actually refers to as a means of "communion." He thereby rejects the false assumption that because we are "different" we cannot communicate at all. Such priorities seem to motivate Burkean interest in expression—in how "language ‘thinks’ for us," as he states many years later: "The study of words as words in contexts asks us to ask how they equate with one another, how they imply one another, and how they become transformed" ("Theology" 177).27
In a Burkean framework such study is not idle, isolated, or easily reducible, but a fundamentally complicated enterprise with social ends in mind. Perhaps the core of the difficulty is that, while Burke observes ways in which language overlaps and regenerates, almost as a "living" entity, he connects this phenomenon to essential human choices and human agency. As Howard Nemerov puts it, Burke "sees the human hope precisely in the rich polyvalence of terms, the Shakespearean equivocations, which purely scientistic philosophies propose to exclude" (69). Emphasizing this "hope" at the end of A Grammar of Motives, Burke urges readers not to fear that dialectical inquiry equals a chaotic relativism:
It is certainly relativistic . . . to state that any term . . . can be seen from the point of view of any other term. But insofar as terms are thus encouraged to participate in an orderly parliamentary development, the dialectic of this participation produces . . . a "resultant certainty" of a different quality, necessarily ironic, since it requires that all the sub-certainties be considered as neither true nor false, but contributory. (512-513; his emphasis)
The human goal of this "contributory" dialectic is to create a basis of exchange which transforms the self-righteous posture, even between ultimate enemies. Arguing in favor of what he calls "true" and "humble irony," Burke calls for "a sense of fundamental kinship with the enemy, as one needs him sic, is indebted to him, is not merely outside him as an observer but contains him within, being consubstantial with him" (514). By describing this social and linguistic relationship as "consubstantial," Burke appropriates an early Protestant term explaining the eucharistic sacrament as simultaneously "bread" and "Christ." Unlike Ramus and his disciples, who rejected both trans- and consubstantiation as "mystical" (Graves 198), Burke thus anticipates and seeks to avoid the agonistic consequences of isolating judgments.28
As a whole, Counter-Statement can be read as an introduction to themes of openness in Burke’s later writings. Because Burke himself favored Aristotle’s concept of "entelechy," it is fitting to return to the "beginning" or seminal text of Burke for insight as to his "end." The religious terms within which Burke later explains Aristotle’s concept are hardly surprising:
The formula of the Christian theologians was stated thus: Novum Testamentaum in Vetere latet, Vetus in Novo patet. How to translate it exactly? "The N.T. as latent in the O.T. The O.T. becomes patent in the N.T." Or "The implications of the O.T. became explicitly manifest in the N.T." ("Theology" 163).
The reference to "latency" can be applied to Burke’s work as well. He reframed new editions of Counter-Statement himself—adding a preface to the second edition in 1952 and a final postscript titled "Curriculum Criticum" in 1967. Reengaging his own early text, Burke points out that the "book begins on the word ‘perhaps’ and ends on the word ‘norm’" (CS xi). He then articulates a statement which can be applied to his later critical career: "The overall trend is through Perhaps towards the norm (even though I unconsciously revealed my tentativeness with regard to norm by ending on it—not outright, but in quotation marks" (xi; his capitalization and emphasis). Here we find an admission which tells us that even when he appears to be "classifying" or didactic, Burke anticipates and essentially welcomes divergent views. Paradoxically, the sub-stance of Burke’s own "dogmatism" is openness.
This complicated maneuver is fairly easy to miss or ignore inside the Ramistic scene. In the selection NATC chooses, blandly titled "Kinds of Criticism" (1946), we see that, even as he posits critical definitions, Burke offers them only after articulating a rhetoric of contingency. As an opening, he writes:
In here surveying the kinds of criticism, we don’t hope to tell anybody anything he didn’t already know. We merely hope for whatever clarification may come of a general survey. And we are more concerned to look over the field than to argue for any one method. (1272)
A reader hitherto unacquainted with Burke’s other writings—a new student, a teacher looking for the "teachable" lesson—could easily skim this frame of characteristic tentativeness and rush past it into the apparently "easy certainty" of Burke’s "extrinsic" vs. "intrinsic" critical distinctions and terms. The Ramistic suggestion made by the NATC sadly underestimates Burke.
