Issues of KB Journal

KB Journal began publishing in October, 2004. New issues are published twice per year.

Volume 13, Issue 2 Summer 2018

Contents of KB Journal Volume 13, Issue 2 Summer 2018

Embodied Rhetorics: Writing Rides from the Seat of a Bike

Janice Chernekoff, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania


This essay connects Burke’s concept of a mind-body dialectic with studies of embodied rhetorics to explore connections between bodily vocations and the writing linked to them. Randonneuring, a form of endurance bicycling, and the ride reports written by participants, provides a case in point.


I remember Roc’h Trevezel as the name of an endless climb at the end of an endless night.

As I climb in the blue gray light that comes before the dawn, I notice the crucifixes that appear along the road like distance markers. Each one unique but appearing regularly along the road we ride.

I remember climbing a steady moderate grade from one crucifixion scene to the next. As I ride past these potent symbols of sacrifice and redemption, these stations of the cross, I realize that I am on my own secular pilgrimage: [I am] one of many who have come from afar to visit a place that only exists for a moment, to share a transformational experience created by the faith, sacrifice and effort of many.

Tired and weak, I approach the peak of Roc’h Trevezel. Then the sun rises and reveals the world to me. The peak is not a peak as much as a plateau. The lower peaks of the valley are islands afloat above the low-lying clouds. (Greene 18)

Like pilgrims embarking on the five-hundred-mile Camino de Santiago walk in Spain, randonneurs come to France once every four years to attempt the seven-hundred-fifty-mile Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP). In the passage above, Nigel Greene, having completed the 2015 PBP in under ninety hours (the time allowed for an official finish), characterizes his attempt as a “secular pilgrimage” requiring “faith” and “sacrifice” to succeed. PBP is the equivalent of Mecca for randonneurs, long-distance cyclists in a French tradition established more than a century ago.¹ The ride report is also a well-established tradition: riders describe preparing for an event, the trials and tests encountered during the event, and the lessons learned from it. News reports from initial editions of PBP, as well as ride reports by cyclists from the UK, Australia, Canada and the U. S. essentially take the same form. This is a stable genre because the riding and the writing are connected in ways that point to the “chemical sort of rhetoric” that Debra Hawhee says Kenneth Burke locates in his study of endocrinology (Moving Bodies 86). The ride report is a deeply human expression of material rhetoric, a response to an embodied rhetorical situation, such that the genre of the response and its enduring nature can be explained using Burke’s concept of the mind-body experience (Burke P&C 229).

Rhetorical Bodies

We should take seriously the embodied rhetoric of which we are constituted and the genres it manifests. I use “embodied rhetoric” literally, building on Burke’s mind-body term that he argues is a way of signifying the material basis for human symbolic behavior; all symbolic behavior, according to Burke, “is grounded in biological conditions” (P&C 275). Burke adds that this is not to suggest that rhetorical behavior is reducible to biology (P&C 275), but that human bodies are the kind of bodies that learn language (P&C 307). Other scholars have also worked to clarify this productive term and what it allows us to consider regarding rhetoric. Hui Niu Wilcox, for example, writes that embodied knowledges are revealed and expressed through “lived experiences, cultural performance, and bodily intelligence” (106), a view that brings attention to the rhetorical intelligence of bodies at the level of muscle and bone. A. Abby Knoblauch as well says that embodied knowledge is “knowing something through the body” (52), which is another way of saying that at least some of what we know and the way in which we express it emerges from the inextricably linked mind and body. The ride report and similar kinds of stories — for example, the stories of long-distance trail runners, marathon runners, ironman triathletes, and other endurance athletes — provide concrete instances of embodied rhetoric, supporting my claim that while genres generally respond to changes in “audience and circumstance” (Schryer 208), and are consequently only temporarily stable at best (Schryer 204), the ride report melds riding and writing into a more enduring genre that evidences a symbolic dialogue regarding an enduring human rhetorical situation.

Recent scholarship on embodied rhetoric builds on Burke’s arguments and extends them into other fields, providing convincing examples of materially embodied rhetoric. Jack Selzer claims that Celeste Condit, for example, uses DNA coding to model “how material rhetoric might be understood to incorporate both gross physical corporeality and the social and material act of ‘coding’” (13). Condit, who claims that Burke can usefully be thought of as “an idiosyncratic American post-structuralist (Brock)” (331), argues that “language as used by human beings does not operate without regard to the material realm, [so] it is better to say that language users constitute objects out of matter/​form relationships, or, more technically, that language essentializes (by selection and identification) material/​form patterns and relationships into perceived objects” (332–33). Condit sees Burke’s relevance to contemporary discussions of material and embodied rhetoric and relies on Burke to argue that rhetoric emerges from “complex and shifting material/​energy/​relationships” (333). Embodied rhetoric engages human energy as generated within the body and expressed in language forms appropriate to the experience. Jay Dolmage approaches the issue through the lens of disability studies, arguing that, “our own and our students’ bodily differences [are] meaningful and meaning-making” (“‘Breathe Upon Us’” 119). In support of his argument, Dolmage discusses the Greek God Hephaestus whose disability, Dolmage argues, was his ability, informing his intelligence and his way of seeing the world (122). The various disciplinary approaches to embodied rhetoric demonstrates the idea that bodies and bodily energies interpolate discourse. As Debra Hawhee notes about Burke, his “engagement with bodies from a variety of disciplinary vantage points foregrounds the body as a vital, connective, mobile, and transformational force, a force that exceeds — even as it bends and bends with — discourse” (Moving Bodies 7). If the body is a rhetorical agent, what does the body prompt us to ask and explore? And what are the effects of experience on genre, on forms of discourse?

Rhetorical Riding and Writing

Bodily questions inspire rhetorical responses that inform and create intelligence. The question of how far we can push ourselves physically is one bodily question that has inspired not only randonneurs, but a wide range of endurance athletes as well as religious pilgrims who walk the Camino de Santiago or fast for extended periods or engage in other activities that take them out of their physical comfort zone. To a significant degree, it is the body that experiences the question, endures the trials, and experiences the answers to the question. It makes sense, then, that the writing about such experiences will have a similar form; the experience influences the form of the reflection on it. Not every person is an endurance athlete or religious pilgrim, but people who are ask some of the same questions. How far can I go? What will I learn by pushing my body and mind to the limit? What are the limits? Endurance runner Kilian Jornet, who has completed ultra-distance races world-wide writes, “I want to challenge myself, give the best of myself, and try to discover what my thresholds are, to know myself better” (153). Jornet is inspired by bodily exigencies that involve pushing himself to his limits in order to comprehend and physically live the responses to the mind-body questions. Endurance sports athlete Rebecca Rusch similarly claims that accepting physical challenges helps us define ourselves. She writes that “every moment is an opportunity to outlast and overcome the odds that threaten to either paralyze us or tether us to fear and doubt. The moments when we endure define us and mold us into the people we want to be, as athletes, leaders, or partners” (270). According to Rusch, taking up these bodily-generated questions is critical to who we are, how we act, and what we think. Brian Crable’s analysis of Burke’s ideas on bodily rhetoric echo the arguments of the above athletes. Crable writes,

According to Burke, the foundation of human existence is organic — we are embodied, which means that certain permanent needs and ‘purposes’ cannot be denied. Further, these needs and purposes, which drive our earliest behavior, form the foundation for symbolic activity; sociality, with both ideal and material/​economic dimensions, is a biological outgrowth. At the same time, the symbolic realm that is thereby constituted is not reducible to biology. (123)

Some of these permanent needs and purposes underlie all symbolic behavior, according to Crable, but they also form the basis for enduring genres; patterns in symbolic responses may not be biological but the patterns respond to and satisfy biologically inspired rhetorical exigencies.

One feature of ride reports, indeed of many stories about physical challenges, is an explanation of how and why the writer accepted the challenge. People less athletically inclined may think that randonneurs are crazy to ride long distances in rain, without sleep, or over mountains, but even randonneurs feel the need to understand and explain why they undertake these challenges. The explanations point to a faith — a secular faith — not only in the ability of body and mind to overcome hardship, but also in the rightness of taking on the adventure. In the epigraph to this essay, a piece titled “Living the Dream,” Greene notes that PBP is a “transformational experience created by the faith, sacrifice and effort of many” (18). Randonneurs who train and show up for PBP do so in part because they accept that it is a good and human thing to show up for this 750-mile ride, no matter the results. Indeed, all along the route of PBP, local people come out to support riders with food, drink, music, and places to rest; so spectators in France also see the value in the efforts of the riders. And the riders hope (and have faith) that the mind and body will work together to make success possible, but even if the adventure goes awry, they will emerge more fully the human beings that they want to be. Long-time randonneur Laurent Chambard, writing about another 750-mile ride, The Gold Rush Randonnée through more remote areas of Northern California, explains his reasons for wanting to attempt this epic ride:

The Gold Rush Randonnée (GRR) has been on my list of targets for a good while. I find the description of the ride . . . simply fascinating. The promise of 1200km of cycling through some of the last unspoilt parts of California, in what was once Gold Rush country, and over a route where altitude varies from sea level to nearly 2000 metres [6500 feet], has left me dreaming over the map a good few times.

Chambard embraces the challenges presented by the “unspoilt” parts of Northern California in a ride that includes mountains, heat, desert, lack of shade, and long stretches without any services. Chambard dreamed of doing this ride, his mind and body, even in his sleep, wondering if he was up to the challenge.

Randonneurs often frame their induction into randonneuring, and especially an interest in PBP, in quasireligious terms, indicating the depth of their feelings about and commitment to their sport. In a 1975 PBP ride report, American Harriet Fell explains how she became interested in randonneuring when French work colleagues convinced her to extend her limits and accompany them on a two-hundred-kilometer ride, a distance that she had done once before so she was “willing to give it a try.” Her description of the ride includes the fact that they started before dawn on a day with “terrible, freezing rain.” The weather was so terrible that “Marvelous crystalline structures formed on the beards of [her] friends.” She notes that she was a lot faster after lunch and that the group finished together “in eleven hours and ten minutes.” Fell’s description of this ride, which amounts to her introduction to randonneuring, shows her pride in having faced physical and mental hardships with success — so much so that she agreed to ride a three-hundred-kilometer ride with these same colleagues a few weeks later. Also visible in this story, as with Chambard’s story, is an orientation to the world that includes a desire for challenges. Fell acknowledges that what they are doing is a little crazy, but she is pleased to find that she can endure, despite the “crystalline structures” on her friends’ beards, and despite the fact that she had only once before covered this type of distance. Sacrifice and faith: two key terms in religion, appear frequently in ride reports as well as in the stories of other endurance athletes signifying the importance to them of these activities.

A disposition for challenges may be viewed as an orientation or bias toward the world, and according to Burke, a disposition has biological roots:

Our calling has its roots in the biological, and our biological demands are clearly implicit in the universal texture. To live is to have a vocation, and to have a vocation is to have an ethics or scheme of values, and to have a scheme of values is to have a point of view, and to have a point of view is to have a prejudice or bias which will motivate and color our choice of means. (P&C 256–57)

If we embody vocations and related biases, and those predispositions affect our interpretations of events, including how we frame them, it is not hard to understand that endurance cyclists have written similar stories about their adventures since the inaugural running of the Paris-Brest-Paris. After all, the creation of this event was simply another iteration of a vocation or set of values embodied by some people. An endurance cyclist is likely to seek out, see and understand the experiences of, not only other endurance cyclists but also other endurance athletes as inspirational, while someone with a different orientation to the world might view these people as a little wacky. In another 2015 PBP ride report, Bob Hayssen recalls signing on for a 2014 200-kilometer ride “on a whim.” During the ride, there was much anticipatory talk of PBP 2015. Hayssen says that “it sounded like a great adventure. I was quickly hooked” (16). Hayssen already embodied the values required for endurance cycling when he was introduced to randonneuring; that is, he was predisposed not only to do PBP but to write the ride report he wrote before he signed up for the event. Condit argues that a fully materialist view of language “recognizes both the reality of forces in the universe and the way in which motivated human action objectifies those forces through language into more or less durable relationships with more or less intensive presence and visibility” (334). Some “motivated human action” is intense, deeply engaging the body and mind together in satisfying and durable relationships. Burke explains that our minds select certain linguistic concepts or relationships as purposeful, and that these “relationships are not realities, but interpretations of reality” (P&C 35). I’ve been arguing that such is the case with ride reports, and these “relationships” are visible in the way that ride reports are written. Additionally, some of the writing actually mimics bodies in motion (on bicycles).

The rhetorical intelligence of the body posited by scholars such as Hawhee and Jennifer LeMesurier is evident in writing about riding in which the author attempts to use language to describe the mind-body experiences of riding a bike over long distances. The problem is always, as Bryan Crable points out, identifying and characterizing the nonsymbolic “from within symbolicity” (126). However, in the following passage by French cyclist and writer Paul Fournel, he captures well the ineffable connection between cells, muscles, mind and words, and how the rhetoric of maximum effort can be circulated throughout the body:

I can’t determine precisely the instant in which my thought escapes its object to become a thought of pure effort. The moment the rhythm speeds up, the moment the slope becomes steep, the moment fatigue gets the upper hand, thought doesn’t fade away before the ‘animal spirits’; on the contrary, it’s reinforced and diffused throughout my entire body, becoming thigh-thought, back-intelligence, calf-wit. This unconscious transformation is beyond me, and I only become aware of it much later, when the lion’s share of the effort is over and thought flows back, returning to what is ordinarily considered its place. (128–29)

Fournel argues that during intense physical effort, “thought” flows through one’s entire body, so that the body — thighs, back, calves — takes control, and only later, after the physical effort has been completed, does thinking become primarily an activity of the mind. Even then, while the mind may seem to control thought, the memories and knowledge of the physical effort completed are stored in the body. The body, writes LeMesurier, is “a conduit for remembered knowledge” (363). In the middle of an intense activity, the body often seems to take the lead; indeed, athletes interested in improving performance train until the moves or actions that they expect of their bodies are “automatic.” It is as if the training and the experience makes one into the kind of person — in both body and mind — who does the kind of activity for which one is training.

Figure 1. Featured in the poster is Maurice Garin, winner of the 1901 Paris-Brest-Paris as well as the inaugural Tour de France in 1903.

Shaping and reshaping the body and mind through repetition and a focus on rhythm was practiced by the Sophists, according to Hawhee. She writes that they used rhythmic gymnastic exercises, repetition of movement and music to train young rhetors properly (“Bodily Pedagogies” 147). According to Hawhee, the Sophists believed that “the forces (people, music, movement) one subjects oneself to will necessarily shape and reshape body and soul” (“Bodily Pedagogies” 152–53). It may also be true then, that a body and mind intensely trained to particular rhythms will seek them out, see them in experiences, and finally express them in language. Endurance cyclists experience most obviously the rhythms of turning wheels and pedals. They also experience the cycles of preparing for, doing, and then resting from intense physical efforts. In the following passage, Christine Newman effectively uses repetition of the phrase “I learned” to suggest the need to keep pedaling, even through pain and deep fatigue, to finish her ride:

I learned that mental toughness will allow you to ride for 300+ miles with two knees that are begging you to stop. I learned to pick the food which fills you up and keeps you going even if you can’t stand the sight of it after three days. Ninety miles from the finish, I learned that it is possible to be more tired than you have ever been in your life, so tired that you cannot stand up let alone ride a bicycle safely. I learned that I could fall asleep, in spite of a deep panic that my ride would fail not due to a lack of training but from a lack of sleep. (22)

In this description of the last part of her 2011 PBP ride, Newman uses the phrase “I learned” four times in as many sentences; the rhythm of the sentences suggests the rhythm of pedaling. While she tries to describe how she was feeling, Newman also tries to structure her sentences to suggest her meaning. Quite literally, this writing is embodied in the sense that Hui Niu Wilcox is referring to when she writes that embodied knowledges are revealed and expressed through “lived experiences, cultural performance, and bodily intelligence” (106). Newman’s lived ride experience is materially linked to her writing about it; her experience is written in, on and about her body, with the ride report being her best effort to reflect that experience.

Newman and Fournel, quoted above, also implicitly suggest that they engage in endurance cycling events because they anticipate that a tough ride, like PBP, will force them to function in a way that combines mind and body beyond logic and daily thought. The cycle and rhythm of such rides (or similar events) may then become familiar, and those wonderfully challenging moments may become something that one craves. That is, the process of an event can be ritualized, much as a religious ceremony, with each aspect of the ceremony holding meaning for the celebrant. Particularly in the writing of riders who have done events like PBP more than once, there is anticipation as well as the embodied knowledge of what it is required, and this is reflected in the way a person speaks and writes about the event. The ride and telling the story of the ride constitute a vocation in the sense that Burke uses this word — one’s “ethics or scheme of values” infuses one’s being as well as one’s speaking and writing. Lois Springsteen, who has completed PBP seven times so far, anticipates the event with joyful memories, with hopes for a decent performance in the next iteration of the event, and an eagerness for the wash of experiences that PBP brings. After the 2015 PBP, she reflects:

But why go back? It’s hard to describe the wonderful feel of PBP. At times it is more a festival than a grueling challenge. Cheering crowds and street parties, bicycle art, impromptu roadside coffee/​snack stands abound. There were six thousand cyclists on this special, quadrennial 1230K/ 90 hour pilgrimage with red taillights glowing as far as one could see during that first night. While I have not ridden many other 1200K randonnées, I will venture to say that this one is the most unique of all due to the sheer number of participants. Even though I have become one of the oldest female riders, I still wanted to be part of it. (9)

Springsteen returns to PBP and writes about her experiences because she yearns for this familiar “pilgrimage.” Physically and mentally, rhetorically, Springsteen responds to the PBP call with the same questions that prompted her to show up for her first PBP thirty years ago. Can I complete this ride again? What will I learn this time? Now, the call elicits a response from her at the level of what Hawhee calls “learning-performing” memories (“Rhetorics” 156). Being tuned into a set of patterns and rhythms provides comforting familiarity as well as purpose in our work to understand and more deeply embrace our lives.

For many randonneurs, the ride report is the last part of the cycle of the event, providing an opportunity to reflect on one’s experiences and convert them into words, for oneself and to share with others. The ride report effectively transubstantiates the body-mind experience of the ride into a narrative that typically pays close attention to the call to ride, the ride and the difficulties endured, and the redemption earned through the ride. The report, that is, follows the contours of a spiritual body-mind experience. Vickie Tyer, in a middle section of her 2015 PBP ride report, illustrates the difficulties riders have when they begin to deal with sleep deprivation and fatigue. She describes the need to “dig deep” to make it through a second sleepless night to get to Brest according to her plan: “The skies got foggy, and the night got chilly and lonely. I had to dig deeper. I was determined to see Brest before sunrise, no matter what” (15). While the phrase “dig deeper” is typically used as a metaphor, here it is intended almost literally, as if her mind and muscles together are reaching deeper into her being for the willpower to keep turning the pedals. The end of her ride report describes the finish: “ . . . then I was crossing the finish line, with a crowd of wonderful people cheering for little ‘ole me. What a blast. What a sense of accomplishment. What redemption. What a ride. Words cannot describe it.” (15, emphasis added). I take Tyer literally. I think she did struggle to put into words the “learning-performing” memory — the sense of release — stored in her body by her PBP experience. The redemption earned completes the cycle and the narrative, written for herself and shared with others, allows people with the same set of values to see how they, too, might earn a similar sense of satisfaction. Ride reports like Tyer’s cause me to search within myself for the courage and will to attempt this ride, and I know that narratives like this may initiate similar forms of action and thought in others. I agree with Hawhee that there is a “curious syncretism between athletics and rhetoric” (Hawhee, “Bodily Pedagogies” 144), and this amalgamation of bodily matters with rhetoric inspirits body-mind journeys.

Endurance cycling, including randonneuring, is a vocation by Burke’s definition for Tyer and many others. Devotion to this vocation is deep and enduring because its adherents clearly see their experiences as spiritual, judging by the language and metaphors of ride reports. Piety is the attitude of a vocation; Burke notes that, “Where you discern the symptoms of great devotion to any kind of endeavor, you are in the realm of piety” (83). I would add that when we are operating in the realm of piety, we are by definition thinking and acting in a realm that is to some degree beyond language. As noted, Tyer is literally stumbling for words in the above passage to describe aspects of her experience. In a 1995 issue of Australia’s randonneuring magazine, Checkpoint, the editors also reference this phenomenon: “Many of the stories that found their way into Checkpoint over the past year reflected the self-confessed amazement by ordinary folk who actually achieved incredible feats. Little do they realize that they are capable of (sic), and some will attend PBP in 1999” (3). Awe and wonder, feelings associated with experiences that cannot be put into words infuse the attitude present in many ride reports. Writers are often amazed by their accomplishments; Australian Trevor King’s 1999 PBP report tells of his discovery after returning home that he had fractured his pubic bone during a fall, and that he had completed the last nine hundred kilometers with this injury (12). American Lois Springsteen writes in her 2015 PBP report of finishing the last forty miles with a broken wrist (8), and British journalist J. B. Wadley, in his 1971 ride report, writes about riding through mind-numbing and hallucination-creating fatigue. Finally, from a short 1921 Le Mirroir des Sports article comes this short quote from Louis Mottiat, winner of the event that year²: “I wanted to sleep, I felt bad sitting on my saddle, and I was thirsty, but I stayed strong” (trans. mine). A vocation is a calling or a mission that textures one’s life and gives it meaning. In the experiences summarized above, the rider-writers use available language and a familiar form to articulate transformative moments in life.