In contrast to fellow modernists such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, who sought to ground conventions of art and criticism in "new" or "re-newed" absolutes—Eliot with a self-affirmed return to Royalism in politics and Anglo-Catholicism in religion, Pound with an Imagist dogmatism which prefigured his later fascist sympathies—Burke’s analysis implies a critical, aesthetic and pragmatic resistance against what he calls a "hysterical retreat into belief" (CS 106), which we could equate with Ramist Puritanism. He writes:
Need people be in haste to rebel against the state of doubt? . . . Society might well be benefited by the corrective of a disintegrating art, which converts each simplicity into a complexity, . . . which concerns itself with the problematic, the experimental, and thus by implication works corrosively upon those expansionistic certainties preparing the way for social cataclysms. (CS 105)
Such passages reveal that Burke’s critical interest in doubt is melded to his
logological idealism, his desire to prevent "social cataclysm." A Grammar of Motives (1945), published in the wake of the Second World War, continues this thread prominently in its dedication: Ad bellum purificandum. In The Philosophy of Literary Form, Burke actually suggests that a posture of "charitas" as opposed to "intelligence" will best serve as the basis of his dialectical theory (123n), thus emphasizing that agonistic defeat of one’s opponent in dialectical debate will not suffice. This is reinforced in Burke’s argument for the "psychology of translation" (his emphasis) as a cultural antidote. In Permanence and Change, he writes: "Our concept of recalcitrance could lessen sectarian divisions by prompting a man sic to remember that his assertions are necessarily socialized by revision, an attitude which might make for greater patience" (265).
The flexibility of Burke’s logological approach towards texts is neither nihilistic nor despairing, but fundamentally purposeful and pragmatically social. Further, his attitude is not ex-communicative (note the religious term) but firmly appositional.29 Austin Warren, as early as 1935, pointed out Burke’s attitude of "skeptical comprehensiveness" (56), and noted that in Counter-Statement readers find the following:
A mind capable of defending its skepticism, not on any absolute basis, but as an ingredient in the temperamental mixture of any complete community. Society, it maintains, can endure and even profit from a considerable admixture of doubt and doubters. . . . For one doubting Thomas there are eleven who believe. Thomas too has his vocation, his mission. (53)
Burke, through logology, actually fuses the certainty of Augustine with the
doubts of Thomas, fashioning a mission or vocation which makes linguistic conversion itself a new "sacrament," an outward sign, of human connection.
Despite the fragmentary nature of anthologized presentations of both Augustine and Burke, Augustine’s role as linguistic and semantic "assimilator"
for the Catholic faith seems more easy to reconcile than Burke’s "place," which remains less defined. Even in the early years of his career, Burke was challenged by socialist critics such as Granville Hicks, who accused Burke of not being definite enough in his critiques of capitalism (Heath 10-12). As Burke’s writing became more coherently philosophical, social conservatives such as Richard Weaver and Wayne Booth sought to establish connections to their own rhetorical concerns (Weaver 78-79, 103-04, 139-58, 221; Booth, Modern Dogma 29-31, 167-69, 183, 196-97).30 The apparently unwieldy nature of Burke’s work creates special problems for critics of the Ramist, Puritan strain who demand simple clarifications: Is Burke’s work overtly Marxist? Latently "Christian? To what brand of "Christianity," "philosophy" or "religiosity" does it belong?31
The aim to define Burke’s theological significance has been addressed repeatedly. William Rueckert has commented that Burke systematized a
"naturalistic, linguistically oriented, secular variant of Christianity" (Frank 401).