Embodied Rhetorical Genres

I’ve been the editor of American Randonneur, the official quarterly publication of Randonneurs USA, for four years, and in that time I’ve read hundreds of ride reports. Before that, it was reading ride reports that spiked my interest in randonneuring. Riding a lot, writing reports occasionally, and reading and editing others’ ride reports, I understand that writers shape and relive their experiences in their narratives. Shannon Walters sums up Aristotle’s notion that rhetoric belongs “to the genus of dynamis” with the claim that rhetoric, “like other arts, is produced by a transformative ‘coming into being” (32). Rhetoric is more skill than product, according to Walters, and in this case it is the skill to translate the “ thigh-thought, back-intelligence, calf-wit” mentioned by Fournel (128–29) into something intelligible. There are genre conventions that ride report writers abide by, probably mostly unconsciously, but somehow in rhythm with other ride report writers. My interest in and study of ride reports led to questions about arguments expressed by scholars of Rhetorical Genre Studies (RGS). Why do ride reports all seem to say the same thing? And what then to make of Catherine Schryer’s claim that genres are only “stabilized-for-now or stabilized-enough sites of social and ideological action” (204)? I’m citing Schryer’s often-used quote, but Carolyn Miller, Charles Bazerman, and many other noted RGS scholars argue that genres are rhetorical actions that respond to changing rhetorical situations and contexts, and as such, they constantly change. Schryer goes so far as to say that a “stable system,” including a stable genre, would have to be rhetorically unsound “because a stable system cannot respond to changes in audience or circumstance” (208). However, what I am suggesting in this essay is that if we allow that the body is a rhetorical agent, it may be possible that some embodied rhetorical situations present themselves again and again, because the answers are temporary or never entirely satisfactory.

Every time I try to put into words how and why the rhetoric of the ride report is deeply, materially, literally, embodied, I reach, almost as if into my body, for the right words. I am trying to pinpoint a practice, a form of moving-thinking-feeling-languaging that engages the whole body — body, mind, spirit — and is represented in the ride report as well as in related forms of writing about other kinds of life-intensifying challenges. Endurance runner Kilian Jornet writes, “I know that when I am running and skiing, my body and mind are in harmony and allow me to feel that I am free, can fly, and can express myself through all my talents. . . . Running provides my imagination with the means to express itself and delve into my inner self” (176). Jornet states that endurance running and the making sense of his experiences in language engage his whole being; he points to a form of life-affirming rhetoric that makes itself known in and through physical challenges as well as in his verbal explanations of those efforts. In an article from Le Petit Journal about the 1901 edition of PBP, Simon Levrai reports on Maurice Garin’s amazing ride: “1200 kilometers covered in 52 hours and 11 seconds, without stopping to sleep, almost without taking a breath, this is certainly one of the most magnificent tests of human endurance” (trans. mine). This brief news report celebrates the human potential that Garin’s effort exhibits, the willingness or desire of the human body to face and endure the “impossible.” The implicit awe and respect is directed not only toward Garin but toward humanity in general.

Embodied rhetoric can be a practice that allows people to creatively explore and better understand their rhetorical-biological selves, a point made by Jornet near the end of his book, “Perhaps I run because I need to feel creative. I need to know what is inside me and then see it realized somewhere outside me. . . . A race is like a work of art; it is a creation that requires not only technique and work but also inspiration to reach a satisfactory outcome” (177). Fournel, in the eloquent passage quoted earlier in this essay, and Jornet point to a biological-rhetorical impulse to engage in activities that demand a mind-body response to a bodily exigency. Both the physical effort and the thoughts and words formed around the effort are part of the creative act because we are a kind of being that makes sense of everything in language.

The existence of genres evidencing a deeply embodied rhetoric suggests that our bodies create and respond to rhetorical exigencies. Here I echo a conclusion drawn by LeMesurier: “The moving body as both responder and creator can be considered a material rhetorical device that . . . uses its own knowledge and forces, ever shifting in the albumen of bodily encounters, to yield rhetorical effects” (378). Rhetorical questions and exigencies exist in that “albumen,” a point suggested not only by the relative stability of the ride report across time and space, but also by the idea that the ride report responds to the same rhetorical questions as other quest stories including those I’ve cited as well as a host of others found in literary works, popular movies and religious stories. What is a person — mind and body together — capable of doing? What are our limits? Can we handle the exploration of those limits with grace and perhaps a little humor? What will we learn about ourselves and what it is to be human by testing ourselves? These questions haunt us, in part because they cannot be answered once and for all even for one person. And they continue to exist through time and across cultures. Bitzer argues that some well-established forms of discourse come to have a “power of [their] own,” so that the traditions endemic to these discourse forms “function as a constraint” upon any new possible responses (13). The ride report, a version of the quest or hero story, continues to exist and to draw creators and audience, in part because it has existed for so long and new writers and readers are steeped in its traditions. Additionally, however, it continues to exist because the exigency that inspires it continues to motivate people to bodily-rhetorical action.

Concluding Thoughts

I’ve noted my interest in ride reports and how they appear to defy basic precepts of Rhetorical Genre Studies. I’ve implied that Paris-Brest-Paris, Mecca for randonneurs, attracts because its history and everything about it is solidly grounded in the quest myth. That is, the ride report taps into a rhetorical situation that is “in some measure universal” and enduring (Bitzer 13). What my study offers, then, is not so much a counterpoint to the main ideas of Rhetorical Genre Studies but a reminder that the foundations of rhetoric are inexplicably and materially bound to our bodies. At the beginning of this essay, I said I wanted to take seriously the “embodied rhetoric of which we are constituted” (2), and this discussion has shown that the body can be a creative rhetorical agent, establishing and responding to rhetorical situations, sometimes with the cooperation of our minds, and sometimes in spite of what might seem like good sense. Like Condit, I believe we can see “an active biology in conversation with an active social coding system” (351). This study then suggests that the sources of and responses to rhetorical situations may take place at a fully embodied level, and this matters because it means that to be human is to be profoundly rhetorical.

As profoundly rhetorical beings, we create and use genres not only in response to situations encountered in our academic lives and in the business world, but just as importantly in situations where our bodies as well as our minds are equally and actively engaged. Or, this discussion also suggests our bodies are involved, to some degree, even in genres originating in professional contexts. That is, to explain and make use of a more fully embodied rhetoric, we must first accept that “embodied” literally means in the body. These conclusions raise questions for further studies of embodied rhetoric. The focus of this study, however, has been on the body as rhetorical actor, as thoroughgoing and intelligent rhetorician. What is to be learned from an endurance challenge, whether that challenge be a 750-mile bike ride, a fifty-mile run, or a three-month trek along a mountain trail? In each case, one is enticed by an activity that the mind and body together — working together — find engaging and meaningful, and we wonder how and why this is so. A bike ride might be so much more than just a bike ride. It may be a response to an embodied rhetorical situation the answer to which is ephemeral, individual yet universal, and reverently human.


1. “Randonneuring is long-distance unsupported endurance cycling. This style of riding is non-competitive in nature, and self-sufficiency is paramount. When riders participate in randonneuring events, they are part of a long tradition that goes back to the beginning of the sport of cycling in France and Italy. Friendly camaraderie, not competition, is the hallmark of randonneuring” (Randonneurs USA website).

2. PBP was a professional race until 1931, according to the Audax Club Parisien website.

Works Cited

Bazerman, Charles. Shaping Written Knowledge: The Genre and Activity of the Experimental Article in Science. U of Wisconsin P, 1988.

Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy and Rhetoric, vol. 1, 1968, pp. 1–14.

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Analyzing Warrants and Worldviews in the Rhetoric of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton: Burke and Argumentation in the 2016 Presidential Election

Emma Frances Bloomfield, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Gabriela Tscholl, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


Combining a dramatistic analysis with the Toulmin model productively contributes to a rhetorical understanding of the 2016 presidential election and locates Burke as an integral component of political communication criticism. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton's rhetoric differed not only on policy arguments, but also on their rhetorical vision for America. Trump's campaign arguments privileged the agent and thus invoked identification with an idealist worldview, while Clinton's rhetoric privileged agency and thus invoked identification with a pragmatic one. Warrants and worldviews are interconnected parts of campaign rhetoric that contribute to both persuasion and identification.

The 2016 presidential election has prompted commentary about the controversial rhetoric of President Donald Trump. His brash style and uncompromising assertions have caused scholars to renegotiate their conceptions of successful political rhetoric. While Trump lost the popular vote, he did win the presidency with an unconventional rhetorical style (Jacobson). Trump evoked populist arguments that promoted distrust of the establishment and called for change by "drain[ing] the swamp" (The American Presidency Project 2016, October 17, par. 30). Trump's appeal at least partially stemmed from his lack of political experience and his subsequent ability to claim an ethos untarnished by current political cynicism. Instead of attempting to explain the election result, we focus on the underlying worldviews evoked and promoted in the 2016 presidential election. The competing worldviews at stake in the election are best understood as rhetorical dramas that Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton constructed about America's future. This perspective opens opportunities for viewing worldviews as functioning to legitimize argument structures and for exploring voting as a meaning-making activity.

To analyze how political arguments serve as rhetorical visions, we employ Kenneth Burke's dramatistic theories of terministic screens, the pentad, and identification. We argue that Trump and Clinton's campaign arguments are discursive remnants of the candidates' guiding ideologies and terministic screens, or worldviews (Burke, LASA 45). Political arguments, therefore, either fail to carry or succeed in convincing audiences based on adherence to those guiding ideologies. Burke's pentad, as a five-faceted model of determining motives, enables us to compare the differences between Trump and Clinton's rhetorical dramas that were told through their campaign arguments. Identification further enhances our examination of the candidates' political discourse by emphasizing the dynamic relationship between speaker and audience in persuasion. Political arguments function as"a symbolic means of inducing cooperation" in voters to support the candidates' visions of what is best for the country (Burke, RM 47). These interrelated concepts afford different analytical opportunities than approaching political rhetoric through argumentation or dramatism alone. By combining dramatism with the Toulmin model's argument mapping, we illuminate how Burke's theories are integral components of political criticism and how warrants and worldviews are intertwined in political rhetoric.

Dramatism and Persuasion

Don Parson proposed that dramatism and argumentation can be productively combined when he summarized Burke's ideas on ideologies: "in choosing a vocabulary of action, humans necessarily select a part of reality and reason from that part" (146). Our ideologies, and thus the vocabularies we use that reflect those ideologies, provide the foundation for our reasoning processes. Barry Brummett expanded on this point by noting that "ideologies motivate and guide political rhetoric and give it purpose" (251). How people make sense of situations at least partially explains their "core" ways of thinking and making decisions (Brummett 252). When Trump and Clinton proposed solutions to the nation's problems, their ideologies served as inventional resources that justified the reasoning behind those arguments. Political arguments, as rhetorical markers of a person's guiding pentadic ratios and terministic screens, resonate with voters in different ways.

Alignment with those underlying ideologies and worldviews implied by those arguments create the opportunity for identification between voter and candidate. Without identification, Burke theorized that persuasion could not occur because there was no point of similarity from where persuasion could originate. He argued, "You persuade a man only insofar as you can talk his language by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways with his" (Burke, RM 55). While this statement indicates a sequential relationship between identification and persuasion, Burke also invited the consideration of the two as co-constitutive acts. Burke noted that the process of identification can occur between people "even when their interests are not joined, if he assumes that they are, or is persuaded to believe so" (RM 20, emphasis added). Thus, identification and persuasion are not fully sequential or separate acts but are instead components of a dynamic constellation of symbolic interactions that bring people into a state of being "consubstantial" (RM 25). Viewing identification and persuasion as intertwined rhetorical actions expands the potential application of Burkean theories for communication scholars and complements existing work on pentadic ratios and argument forms.

Scholars have turned to Burke's pentad to explain the reasoning behind the assigning of blame and the discovering of motivations within dramatic events. Burke highlighted that much can be learned from a person based on which parts of an event they emphasize and which they do not. He described events as containing an act, an agent (who performed the act), agency (how the act was performed), a scene (the situation containing the act and agent), and a purpose (why the agent performed the act). For example, a person who emphasizes the "scene" might argue that a potential criminal, or an "agent," was in the wrong place at the wrong time, resulting in a scene-act ratio, where the circumstances held more control over the act than the agent themselves (Tonn et al.). The same crime may be described differently as being the sole responsibility of the criminal who had complete control over their actions, resulting in an agent-act ratio. These ratios can also be seen in political ideologies. For example, Emma Frances Bloomfield and Angeline Sangalang argued that conservatives often support the autonomy of the individual in economic situations because they tell agent-act narratives where individuals can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and succeed regardless of any situation in which they might find themselves. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to argue for supportive policies, such as entitlement and assistance programs, because they embrace scene and agency-focused narratives that take environmental and structural limitations into consideration of an agent's ability to perform actions (Bloomfield and Sangalang). The pentad helps us understand the underlying worldviews and guiding narratives from which people interpret, respond to, and argue about situations. Different ratios make available different ideologies, vocabularies, and resources to create arguments.

If we consider the formal components of the Toulmin model, we can see more clearly how worldviews, ratios, and identification are enacted within political arguments. Toulmin's model of argumentation maps out how an argument is made with three primary parts: claim, grounds, and warrant. The argument claim is the "conclusion whose merits we are seeking to establish" (Toulmin 90). The information that supports this claim is the grounds or "data" (Toulmin 90). Toulmin defined the warrant as answering the question, "How do you get there?" because it serves as the often-unstated logical link that connects the grounds to the claim (90). In their article explicating the Toulmin model, Brockriede and Ehninger posited the claim, "Russia would violate the proposed nuclear ban on nuclear weapons testing," because of the grounds, "Russia has violated 50 out of 52 international agreement" (45). While unstated, the logical link that connects these two statements is that "past violations are symptomatic of probable future violations," or, in other words, past behavior predicts future behavior (Brockriede and Ehninger 45). The Toulmin model also contains a secondary component called the backing, which is a statement of data, facts, or ideology that adds strength to the warrant by "certify[ing] the assumption expressed in the warrant" (Brockriede and Ehninger 45). Toulmin described the backing as a series of "assurances," because without them, the warrants that linked our grounds to the claim "would possess neither authority nor currency" (96).

If we view campaign arguments as having an underlying claim that the public should vote for one candidate over opponents (Bloomfield and Katula 140), campaign promises become grounds on which that claim rests. A candidate's ideology, worldview, and pentadic ratios can thus be viewed as backing for warrants that justify campaign promises as rational criteria on which to vote. Bruschke called presidential campaign arguments "episodic," whereby they unfold periodically over a series of events (60). While each individual argument is important, it is also important to consider how political arguments function as "part of a much larger superstructure" that connects them (Brushke 60). We argue that Burkean theory provides insight into these superstructures by analyzing the underlying ideologies that legitimize Trump and Clinton's political arguments as part of a unified claim that they deserved the presidency. A warrant thus functions based on the audiences' adherence to the warrant's backing, which is the part of the argument where we find guiding ideologies and worldviews.

Through analyzing the public campaign speeches of Trump and Clinton, we concluded that Trump and Clinton differed in the pentadic ratios they expressed in their descriptions of America and their candidacy during the campaign. Those ratios served as backing for their arguments, through which their arguments resonated or failed to resonate with voters. Trump primarily employed arguments backed by an agent-focused, idealistic worldview. Without a belief in agents or agreement with an idealist perspective, the inferential leap that justified Trump's promises is left unsupported. Trump makes frequent authoritative arguments, which rely on "the quality of the source from which the data are derived" (i.e., Trump himself) to validate his claims (Brockriede and Ehninger 51). Clinton's vocabulary echoed an agency-agent ratio, which afforded arguments based on the mechanisms of change, the power of compromise, and the ability to find solutions to shared problems. Clinton's arguments rest on a worldview that considers the tools used and how acts are performed as more powerful than agents, thus subsuming individual desires under what is best for the system.

We use the pentad, identification, and the Toulmin model as analytical vehicles for considering the political vocabulary of the 2016 presidential election and how political ideologies are enacted in arguments. In combining dramatism and argumentation, we take seriously the implications of ideological orientations on politics and how argument warrants are legitimized and backed by underlying worldviews and ratios. While Burke rarely addressed argument (Levasseur), we argue that dramatism is naturally suited to analyze political logic and naturally-occurring argument because it is concerned with "equipment for living" (Burke, PLF 304). Indeed, Burke does offer "strategy" and "maneuver" as descriptions of dramatism's method, hinting at an orientation toward argumentation (PLF 298). Dramatism is an important component of contemporary argument studies and an active integration of the two offers insights into how campaign rhetoric is performed and can be understood. After explicating the argument structures of Trump and Clinton, we conclude by examining the implications of Trump's use of idealistic arguments for political communication.

Trump's Agent-Scene Arguments

Trump entered the 2016 presidential campaign as an outsider. With business experience and celebrity status, he seemed well-poised to enter an arena where political leaders had universally low approval ratings (Pew Research Center, "Campaign 2016"). Our characterization of Trump's political arguments as idealistic, and thus agent-focused, is based on two emergent themes: Trump describing himself as the controlling, dominant agent and describing the political scene as a corrupt enemy of the people. The warrants that "authori[z]e" Trump's arguments rely on an idealist backing that agents are powerful and, thus certified, serve as "bridges" from his campaign promises to the conclusion that people should vote for him (Toulmin 91).

I Will Build a Great, Great Wall

In Trump's political narrative, he is the only person capable of fixing the errors of the previous presidency. Burke argued that "idealistic philosophies think in terms of . . . the ‘self,'" in that they emphasize the individual mind in the performance of acts (GM 171). By aggrandizing the "self," there are no claims too wild, outrageous, or unreasonable. In his announcement address, Trump made a series of promises that functions as grounds for why people should vote for him: "I beat China all the time," "I will stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons," and "I will immediately terminate President Obama's illegal executive order on immigration" (The American Presidency Project 2015, June 16, pars. 5, 197, 198). These grounds can be viewed as legitimate voting reasons if voters believe in the power of individual agents to accomplish such tasks. In his campaign rhetoric, Trump frequently used these "authoritative arguments" where the implied warrant that Trump can complete these tasks "affirms the reliability of the source from which these are derived" (Brockriede and Ehninger 51). If someone does not trust "the quality of the source" making the claim, then the argument lacks a "factual point of departure" (Brockriede and Ehninger 44). But, if voters believe in Trump and his appeals to ethos and that he can accomplish those tasks if elected, they can be carried easily from the given grounds to the claim.

One of Trump's oft-repeated campaign promises was his assertion, "I will build a great, great wall" (The American Presidency Project, 2015, June 16, par. 191). With 70 percent of Americans listing immigration as a very important factor in their 2016 vote (Pew Research Center, "Top Voting Issues" par. 2), Trump's claim of dominance over immigration issues likely resonated with voters. Even if audiences were not fully convinced that Trump would be able to build a wall and "have Mexico pay for that wall" (The American Presidency Project 2015, June 16, par. 191), they could still identify with his confidence that he could bring about change. Trump did not promise incrementalism or compromise; he promised swift and complete transformation of the current political system based on his intrinsic qualities as an agent. Without specific examples or evidence, Trump backed his wall-building grounds by saying, "nobody builds walls better than me, believe me," again relying on warrants only backed by the source making them (The American Presidency Project 2015, June 16, par. 191). In the same speech, talking about rebuilding American infrastructure, Trump noted, "It will be done on time, on budget, way below cost, way below what anyone ever thought," the "believe me" this time implied (The American Presidency Project 2015, June 16 par. 206). As backing for his wall-building ability, Trump relied on voters' shared belief in his own assurance that he could have complete control over these issues if elected.