Wayne Booth has described his attempts, via correspondence, to engage Burke personally about his obsession with religious subject matter. In an essay titled, "The Many Voices of Kenneth Burke, Theologian and Prophet, As Revealed in his Letters to Me," Booth first traces what he calls "the Protean nature" of Burke’s tone in his epistles—from vitriolic to self-critical, sarcastic, witty, insecure, inquiring, and skeptical—concluding:
We can see beneath all the fragments there was a man desperately attempting to put it all together in a grand view of everything: not the mere language theorist that my mentors tended to dismiss, but the frustrating and frustrated critic who could not get everybody, including Derrida, to see the difference between the taste of an orange and the words "the taste of an orange." (190)
Booth underscores Burke’s underlying hope for, even expectation of, understanding, and suggests that Burke sought connection rather than sitting back in resignation or smugness at inevitable disagreements over meaning and reading.
This Augustinian stretch towards unity, however, cannot be separated from Burke’s stress on experimentalism. Note that the title for A Grammar of Motives fuses the prescriptive term, "grammar," with the tentative article "a" rather than "the," and the plural noun. Burke’s idea of "nature" and "the social" serve as a grounding for his "flexible" dialectic and operate with an unavoidably rhetorical humanism—perhaps newly "evangelical" in nature. Again we can see the intersection—a reciprocal "trans-substantiation"—between Burke as Augustinian "propagandist" and "doubting" or "indecisive" Thomas. This discomfortable paradox nudges open, even defies, our almost in-bred academic temptation to revisit the easy Ramistic distinctions and commodifications which catalogue Burke’s work in "fixed" terms, rather than examining them with the dialectic he preferred.32
As already discussed, Burke takes pains to distinguish his logological interest in religion from theological questions of "God." For example, he clarifies his desire to hold religious questions of authority in abeyance: "Logology leaves it for the scruples of theology to work out why that damned nuisance has to be put up with, by an all-powerful Ordainer of all Order" ("Theology" 171). Yet, considering Burke’s own theory that distinctions logologically imply one another, that "yes/no" are not easy to extricate from each other, it is hardly surprising that critics are drawn to study references to God in Burke’s letters and, in Burkean fashion, to read them against Burke’s overt disclaimers (Booth 192-193; Appel 105). Booth eloquently makes the case that while Burke did not "embrace some sort of church" or profess "unambivalent belief in an intervening providential lord," he seems nonetheless driven by religious questions, by "a belief in a mysterious but real cosmic power . . . a belief in the power of the so-called nature that made us as we are in all our complexity" (195).
Thankfully, Booth approaches here, but does not affix, a label to Burke’s oeuvre. While categorization is tempting, we must consider that Burke’s avoidance of an easy "yes/no" answer to questions of his religiosity may in fact be interpreted as a demand that our question itself be revised. In maintaining fluidities of meaning, apparently refusing to "plant his feet," Burke in fact does place himself outside a plane of linguistic victimage—and thus he provokes more dialectic examination, more dialogue, and avoids an agonistic trap.33 He organizes this "step aside" in the "trans-substantial" exchange between logology and theology.
Burke at once separates and unites divine metaphors and linguistic structures, with social, humanistic goals in mind. We can connect this to differences between the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas. In "Sacred Doubt," Lesley Hazelton notes Elaine Pagel’s observation:
Where John insists that the human and the divine are separate realms. . . . Thomas sees one inside the other. In fact, another gnostic gospel, that of Philip, states the union of human and divine explicitly. . . . Whoever achieves gnosis, or true knowledge, becomes no longer Christian but Christ. (16)
As Appel has noted, Burke does not seem far from the gnostic view, wherein God as Word (or word as god/God) lurks already within pre-existing human understandings and "natural" conditions.34 Theological words cannot be separated from secular and literary-critical ones, nor can rhetoric be easily divorced from dialectic. Such apparent oppositions exist as equal parts of a coherent human pursuit of what Pagel refers to as "true knowledge," translating Platonic and Christian vocabulary inside a secular framework. Burke’s attraction to "indecision" and his disdain for "easy certainty" serve as dramatic parallels to the gnostic idea of "an open, paradoxical path to the divine, steeped in metaphor" (Hazelton 16).35 Yet we must be careful not to botch the translation and box-up Burke inside a "pure" definition of gnosticism, either. Unlike Ramism, which seeks to use "catholic precepts of dialectic" as principles of "objective logic" (Miller 128), Burke’s logology offers a window of engagement through which other windows may be viewed. Where Ramist dialectic poses as mere "discovery"—positing, in effect, a new Decalogue of academic laws, dichotomies and axioms—logology affirms its fundamental interestedness in the flux of social engagement and rhetoric.