In many assertions, Trump paired "I" with words such as "alone" and "only," highlighting his unique capabilities. He argued, "I alone can fix [the system]" (The American Presidency Project 2016, July 21, par. 42), "I am the only person running for the Presidency who understands this problem and knows how to fix it" (The American Presidency Project 2016, April 27, par. 22), and "I know these problems can all be fixed . . . only by me" (The American Presidency Project 2016, June 22, par. 8). Trump frequently raised his own capabilities above others, using superlative statements. For example, Trump declared, "I will be America's greatest defender and most loyal champion" (The American Presidency Project 2016, April 27, par. 173) and that he would be "the greatest jobs president that God ever created," (The American Presidency Project 2015, June 16, par. 68). Trump positioned himself as a "super-agent" with complete control over the political environment, unlike his opponents (Burke, GM xxii). Even if voters did not view themselves as powerful individuals, by establishing consubstantiality with Trump they could vicariously become powerful by believing in and voting for him. Consubstantiality can thus be viewed as a self-fulfilling prophecy in the sense that people may act in accordance with what they wish to be instead of finding commonality with what they currently are.

Trump frequently referenced himself as outside of politics, despite running for political office. In his announcement speech, Trump argued, "Politicians are all talk, no action. Nothing's gonna [sic] get done" with more politicians in charge (The American Presidency Project 2015, June 16, par. 36). Trump positioned himself as a different kind of candidate, saying, "I am proudly not a politician" (The American Presidency Project 2016, August 31, par. 150) and "I want to be an outsider" (The American Presidency Project 2016, July 16, par. 25). This seeming contradiction can be explained by turning again to consubstantiality, which highlights the acts of identification and division as compensatory (Burke, GM). In claiming to not be a politician while running for office, Trump occupied a dynamic position between his then non-politician status and a vision of what a non-politician politician might look like. Drawing on idealism, Trump emphasized that his business experience and non-politician status would be the sole change needed to overhaul the current political scene. Trump argued that voters could dismantle the current system by electing him and rejecting traditional candidates. Trump encouraged voters to consider whether they would want to live in an America "ruled by the people, or by the politicians," where Trump becomes identified with the people and not the politicians (The American Presidency Project 2016, June 22, par. 25). For voters feeling separated from politicians, Trump painted a rhetorical vision where the stereotypical, untrustworthy politicians were replaced by someone who shared the voters' faith in the power of the individual and a commitment to change.

Instead of thinking of voting as a political act, Trump recast voting as a moral one. Trump's use of judicial metaphors framed the election as a national trial where the people could convict those who they perceived to have wronged Americans. Parson noted that metaphors are one of Burke's master tropes and easily serve "as a vehicle for argument" (147). When Trump asserted that he was "the law and order candidate," he used the justice metaphor to claim that he was powerful enough to serve not only as president but also as judge, jury, and executioner (The American Presidency Project 2016, July 11, par. 21). Trump argued that by voting for him, Americans had the opportunity to make "the politicians stand trial before the people" (The American Presidency Project 2016, June 22, par. 139). Trump's law and order rhetoric was "restorative," intending to right the inverted system, make politicians work for the people once again, and create a world "that is more faithful to [voters'] longings and aspirations" (Oliver and Rahn 190). These arguments constructed voting as an urgent act to restore an ideal political order and placed power and agency in the hands of voters to enact change in the political system.

Burke associated justice with idealism because the law's "essential feature is in its derivation from the attitudes of human agents" for the purposes of self-governance (GM 175, emphasis in original). Trump ignited these beliefs in his supporters, frequently leading chants of "Lock her up!" towards Clinton at rallies. Trump characterized Clinton as thinking that "she is above the law" but argued that "come November, the American people will show her that she is not" (The American Presidency Project 2016, July 11, par. 153). Extending presidential power beyond its limits, Trump asserted that he could perform these judicial functions as the head of state. Trump changed the deliberative frame of politics to a forensic one, where Clinton's "crimes" (The American Presidency Project 2016, July 16, par. 15) required a guilty "verdict" from the voting "jury" (The American Presidency Project 2016, June 22, par. 140). Trump argued that voting in the 2016 election was not simply what was best, most prudent, or most efficacious for the country, but was also an ethical and moral obligation to punish the guilty and reward the politically innocent. In voicing the "idea of justice," Trump made "possible some measure of its embodiment" (Burke, GM 174). The agent is the creator and manipulator of reality, so the agent's thoughts and ideas have material implications.

In support of his claims to the presidency, Trump offered multiple grounds based on his ability to accomplish tasks no one else could, which may seem on their face, unbelievable. As Dow noted, many people did not take Trump's arguments "seriously," because they seemed impossible for any individual to accomplish (137). Trump's supporters, however, did take his assertions seriously, because they viewed them not as specific promises, but as arguments for change that hinged on the power of individuals to control their situation. Toulmin argued that while grounds often serve as specific reasoning in support of the claim, warrants are often "general," thus "certifying the soundness of all arguments of the appropriate type" (92, emphasis in original). In making warrants backed by appeals to the authority of agents, Trump not only made an argument about himself but also proffered an idealistic worldview about the power of individuals, in general, to fight back against corrupt scenes and to enact change.

We're Going to Make America Great Again

In addition to lauding the power of the individual, Trump's arguments cast a negative light on current scenic features such as the political system and the media. The powerful agent needed enemies to attack and to overhaul once elected. Trump characterized current politicians and their policies as making "disastrous trade deals," slashing salaries, and "trapping kids in failing schools" (The American Presidency Project 2016, June 22, pars. 13–17). Previous decisions were made by politicians who have "rigged [the system] against you, the American people" for their own benefit (The American Presidency Project 2016, June 22, par. 18). The term "rigged" modified "system" to describe the political scene as manipulative, elitist, and structured purposefully to exploit the public. Trump noted that the rigged system is in place because "insiders wrote the rules of the game to keep themselves in power and in the money" (The American Presidency Project 2016, June 22, par. 12). In an age of "massive . . . voter discontent with the governing classes," Trump's message likely resonated with voters who saw themselves as being disadvantaged by the current political system and who aligned with the idealistic hope that change was possible with a replacement at the head of government (Oliver and Rahn 189).

Unlike other players in the political scene, Trump argued that he was "not behold [sic] to any special interest" (The American Presidency Project 2016, August 31, par. 150) and was thus not burdened with "crooked" monetary commitments (The American Presidency Project 2016, July 16, par. 18). In his announcement address, Trump noted, "I don't need anybody's money. . . . I'm really rich" (The American Presidency Project 2015, June 16, pars. 115–16). The repeated phrase "Nobody owns Trump" (The American Presidency Project 2016, August 31, par. 150) served as grounds that portrayed Trump as a candidate uniquely positioned to accomplish tasks despite the influences of the corrupting scene that had affected others. Conversely, people enmeshed in the political scene were described as "controlled fully by the lobbyists, by the donors, and by the special interests, fully" (The American Presidency Project 2015, June 16, par. 48).

In addition to attacks on career politicians, Trump also made arguments against the media. Trump argued that the media seek to withhold information from the people as a means to control them, a claim carried into his presidency. During the campaign, he said, "The truth is our immigration system is worse than anybody ever realized. But the facts aren't known because the media won't report them" (The American Presidency Project 2016, August 31, par. 13). Trump claimed that it is only he who "will tell you the plain facts that have been edited out of your nightly news and your morning newspaper" (The American Presidency Project 2016, July 21, par. 19). Burke argued that idealism grounds knowledge "in the nature of the knower" (GM 172, emphasis in original). In other words, idealism enables a type of relativism where truth, knowledge, and facts are contingent upon agents' belief in them. Trump, therefore, made frequent attempts to rewrite reality for voters and denounce those that hold a different version of reality.

Although Trump might not have told voters the truth, he did repeatedly express a commitment to honesty and to peeling back what he portrayed to be lies in the system. In other words, even if the statements Trump made were not extrinsically true, they might still "ring true" for his voters and thus gain their adherence to his political drama (Fisher 362). Burke argued that lies are a "creative aspect of idealism, since an ideal may serve as standard, guide, incentive — hence may lead to new real conditions" (GM 174). Trump's alternative facts, stretching of the truth, and blatant mischaracterizations produced a version of reality that supported Trump's candidacy and thus aligned the idealistic with the realistic. In characterizing the power of agents, Trump constructed a clear narrative whereby his election would overthrow the polluted scene and restore order.

Perhaps the most memorable phrase of Trump's campaign, the "Make America Great Again" slogan, refers directly to the rehabilitation of the corrupt scene, where "the decades of decay, division and decline will come to an end" (The American Presidency Project 2016, July 11, par. 154). Often referring to vague time periods of America's previous greatness, Trump argued, "The years of American Greatness will return," a predictive statement contingent on his election to office (The American Presidency Project 2016, July 11, par. 155). Trump created a powerful enthymeme, where the time America was once great is filled in by the audience, thus resonating with them because the full drama unfolded from them. However one defined greatness or whenever people thought America was previously "great," Trump implied that all of those powerful visions could be realized in a Trump presidency. Trump argued that he could "return us to a timeless principle," where "the interests of the American people," however varied and numerous, would be fully achieved (The American Presidency Project 2016, April 27, par. 4). Trump asserted that the damaged, weak, and vulnerable scene of corrupt politicians and lying media would soon be overthrown with the help of idealistic voters who believed in his power to enact his promises, in the need for change, and in the political story that a forgotten, yet undefined, greatness was just on the horizon.

Clinton's Agency-Agent Arguments

In contrast to Trump, Clinton's campaign arguments were guided by pragmatism, emphasizing compromise and cooperation within the system. Clinton removed Trump's powerful agent from focus and placed it as the antagonist of the current political climate. In Clinton's political drama, it is the stubbornness and overconfidence of agents that pose the biggest threats to democracy, while compromise and incrementalism engender success. Clinton's political arguments were legitimized by "motivational" warrants, where the claim is supported based on whether the warrant is "accepted as valuable or rejected as worthless" (Brockriede and Ehninger 51). When Clinton asserted that she was the best candidate based on her experiences and willingness to compromise, her grounds only supported her claim if the audience believed the unstated warrant that experience and compromise were valuable characteristics to have in politicians and that she had those characteristics. A pragmatic, practical worldview emphasizes achieving goals in the most prudent and efficient way possible, in some cases sacrificing the individual for the good of the whole. The two primary features that constitute Clinton's agency-agent ratio are her emphasis on agency and her devaluing the agent as the primary driver of political acts. Clinton's campaign rhetoric serves as a useful foil for understanding the differences in political dramas offered by Trump and Clinton and how agency-focused arguments are employed in political rhetoric.

America's Basic Bargain

Clinton's rhetoric emphasized agency, or the means by which agents act, as the guiding feature of pragmatic rhetoric (Burke, GM 275). Even when faced with obstacles, Clinton argued that people can overcome those obstacles through compromise, hard work, and pragmatism. Clinton frequently noted that while change is possible, it is not something that will come easy. Clinton argued, "I am a confident optimist [but] that doesn't mean I'm not aware of how difficult it is. I'm going into this race with my eyes open about how hard it is to be president of the United States" (The American Presidency Project 2015, May 18, par. 54). Instead of highlighting her power as an agent, Clinton positioned herself as a humble agent, fully aware that she faced a formidable task. Clinton noted that she could overcome this difficulty not because of her intrinsic status as an agent but because she had "both the experience and the understanding to deal with the complexity of the problems that we face" (The American Presidency Project 2015, May 18, par. 55). Clinton focused on the tools necessary to perform the job and proposed that only when agents are armed with those tools and a recognition of the problems ahead can they make real change.

Clinton defined the relationship between the American people and government as "a partnership," where both sides work together towards a common goal (Hopkins par. 9). Clinton stated, "Presidents don't do it alone. They do it with the American people" (Hopkins par. 9). A focus on agency privileges how people work together to "serve one another," acknowledging that "cooperation is necessary for the development" of society (Burke, GM 277, 280). Clinton argued that partnership and cooperation are parts of "America's basic bargain" where hard work enables people "to get ahead" (The American Presidency Project 2015, June 13, par. 11). She stated that the American people have held up their end of the bargain: "you worked extra shifts, took second jobs, postponed home repairs [and] you figured out how to make it work" (The American Presidency Project 2015, June 13, par. 24). Prosperity is something earned through effort, not something guaranteed as a quality of individuals qua individuals. Instead of asserting the power of the agent to accomplish incredible feats, Clinton focused on the means by which an agent might overcome problems and the principles of exchange and bargaining inherent in politics. Clinton was not a powerful agent unto herself; she required the cooperation and support of the people to achieve her campaign promises.

Clinton lauded the collective ability of individuals to work together to overcome their problems:"We don't hide from change, we harness it," (The American Presidency Project 2015, June 13, par. 57). In Clinton's worldview, the strength of the country comes from everyone, not just the president. She noted that it is the"choices we've made as a nation, leaders and citizens alike " that have"played a big role " in the success of the country (The American Presidency Project 2015, June 13, par. 55). Clinton focused on how people can come together and achieve the goals set out before them. When she praised the American people, Clinton praised their drive and commitment: "People have made a lot of sacrifice. . . . And they did everything that they could think of to do to get back on their feet " (The American Presidency Project 2015, May 18, par. 10). It was their actions and the tools by which they accomplished those actions, thus displacing agents as inherently valuable.

It's Not About Left, Right or Center

Clinton's agency-agent political arguments relied on the grounds that certain agents were responsible for the nation's problems. Clinton argued that the system is a workable one, but agents inside of it have created a political climate "so paralyzed by gridlock and dysfunction that most Americans have lost confidence that anything can actually get done " (The American Presidency Project 2015, June 13, par. 54). In this quotation, Clinton is praising the act of getting things done and decries agents who have prevented those acts from being performed. This rhetorical move upends Trump's ratio by placing agents as antagonists in the narrative instead of its heroes. In another speech, Clinton called the inability of agents to compromise "poisonous " to "the long-term needs of our country" (The American Presidency Project 2015, July 13, par. 103). Clinton noted that some politicians work "to pit Americans against each other and deepen the divides in this country" instead of focusing on the common good and becoming "stronger together" (The American Presidency Project 2016, September 19, par. 8). Clinton also laid blame on "powerful interests [in business] fighting to protect their own profits and privileges at the expense of everyone else" (The American Presidency Project 2016, October 3, par. 16). Furthermore, Clinton pointed to how businesses "are aided and abetted by the rules and incentives in our economy [that] actually encourage people at the top to take advantage of consumers, workers, small businesses, and taxpayers" (The American Presidency Project 2016, October 3, par. 16). With a tax code "riddled with loopholes," Clinton acknowledged that it is tough "for the well-meaning CEOs to take the high road" (The American Presidency Project 2016, October 3, pars. 18, 17). In this speech, Clinton repeatedly emphasized agents as being subservient to the opportunities available to them and the means by which they can act. In Clinton's political drama, agents may not make rational choices or act in the best interests of the nation, again undermining the idealist perspective that agents are in full control over their situation.

Clinton offered reasonable, rational, and practical decision-making as a solution to stubborn agents. Burke argued that pragmatism is suited to compromise because pragmatism is an idea that "all philosophies have in common, quite as the instructions for operating a machine are the same for liberal, Fascist or Communist" ideologies (GM 276). It is through cooperation that agents become strong, regardless of an agent's identity or political affiliation. To remedy loopholes and gridlock, Clinton argued that "Our next President must work with Congress and every other willing partner across our entire country. And I will do just that" (The American Presidency Project 2015, June 13, par. 56). Clinton equated the president's success with their ability and willingness to work with others.

Clinton's campaign arguments were not based on her personal qualities or ethos, but the actions she would take. Clinton argued that political affiliation, loyalty, and identity should not overpower the willingness to compromise and work together toward common goals: "It's not about left, right or center; it's about the future versus the past," advocating for the abandonment of individual needs and party loyalties in service of cooperation and progress (The American Presidency Project 2015, July 13, par. 105). Politicians should focus on "principled and pragmatic and progressive policies that really move us forward together" (The American Presidency Project 2015, July 13, par. 101). These policies are possible when agents "use the power to convene, connect and collaborate to build partnerships that actually get things done" (The American Presidency Project 2015, July 13, par. 103). In Clinton's political drama, the president is not the sole, driving force behind change but is only a component of change dependent on their actions and commitment to compromise.

Clinton argued that she did not want to be "a wet blanket on idealism," but did want to focus on "what we can achieve now" (Flores par. 5). Her pragmatic worldview deflected idealism because she viewed idealism as potentially impractical and an impediment to real change. Clinton described herself as "a progressive that gets things done" who believes "that standing still is not an option" (The American Presidency Project 2016, February 1, par. 4). While a subtle difference in weighing between agent and agency, Clinton's rhetoric promised to find ways to make things better, instead of positioning herself as the agent of change who will make things better. This small shift in emphasis reflects her pragmatic rhetoric where "what we are capable of doing" is the defining feature of agents (The American Presidency Project 2016, February 1, par. 4).

In a speech at Wake Forest University, Clinton defined her identity through the philosophies and policies she stood for: "Remember, it's not just . . . my name that's going to be on the ballot. So much of what we care about — so much that's at stake in the election is, too" (The American Presidency Project 2016, October 27, par. 5). Instead of highlighting herself as a reason to vote, Clinton enumerated the issues on the ballot and positioned herself as someone who would work within the system to advocate for those issues. Perhaps tired of and cynical towards a "politics as usual" mentality, Clinton's pragmatic ratio failed to carry for voters, or as Toulmin might have said, her ratio was a "[mis]step" between grounds and the claim that voters did not follow (104). Clinton did not guarantee success in her political arguments; she argued that agendas, planning, and compromise will open doors for willing agents and produce the opportunities for success.


Trump and Clinton's campaign arguments reflect inverted pentadic ratios, the former agent-scene and the latter agency-agent. Policies were not the only voting issue; voters were also attending to the political dramas enacted by candidates, where one offered the hope of the individual and the other the belief in the current system and its mechanisms. Now established in office, Trump has continued his idealist rhetorical style and has continuously relied on his own authority to support his claims. Trump's rhetoric goes against political norms that note "the existence of justifiable argumentative claims is of vital importance in democratic politics" (Ball 128). The significant shift away from appeals to fact and towards appeals to blind authority should prompt concern for the future of deliberation and political argumentation (Ball 128). Trump's vision of America is the guiding narrative of the moment and his rhetorical style is quickly becoming a hallmark of his presidency.

One immediate consequence of Trump's idealism is his reliance on executive orders (EOs) that enable presidents to chart a policy without confirmation or approval from other political entities, such as Congress or the Cabinet. The EO is an act that privileges no "co-agents" and relies solely on the power of a lone agent (Burke, GM xxii). Mere hours after his inauguration as the 45th President, Trump issued an EO to begin the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare (Lee and Luhby). The EO is a notable exception to the U. S. government's system of checks and balances that makes it near impossible for presidents to act in a vacuum. Instead, the presidency typically requires cooperation with multiple stakeholders, the opposing political party, branches of governments, and the public. In the spirit of Brushke's call that argument scholars and rhetorical critics engage "normative" standards for argument (63), we can say that Clinton's pragmatic rhetoric more closely reflects the reality of the president's political situation, whereas Trump's rhetoric attempted to create a new political reality. Brummett, summarizing the ideas of Edwin Black, noted that politics "offers to its audience a view of who they are" (261). Given the political rhetoric of successful and unsuccessful candidates, the 2016 presidential election gives us a view of who America's voters are and what we value as a nation. Voting is not simply an act of support for a candidate and their policies, but also one that legitimizes a resonating worldview.

This blended Burkean and argumentation approach provides added dimensions to the rhetorical differences between Trump and Clinton's campaign rhetoric. Furthermore, this research establishes concrete ways that Burke and argumentation can coexist in rhetorical analysis and sheds light on the importance of worldviews in constructing and carrying out political arguments. Toulmin argued that the backing of warrants "is something which [researchers] shall have to scrutini[z]e very carefully," because the backing's "precise" relationship to other parts of the model is incomplete and ambiguous (96). In pairing dramatism with the Toulmin model, we provide deeper scrutiny into warrants as backed by worldviews that legitimize grounds-claim relationships. In that the warrants and backings "to which we commit ourselves are implicit," we propose that we can analyze and evaluate these argument components through a Burkean focus on pentadic ratios and their corresponding ideologies (Toulmin 93). Either method would have provided an interesting analysis of the 2016 presidential election, but we believe that it is only by combining the two that we get a more complete perspective on how political campaigns function not only persuasively, but through identification to create compelling political dramas. The Toulmin model enables a look into the structure of an argument, while dramatism drives how its structure functions as a symbolic inducement of community-building and meaning-making. We encourage future scholars of political argument to use this analysis as inspiration to include dramatism as an integral component of their analysis to uncover the nuances of language and the narratives that emerge in campaigning.

Trump's rhetoric represents a change in norms for political argumentation; one that emphasizes the lone agent and unbridle idealism over the common good. But, even though a single agent rules in the White House, it has not stopped other agents from gathering and acting together as a rejoinder to Trump's political statements. With marches, protests, and increased activism, we can see that the seeds of pragmatism, collaboration, and democracy are still alive. Neither idealism nor pragmatism itself is worrisome, but when either is wielded against the common interests of the public, productive deliberation can be stifled. Thus, we end by turning to Clinton's words that "our constitutional democracy demands our participation" and the idea that it is with both politicians and publics that we create democracy (The American Presidency Project 2016, November 9, par. 24).