Hinting at a kind of divine independence in language itself, Burke writes: "For language is innately innovative. No one could go on making his words mean the same, even if he expended his best efforts to make them stay put" ("Theology" 185). Such an awareness has been embraced even by theologians such as Harvey Cox and Conrad Ostwalt in their arguments for renewed rather than static, sectarian definitions of God and faith in the face of secularization. I find it helpful to see Burke’s work as an "ecumenism" between rhetoric and dialectic, the sacred and the secular, between content and form, serving simultaneously linguistic and religious ends. In his response to Booth’s directly "religious urgings" (Booth 199), Burke intimates an awareness that he (as "symbol-user") and his own words (as "signs") may already, implicitly, be "converted." Perhaps our job, then, is to read that conversion as already expressed. In a letter to Booth, Burke writes:
No need to convert a nonbeliever like I’m. St. Paul tells us that there would be no theology without language. . . . Why, then, should a shrewd logologer frustrate the ‘natural’ rite of speech? . . .When he hears himself talk, that would be the equivalent of Paul’s pronouncement that "faith comes from hearing." (Booth 199; his emphasis)
Interestingly, Burke signs off this letter "as ever, towards freedom" (my emphasis). These words embed, logologically, the idea that this writer isn’t yet "free," but is perhaps bound in service of selected conventions, altogether critical, theological, literary and aesthetic, in his own pilgrimage to some final release from generic classification.
Perhaps posthumously, Burke’s writings will be finally canonized into freedom—which means that they will be re-gathered in service of transformations, not merely confined within comfortably familiar terminologies and paradigms. How we continue to engage with and reflect upon Burke in the future will depend upon how our own interpretative vocabularies select and deflect particular rites of canonization.
Jo Scott-Coe is a fellow in the MFA program in nonfiction at the University of California, Riverside.
1 A recent "interdisciplinary" conference at the University of California, Riverside, for example, was organized under the title "(dis)junctions."
2 Theorist John Kirk has connected this move to Heidegger’s "uncertainty principle" and Weiner’s "physics of contingency" (346).
3 For thirty-four pages following this set-up, McLuhan explores Ramus’s association with a textual priority system in lieu of traditional oral authority. McLuhan also connects Ramism to text and knowledge as emerging "commodities."
4 Ong notes that "‘ the scientific approach’ to literature arrived" inside Ramus’s strategies for examining text (268). Ong cites as evidence Ramus’s popularization of diagrams and "tabulations" to address texts and to generate "first principles" via reductive "method" (see 299-301).
5 Current obsessions with standardized testing can certainly be traced to Ramistic origins. As tables of public school test results are published in newspapers, in massive reports resembling NASDAQ, NYSE, and sports tables, we can locate a vast rhetoric of numbers posing as an "objective" or "teachable" documentation of the efficacy or inefficacy of "the learning process." The key to the Ramistic approach here, in light of Ong’s observation, lies in the implicit denial of rhetorical argument. Burke himself refers to the work of "statistical jugglers" posing as "calm presenters of the facts," and thereby simply moving their trickeries one step farther along by . . . giving us their own selective version of ‘the facts’" ("Secular Mysticism in Bentham," in Permanence and Change 191).
6 The three laws of organization in the liberal arts became the "creed" of Ramists: "By the first of them, Ramus said, an art achieves certainty; by the second, assurance that all its parts pertain to the whole; by the third, that all its parts are reciprocal" (141). Miller emphasizes that such doctrines of Ramist method were readily embraced on the American continent by schools such as Harvard and Yale, while remaining "disputed furiously in the universities of Europe" (141).
7 The current "standardization" movement in general perpetuates Ramism because it tends to bureaucratize content into easy (though often long) lists, fulfilled by "instructional maps" and "scripted lesson plans" now written and published by textbook companies such as Houghton Mifflin and Holt, Rinehart & Winston. Even twenty years ago, E.D. Hirsch couched his Dictionary of Cultural Literacy in the Ramist language of objective "discovery" as opposed to rhetorical "bias": "Ideological partisanship on the subject of national literacy is more empirical than ideological. . . . What follows from a commitment to literacy is determined more by reality than ideology" (xv).