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Othello: An Alternative Dramatistic Analysis

Henry King, Malmö University, Sweden­­


Kenneth Burke’s reading of Othello in terms of “the disequilibrium of monogamistic love” is both perceptive and puzzling, ignoring the issues of scene (Venice and Cyprus) and downplaying Othello’s racial otherness. This essay situates it within the wider story of his attempts to think about issues of race, and proposes a Burkean reinterpretation of the play emphasizing the agent-scene ratio and the dialectic of merger and division. The play is then related to the politics of its period of composition and the present day.

Kenneth Burke’s interpretation of Othello, discussed in A Grammar of Motives and fully expounded in “Othello: An Essay to Illustrate a Method,” is both perceptive and puzzling. In brief, he argues that the play is a tragedy of possessiveness, in which “mine-own-ness is . . . dramatically split into the three principles of possession, possessor, and estrangement (threat of loss)” (167), represented by Desdemona, Othello, and Iago respectively. This “dramatic split” alludes to his most challenging and characteristic claim, that possessiveness is intrinsically threatened by loss because “La propriété, c’est le vol. Property fears theft because it is theft” (167). Othello’s fears that he has lost (or never truly possessed) Desdemona “arise from within, in the sense that they are integral to the motive he stands for” (166), because having and not-having are dialectical complements; but in the play they are ‘split,’ dramatically embodied in Iago. As a result, Iago can function as the katharma — “that which is thrown away in cleansing; the off-scourings, refuse, of a sacrifice; hence, worthless fellow” (166) — primarily because “in reviling Iago the audience can forget that his transgressions are theirs” (169–70), seeing envy and dispossession as an external threat rather than an internal instability. As the allusion to Proudhon suggests, this has wider political implications. Although the overt topic of the play is “the disequilibrium of monogamistic love” (168), Burke states as a point of method that “[i]f the drama is imitating some tension that has its counterpart in conditions outside the drama, we must inquire into dramatic analysis of this tension, asking ourselves what it might be” (179), and finds this in changes to property ownership: as in British history “[t]here were the enclosure acts, whereby the common lands were made private; here is the analogue, in the realm of human affinity, an act of spiritual enclosure” (169).

Typically insightful though his reading is, one finds, on consideration of what it does not cover, that Burke ignores significant issues that his critical vocabulary is well suited to disentangle. For one thing, Burke never discusses the play’s settings (Venice and Cyprus), a strange omission given his close attention to the significance of scene in plays at the beginning of his Grammar. More controversially, he only briefly discusses Othello’s racial difference. Although he mentions “the social discrimination involved in the Moor’s blackness” (167), he minimizes its significance within the framework of his proprietorial interpretation, arguing that Othello’s social ennoblement through marriage into Venice’s governing class is actually symbolic of “the lover’s sense of himself as a parvenu”: “in contrast with the notion of the play as the story of a black (low-born) man cohabiting with (identified with) the high-born (white) Desdemona,” Burke argues that “we should say rather that the role of Othello as ‘Moor’ draws for its effects on the ‘black man’ in every lover.” (181–82) He thus approaches the kind of reading occasionally proposed — most recently by Joyce Carol Oates, in a controversial tweet — that “‘Othello’ is a great enough work of dramatic art that, if the racial element were entirely removed, the play would still be a profound accomplishment. That Othello is a ‘Moor’ could be made — almost — irrelevant.” Burke’s reading may be called salacious if we bear in mind not only the word’s primary meaning but also its root in the verb ‘to leap.’ (As Iago says at II.i.289–90, “I do suspect the lusty Moor / Hath leap’d into my seat.”) Burke leaps over the obvious political dimension in pursuit of a more recondite erotic interpretation.

To understand this omission within the broader study of Burke and racial politics, it should be noted that the essay first appeared in the summer of 1951. This was a pivotal moment for Burke, not just because he had only the previously year published A Rhetoric of Motives and was now commencing his projected A Symbolic of Motives, but also in his relationship with Ralph Ellison. As Bryan Crable has reconstructed the events, the publication of A Rhetoric caused tension between the two friends, since Burke briefly quotes “[t]he Negro intellectual, Ralph Ellison” when discussing “improvement of social status” as “a kind of transcendence,” especially with regard to Black Americans — a similar issue to that of Othello’s social ennoblement gained by marrying Desdemona. Ellison, however, was unhappy with the reference, feeling that he had been misrepresented. Ellison and Stanley Edgar Hyman planned to visit Burke at home late in 1950 to discuss the matter, but did not manage to do so until August 1951 (Crable 99); while they were in Andover, Burke recorded Ellison reading the “battle royal” scene from Invisible Man, which was published the following year. Given that this was presumably the same period during which Burke wrote the Othello essay, it seems likely that these circumstances were in the back of his mind as he worked; we may therefore take it as an aside (one which Crable ignores) within that discussion. And if, as Crable argues, “we can use Burkean concepts to identify a fundamental fault in Burke’s own perspective” (125), then we can also use his techniques to complement his interpretation of Othello, correcting his devaluation of the play’s racial themes, as I aim to do in what follows.

* * *

In the Othello essay’s third section, on the characters of the play, Burke takes up his pentadic terms and argues that “[f]irst, as regards the rationality of the intrigue, the dramatis personae should be analyzed with reference to what we have elsewhere called the agent-act ratio” (179). This is no doubt a sound procedure for dramatistic analysis generally; but with regard to Othello in particular, even before we reach the list of persons we should be struck by the play’s full title: The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. Here, the modifying clause orients us squarely along the agent-scene ratio (which Burke totally disregards in the essay) and invites the reader to consider the tensions between these terms in Burkean ways. By “experimentally shifting the accent” (Grammar 46–47), we may look for where in the play the emphasis falls on the agential part — the Moor of Venice — and where on the scenic — the Moor of Venice; we may look at how this points up the paradox of substance in Othello’s identity.

We see these issues addressed early in the play, if not in Burke’s reading of it. In the second section of the essay, he identifies the business of the first act of Shakespearean tragedy as:

Setting the situation, pointing the arrows, with first unmistakable guidance of the audience’s attitude towards the dramatis personae, and with similar setting of expectations as regards plot. Thus we learn of Cassio’s preferment over Iago, of Iago’s vengeful plan to trick Othello. . . . Also we learn of Desdemona as the likely instrument or object of the deception. (170)

“Setting the situation” may include setting the scene, but Burke does not elaborate the specific instance: Venice, whose society and culture form the background against which the action takes place, and (remembering the scene-act ratio) conditions it. Thus we find Iago and Roderigo on their way to the home of Brabantio, whose daughter Othello has just married — an event that does more to set the plot in motion than “Cassio’s preferment over Iago,” yet which Burke ignores in this summary. Desdemona’s marrying Othello is crucial, however, not only for the action it entails, but because of its influence on the agent-scene ratio: although Othello is, as the first act makes clear, a trusted general in the Venetian army, it is by his marriage that he becomes a member of the ruling class. In short, by marrying him, Desdemona makes Othello consubstantial with Venice.

It might be argued that Othello was already identified with Venice through his role as general; but Brabantio’s outraged reaction demonstrates that, in marrying one of the city’s daughters, Othello has crossed a symbolic line, and thereby (in Brabantio’s view) threatens to corrupt the free, Christian nature of the state: “if such actions have their passage free,” he reasons, “Bondslaves and pagans shall our statesmen be” (I.ii.98–9). If Desdemona’s marriage, enabling Othello’s identification with Venice, is the event that begins the story (in the narratological sense of the events told), then the play’s discourse begins with a corresponding dissociation on the part of Brabantio, Roderigo and Iago, all of whom emphasize Othello’s otherness by consistently referring to him as ‘the Moor’ or even more pejorative terms — his actual name is never mentioned in the first scene. Brabantio puts his case in the third scene, believing the bonds of consubstantiality between himself and the Senate to be so strong that “the duke himself, / Or any of my brothers of the state, / Cannot but feel this wrong as ’twere their own” (I.ii.95–7), but is defeated by a double blow: Desdemona’s confirmation of her love, and the Senate’s acceptance of Othello as her legitimate husband. The first act therefore works to establish Othello as the Moor of Venice.

This leads us to a very different understanding of the play from that which Burke advances. His essay describes the play’s theme as “the disequilibrium of monogamistic love”; similarly, in A Grammar of Motives, Burke situates “the ‘identity’ of Othello in the theme of jealousy” (413). But if we follow Burke’s logic, according to which “an identity like the theme of a play is broken down analytically into principles of opposition in which their variants compete and communicate by a neutral ground shared in common” (413), yet identify the play’s theme not with jealousy but with identification itself, then we must conclude that the fundamental opposition is between the dialectical principles of merger and division. Desdemona represents the former, merging Othello’s otherness with her Venetianness. Brabantio drops out of sight after Act One, and Roderigo plays a minor role, leaving Iago as the primary representative of division — as in the pivotal episode of Act Three Scene Three, when he plays upon Othello’s sense of his difference in “clime, complexion and degree” (III.iii.232) until Othello sees himself in the same terms, convinced that Desdemona is not his:

                for I am black,
    And have not those soft parts of conversation 
     That chamberers have, or for I am declin’d
     Into the vale of years[.] (III.iii.265–8)

Othello is, therefore, that “ground shared in common” which Iago and Desdemona contest. This may be read ad litteram: the name ‘Othello’ is neutral, hence the use of punning slurs like “his Moorship” in Act One Scene One; when Desdemona uses the term ‘Moor,’ she notably emphasizes their consubstantiality, as when she called him “my noble Moor” (III.iv.25, emphasis added).

If the action was set in motion by Desdemona drawing the pendulum towards merger, the development of the play is the swing back towards division. Burke takes up the Aristotelian term “peripety” (172), usually translated as “reversal,” and identifies this with the “mounting series of upheavals” (173) in Act Three Scene Three. The completion of this reversal is marked by the tableau of Othello and Iago kneeling together and exchanging vows — an appropriate symbol, Burke argues, “for they are but two parts of a single motive — related not as the halves of a sphere, but each implicit in the other” (196). The same image, however, is susceptible to a different emphasis. Othello’s marriage to Desdemona (and the merger-principle) was the initiatory act; here we see the counter-action, a symbolic inversion of the marriage ceremony — “I am your own forever,” as Iago says (III.iii.480). From this point on, Othello is wedded to the principle of division. This might seem paradoxical — a merger with division — but even here, we see Iago’s motivation of dissociation from Othello at work. Othello famously smothers Desdemona, and the image of him straddling her in her death-throes is often read as inverting the consummation of the marriage. But it is worth remembering (shifting our attention briefly to the agent-agency ratio) that this suggestion actually comes from Iago, who dissuades Othello from his first proposal: “Do it not with poison,” he says; “strangle her in her bed, even the bed she hath contaminated” (IV.i.182). What makes this significant is the fact that Iago frequently associates poison with words: he encourages Brabantio, on discovering Desdemona’s elopement with Othello, to “poison his delight, / Proclaim him in the streets” (I.i.72–3), and says of his insinuations, “The Moor already changes with my poison” (III.iii.368). Although the symbolic logic (or as Othello puts it, “the justice”) of smothering Desdemona certainly “pleases” the critic as well as the murderous husband, Iago has his own reasons for not wanting Othello to use poison: because Iago is himself, by his own admission, a poisoner. For Othello to use poison would put them on the same level, a form of identification that would undermine Iago’s self-image.

The reversal results in Othello’s murder of Desdemona, which would translate as division vicariously eliminating its opposite principle. With the representative of merger killed, the play would then conclude with division triumphant; but as a dialectician would expect, opposites are not so easily got rid of, and what is destroyed in the flesh returns in a spiritualized form. So, once the truth of his deception has emerged and Othello has punished himself, he throws himself down beside Desdemona on their marital bed, and the chiasmatic structure of his final words — “I kissed thee ere I killed thee; no way but this, / Killing myself, to die upon a kiss” (V.ii.363–4) — indicate a posthumous reconciliation. Not “till death us do part,” but till death us do bind. It is the posthumous, spiritualized nature of this reconciliation that makes Othello, unlike its comic counterpart Much Ado About Nothing, a tragedy.

But I have myself leapt over the dramatic climax of the final scene, Othello’s suicide. The play has been, I have argued, a shifting of emphasis between the Moor of Venice and the Moor of Venice. The dramatic triumph of Othello’s final speech consists in that, having identified himself primarily as a Moor through images of Oriental otherness — the “base Indian” and the “Arabian trees” — he concludes by identifying himself as both “a malignant and a turban’d Turk” and the upholder of Venetian dignity who “smote him — thus” (V.ii.358–61), as if simultaneously stressing both sides of the equation in the play’s title, the Moor of Venice. Rather than transcending the antitheses and producing a stable equilibrium, however, the strain results in a violent implosion.

* * *

If, as I hope, this agential-scenic reading of Othello is persuasive, it is not yet complete. From Act Two onwards the location shifts to Cyprus, and we see no more of Venice. This poses a problem: why the change of scenery? Specifically, what does this contribute to the play with regard to our chosen theme of identity? Burke has nothing to say on this point: although he describes the second scene in Shakespearean tragedy as metaphorically “analogous to the definite pushing-off from shore,” giving the audience the sense that “the bark had suddenly increased its speed” (176), he never discusses the literal journey to Cyprus and its implications. We may first consider this in relation to Othello as the common, contested ground between the opposing forces represented by Desdemona and Iago. If we bear in mind that there must be a “correlation between the quality of country and the quality of its inhabitants” (Grammar 8), we can see that the tragedy must logically take place somewhere other than Venice, because the setting must be contested just as Othello’s identity is. Cyprus is perfect for this, being a Venetian colony closer to North Africa and the Levant, and so in constant danger of being divided from Venice. The fact that, by the time of the play’s composition, Cyprus had been taken by the Ottoman empire should be taken as foreboding for Othello’s fate (as in another way should its punning association with the funereal cypress). And although the Turkish fleet is wrecked by storm, the threat it represents returns, as with the killing of Desdemona, in a spiritualized, internalized form: in place of the outward war of Christian against heathen, the removal of the Turkish threat leaves the stage clear for the war between merger and division within the Venetian society on the island and within Othello himself.

There is another function performed by the Cypriot setting, which leads us towards the issue of the play’s wider implications. We have focused till now on the paradox of substance in Othello’s nature: his identity as “the Moor of Venice” is substantiated by things external to him, including his marriage to Desdemona, his position with the Senate, and the Venetian culture which underlies those. But shifting the scene to Cyprus suggests that Venice itself is equally embroiled in such paradoxes. “Venice,” here, is not just the Italian city-state on the Adriatic: it is an imperial power, and as such is defined by its possessions; it is also defined by its rivalry with the Ottoman empire. Desdemona and Iago symbolize two sides of Venetian culture: the will to assimilate what is external and other, and the contrasting drive to reject it and define oneself by contrast. It may seem ironic that the expansionary motive is represented by a woman hitherto occupied by “the house affairs” (I.iii.146), while a soldier who has fought “At Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other grounds, / Christened and heathen” (I.i.26–7) represents the isolationist motive; but even this can be developed with reference to Burke’s reading. Commenting on Othello’s ‘occupation’ speech, Burke argues that “the audience is here told explicitly what the exclusive possession of Desdemona equals for Othello, with what ‘values’ other than herself she is identified” (195). Despite her domestic history, Desdemona represents for him the expansionary motive, “the plumed troop and the big wars / That make ambition virtue” (III.iii.351–2). Instead of remaining a “moth of peace” (I.iii.254), she metamorphoses into a “fair warrior” (II.i.179) to compete with Iago, the foul one. Othello is, therefore, the victim of the struggle between these two impulses, both of them aspects of Venice as a scenic complex of motivations.

Besides its internal coherence, my agential-scenic reinterpretation of Othello ought also to cohere with “conditions outside the drama” specific to its context of composition. I have argued that the fundamental opposition in Othello is between the principles of merger and division, and more specifically the drives to assimilate of the other or reject it. We need not look far for a circumstantial analogue, requiring only a slight widening of the scenic circumference from Britain’s internal politics (the enclosure acts) to its global position. During the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods, contact with non-Christian and non-European ‘others’ was increasingly common and contradictory. On the one hand, otherness was officially rejected, as in the “Privy Council order in 1596 concerned with ‘the great numbers of Negroes and blackamoors’ in the realm” and “a royal proclamation of 1601 authorizing that ‘those kind of people’ should be ‘sent out of the land’” (Pechter 130–31). Yet at the same time there was “a Moorish retinue representing the king of Barbary at Elizabeth’s court during 1600–1601,” and under her rule “the Turks and the English became partners in the highly profitable enterprise of the ‘Levant trade’; in fact, the English were displacing the Venetians as the chief beneficiaries of this trade” (Pechter 134–35). Edward Pechter’s comparison of English and Venetian trade in the Levant indicates that the Venetian society of Othello is a substitute for England, and the play a means for its English audience to work through the tension between engaging with the Muslim kingdoms of the Mediterranean and establishing their difference. It is the same dynamic made familiar by Edward Said and others: on the one hand, the exotic other is desirable, a source of intrinsic fascination and extrinsic enrichment; on the other, it is despised, perceived as a threatening contaminant. This ambivalence is dramatically split into the Desdemona/​Iago pair, allowing the audience to indulge both aspects: the audience is given a chance to indulge their fascination and revulsion vicariously through Desdemona and Iago respectively; to feel vindicated by the spectacle of Othello as threat, killing Desdemona, as well as his atonement through suicide, and to feel pity for him in his symbolic redemption.

It might appear from the fact that, in the play, Desdemona is characterised as good and Iago as evil that I am imposing modern liberal values upon the play, whereby acceptance of the other is always a virtue. Leaving ethics aside, this is not quite what I have in mind regarding Othello’s “topical” element. I have described Desdemona as the representative of assimilation and noted her frequently militant characterization. This should suggest that the motivation she embodies may actually translate, in the world beyond the play, into conquest; her attraction to the exotic world Othello described to her is of a piece with the incipient British empire, and its legacy of violence and exploitation. (“She might lie by an emperor’s side,” Othello laments at IV.i.179–80, “and command him tasks.”) Though the audience is manoeuvred towards sympathizing with Desdemona’s view of Othello, doing so implies cathartically offloading the moral complications of imperialism onto Iago. For contemporary audiences, this should sound a note of moral caution. Although it is easy to identify Iago with our current mouthpieces of racist discourse — one thinks of Donald Trump’s denigration of “shithole countries,” or the tropes of the anti-immigration pro-Brexit campaign in the UK — one should remember that, as Burke argues, his cathartic function is to represent a part of ourselves we would disown.

* * *

How does this reading of Othello reflect on the Burke/​Ellison relationship? On the one hand, Othello’s position as ‘the Moor of Venice’ is very different from that of Richard Wright or Ralph Ellison, as Burke understood it. Although Othello has experienced slavery, as he tells the Senate, he is not an upwardly-mobile member of a large underclass within Venice: he has not recently climbed free of “a basket of crabs,” as Burke quotes Ellison, that would pull him back down, nor does he appear to “feel as ‘conscience’ the judgment of his own class” (Rhetoric 193); Othello is not personally concerned with the amelioration of black people’s class status. As such, Othello may seem quite inapplicable to the debate with Ellison in which Burke was then haltingly engaged. In Burke’s reading, however, the play does deal with a bone of contention between them: the relation between the universal and the particular, especially with regard to racial inequality. Ellison’s resistance to Burke, voiced in a letter of November 1945 and again after the publication of A Rhetoric of Motives, concerned what he saw as Burke’s “preference for an ethic which is ‘universal’ rather than ‘racial’” (qtd. in Crable 63). As Crable explains, “[f]or Ellison, the problem is not the quest for the universal; rather, the problem lies in the attempt to disguise racial bias behind a “universal” ethic, in seeking to “transcend” racial identity by ignoring race-based privilege” (64). Simply put, Ellison understood as Burke did not that a white American faces no bar to transcending her racial identity, as does a Black American continually defined in terms of their colour (e.g., as a “Negro intellectual”) instead of their humanity. This imbalance ramifies in Burke’s reading of Othello. Burke associates Othello’s blackness with a universal sense of personal ennoblement through love; but this ignores the extent to which Othello is beset by Iago and others specifically as a black man. Just when he appears to have transcended his social position, Iago manipulates him back into defining himself in terms of “clime, complexion and degree.” To state it crudely, it is easier for the white critic to identify himself with “the ‘black man’ in every lover” than for the Black person to identify himself with “every [i.e., the universal] lover” — a race-based privilege Burke appears not to see. All this goes to support Crable’s claim that although “Burke credited Ellison with spurring him toward greater racial sensitivity . . . in 1950 this process had not yet been completed” (77).