8 Ong writes that Ramus’s sensibility appealed to an evolving view of knowledge as "commodity" in his own day. He states, in "Ramist Method and the Commercial Mind," that "Ramus takes what might be called an itemizing approach to discourse . . . an approach which made discourse a kind of thing" (165). Ong also notes that the diagrammatic approach to knowledge helped reduce "the mysterious realm of knowledge . . . to something one could manage, almost palpably handle" (169). It doesn’t seem too much of a jump to the post-modern PowerPoint lecture, which extends diagrammatic simplification beyond the "tactile" to an evanescent level—which, as Edward Tufte has argued, contains totalitarian overtones.
9 In "Counter-Gridlock," an interview published in Reuckert’s 2003 compilation of Burke’s later writings, On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows 1967-1984, Burke explains that his choice to discontinue graduate school emerged from a frustration that the university bureaucracy barred him from taking accelerated language courses, even though he was ready for them. With his father’s financial help, Burke merely extended his education outside the "walls" of school. Consciously or subconsciously, Burke chose to reject what Ong describes as a Ramistic commodity view of education, something"dispensed" through exams and degrees "under the supervision of a corporation" (Ong, Ramus, Method, and the Decay 150). Lamenting his own disappointments with college, Edward Said, in Out of Place, writes,"My own intellectual discoveries were made outside what the regimen of Princeton required." It is hardly surprising that he mentions being "stirred" by Burke’s visiting lectures on logology in the years between 1958-63 (290).
10 Samuel Southwell mentions that Burke corresponded in later life with a "Catholic priest" he doesn’t identify. David Blakesley kindly directed me to the newly-published collection of letters between William Rueckert and Burke, wherein a specific reference to Walter Ong and his letters occurs on page 297.
11 Timothy Crusius, in his "Case for Kenneth Burke’s Dialectic and Rhetoric," notes that Burke’s pentad, in particular—focusing on act, scene, agent, agency, purpose—has been "advanced as a useful heuristic" by textbooks such as the Holt Guide to English (23, 36 n).
12 In his translation of On Christian Teaching, R.P.H. Green places Augustine’s first writings of the text circa 395, with a completion date of 426/27 (xxvii). According to NATC, complete Bibles at this time remained rare (186).
13 Regarding Augustine’s reference to "heretical punctuation" of a gospel verse in Book Three, Green points out that "ancient readers often had to punctuate for themselves," meaning that obviously different marks could radically alter the theology in a given passage (Augustine, On Christian Teaching 68-69, 155n). It so happens that the text in question for Augustine is John 1: 1-2, apparently "mal-punctuated" by the Arians. Even punctuation clearly has a rhetorical impact.
14 While Augustine does not directly analogize Logos, Pathos, and Ethos to the persons of the Trinity, the intuitive associations of each "person" and how each could appeal to a new believer cannot be underestimated. My suggestion is that Augustine is able to exploit such associations without identifying them, because he has already emphasized the need for "unity" of appeal when preaching. We can make connections to the idea of Logos (Reason, Word, Platonic Truth)
inside references to demands of the Christian God-as-Father in the Law, the Truth and the Commandments; we also find it, as Augustine emphasizes, in the passage: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God." Pathos (Feeling, Response, Emotional Appeal) resonates inside verses such as "For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son," not to mention the Catholic emphasis on the "Passion" of Christ as "Word made Flesh" to dwell among us and suffer for human sin. Connections to Ethos (Credible Authority, Spirit, Character) linger inside references to the "spirit" of the Law/Word/Lord/Father, as well as in urgings to "receive the spirit of Christ," "the gifts/fruits of the Spirit," or "moved by the Spirit." Stephen McKenna’s translation of Books 8-15 catalogs recurrent examples of psychological trinities used as analogies to illustrate the new religious doctrine (see page 227). Such analogies have clear Platonic associations, given their focus on "mind" or aspects of mind. Like any good rhetorician, teacher or preacher, Augustine knew his audience.