* * *

This interpretation is not intended to disprove or displace Burke’s. Its purpose is complementary, insofar as it responds to Burke’s acknowledgment that “[t]his essay is not complete” (201) by demonstrating how much more can be said about Othello when starting from a different pentadic ratio. But the complementary shades into the corrective, in that the very brilliance of Burke’s analysis might tempt us to see it as exhaustive. It would be a pity if Burke’s essay were to limit readers’ sense of the play’s polysemous potential, the illimitable complexity of its structure and responsiveness to circumstances. I hope to have shown that by bring Burke’s techniques to bear on what he overlooks, their flexibility and power may be more amply demonstrated. Furthermore, I hope that this has advanced in a small way the discussion of the racial politics of his work, to which Bryan Crable made such an important contribution, by showing that Burke’s vocabulary gives us the resources to analyze texts in such terms even when Burke himself downplays them. If this essay has achieved that much, it will have done the play, and Burke scholarship, some service.

Works Cited

Burke, Kenneth. A Grammar of Motives. 1945. U of California P, 1969.

 — . “Othello: An Essay to Illustrate a Method.” The Hudson Review, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Summer, 1951), pp. 165–203.

 — . A Rhetoric of Motives. 1950. U of California P, 1969

Crable, Bryan. Ralph Ellison and Kenneth Burke: At the Roots of the Racial Divide. U of Virginia P, 2012.

@JoyceCarolOates. ““Othello” is a great enough work of dramatic art that, if the racial element were entirely removed, the play would still be a profound accomplishment. That Othello is a “Moor” could be made — almost — irrelevant. (Disagree?)” Twitter 26 Dec. 2017 6:51 a.m.,​joycecaroloates/​status/​945668312171798530. Accessed 14 Aug. 2018.

Shakespeare, William. Othello: Authoritative Text, Sources and Contexts, Criticism, edited by Edward Pechter, Norton, 2004.

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Freeing the Lockerbie Bomber: Cultural Constraints on the Construction of Motives

Clarke Rountree, University of Alabama in Huntsville
Simone McGrath, Independent Scholar


Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, who was convicted as the notorious Lockerbie Bomber, was freed by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill on humanitarian grounds. The justification MacAskill provided in a speech on the release was widely criticized as cover for alternative motives. This essay uses MacAskill's speech as a case study of a failed construction of motives to reveal cultural constraints on the construction of motives. It illustrates the function of what Clarke Rountree has called "specific dimensions" of pentadic relationships (as opposed to "general dimensions") and how that shapes constructions of motives.

On December 21, 1988 Pan Am flight 103 was making its way from London to New York City when it exploded over the small town of Lockerbie, Scotland, just twenty miles north of the English border. Eleven people on the ground died as huge chunks of the jet rained down, along with the bodies of 243 passengers, including 189 Americans and 16 crew members. The cause of the explosion was a bomb that punched a hole in the fuselage and caused the plane to quickly disintegrate.

British authorities worked with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation for three years before identifying two Libyan suspects. Ten more years passed before one of the suspects, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, was tried and convicted in a special Scottish court. That court had been set up in a neutral country, The Netherlands, by agreement with Libya. The court sentenced Megrahi to serve twenty-seven years in a Scottish prison. But, a few years into his sentence, Megrahi developed terminal prostate cancer. He appealed for release and Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announced on August 20, 2009 that Megrahi would be freed on compassionate grounds (K. MacAskill). Two hours later, the Libyan emerged from prison and flew to Tripoli where he was greeted by an enthusiastic throng of supporters. On May 20, 2012 he finally succumbed to the disease that had given him a three-month life expectancy (“Lockerbie Bomber”).

American officials, US and British media, and a skeptical public in both countries discounted MacAskill’s explanation for the release. Rumors of secret oil deals, of a botched original investigation of the case, and of outright corruption on the part of government prosecutors cast a cloud over MacAskill’s noble explanation of the decision to release Megrahi. In this sense, MacAskill’s construction of his motives and those of his government in the release failed. This essay examines that failure in order to better understand MacAskill’s discourse, the audiences of this discourse, and cultural constraints on constructions of motives.

Constructing Motives

In A Grammar of Motives, Kenneth Burke explains how people construct motives. He explores the question: “What is involved, when we say what people are doing and why they are doing it?” He explains that constructions of motives answer several questions: What was done? Who did it? When and where was it done? How was it done? Why was it done? These questions reflect the terms of Burke’s dramatistic pentad, respectively: act, agent, scene, agency, and purpose (Grammar xv). Sometimes, Burke suggests, we can add a sixth term, attitude, to answer “In what manner?” the act was done (Grammar 443).

The rhetorical construction of motives takes advantage of the various characterizations one may make of these five or six pentadic/​hexadic terms (i.e., answers to the questions they present), as well as the relationships among them, which shapes an overall understanding of motives. Thus, as David Ling showed in his classic pentadic analysis of Senator Edward Kennedy’s construction of his actions following the accident at Chappaqquiddick, the junior senator from Massachusetts described a dominating scene, featuring a narrow, unlit bridge; cold, rushing water; and his exhaustion from fighting these elements in trying to save his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy constructs that scenic explanation to account for his lengthy delay in reporting the accident that killed Ms. Kopechne (Ling).

Constructions of motives can become quite complex, as the first author has demonstrated in his own work, when such constructions involve multiple acts placed in strategic relationships with one another (Rountree, Judging the Supreme Court and “Instantiating ‘The Law’”). For example, MacAskill’s compassionate release decision is intimately tied to medical judgments about Megrahi’s life expectancy; therefore, constructing the act of diagnosis as objective and accurate was key to MacAskill’s justification for the compassionate release of this “terminal” prisoner.

This analysis demonstrates the complex constructions of MacAskill’s motives by MacAskill himself, as well as by political leaders and the news media. Ultimately, this essay explains why MacAskill’s speech releasing Megrahi was a failure at constructing appropriate motives for release, partly because of his own vacillations in that construction, and partly because the news media and its audiences are cynical about government and the claims of its officials.

Freeing the Lockerbie Bomber

MacAskill’s announcement of the release of the Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds is a grammatically complex discourse. First, it involves the construction of more than a dozen distinct acts including the bombing, the prosecution and conviction of Megrahi, legal appeals, actions by the UK and US governments, their officials, and citizens; and numerous actions by MacAskill in deliberating and reaching a final decision in this case. As the first author has noted elsewhere, such multipentadic constructions are often found in judicial opinions which grapple with the facts of a case, enacted law (constitutions, statutes, and regulations), and precedent decisions, as well as the judges’ own acts of decision, which they typically explain (Rountree, Judging the Supreme Court). But, of course, such constructions are found in other discourses as well (Rountree, “When Actions Collide”), as the MacAskill statement illustrates.

MacAskill’s construction of actions also is complex because of the strategic ways in which acts are related to one another. Typically, one set of acts reinforces another set of acts, as when he enumerates various meetings he had with interested parties in deliberating over this decision. Other times, his constructions set acts on a collision course, such as when his recounting of this heinous act of terrorism is directly contrasted with his decision to offer compassion to this convicted terrorist.

The complexity of MacAskill’s discourse required him to interweave multiple acts into a web of inter-pentadic connections to support the decision he reached. At the same time, that complexity provided multiple points of attack, as those who criticized the decision could tinker with this or that pentadic set in an effort to bring down the whole web of “grammatical” support. We will examine each of these various pentadic sets constructed by MacAskill, beginning with the oldest acts involving the bombing, investigation, and prosecution, before turning to MacAskill’s actions in deciding to grant a release to the Lockerbie bomber.

The Guilty Act

In the second paragraph of MacAskill’s speech, he describes the events of December 21, 1988, when “a heinous crime was perpetrated . . . [that] claimed the lives of 270 innocent civilians.” The act was heinous because those “innocent civilians” were “cruelly murdered.” The evil and cruelty of the act was enhanced by the scene within which the murders took place — “four days before Christmas” — and the innocence of the victims, who were “going about their daily lives.” This evil act was undertaken by an evil agent (or agents) with an evil attitude. But MacAskill does not name the evil agent in this initial construction. The effect is to suggest a mysterious villain, like Harry Potter’s “Lord Voldemort,” whose name is not to be spoken lest one invoke an evil spirit or somehow humanize one that should be demonized. Of course this choice of words could simply reflect the fact that the identities of all those involved in the bombing were never discovered, though MacAskill never raises that concern. A view of the entire speech, however, demonstrates that this is a pattern in MacAskill’s speech that creates a sense of “mixed motives” or unresolved constructions of actions. Whether this is strategic or rhetorically clumsy we will consider in the conclusion.

MacAskill next characterizes Megrahi as “[t]he man convicted of those offences in the Scottish courts.” This construction portrays Megrahi as a passive agent (one “convicted”) instead of an active perpetrator of this crime. Yet at the end of the speech, MacAskill makes the Libyan active, charging that “Mr. Al-Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion.” The passive construction seems to open the door for questioning Megrahi’s guilt, while the closing construction presumes guilt and paints Megrahi with a cruel attitude towards those he victimized.

MacAskill’s stress on the act of conviction moves the action from the bombing to the trial, and may imply that others found guilt where the Scottish minister had not. Rumors of a faulty or corrupt conviction were circulating, but MacAskill rejects them. Turning to the acts of investigation, prosecution, and conviction, he bolsters the agents involved in those acts, asserting:

Let me be quite clear on matters on which I am certain. The Scottish police and prosecution service undertook a detailed and comprehensive investigation with the assistance of the US and other authorities. I pay tribute to them for the exceptional manner in which they operated in dealing with both the aftermath of the atrocity and the complexity of a world-wide investigation. They are to be commended for their tenacity and skill. When Mr Al-Megrahi was brought to justice, it was before a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands. And I pay tribute to our Judges who presided and acted justly.

Here, the acts of the investigators and prosecutors were thorough, despite the complexity of case. Their “exceptional manner” and “tenacity and skill” reflected the commendable means they employed and attitudes they evinced in the process. The “just” actions of the judges were the result of their evenhanded and fair attitudes and the appropriate means they employed in the act of presiding and reaching a conclusion. Yet, he limits his endorsement of legal process to “matters on which I am certain,” implying that there are other matters on which he is not certain.

After praising authorities, MacAskill returns to a construction that lets others say that Megrahi was guilty: “Mr. Al-Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of 270 people. He was given a life sentence and a punishment part of 27 years was fixed. When such an appalling crime is perpetrated it is appropriate that a severe sentence be imposed.” Megrahi again is a passive agent here (“was sentenced”; “was given”). Instead of saying he deserved that sentence, MacAskill describes a justified sentence under generalized conditions, namely, “[w]hen such an appalling crime is committed. . . . [emphasis added]” (see a discussion of generalized actions in Rountree, “Coming to Terms”). He could have said: “Because Al-Megrahi committed such an appalling act, he deserved this punishment.” Instead, he again refused to say himself that Megrahi is guilty. He leaves his audience with a sense of mixed motives.

Perhaps MacAskill’s refusal to stress more emphatically his belief that Megrahi is guilty in the bombing of Pan Am 103 is because of his position as Cabinet Minister for Justice. His position is not equivalent to that of US Attorney General in the United States. He is not involved in prosecutions on behalf of the state; the Lord Advocate handles those. Instead, he oversees criminal law, the police, public safety, liquor licensing, witness protection, and other duties, notably, the prison system (“The Scottish Government”). His role makes the maintenance of an objective stance in such matters of justice more important, as he holds the prosecutorial and judicial departments of the government at arm’s length, taking their determinations as starting points without having to commit himself personally (as, say, a US Attorney General would be committed in US prosecutions). MacAskill would become more personally invested in the next set of acts, where he was confronted with deciding whether the man found guilty in the terrorist bombing deserved to be released from Greenock Prison.

MacAskill Constructs Himself: The Prisoner Transfer Agreement Decision

In discussing his own decision in this case, MacAskill begins by building a wall between two potentially connected acts. He notes that

Al-Megrahi has . . . withdrawn his appeal against both conviction and sentence. As I have said consistently throughout, that is a matter for him and the courts. That was his decision. My decisions are predicated on the fact that he was properly investigated, a lawful conviction passed, and a life sentence imposed.

Again, we have the emphasis on what was done to the passive Megrahi on his road to prison, with an emphasis on propriety, if not clearly on justice. But added is an active Megrahi who makes decisions about his appeals. MacAskill’s emphatic separation of his own deliberations in the request for release and Megrahi’s decisions is notable. “He protesteth too much,” one might conclude, in suggesting that there was no coordination or consideration between Megrahi’s actions and those of the Scottish minister. On the other hand, building a wall between himself and the investigators, prosecutors, and courts in this case is consistent with his refusal (in most places) to say explicitly whether or not he believes Megrahi is guilty, since that is not really his proper concern as minister over the prisons. MacAskill’s earlier tip of the cap to his counterparts in this case skirts the issue of whether the outcome was correct by focusing on the agents, their agencies, and their attitudes. Thus, he provides some support for setting aside concerns over corruption or incompetence in the prosecution of Megrahi, while standing apart in a way that narrowly circumscribes his role as agent to one working in a limited scene (certainly not in that place “between [Megrahi] and the courts”) for limited purposes (deciding on a release request).

MacAskill draws one more distinction between his own act of deciding on the release and the issue of the bombing and how it should be dealt with. Here he does not simply invoke a division of labor between himself and the investigators, prosecutors, and courts, but he makes the issue bigger than himself and even the people involved in bringing the bomber to justice, noting:

This is a global issue, and international in its nature. The questions to be asked and answered [in the Lockerbie bombing] are beyond the jurisdiction of Scots law and the restricted remit of the Scottish Government. If a further inquiry were felt to be appropriate then it should be initiated by those with the required power and authority. The Scottish Government would be happy to fully co-operate in such an inquiry.

This odd statement places any ultimate decision in the Lockerbie bombing case above the pay grade of the Scottish minister charged with making a decision over the release of the only person convicted in the bombing. Although MacAskill will shortly turn to “matters before me that I require to address,” he distinguishes out this larger “issue” that he refuses to elaborate upon. Again, this seems to point to questions unanswered which “further inquiry” would be needed to address, feeding speculation that there are skeletons in the closet of this case. In any event, by MacAskill’s reckoning, this unnamed issue appears to overshadow the smaller question before the Scottish minister. This may serve as a preparation for the disappointing news he is about to deliver, though it does so at the costs of throwing off responsibility to unnamed others and of providing fodder for conspiracy theories.

In distinguishing what he is doing from what the investigators, prosecutors, and courts have done and what unnamed global agents might do, MacAskill limits his own field of action. He need not concern himself with the correctness of the outcome of Megrahi’s case (only the process), nor with larger issues of international justice. Within this confined space (or as Burke would say, a narrowed circumference [Grammar 77–85]), MacAskill embodies the open-minded, thorough, thoughtful decision-maker. He also assigns blame, for the first time, to others whose actions directly touch on his decision-making process.

MacAskill had two questions before him: whether Megrahi should be released to the Libyan government under a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) and whether he should be granted a release on compassionate grounds in light of his terminal illness. He notes that the Libyan government applied for a transfer of Megrahi on May 5, 2008. The negotiating agent was not the Scottish government, however, but “the United Kingdom Government.” That government signed a PTA with Libya despite “the Scottish Government’s opposition.” Scottish authorities wanted UK negotiators to exclude anyone involved in the Lockerbie bombing from the provisions of the PTA with Libya, especially since Megrahi was the only Libyan in the Scottish prison system. That exclusion “the UK government failed to secure,” making Megrahi eligible for transfer.

In weighing the decision whether to transfer Megrahi, MacAskill “recognized that a decision on transfer would be of personal significance to those whose lives have been affected . . . [therefore, he] decided to meet with groups and individuals with a relevant interest.” Here MacAskill uses descriptions of each of those acts of reaching out for input to demonstrate his attitude of concern and interest, and the thoroughness of his deliberations. He reports that he spoke to families of victims, to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to US Attorney General Eric Holder, to Libyan Minister Alobidi and his delegation, and even to Megrahi himself.

He evinces compassion by noting his concern for the victims’ families, for whom the subject “is still a source of great pain,” and specifically mentions a meeting with “a lady from Spain whose sister was a member of the cabin crew.” He met with Lockerbie families “whose kinfolk were murdered in their homes,” as well as videoconferencing with US families. In meeting with Libyan officials, he sought “their reasons for applying for transfer” and conveyed “the objections that had been raised to their application.” He met with Megrahi because of a promise made by UK Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw, who negotiated the PTA and assured Libya that if the prisoner did not submit the PTA himself, he “must be given the opportunity to make representations.” Because of those promises, MacAskill insists, he “was duty bound to receive [Megrahi’s] representations.” MacAskill notes that American officials and victims’ families objected to the transfer because they were assured, before the trial, about the venue for the incarceration of anyone found responsible for the terrorist bombing, an assurance that gave them “comfort . . . over the past ten years.”

When MacAskill reached out to the UK government for feedback, “[t]hey declined to [make representations on the case].” Nevertheless, MacAskill did hear from them that there was no legal barrier to the transfer and that they had made no promises to the Americans on the case. Beyond that, MacAskill reports, “[t]hey have declined to offer a full explanation as to what was discussed [with the Americans] during this time, or to provide any information to substantiate their view,” which the Scottish minister found “highly regrettable.”

The silence of the British was the clincher for MacAskill in his own interpretation of motives in this case, where he concluded:

I therefore do not know what the exact nature of those discussions was, nor what may have been agreed between Governments. However, I am certain of the clear understanding of the American families and the American Government.

Therefore it appears to me that the American families and Government either had an expectation, or were led to believe, that there would be no prisoner transfer and the sentence would be served in Scotland.

Based upon those understandings, MacAskill rejected the request for a transfer of Megrahi under the PTA.

MacAskill’s decision-making here embodies the man who believes one’s word is one’s bond. He is not narrowly legalistic — the fact that a written prisoner transfer agreement allows the transfer is insufficient. Oral promises to the Americans, whose details were recounted for MacAskill in his meetings with families and officials, created a duty to keep them. Going back on one’s word would be a travesty here. And, obviously, MacAskill is dubious about the UK government’s account, given their lack of forthrightness.

MacAskill constructs himself as a paragon of virtue, especially through the contrast with the UK government, which negotiated an agreement for one person, pushed MacAskill to ignore entreaties from the Americans, and stonewalled when he asked for details. The UK government comes across as manipulative and their motives are thrown into question. Little wonder that conspiracy theories about secret deals quickly followed MacAskill’s speech.

MacAskill Constructs Himself: The Compassionate Release Decision

MacAskill next turns to his deliberations over the compassionate release request. In this narrative he is hemmed in by constructions of two different groups of acts: legal and medical. The former provides his means and the latter his ends in granting the request.

First, MacAskill establishes that he has the authority under Scottish law to grant a compassionate release. He notes that “[s]ection three of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 gives the Scottish Ministers the power to release prisoners on licence on compassionate grounds.” The requirements for such grants of release are somewhat general, he reports:

The Act requires that Ministers are satisfied that there are compassionate grounds justifying the release of a person serving a sentence of imprisonment. Although the Act does not specify what the grounds for compassionate release are, guidance from the Scottish Prison Service, who assess applications, suggests that it may be considered where a prisoner is suffering from a terminal illness and death is likely to occur soon. There are no fixed time limits but life expectancy of less than three months may be considered an appropriate period. The guidance makes it clear that all prisoners, irrespective of sentence length, are eligible to be considered for compassionate release. That guidance dates from 2005.

Three acts are concisely spliced together in this account of the law which guides MacAskill: the 1993 Act of Parliament, the 2005 act of “guidance” from the Scottish Prison Service, and the generalized act of compassionate release which the parliamentary act and its later clarification describe. Laws always deal with generalized acts inasmuch as they are developed to apply to future situations involving unknown particulars. In this case, the convicted agent eligible for release might include one with a terminal illness nearing its conclusion and that agent may have any number of days or years remaining on his or her sentence. MacAskill efficiently highlights elements of the statute in question so that they potentially fit Megrahi like a glove. It was left for him to establish that, indeed, Megrahi had but a short time to live.