15 See A Grammar of Motives 21-23.
16 See Edward C. Appel’s article, "Kenneth Burke: Coy Theologian," page 104. Appel also cites Grieg Henderson’s argument that Burke is a "surrogate theologian" as well as Trevor Melia’s concern about how to categorize Burke’s "type" of "secular Christian." Appel himself eventually argues that Burke’s dramatism is ultimately negative, and that therefore "religious people should approach dramatism with caution."
17 The fluidity here between terms is compelling: communication = love = communion. A Burkean invitation might be: "Let us break open words together." But a corresponding (trans-substantiative) injunction would also reverse itself, pointing out that "Humans cannot live on Words alone." Thus, as "communicants" in a double sense, we would be directed back to the "providence" of actual bread.
18 In Permanence and Change (1935), Burke writes: "Any new way of putting characters of events together is an attempt to convert people, regardless of whether it go by the name of religion, psychotherapy, or science...It attempts, by rationalization, to alter the nature of our responses" (87).
19 The ultimate example of this conflation, as has already been discussed, is Augustine’s affirmation of the Christian God as Word (Logos). At the beginning of Book Three in On Christian Teaching, his lengthy discussion about a "heretical punctuation" for John 1: 1-2 underscores not only the fundamental nature of the God-Word equation for Augustine’s theology, but also emphasizes the theological implications of deceptively "objective" punctuation. Augustine in fact refers to a translation by the Arians which, according to him, articulates merely a kind of parallel relation between God and the Word, rather than affirming that the Word was God. His argument seems to turn on the grammar of translation—showing that grammatical choices can have profound religious significance (69, 155n69).
20 Towards the end of Permanence and Change, Burke writes, "Any instigation to select one’s means of persusasion from the realm of violence must come solely from the violence of those who attack him for his peaceful work as a propounder of new meanings—a state of affairs which he will strive to avoid as far as possible by cultivating the arts of translation and inducement. He will accept that the pieties of others are no less real or deep through being different from his, and he will seek to recommend his position by considering such orders of recalcitrance and revising his statements accordingly. In these troublesome antics, we may even find it wise on occasion to adopt incongruous perspectives for the dwarfing of our impatience" (272). Rejecting Ramistic simplification or standardization, Burke might say, could be one step to avoiding both rhetorical and actual violence. This is the frame in which he places subsequent references to "the eternally unsolvable Engima," the "Eternal Enigma," and the image of people "building their cultures together, nervously loquacious, at the edge of an abyss" (272).
21 In his chapter "On Words and The Word" in The Rhetoric of Religion, Burke streses the reciprocal, transformative, association between theology and logology: "The relation between the two should not be conceived as proceeding one direction" (36). Logology, like religion, can be viewed as "central" to all disciplines and "specializations" of study "in the sense that all -ologies and -ographies are guided by the verbal" (26). Burke notes that this centrality could be only an "ideal" in practice, due to the "divisions of the curriculum" as they exist in the practical university (27).
22 Harvey Cox observes that the Greek word for church, ecclesia, is a "word of motion" (197), which connects domains of physical, symbolic, and spiritual action all at once.
23 In what he calls a "rhetorical defense of rhetoric," Burke argues at once against a dialectically "neutral" vocabulary and against a Sophistic free-for-all. He points to a phenomenon noted by Toynbee as characteristic of founders of relgious structures, "a period of hesitancy, brooding, or even rot, prior to the formation of the new certainties." He suggests such "withdrawal" as a mode of both secular and monastic discipline, "building up a technical mode of analysis . . . ’bureacratizing a purgatorial mood, turning a ‘state of evansescence’ into a fixity by giving it an established routine" (Philosophy of Literary Form 138). There is no "instant" curriculum in such a mode of analysis. Burke specifically rejects what he calls the "synechdochic fallacy" which diagrammatic understandings tend to foster (139). Burke’s concept of "the bureaucratization of the imaginative" is valuable here as well. In "Counter Gridlock," he states that "the embarrassment of instrumental thinking" lies in the assumption that a policy, instrument, or dream "only has the nature that you use it for" (Rueckert and Bonadonna 363).