Relying on medical authorities, MacAskill shows that these expert agents have concluded that Megrahi is dying. He develops a timeline that establishes the progression of Megrahi’s illness and his deterioration. He notes that the Libyan “was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in September 2008.” Following the application for compassionate release, MacAskill notes, “I have been regularly updated as to the progression of his illness.” He references “numerous comprehensive medical reports” from “consultants who have been treating him,” “medical experts,” “the doctors and prison social work staff,” “a range of specialists,” “other specialists and consultants,” and “Scottish Prison Service doctors who have dealt with [Megrahi] prior to, during and following the diagnosis of prostate cancer . . . [and have seen him] during each of these stages. . . .” Their conclusions, MacAskill notes, are that “[i]t is quite clear . . . that he has a terminal illness, and indeed that there has recently been a significant deterioration in his health,” “that his clinical condition has declined significantly.” After undergoing “several different trials of treatment,” the doctors determined that Megrahi’s illness was “’hormone resistant’ — that is resistant to any treatment options of known effectiveness.” His prognosis, therefore, “has moved to the lower end of expectations” to the point that recently “the Director of Health and Care for the Scottish Prison Service indicates that a 3 month prognosis is now a reasonable estimate.”

This construction of a throng of doctors engaged in a series of ongoing tests and treatments over a year’s time conveys a sense of certainty about Megrahi’s prognosis. Expert agents using multiple agencies seeking to diagnose and treat Megrahi implies that MacAskill is working with the best assessment possible. Nevertheless, MacAskill admits that Megrahi “may die sooner [than three months] — he may live longer.” Delegating the medical assessment to medical experts, as he delegated the prosecution and conviction of Megrahi to the legal experts, he insisted: “I can only base my decision on the medical advice I have before me.”

MacAskill draws on one last set of experts to reject an alternative plan for compassionate release, noting:

It has been suggested that Mr Al-Megrahi could be released from prison to reside elsewhere in Scotland. Clear advice from senior police officers is that the security implications of such a move would be severe. I have therefore ruled that out as an option.

MacAskill’s constructions of the acts of others has fairly hemmed in the decision he must make, limiting the reach of what now could constitute reasonable action on his part. The web of grammatical constraints was first fixed with his description of the statute’s requirements, which deserves closer scrutiny of its language at this point: “The Act requires that Ministers are satisfied that there are compassionate grounds justifying the release of a person serving a sentence of imprisonment” (emphasis added). The term grounds is commonly thought of as an agency of argument, whereby one argues a proposition and provides support, or the grounds, for it. However, there is a scenic quality to grounds reflecting its foundational connotations, an image of drawing from or sinking into something substantial, unmovable, earthly. MacAskill’s phrase highlights this scenic element, because in his formulation, either “there are” or “there are not” compassionate grounds. That is, those grounds exist or they do not exist. There is no middle ground, no continuum here, as were we to say, alternatively, “I must give weight to compassionate considerations,” where more or less weight may tip the balance this way or that.

Finding compassionate grounds in this formulation involves going out and looking to see if they exist. That scenic approach comports well with the medical experts to whom MacAskill looks for guidance. Doctors are scientists, looking at bodies, studying the effect of treatments, assessing the growth of cancers, and the like. As Burke has noted, such materialist orientations are scenic (Grammar 128, 131). The doctors’ scenic ground and MacAskill’s compassionate grounds are dovetailed in the Scottish minister’s construction. If death is imminent — a medical/​scientific question — then the requisite compassionate grounds exist. Indeed, MacAskill as decision-maker is moved out of the picture to the extent that compassionate grounds themselves justify the decision to release. Stated grammatically, the scene (grounds/​medical condition) controls the act of choosing to release Megrahi.

Around this scene-act construction are additional terministic moorings that fix the act of release to follow. The scenic requirements are a product of the legal agency that sets compassionate grounds as a standard. “Compassion,” an attitude and purpose, is a direct outgrowth of those scenic grounds. That is, a medical condition, a state of affairs, a unique scene, gives rise to a purpose of offering compassion, and an attitude of pity and sympathetic feeling towards Megrahi and his family. Oddly, agents, who are required elements as vessels of attitudes and purposes, are only implied here. Of course, technically it is the state that is offering compassion here, though MacAskill provides the face of the state. Overall then, the legal agency describes the required scenic grounds, the medical experts establish those scenic grounds, the scene gives birth to a purpose and attitude of compassion, all of which determine MacAskill’s act.

By the time MacAskill announces that Megrahi had “met the criteria [for release],” the die has been cast. Nonetheless, MacAskill reasserts his role as agent of the decision, insisting that “it therefore falls to me to decide whether Mr Al-Megrahi should be released on compassionate grounds.” MacAskill’s embrace of his responsibility in this case, where he reminds us, “a decision has to be made,” belies the fetters he has placed upon his own actions. He does not indicate where in this statute-driven decision he has wiggle room to decide that Megrahi will not be released; he makes no mention of his discretion in this matter. Yet he constructs himself as the final arbiter of this emotionally-charged decision, who is willing to face the disagreement he foresees, “whatever my decision.”

At this point of final consideration, after positioning himself squarely in the seat of what George W. Bush famously called “the decider,” MacAskill turns to reconstruct the actions of others, rather than of himself. One construction invokes the acts, judgments, and values of the Scottish people as a whole; the other constructs an act of God. On the latter, MacAskill assures his audience that ultimate justice has been meted out, regardless of his actions, because “Mr. Al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.” Megrahi’s disease, previously part of the scenic-medical-scientific landscape is here transformed into an agency of divine action for the purpose of ultimate justice. Constructing the Libyan as one already sentenced and irrevocably serving out that sentence diminishes concern over the human-imposed sentence in Greenock as well as the release to come.

The other group of acts constructed by MacAskill at this juncture involves the Scottish people as a whole. He assures his listeners:

Scotland will forever remember the crime that has been perpetrated against our people and those from many other lands. The pain and suffering will remain forever. Some hurt can never heal. Some scars can never fade. Those who have been bereaved cannot be expected to forget, let alone forgive. Their pain runs deep and the wounds remain.

Note MacAskill’s specific focus on the Scottish nation’s memory, which is the storehouse for the victimage and pain of its people, as well as “those from many other lands.” He highlights the public memory of this particular group of agents because it is on their behalf that he will show compassion to Megrahi. Because they remember and they still suffer for all those victimized, the Scottish people are in a position to grant compassion because (1) they were harmed and, thus, are a proper party to offer a reprieve and (2) they understand suffering and, ironically, are thus positioned to identify with the suffering of the dying Libyan and his family.

Of course just because a group of victims could show compassion to their victimizer does not mean they will. But MacAskill explains how the character of the Scottish people makes such a compassionate act appropriate: “In Scotland, we are a people who pride ourselves on our humanity. It is viewed as a defining characteristic of Scotland and the Scottish people.” Those defined by their humanity are those who engage in compassionate acts, he avers, through an agent-act logic. It is the Scottish nation that is defined by its humanity, the Scottish people, and, as a Scot himself, MacAskill. Thus, the Justice Minister readies his audience to see his compassionate release of Megrahi as following from the nature of Scots. It also implies the reverse: that engaging in a compassionate release demonstrates the Scottish humanity he touts (through an act-agent logic), while failing to do so detracts from this noble construction.

Scottish humanity is directly contrasted with the inhumanity of “Mr Al-Megrahi [who] did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them.” Here MacAskill must deal with a collision course between two actions: Megrahi’s bombing and the Scottish nation’s compassion.

Grammatically, the two acts are incompatible. On the one hand, there is Megrahi, an evil agent undertaking a horrendous and deadly act with a heartless, cruel attitude towards the hundreds of innocents who perished. Megrahi then becomes the focus of a second act, supported by MacAskill, whereby victimized agents nonetheless maintain their compassionate attitudes to engage in an act of pardon for the very person who made them victims. MacAskill recognizes the leap required here, but insists: “The perpetration of an atrocity and outrage cannot and should not be a basis for losing sight of who we are, the values we seek to uphold, and the faith and beliefs by which we seek to live.”

Kenneth Burke told a story explaining what he called the “nevertheless” strategy in the construction of motives. He said:

A conference organizer is standing to introduce a keynote speaker, Walter Jones. He announces: “Now we will hear from Walter Jones.” An audience member jumps up and yells, “Walter Jones is a liar, a fraud, and a windbag.” The introducer responds: “Nevertheless, Walter Jones will speak now.” (Burke, Personal Interview)

Burke’s “nevertheless” principle highlights the fact that grammatical relationships are not deterministic of actions, but only terministic. That is, despite grammatical relationships among the pentadic terms, a particular understanding of a grammatical term is not deterministic of action “in the world,” though it is terministic in shaping our understanding of motives. So, for example, the conference organizer in the example above may let a “liar, fraud, and windbag” speak at his conference, but not without the consequence of others questioning the motives of the organizers (i.e., reassessing “what they are doing and why they are doing it”).

Of course, showing compassion to one who has not shown you compassion is not universally rejected. The grammatical incongruity involved in MacAskill’s appeal to the “nevertheless” strategy here does not reflect a lack of concern for what the first author has called a general dimension of terministic relations, such as the scene-act relationship, whereby a scene is thought to contain an act. Rather, it involves what is a culturally-coded specific dimension that says that compassion should not be shown to those who engage in evil acts (Rountree, “Coming to Terms”). That specific dimension might be thought to be otherwise, given the Christian heritage of the UK and US, whose citizens are key audiences of this discourse. But, there are other cultural factors at work in determining “what properly goes with what” in the construction of motives.

Christian teachings concerning “turning the other cheek” and letting “he who has not sinned cast the first stone” might smooth the grammatical discord in MacAskill’s construction. However, a prevalence of Christian belief in a society has not always tempered the urge to trade “an eye for an eye” in the justice system. Consider the United States after 9/​11. One of the most Christian nations in history, widely regarded for its defense of human rights, quickly devolved to the point where former Vice President Dick Cheney could admit, on national television, that officials in the Bush administration ordered the waterboarding of three terrorist suspects. Waterboarding, an interrogation method that uses simulated drowning to coerce information from suspects, was first used during the Spanish Inquisition and was prosecuted as a form of torture in the United States as early as 1947 (Pincus; Mostrous). But, given the devastation of the terrorist attacks, with thousands dead and a nation in shock, the nation was quick to ignore human rights in the interests of security and revenge. Even as late as 2014, a CNN poll found that while most Americans believed waterboarding is torture, 49% approved of its use (Jaffe). Those results should come as no surprise, even without the 9/​11 attacks, given “tough on crime” positions of both Republicans and Democrats over the past 30 years and fictional media heroes from “Dirty Harry” to 24’s Jack Bauer suggesting that playing tough with criminals is both necessary and useful. The Weekly Standard notes that over 12,000 prisoners died (mostly of natural causes) in US prisons from 2001–2004 — compassionate release has not been our practice (Lindberg).

Although the British are not as supportive of such extreme measures against the worst criminals (see, e.g., Miller and Kull), they do have a “tough on crime” legacy of their own. For example, a decade ago, Prime Minister Tony Blair was trying to “woo middle class voters” with a series of bills that were “tough on crime.” The appeal was needed, despite the fact that crime rates had fallen, because fear of crime had risen (see, e.g., “Blair Gets Tough”). Such changes in attitudes circumscribe both what ministers can safely do in offering compassion to criminals such as Megrahi as well as how their motives will be constructed. In the case of MacAskill’s speech, he was on shaky ground when he followed his appeal to Scottish humanity with the proclamation: “it is my decision that Mr Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing, now terminally ill with prostate cancer, be released on compassionate grounds and allowed to return to Libya to die.”

Overall, MacAskill constructs his motives for releasing Megrahi as law-following, grounded in medical/​scientific evidence, compassionate, and comporting with the humanity of the Scottish people. He initially constructs Megrahi as a passive recipient of a conviction for a heinous crime, but ends by emphasizing his lack of compassion. Because MacAskill uses careful language in referencing the findings of the prosecutors and courts, he leaves the impression that he either does not agree with their assessments, or that it is simply beyond the scope of his duties (or perhaps conflicting with them) for him to take a position on the matter. He does not question the professionalism of those involved in the case, even if he does not directly endorse the verdict. He shows sympathy to victims, but berates British officials for failing to fully cooperate. He takes pains to state that he had no influence on Megrahi dropping an appeal, perhaps sensitive to appearances, but he does not discuss the concerns he is trying to alleviate. He demonstrates even-handedness in rejecting the Prisoner Transfer Request, while accepting the Compassionate Release request. The act of release itself, it would seem, satisfied the British in their efforts to secure a release, though his rejection of their means (PTA) seems to create a separation from them.

Next we turn to the construction of MacAskill’s motives by others. Generally, the explanation that the Scottish minister offers of compassionate grounds as the only basis for Megrahi’s release was rejected by commentators. We will argue that public incredulity over his construction of motives as offering compassion to a heartless agent who committed violent atrocities is central to a search for alternative explanations. The “mixed motives” he presented in failing to clearly blame Megrahi for the bombing also opened the door to alternative explanations.

Government Officials Respond

The reaction from government officials on both sides of the Atlantic was swift and overwhelmingly negative. Because 189 of the dead from the Lockerbie bombing were Americans, it is unsurprising that the news of Megrahi’s release was met with criticism from this side of the pond. Surprisingly, the criticism from the Obama administration was terse and measured. President Obama called Megrahi’s release “a mistake” and noted that his administration was “holding further discussions on the matter” (Cowell and Sulzberger). White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs was more formal, but still brief in reporting: “The United States deeply regrets the decision. . . . [W]e continue to believe Megahi should serve out his sentence in Scotland” (Siddique, Milmo, and Carrell ). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had previously “expressed strongly” to MacAskill that the Libyan should not be released (Samuelson). FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III, who had been the lead investigator in the Lockerbie bombing case, was the most vocal of all. He called MacAskill’s decision “as inexplicable as it is detrimental to the cause of justice” (Burns and Lipton). He admitted, “I have made it a practice not to comment on the actions of other prosecutors . . . ,” but ignored that practice in telling MacAskill, “ . . . I am outraged at your decision, blithely defended on the grounds of ‘compassion’” (Boyle). Overall, such comments did little more than to construct MacAskill’s act as wrong. Mueller’s comments implied a too-casual attitude on MacAskill’s part in “blithely” granting the pardon.

Greater outrage was expressed by US officials not from the release itself so much as the Libyan reaction to it. US Attorney General Eric Holder warned MacAskill two months prior to the decision that “the convicted Lockerbie bomber could not get a hero’s welcome if he were returned home to Libya” because such a return “would be seen as a vindication of al-Megrahi’s innocence . . .” (Macleod). And, indeed, that’s what happened. Cheering mobs greeted Megrahi. Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi was shown hugging the freed prisoner. The entire scene was broadcast across the world. Robert Gibbs called the scenes in Tripoli “outrageous” and “disgusting,” noting that President Obama condemned the cheering Libyans’ behavior (Burns). New York Senator Chuck Schumer said “the Libyan government has shocked the world with its gross and callous behavior . . . ; the celebration compounded the crime” (Boyle).

This construction actually detracts attention from MacAskill by bringing in new agents — the Libyans, who lack a sense of propriety in celebrating the release of a mass murderer. From the perspective of Libyans, that celebration might have been warranted either because Megrahi was a hero in taking on Westerners in this bold and successful terrorist attack or, more likely, because they thought he was the victim of a frame-up by Western governments who wanted a scapegoat for the attack (see, e.g., Burns and Lipton). This latter perspective would be taken up by some Western commentators in their construction of MacAskill’s motives.

Government officials in the UK with the exception of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, expressed greater outrage at the decision than American officials. British Conservative leader David Cameron said Megrahi’s release was “wrong and the product of some completely nonsensical thinking” (Siddique, Milmo, and Carrell). After he became Prime Minister in 2010, Cameron told American officials during his first visit to Washington DC that Megrahi’s release “was completely and utterly wrong . . . totally fraudulent, morally offensive and, quite possibly, criminal” (“Drill for the Truth”).

Scottish officials were no happier about the decision of their Minister of Justice. The leader of the Scottish Conservative party, Annabel Goldie, proclaimed: “I want to make clear that the decision to release Mr. Megrahi was not done in the name of Scotland” (Underhill). At an emergency session of the Scottish Parliament called by MacAskill in 2009, to which Members of Scottish Parliament were recalled from their summer break, the opposition party claimed MacAskill “had not been speaking for Scotland . . . and the Justice Secretary had brought shame to Scotland” (Maddox). Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker accused MacAskill of having “made up his mind to release Megrahi and then tried to marshal evidence and paperwork to justify it” (Barnes). MacAskill retorted by attacking the UK Government, declaring that they “declined to make representations or provide information” on the case, had “shunned his request for advice on the matter, and withheld information he sought about any understandings with the United States regarding Mr. Megrahi’s imprisonment” (King). MacAskill found support from Alex Salmond in condemning the Prisoner Transfer Agreement brokered by Tony Blair as “ethically wrong” (Carrell).

Missing in this early round of condemnations was Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was silent on the issue. Leaders from the left and right of Brown criticized this silence. Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that “it was absurd and damaging [for Brown to keep quiet regarding the decision] in the vain hope that someone else will take the flak” (King). Conservative Party politician Liam Fox offered: “When the going gets tough, Gordon Brown disappears” (Kennedy and Croghan). The Guardian summarized numerous critics in suggesting that it was “absurd for Brown to continue to say nothing” five days after the release (Carrell). Secretary of State Jack Straw defended Brown’s silence, claiming that “it would be wrong for a UK minister to offer an opinion on a decision taken in Scotland” (Watt and Carrell). However, he was less generous to MacAskill, noting that unlike the Scottish minister, he had never “visited a prisoner in jail who has applied for compassionate release,” since a written representation would be sufficient (Watt).

Other UK officials took their wrath over the controversy out on the Americans. Lord Fraser the Lockerbie prosecutor, former Lord Advocate, and old friend to FBI Director Mueller throughout the years of the Lockerbie case, responded to Mueller’s criticism of the release. He was “absolutely shocked” at comments from Mueller, because they created a spectacle of “an unelected US police official publicly rebuking a Scottish minister.” He thought the “[t]he intervention of the director of the FBI was totally out of order. . . . It would be the equivalent of the Metropolitan police chief writing to Barack Obama to complain about a decision.” Henry McLeish, former first minister, suggested that Mueller “keep his nose out of Scotland’s affairs” (King).

These US and UK criticisms from officials generally failed to construct MacAskill’s compassionate release in any detailed way beyond saying that it was problematic or unjustified. It led to little speculation as to MacAskill’s “true” motives in the release, though the media were quick to fill the void. Indeed, the in-fighting among parties and between officials on either side of the Atlantic mostly drew attention away from MacAskill’s act and towards the subsequent acts (or omissions of actions) by various officials. However, the heat from the controversy demonstrated in these exchanges would fuel speculation that MacAskill acted with something less than humanitarian motives in his release of Megrahi.

The news media constructed two primary alternative motives for MacAskill, both involving a hidden government conspiracy, as well as several minor constructions. The most popular claimed that the release was part of a secret oil deal the British were trying to finalize with Libya. Or, more generally, this construction emphasized the British interest in good relations with Libya, for economic and other reasons. A second popular construction had MacAskill recognizing that Megrahi’s conviction had been bungled, making the release a means to avoid embarrassing revelations about the investigation and the conviction, particularly if Megrahi appealed the case. We will examine these two major constructions that compete with MacAskill’s own self-construction.

Blood Money

The most frequently cited motive for the release of Megrahi is that the Libyan was a bargaining chip in British efforts to open up Libya to lucrative business deals. It was widely reported that the British sought such deals (particularly for British Petroleum) and that the release of Megrahi was a prerequisite for the Libyans to move forward with those deals.

The construction of British action relating to Megrahi’s release in support of a business deal begins with their efforts to push a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) that opened the door for Megrahi’s release. As The Guardian reported: “The UK government had ‘failed to exclude’ Scotland from the prisoner transfer agreement despite the fact that the only Libyan in Scottish custody was Megrahi, said MacAskill” (Siddique). That act of omission was taken to reveal a purpose of opening the door to Megrahi’s release. The Daily Telegraph constructed this PTA as a betrayal, because it went “back on a pledge made to the SNP [Scottish National Party] government to keep Megrahi out of a prison transfer agreement with Libya.” The scene within which they did this revealed a larger purpose, the British newspaper added, because the UK ministers “switched their position as Libya used its deal with BP as a bargaining chip” (Barnes). Indeed, BP admitted to pushing for the PTA. The New York Daily News reported: “BP says it pressed for a transfer agreement in general, not specifically relating to Megrahi” (“Drill for the Truth”). The newspaper quoted a Libyan source noting that “[i]t was obvious that we were talking about him [i.e., Megrahi]” (“Drill for the Truth”). The Press Association of Scotland stressed the timing of the PTA announcement:

The Tony Blair agreement [i.e., the PTA] was signed during the then Prime Minister’s global farewell tour. It also coincided with an announcement by oil giant BP that it was returning to Libya after 30 years in an oil and gas exploration deal. (Quinn)

Not only did Tony Blair indicate an interest in freeing Megrahi, his successor did as well. As The Sun reported, “sensational documents [released] showed that [Prime Minister Gordon Brown] did NOT want the mass murderer to die in jail.” Indeed, the newspaper noted, “[t]he PM and Foreign Secretary David Miliband both told the Libyan government they were against Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi perishing from cancer in Greenock Prison” (Nicoll). Thus, the purpose of freeing Megrahi was shown not to be merely an interest of the retiring Tony Blair, but of other top British officials as well, making this a conspiracy of leaders and not merely of parties.

BP was the primary corporate beneficiary of “lucrative oil contracts from the Qaddafi government,” according to the New York Times (Cowell and Sulzberger). News sources named a number of British officials, besides the former and current prime ministers, who lobbied on behalf of the British oil giant. The Economist noted that “three British ministers have visited Libya in the past 15 months (as has Prince Andrew, Britain’s special representative for trade and investment)” (“Counting the Cost”). The New York Times added that “the Duke of York [i.e., Prince Andrew] . . . has made a reputation for promoting British business interests in parts of the world where Britain has played down its human rights agenda as it has sought oil deals and other lucrative contracts” (Burns). The Economist added others to the list as well, such as “Lord Mandelson, the powerful business secretary, [who] had twice this year met Mr. Qaddafi’s son. . . .” The story quoted the British aristocrat as telling Megrahi on his return to Libya: “[I]n all the trade, oil and gas deals which I have supervised, you were there on the table” (“Counting the Cost). The Weekly Standard added another aristocratic voice, “Lord Trefgarne, the head of the Libyan British Business Council, lamenting the slow pace of oil deals, [who] charmingly noted [following Megrahi’s release], ‘Perhaps now, with the final resolution of the Lockerbie affair, as far as the Libyans are concerned, maybe they’ll move a bit more swiftly’” (Lindberg). That swifter movement involved “multibillion-dollar oil contracts,” according to the New York Times, “set[ting] the terms for the ‘deal in the desert’ that sketched a reconciliation between Colonel Qaddafi’s pariah government and the West” (Burns).

The Economist widened the economic interests at stake beyond those involving oil in noting that “[r]etailers such as Marks & Spencer, one of the 150 British firms present in Libya, hope to expand there, and defence and construction contracts beckon” (“Counting the Cost”). The image is one of a convergence of multiple business interests all wanting to smooth over relations with Libya by freeing Megrahi.

The British were not simply motivated by a general interest in establishing the possibility of business deals and by lobbying from BP. The New York Times noted an enticement from Libya, which “awarded Britain a major oil contract, a $900 million deal involving BP, and dangled the prospect of others” (Burns and Lipton). If an economic purpose was plain, so was the means for reaching those ends. Many news sources reported that Qaddafi’s son had made Megrahi part of the negotiations over British trade deals. Both the New York Times and the New York Daily News quoted the Libyan leader’s son, Saif al-Islam insisting that “in all commercial contracts for oil and gas with Britain, Megrahi was always on the negotiating table” (Kennedy and Croghan). The Washington Times used stronger language, urging that “[e]ven before the terrorist landed in Tripoli to the hosannas of the mob, the colonel’s sons were boasting of the deal their daddy made; Daddy himself said the trade would be ‘positively reflected in all areas of co-operation between the two countries’” (Pruden). The Sun emphasized that the trade talks would have been undermined without the release, reporting:

A month earlier the Libyans warned Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell of “catastrophic effects” for relations with Britain if Megrahi died in prison. The note says: “Mr Alobidi confirmed that he had reiterated to Mr Rammell that the death of Mr Megrahi in a Scottish prison would have catastrophic effects for the relationship between Libya and the UK.” (Nicoll)

Overall, the construction urged that securing the PTA and realizing Megrahi’s release were not ends in themselves; instead, those purposes were transformed into agencies of a larger economic purpose sought by the British. Connecting those purposes-qua-agencies into ultimate economic purposes redounded on public interpretations of what Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill was doing in releasing the Libyan. The implication is that MacAskill became an agent of British economic interests.

This construction was plausible enough that it led to some harsh words from American politicians. For example, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman said that the suggestions of an oil deal were “shocking.” New York Senator Chuck Schumer asked: “Was there a quid pro quo here?” He added: “I don’t know if that’s the truth, but if it is: shame, shame, shame on the British government” (Burns).

The problem with these constructions of an economic motive, obviously, has to do with a missing grammatical link: Why would MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Minister, give a whit about British economic interests? These constructions ignore that little problem, identifying MacAskill with British prime ministers, aristocrats, royalty, and British Petroleum. They presume, without establishing, a connection, with rare exceptions. One New York Times article suggested a connection between MacAskill and the oil deal through the leader of his Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond: “[C]ritics in Scotland suggested that Mr. Salmond, a former oil economist for a Scottish bank, might have seen long-term benefits for Scotland beyond its reputation for compassion” (Burns). The implication is that if MacAskill’s party leader saw benefits for Scotland (rather than simply benefits for the British), then that Scottish economic purpose might have been shared (or foisted upon) MacAskill. But this purpose is tenuous (“might have seen long-term benefits”) and unexplored — we learn nothing of how Scotland might benefit. That mechanism is a black box, as political machinations often are conceived.

The Daily Record in Scotland tried another avenue of oil influence, noting that MacAskill “’took into account’ pleas for Megrahi’s release from the government of Qatar, where the Scottish government have been keen to build trade links” (Gardham). Thus, we have a completely different business deal being raised as crucial, while the huge majority of the news coverage spoke only of British interests. The same article took one more stab, this time through a familial connection, noting that Kenny MacAskill’s brother Allan “worked for oil giants BP — who have signed a major exploration deal with Libya. Allan also worked for Canada-based Talisman Energy, another oil firm who have sought business in Libya” (Gardham). The article admits that Allan MacAskill’s work with BP ended in 1997, but nonetheless seeks to assert Allan’s interests and connect them to his barrister brother.

We will return to the issue of grammatical disconnection in the construction of “oil motives” at the end when considering the competition among accounts of MacAskill’s motives. For now it suffices to note that there was no compelling construction of the release of Megrahi that clearly connected the Scottish minister to British economic interests. Indeed, the sound and fury committed to detailing the economic interests — particularly of the powerful BP and its government defenders — is motivationally rich, but strategically weak in implicating MacAskill as the primary agent of action. He would have to be a pawn, but no one bothered to show convincingly that someone was directing him.

Corruption or Incompetence in the Prosecution and Conviction of Megrahi

A second, though less widely discussed, alternative motive the news media offered for the release of Megrahi paints a picture of a botched or corrupt prosecution and conviction of the Libyan. Doubts concerning the conviction were fueled first by the media’s highlighting of Megrahi’s protestations of his innocence, in spite of his conviction, Libya’s payments to the victims of this convicted Lockerbie bomber’s terrorism, and Megrahi’s dropping of an appeal of his conviction prior to his compassionate release. The New York Daily News noted, “Al-Megrahi has always insisted he is innocent . . .” (Boyle and Kennedy). In four separate articles, the New York Times conveyed Megrahi’s position: “Mr. Megrahi has always maintained his innocence” (Lyall), “Mr. Megrahi insisted one more time on his innocence” (Cowell and Sulzberger), “Mr. Megrahi, meanwhile, at home with his family in Tripoli, continued to insist on his innocence” (Burns), and “ . . . Mr. Megrahi and his supporters have always depicted [his conviction] as a gross miscarriage of justice” (Burns and Lipton). The New York Daily News added Megrahi’s lament: “The remaining days of my life are being lived under the shadow of the wrongness of my conviction” (Boyle and Kennedy). One New York Times story offered this plea from the Libyan: “And I say in the clearest possible terms, which I hope every person in every land will hear: all of this I have had to endure for something that I did not do” (Cowell and Sulzberger). Megrahi’s claim of innocence added a note of sympathy for those he was alleged to have harmed: “To those victims’ relatives who can bear to hear me say this: they continue to have my sincere sympathy for the unimaginable loss that they have suffered” (Cowell and Sulzberger). Obviously, Megrahi’s attitude of sympathy was at odds with MacAskill’s construction of the Libyan as failing to “show his victims any comfort or compassion [in the bombing].” Megrahi also indicated that, despite his release, he would take steps to prove his innocence. John F. Burns of the New York Times reported that “Megrahi told The Times of London on Friday that he would ‘put out evidence’ exonerating himself and that the people of Britain and Scotland would ’be the jury’” (Burns).

Beyond such obviously self-serving statements, other people indicated that Megrahi’s conviction might have been tainted. As Sarah Lyall reported for the New York Times, “many Scots — including influential members of the legal establishment — feel that Mr. Megrahi was unjustly convicted and should never have been imprisoned in the first place.” She quoted Hans Köchler, a United Nations observer assigned to oversee the original trial in the Netherlands, who “called the guilty verdict ‘inconsistent’ and ‘arbitrary’” (Lyall). The Christian Science Monitor noted that the father of one of the Lockerbie bombing victims, Jim Swire, “long had doubts about Megrahi’s involvement and has pushed for an independent inquiry to examine the events surrounding the night of the bombing.” He stated that he was “determined to get at the truth” (Samuelson).The New York Daily News reported that many British relatives of the bombing’s victims “believe that Iran was the real culprit,” and “speculat[ed] that al-Megrahi’s release was engineered to distract from evidence he had been railroaded” (Boyle and Kennedy).

Megrahi’s decision to drop his appeal, which MacAskill had insisted “was his decision,” also fueled speculation of a government conspiracy to frame Megrahi. David Blair of The Daily Telegraph asked: “[W]hy did the Libyan suddenly drop his appeal last Friday? Why did his lawyers then go to court and win judicial approval for this decision on Tuesday?” (Blair). This action was odd because, Blair notes, “[i]f . . . illness was the only factor in Mr MacAskill’s mind, these moves would have been unnecessary. . . . Once back in his homeland, Megrahi could have sought to clear his name by persisting with his appeal” (Blair). Angus Macleod of The Times (of London) quoted a former British ambassador to Tripoli stating that there was “something fishy” in this coincidence of the dropped appeal and the compassionate release and inferring that “some kind of deal” had been made (Macleod). Carrell and Watt of The Guardian also emphasized the timing, noting that “[o]n 14 August, two days after it emerged that the Libyans had been secretly told that Megrahi would be released, Megrahi suddenly said he would drop his appeal” (Caroll and Watt). John Pilger of the left-of-center British magazine, The New Statesmen, was more explicit in drawing conclusions from this coincidence, asserting that the Libyan was “in effect blackmailed” to drop the appeal, before he could bring “some 600 pages of new and deliberately suppressed evidence [that] would have set the seal on his innocence and given us more than a glimpse of how and why he was stitched up for the benefit of ‘strategic interests’” (Pilger). The reporter even connected those interests to the Scottish government (rather than simply to the British, as the blood-for-oil theories had done) in giving voice to the ambassador’s belief “that there was growing anxiety in the Scottish justice department that a successful appeal would severely damage the reputation of the Scottish justice system” (Pilger, qtg. Oliver Miles). Pilger highlights this purpose even as he rejects the blood-for-oil claims, citing a BBC source insisting: “I don’t think there was a deal involving business. I think on that ministers are telling the truth” (Pilger). Such qualification by the left-wing writer — that they were lying about this, but not about that — gave him a sense of evenhandedness.

Although there were hints of problems in the prosecution and conviction of Megrahi, few mainstream media sources offered any elaboration of those problems. Doing so would not have been hard. For years, Professor Hans Köchler had been decrying the original conviction. Köchler had been nominated by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, with four other people, to observe the original trial. A first-hand report of his concerns over the trial was published in 2001 (Köchler, “Report on”). Köchler also weighed in on an appeal of the case and issued several statements to the international press expressing concern over the correctness of the verdict (Köchler, “Report on,” “Scots Complicit,” “I Saw the Trial”; “UN Monitor”; Macaskill). Köchler’s lone voice was joined more recently by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which had enough doubts about the conviction to approve his case for appeal.

Despite these concerns, only left-of-center, small-circulation periodicals bothered to detail the unjust conviction/​government conspiracy construction of the case. Pilger of the New Statesman, was a rare source in quoting the Commission’s finding: “based upon our lengthy investigations, the new evidence we have found and other evidence which was not before the trial court, that the applicant may have suffered a miscarriage of justice” (qtg. Commission Chairman Graham Forbes). Two years earlier, on June 28, 2007, the more mainstream Sunday Times of London had quoted the Commission’s concerns over a possible “miscarriage of justice,” though it did not revisit those concerns when it offered a 2009 construction of Megrahi; rather, it editorialized that MacAskill’s decision to release Megrahi was “the wrong decision” (“Return Flight”). Instead of considering the possibility that the verdict was wrong, it castigated MacAskill for the way he discussed Megrahi’s guilt in his speech of compassionate release, complaining that the Scottish Justice Minister seemed to “intend at least to leave a whisper of suspicion about the safety of al-Megrahi’s conviction [from appeal]” (“Return Flight”).

Pilger recounted problems with the case that were well-known in 2009. Two of those problems involved questionable witnesses. The bomb was alleged to have exploded in a suitcase that contained suits purchased from a Maltese shopowner. Although the shopowner testified against Megrahi as the purchaser of the clothes, Pilger notes, he “gave a false description of him in 19 separate statements and even failed to recognize him in the courtroom.” A “secret key witness” testified that he saw Megrahi and his co-conspirator, al-Alim Khalifa Fahimah, load the bomb on a plane in Frankfurt. But Fahimah was acquitted of the charges, while Megrahi was convicted. Furthermore, the secret witness “was bribed by the US authorities holding him as a ‘protected witness’ [whom] [t]he defence exposed . . . as a CIA informer who stood to collect, on the Libyans’ conviction, up to $4m as a reward” (Pilger). There also were problems with material evidence. A key piece of evidence was a circuit board that was used for the bomb’s timer. But, Pilger notes that “[a] forensic scientist found no trace of an explosion on it,” making it likely that the board “was probably a plant.”

Pilger’s construction paints a picture of likely corruption, forcing him to construct another act: that of the international court. For if the evidence was flimsy and the witnesses unbelievable, then why would Megrahi have been found guilty? Pilger has to construct them as corrupt agents as well, offering:

Megrahi was convicted by three Scottish judges sitting in a courtroom in “neutral” Holland. There was no jury. One of the few reporters to sit through the long and often farcical proceedings was the late Paul Foot, whose landmark investigation in Private Eye exposed it as a cacophony of blunders, deceptions and lies: a whitewash. The Scottish judges, while admitting a “mass of conflicting evidence” and rejecting the fantasies of the CIA informer, found Megrahi guilty on hearsay and unproven circumstance. Their 90-page “opinion,” wrote Foot, “is a remarkable document that claims an honoured place in the history of British miscarriages of justice.” (Pilger)

Here Pilger relies on his own witness, Foot, and an insinuation that the jury-less courtroom was run poorly and corruptly by “Scottish” judges who were not “neutral.” His strongest support is the quotation of the opinion that admits a “mass of conflicting evidence” faced the judges who nonetheless found Megrahi guilty, while freeing his alleged accomplice.

Still missing is a purpose for framing the Libyan. Drawing again on Foot, Pilger offers one:

[Foot] named Margaret Thatcher the “architect” of the cover-up after revealing that she killed the independent inquiry her transport secretary Cecil Parkinson had promised the Lockerbie families; and in a phone call to President George Bush Sr on 11 January 1990, she agreed to “low-key” the disaster after their intelligence services had reported “beyond doubt” that the Lockerbie bomb had been placed by a Palestinian group, contracted by Tehran, as a reprisal for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by a US warship in Iranian territorial waters. Among the 290 dead were 66 children. In 1990, the ship’s captain was awarded the Legion of Merit by Bush Sr “for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer.”

Pilger’s account only goes so far as to purpose, suggesting pressure from 10 Downing Street was the result of a promise to a US president. He does not connect the dots, however. What was Bush’s purpose in protecting Iran? The US had fallen out with Iran since the hostage crisis after the fall of the Shah in 1979. The US had backed Iraq in its eight-year war with Iran. And it would be seven months before Iraq invaded Kuwait and turned its former ally into an enemy in the Persian Gulf Conflict. And why would even an ally as strong as Margaret Thatcher take the political heat and support a miscarriage of justice simply as a favor to a US president in a case involving such a heated public issue?

Although the scene-act ratio concerning the timing of the dropped appeal by Megrahi is compelling, establishing the government’s purpose for pushing Megrahi to drop the appeal is more difficult. The problem is the same one faced by those who see a conspiracy involving the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the attacks of 9/​11 (as US government sanctioned) — too many agents have to be implicated in the conspiracy. In the Megrahi case, not only would Scottish, British, and American investigators and officials have had to participate in a cover-up, but Scottish judges and as well. Such thoroughgoing corruption is difficult to sustain in constructions of motives in the absence of insider leaks or smoking-gun documents, except among the most paranoid of audiences.


One might conclude that MacAskill did a poor job of explaining his motives in the release of Megrahi, given the widely-reported conspiracy theories about the release. On the other hand, perhaps the American and British publics that read about the release and its motives themselves were already skeptical, in general, of the government, government officials, and official explanations. In grammatical terms, they had trouble buying connections between the elements of the act of compassionate release, finding more conspiratorial constructions more convincing.

As we noted above, the first author previously drew a distinction between two dimensions of terministic relationships among pentadic terms that is relevant here. He contrasted general dimensions with specific dimensions of those relationships. Of the former, he argued: “General dimensions are described and amply illustrated by Burke in his Grammar of Motives: The scene ‘contains’ the act; means (agencies) are adapted to ends (purposes); agents are the ‘authors’ of their actions; and so forth” (Rountree, “Coming to Terms”). In a recent essay he went further in claiming that such general dimensions are universal, noting that it is “a social and historical fact that humans have made, and continue to make, distinctions that allow them to answer Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why [concerning actions]; and, indeed, that this perspective plays a central role in allowing us to become what is recognizably human (for better or worse). . . .” Accepting that, he urged, puts us “on the road to accepting the universality of the grammar of motives” (Rountree, “Revisiting the Controversy”).

Specific dimensions of terministic relationships get at differences in various discourse communities’ understanding of motives. Thus, while all human societies distinguish various acts, agents, agencies, purposes, scenes, and attitudes, and all human societies understand that scenes are containers of acts, that means must be adapted to ends, that certain agents tend to engage in certain kinds of actions, and so forth, they may differ in their understanding of, say, what kind of agent engages in a particular type of act.

Thus, one reason why MacAskill’s “compassionate release” explanation was so widely rejected rests upon the specific dimensions of our twenty-first century grammar of motives. Obviously, the “tough-on-crime” attitudes embodied in American and British policies and political discourses have sunk into the public psyche and into our cultural grammars of motives, making it unthinkable that one who has been convicted of killing so many — particularly through means employed by terrorists — should be given compassion. Or, put more simply, we tend to believe that government agents responsible for dealing with criminals don’t do this sort of thing. Furthermore, we, as a people, don’t show mercy to our enemies. We aren’t the kind of agents who engage in this kind of act. Certainly many Americans call themselves Christians, but many seem more comfortable thinking of themselves as Christian soldiers (as in the classic 19th century English hymn, Onward, Christian Soldiers), fighting more than forgiving enemies they see as evil.

Perhaps MacAskill is correct in insisting that Scots are different on this score. Given their long history of persecution by the British, perhaps their cultural grammar of motives includes a recognition of the value of compassion and the propriety of their leaders showing it. But the judgment of whether MacAskill’s decision was based upon compassion is never made in a vacuum. It is not compassion or not compassion; instead it is compassion or something else. Because we recognize (1) that people may lie, mislead, or slant their positions and (2) that alternative motives always exist for any given action, the compassion that was offered as central must stand against other possibilities. We don’t always take people at their word. That is why competing constructions become so important in our understanding of motives. Nonetheless, the fundamental strength of one’s claim, in a given cultural context, that “I released this prisoner on compassionate grounds,” will determine how it plays in that competition with other motives.

Admittedly, MacAskill’s speech opened the door to competing constructions, somewhat undermining his own construction of motives. As this analysis has demonstrated, his failure to clearly convey his belief in Megrahi’s guilt — even if it was the ethical product of his arm’s length stance as Justice Minister — led commentators to consider the possibility that the original conviction was flawed, notwithstanding his endorsement of the prosecutors’ professionalism and of the court’s authority. MacAskill’s complaints about British pressure and lack of forthrightness regarding the prisoner transfer agreement made audiences wonder about British motives. The British Petroleum interests at stake provided an easy fit for explaining the attitude coming from Scotland’s “big brother.” And, of course, Megrahi’s refusal to die in a timely manner following his release provided fodder for ongoing speculation about MacAskill’s honesty in explaining how the fatal medical verdict was reached.