24The Rhetoric of Religion includes a thorough initial explication of these distinctions (38-42).
25 Burke comments in "Counter Gridlock" that students often point to "germs" of his later ideas in this early text (Rueckert and Bonadonna 374).
26 In his chapter titled "New Meanings" in Permanence and Change, Burke writes, "There is even some indication (in such formulae as the Logos and the Way) that the Christian evangelism started from questionings as intellectualistic as any that characterize science today. The formal philosophy out of which Christianity arose was also highly skeptical" (81).
27 Years after this statement in "Theology and Logology," Burke says that he "cuts the corners of his whole pedantic hexadic process" to three elements, namely: equations, implications, and transformations (Rueckert and Bonadonna 371).
28 In a letter to the editor included at the end of The Philosophy of Literary Form, Burke addresses an article written by an educator who simply pits "education" against "propaganda" and "indoctrination." Burke argues that dialectic should be part of the "education" continuum, and in fact should be "absolutely affirmed and indoctrinated" (his emphasis) in order to preserve an interrogative mode which allows for revision. Calling this "positive indoctrination," Burke suggests that education should not allow itself to resemble dictatorship in assuming a superior high-ground which protects its status as an "unanswerable opponent" (PLF 443-447).
29 Of course, one of the most interesting enactments of appositional dialogue can be found in Burke’s "Epilogue: Prologue in Heaven" at the end of Rhetoric of Religion. In the "drama" which ensues, Burke suggests that we can see "a communicative bond" even between The Lord and Satan (273).
30 I myself discovered Burke accidentally via the Weaver route. As a young kid, I came to Weaver's books via a conservative and politically active uncle, who socialized with William F. Buckley, Jr., worked for the Philadelphia Society, and sat on the advisory board of Modern Age journal. I remember being most intrigued, even then, by Weaver's notes about Burke's concept of "god-term," which certainly complemented Weaver's own notions of secular priesthood.
31 In "A Case for Kenneth Burke’s Dialectic and Rhetoric," Crusius prefaces his arguments by clearing up the association of Burke with Marxism, clarifying that he "internalized Marx without ever becoming a Marxist" (24). In similar vein, Appel, in "Kenneth Burke: Coy Theologian," argues that Burke "offers some direct instruction" for members of "the ‘brand name’ religions" (108) only after offering caveats about Burke’s "quasi-gnostic" tendencies (106—see note 34 below).
32 In his concluding paragraph of A Grammar of Motives, Burke writes that "As an over-all ironic formula . . . we could lay it down that ‘what goes forth as A returns as non-A.’ This is the basic pattern that places the essence of drama and dialectic in the irony of the ‘peripety,’ the strategic moment of reversal" (GM 517).
33 In "Variations on Providence," Burke translates the Greek word "martyr" as "witness" (Rueckert and Bonadonna, OHN 296). Considered inside his loglogical frame, Burke’s refusal to identify himself as a "witness" to traditional theology works as a protection against "martyrdom," whether academic or religious. Referring back to Attitudes Toward History (1937), he discusses the "imaginative pliancy" which exists in the early stages of a plan, as opposed to the rigidifying effect of accumulating detail (298). It seems that Burke has tried to retain some of that "pliancy" in logology itself. He also makes the connection between martyrdom and witness in "On Stress, Its Seeking" (Rueckert and Bonadonna 20-21).
34 Appel puts it this way: "Dramatism/logology might be fairly characterized as a quasi-gnostic universalism friendly to process theology, a three-way heresy to any orthodox Christian" (106).
35 Burke would already be leery of a rigidly "perfect" definition of any "mystic" overtones of logology, for as he notes in the closing pages of A Rhetoric of Motives: "Mysticism is no rare thing. . . . And its secular analogues, in grand or gracious symbolism, are everywhere. But the need for it, the itch, is everywhere. And by hierarchy it is intensified. . . . The mystery of the hierarchic is forever with us" (RM 332-33).
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