These alternative explanations raised the specter of a government conspiracy — either to cover up a botched investigation or to curry favor with Libya for economic reasons. An audience’s willingness to embrace such conspiracy theories also depends upon a particular cultural grammar of motives, one that says: “My government/​another’s government (agent) is likely to engage in an elaborate public deception (act) for ulterior motives (purpose).” Sadly, such assumptions are widespread in the United States, as evidenced by the persistent belief by many that Lee Harvey Oswald was framed for killing John F. Kennedy (Saad) or, more recently, that the government allowed or was behind the attacks of 9–11 (e.g., Mikkelson). Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair, the undiscovered “weapons of mass destruction” that were used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and other evidences of government conspiracies have fed our belief that this agent cannot be trusted, lending credence to alternative explanations for MacAskill’s release of Megrahi. And, though the British do not have a history of conspiracy theories against their government, they do tend to be as sensitive to economic double-dealing as any advanced capitalist country.

The force of such cultural grammars of motives can overshadow critical thought about motives. As we demonstrated above, no clear connection was made between British economic interests (exemplified in the BP deal) and the Scottish minister whose country and party would not directly benefit by serving this interest. Although MacAskill might be protecting the Scottish justice system from an embarrassing overruling of its prosecution, the blame that was laid by conspiracy theorists seemed to fall on the Americans (particularly the CIA) and not the Scots, and the breadth of the conspiracy had to be so broad as to strain credulity.

If MacAskill’s rhetorical goal was to ensure acceptance of his “compassionate grounds” explanation of his decision, then he failed, partly because of poor rhetorical choices, especially in showing less certainty about Megrahi’s guilt and complaining about the British influence. On the other hand, if his goal included other purposes, such as spurring government investigators and/​or those who watch the investigators to dig more deeply into the Lockerbie tragedy, perhaps he was savvy, but faced a rhetorical situation where he had to sacrifice some of his standing to support these goals (on this “status-actus” relationship see Rountree, “The President as God”). There is no critical method that finally can determine what his actual goals were, so these two assessments must stand together as our judgment on MacAskill.

As communication scholars from Ernest Wrage to Michael Calvin McGee have pointed out, rhetorical criticism can reveal the values of a society at a given point in time, whether they involve the leading ideas of the day or the ideographs central to a polity’s value system. As Wrage explained: “Ideas attain history in process, which includes transmission. The reach of an idea, its viability within a setting of time and place, and its modifications are expressed in a vast quantity of documentary sources [including] . . . lectures, sermons, and speeches” (Wrage 452). McGee looked to discourse to reveal prevailing ideographs deployed by rhetors, which are links between rhetoric and ideology that describe and explain the dominant ideology of a people.

In a similar vein, examining public discourse such as in the Lockerbie bomber release case can tell us something about a public’s understanding of what are to count as credible motives and what are to be rejected. That is, it can reveal the specific dimensions of a culture’s grammar of motives at a particular place and time.

Rhetorical scholars deploying the pentad to study constructions of motives should add to their critical goals a concern for revealing the cultural grammars of motives at play in rhetorical exchanges. They must go to places where rhetoric confronts an audience, consider that audience’s weighing of various constructions (such as we do in our canvassing of the news media), and offer insight into “what goes with what” in a culture’s understanding of motives. That will help us contribute to Wrage’s goal of discovering “[t]he reach of an idea, its viability within a setting of time and place . . .” (452), and better understand ourselves, as we unpack rhetorical artifacts.

Methodologically, this essay demonstrates that pentadic analyses may be enriched by venturing beyond the singular pentad which has been the focus of most pentadic criticism, to consider how rhetors strategically construct various acts and then weave them together to reinforce particular constructions or, as in this case, to leave us with a sense of mixed motives. Multipentadic analyses also may benefit from considering competing constructions of the same acts, to better understand the contested ground and the culture that gives rise to them.

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Review: "Rhetoric and Ethics in the Cybernetic Age: The Transhuman Condition" by Jeff Pruchnic. Reviewed by Lauren Terbrock-Elmestad

Cover of Rhetoric and Ethics in the Cybernetic Age

Pruchnic, Jeff. Rhetoric and Ethics in the Cybernetic Age: The Transhuman Condition. New
York, Routledge, 2014. 206 pp. $46.95 (paperback); $155.00 (hardcover).

Reviewed by Lauren Terbrock-Elmestad, Saint Louis University

To what extent can videogames be held responsible for human deaths? What are the implications of paying vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, to create Internet material? What does it mean for chatroom users to communicate with a nonhuman entity, such as Burkebot — a language-recognition program that uses a stock of Kenneth Burke quotations? These are some of the questions investigated in the five chapters of Jeff Pruchnic’s book, Rhetoric and Ethics in the Cybernetic Age: The Transhuman Condition. The first two chapters introduce his tasks at hand: one, Pruchnic delineates the historical separation between Platonic philosophy and sophistic rhetoric to aid in his larger goal of bringing logos and techne together to rethink contemporary issues of technology and communication; two, he advocates for transhumanism as the best philosophical framework for achieving the former. Pruchnic relies heavily on Julian Huxley’s definition of transhumanism, which claims that understanding and replicating the processes of the natural world would “lead to a much greater cross-coupling of, or growing indiscernibility between, the natural and the artificial as conceptual categories” (10). The last three chapters utilize and expand Huxley’s definition of transhumanism in particular “cases” of what he suggests as indicative of the contemporary moment we are in. These final three chapters, which utilize theories of Burke, Deleuze, and Nietzsche, among many others, move toward rhetorical ecology as an approach for rethinking current ethical dilemmas of technology and communication, particularly as the human body is implicated in cybernetic loops that inform power distribution and knowledge production. In short, Pruchnic’s overarching claim of the book contends that new technology does not entail dehumanization and homogenization, as critiques of our contemporary moment claim; instead, current technology and communicative modes confirm an intensification of the human in processes of politics, economy, and culture.

Because this review is for the KB Journal, it seems appropriate that I focus on the ways Pruchnic directly engages with Kenneth Burke. Interestingly, the only direct link to Burke is about halfway through the book in the third chapter (the first of his “cases”): “Rhetoric in the Age of Intelligent Machines: Burke on Affect and Persuasion After Cybernetics” (100–19), wherein Pruchnic draws on Burke’s earlier works Counter-Statement and Permanence and Change. Although this is ostensibly the only chapter “about Burke,” Pruchnic’s book appears to fold into itself, making it possible to review it through the lens of Burke. In other words, the ways Pruchnic engages with Burke could be read as the ways Burke folds into the overarching topics of the book — rhetoric, ethics, cybernetics, and transhumanism (if one is to take the title literally) — and vice versa.

Folding is, as Pruchnic points out, a common trope in Burke’s work. So, to think about Burke’s earliest writings on rhetoric and aesthetics folding into the book fits Pruchnic’s goal “to thematize persuasion ‘after cybernetics’ — the ways in which computing technologies and new media have changed the bases of public persuasion” (102). This is a somewhat difficult task to accomplish with Burke considering the fact that Burke was opposed to “the becoming-machine of humans (and vice versa)” (Pruchnic 100) as well as the early cybernetic movement emerging contemporaneously with Burke’s career. However, Pruchnic makes it clear that his attempt to engage Burke with cybernetics is twofold. One, Pruchnic wants readers to rethink Burke’s earliest writings not as undeveloped thoughts on their way to becoming more mature works later on. Instead, Pruchnic sets out to convince readers that Counter-Statement and Permanence and Change are the criticalfoundations for how Burke will continuously investigate many of his recurring topics of human perception and response, or the ways Burke establishes “the crucial site of persuasion . . . neither as the unconscious or false consciousness, but the corporeal” (106). Two, and as a result of one, Pruchnic wants readers to rethink cybernetics, particularly early cybernetics, also as embodied. Challenging claims that cybernetics’ primary “impulse” is “toward disembodiment and the creation of artificial intelligence,” Pruchnic contends that the movement “might aid in transforming human perception and response,” much like Burke’s own sites of inquiry (105).

The thread holding these two goals together for Pruchnic is affect, particularly the role of affect in human perception and response. Burke views affect as one of the determining characteristics of humans as opposed to animals or machines. It is the affective capacities between human bodies that ensure and propagate persuasion as human. While some readings of cybernetics would pit embodiment and artificial intelligence against each other (as noted above), Pruchnic claims that human affect is central to new technology and media’s greater influence in political, economic, and cultural persuasion. Or, human affect becomes indiscernible from artificial processes of communication. Transhumanism, then, brings humanism into question as a pervasive ethical framework and becomes a conduit for rethinking current issues. In other words, the techniques of the human not only enhances but is also enhanced by contemporary technology and communication.

In the first chapter, “The Transhuman Condition,” Pruchnic lays out two shifts in contemporary culture that he sees as defining, of course, the transhuman condition. One is the conception of modernity as associated with constant transition, yet putting the body at stake like never before. The body is used in new ways, which “extends” cultural change “beyond social or experiential factors into more explicitly material and biological realms” (21). For Pruchnic, the rhetorical and ethical implications of this extension is most notable in something like neuromarketing, which he discusses later in the first chapter. Imaging technology, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fRMI) and Electroencephalography (EEG), allows one to see how marketing techniques work beneath the cognitive level, making it easier to target audiences. This brings the embodied — the neurological and biological happenings — to bear on how new technology impacts communication, which is a move away from simply intellectual modes of persuasion. With this in mind, though, readers must remember the second shift that Pruchnic situates as characteristic of the transhuman condition: while contemporary technological and material processes have changed capitalist production, science, politics, and marketing — via microtargeting, to be specific — it has become easier for institutions of social power to take advantage of these new “targets and resources” (22).

Pruchnic makes sure to point out the ethical dangers of this expansion and redistribution, but he encourages readers to see this as ultimately positive. For example, microtargeting possible through contemporary techniques and media creates new networks that become simultaneously more specific, more explicitly collaborative, and more embodied. In chapter two, “The Age of the World Program: The Convergence of Technics and Media,” he challenges Heidegger’s critiques of technology, most notably that “technology produces . . . an ‘unconditional uniformity’ of humankind” (66) and the “essence” of technology as a “compensatory mechanism” to fill a metaphysical void (63). To dispel these Heideggerian myths throughout chapter two, Pruchnic rethinks the Turing Test “not as an epistemological endeavor but as a rhetorical ecology” (84). This means that Pruchnic reads the Turing Test not as a task of determining what is human and what is machine, but rather as a process by which both human and machine engage and perform in complex ways. Or, new modes of persuasion emerge through the capacities of both human and machine to confront assumptions and values previously held as common knowledge.

One way to sum up rhetoric’s investment in that process is Pruchnic’s emphasis on rhetoric as concerned with “a spectrum of directly motivational or persuasive forces” rather than “representation, epistemology, or ideology” (17). Pruchnic’s engagement with Burke becomes apparent through Burke’s concept of Metabiology, an ecological approach to understanding “human actions and thought processes as networked” (Pruchnic 112). Burke is always concerned more with the pragmatic rather than the epistemic. This is most noticeable in his “scope and reduction” strategy (e.g., Four Master Tropes or Five Elements of Dramatism) (Pruchnic 104), as well as his inquiries into how effects are produced and what they do, rather than what effects are or what they should be. At its core, Burke’s Metabiology is such a pragmatic endeavor, as well as a rhetorical ecology. Moreover, Pruchnic makes direct connections between Burke’s Metabiology and cybernetics, particularly through theorizations of feedback, equilibrium, and homeostasis. The interdependence of the human and the material creates phenomena that can no longer be separated by qualitative distinctions, but rather emerge through dynamic processes of cooperation and communication (112). So, while Heidegger’s critique of technology would argue that “our connections to ‘reality’ and each other are increasingly mediated through impersonal and informatic exchanges of various types” (Pruchnic 63), Pruchnic suggests that Burke’s concept of Metabiology opens up new (ecological) ways to rethink affect and agency through phenomena produced through human and machine together.

Rather than a convergence (or separation) of distinct entities, Burke’s Metabiology emphasizes an emergence of body and environment. Pruchnic contends this aspect allows room for rethinking the rhetorical strategies that might be most helpful in intervening in the contemporary forces of social control. In the fourth chapter, “Any Number Can Play: Burroughs, Deleuze, and the Limits of Control,” Pruchnic focuses on the matter of intervention, particularly as he does not envision interventions of contemporary culture as radical reorganizations or total inversions. Instead, as he points out in chapter one, he wants to “figure out how these same techniques already immensely immanent” in contemporary power structures can be reworked and improved to better understand issues of inequality and control (38). In a sense, he wants to unfold and refold current techniques of power and control. In chapter four, then, Pruchnic introduces doxa as a useful term in this folding. He points to doxa (“opinion” or “common belief”) as an unaccounted for concept in the making and remaking of knowledge. As a contrast to episteme (“true knowledge”), he argues that doxa is often left out as a contributing factor in contemporary power and control. In other words, doxa emerges in much the same way as episteme, but is somehow dismissed as passive. For Pruchnic, taking any knowledge for granted, especially common opinion, puts theory’s relevance at stake. Rather than relying on critique, or relying on a concept of returning to some previous state of naturalness, theory should come to terms with its own persuasiveness as a result of taking both doxa and episteme for granted. To do so means “not a resistance to or renunciation of the forces in which one is immersed” (142), but a rethinking of how complacency within current systems of power and technology can be redirected in new ethical frameworks.

The fifth and final chapter of the book, “On the Genealogy of Morals; or, Commodifying Ethics,” deals more directly with the question of ethics, particularly as they are defined in Platonic, rather than sophistic terms. This final chapter, then, attempts to bring logos and techne together at last. He “take[s] up a technological and rhetorical ecology” that “might offer productive strategies for responding to the ethical and political challenges of the present moment” (147), which he suggests are useful for the refolding he proposes in chapter four. Again, the distinction between Platonic philosophy and sophistic rhetoric comes into play; Pruchnic highlights the transhuman body not as separated from but as simultaneously informed by and informing current technological modes of communication. The techniques of contemporary culture in the face of new technology provide affordances for rethinking the ethical implications of distinguishing between “truth” and “persuasion.” Ethics, as they are inextricably linked to our rhetorical modes of persuasion (and thus technologically), are then the commonplaces for contemporary culture, as well as the toolbox by which conventional knowledge emerges and circulates.

Although Pruchnic’s book theorizes the ways rhetoric can be useful in rethinking ethics in our current moment of technology and communication, he never fully articulates how this can be done. This might suggest, then, that the work of redirecting and improving the networks in which we operate is still thetask at hand. With that in mind, Pruchnic’s book reads less as a method for intervening in issues (and uses) of technology today and more like the historical account that will help us — primarily rhetorical scholars — understand how deep dualistic traditions have done us a great disservice and, moving forward, aid in our reimagining of human and machine in productive cybernetic loops.

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Volume 13, Issue 1 Fall 2017

Contents of KB Journal Volume 13, Issue 1 Fall 2017

Kenneth Burke's FBI Files

David Blakesley and Todd Deam FBI Seal

Todd Deam requested Burke's FBI Files in February, 1999. The Justice Department responded within several weeks to say that the files would be made available in "due time." Due time turned out to be only 45 days, in part because the files had been requested previously and thus didn't need to be censored again.

The packet contains twenty pages in all, some of which are inserts of an FBI form indicating that one or more pages is not being released because of exemptions specified in the Freedom of Information Privacy Act. Because of their location in the entire file, the missing pages appear to be from the mid-1950s, but that conclusion is only speculation. You can download the entire FBI file without annotations here. Otherwise, you can review each page and a transcription below.—DB

Page 2

Perhaps the first thing that strikes the attention is the degree to which the documents have been censored. In many cases, items no longer readable will likely contain names of people involved in preparing the report or who may still be living and thus subject to having their privacy protected.

This first document is one of nine to treat the four League of American Writers' (LAW) Congresses. Burke is known to have participated in the first three (1935, 1937, and 1939).

At the first LAW Congress in 1935, he presented the much-discussed speech, "Revolutionary Symbolism in America." (See Simons and Melia, The Legacy of Kenneth Burke, Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1989, for a copy of the speech and reactions.)

This first page of the report provides an overview of the LAW and identifies the content of the report, which appears to be a typical "brief" on the organization's activities. Seven lines from the bottom, the magazine Direction is mentioned.

Page 3

Burke published "Literature as Equipment for Living" in Direction in 1938, as well as a series of essays in 1941-42 on the emergent war: "Americanism." Direction 4 (February 1941): 2, 3; "Where Are We Now?" Direction 4 (December 1941): 3-5. "When 'Now' Becomes 'Then."' Direction 5 (February-March 1942): 5. "Government in the Making." Direction 5 (December 1942): 3-4.

This next document notes that much of the history of the LAW used to construct this brief comes from Eugene Lyons's The Red Decade: The Classic Work on Communism in America During the Thirties. New Rochelle, N.Y., Arlington House, 1991. See also Frank A. Warren's Liberals and Communism: The 'Red Decade' Revisited, 1966, rpt. 1993, NY: Columbia UP.

Burke's name appears right above Erskine Caldwell's.

Page 4

This page concludes the discussion of the first LAW Congress, then begins the narrative of the second one, held in NYC from June 4-6, 1937. Burke presented the speech, "The Relation between Literature and Science," which is republished in The Writer in a Changing World, ed. Henry Hart, NY: Equinox Cooperative Press, 1937, 158-171.

The LAW aimed in particular to fight the growing presence of fascist thinking in America and continued to ally itself with the Soviet Union, whose policies of repression under the Stalinist regime were rumored but as yet unsubstantiated in the U.S.

It should also be noted that the aims of the LAW as published in the brochure preceding the Second Congress were not as specifically supportive of the Soviet Union as were those accompanying the First Congress. The aims in 1937 focus more on role of the writer as a cultural watchdog, a healthy culture being perceived as the best defense against fascism.

Page 5

By this Second Congress, the aims of the LAW had become more focused on advancing the role of the writer as cultural watchdog. The reasoning was that, as stated in the bulletin announcing the meeting, a healthy culture was both the product of freedom of thought and expression, as well as the means of defending "the political and social institutions that make for peace," and by implication, of forestalling fascism's spread to the United States.

There's is no mention here of the Soviet Union or Stalinism, as there was in the announcement for the First Congress. The LAW had begun to back off its support of Stalin amid widespread rumors of his repressive tactics. In hindsight, of course, we now know that these rumors turned out to be true.

Burke is identified on this page as one of the individuals serving on an organizing committee "functioning to make the congress a success."

Page 6

The presence of fascistic thinking in America was of great concern to Burke, as was evidenced in his famous "The Rhetoric of Hitler's 'Battle,'" which was delivered at the Third Congress in June, 1939. The speech was a scaled back version of the essay Burke had already had accepted by The Southern Review and that would appear a month later in July, 1939. This essay also appears in The Philosophy of Literary Form, 1941, rpt. Berkeley: U of California P, 1973.

In "The Rhetoric of Hitler's 'Battle,'" Burke describes his purpose as follows: "let us try also to discover what kind of 'medicine' this medicine-man [Hitler] has 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" (PLF 191).

Page 7

This page includes more names of people associated with the LAW. Burke is listed again, as are some of the following notable figures: Van Wyck Brooks (whose The Flowering of New England, 1815-1865 won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1937); Erskine Caldwell (novelist; Tobacco Road, 1932); Lillian Hellman (dramatist; The Children's Hour, 1934); Muriel Rukeyser (poet; a key figure in the development of feminst poetry in the thirties), Upton Sinclair (The Jungle, 1906; Dragon's Teeth,1942); William Carlos Williams (poet, and Burke's longtime friend); and 29-year-old Richard Wright (Native Son, 1940; Black Boy, 1945).

Page 8

The tone expressed in this description of the 1939 Congress is one of optimism that various writers were withdrawing because the "Communists dominated the L.A.W." It is unlikely that Burke, whose name is still included at the bottom of the page as a "contributor to the material published and discussed in the 1939 congress" would have been one of those who abandoned the "cause" at this stage, having said in later interviews that he was not entirely persuaded to the truth about Stalin until well after World War II.

Thomas Mann, one of the key figures at this Congress, was greatly admired by Burke, who was the first person to translate Mann's Death in Venice into English. Mann had won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929.

Page 9

The next several pages of Burke's file include the "National Membership" of the League of American Writers for "the information of the other Field Divisions." The FBI apparently desired to continute to track the activities of those listed. It's difficult to discern the reasons why so many names have been blacked out, while others remain untouched. Little information on John D. Barry could be found, though there was a San Francisco architect and author who died in 1942 and who may be the same person listed here.

Page 10

Burke's name appears on this page, along with his friend's, William Carlos Williams. Williams and Burke corresponded for over forty years. Their mutual influence has been discussed in such works as Brian Bremen's William Carlos Williams and the Diagnostics of Culture (1993), James East's, One Along Side the Other: The Collected Letters of William Carlos Williams and Kenneth Burke (Ph.D. Diss. U North Carolina, Greensboro, 1994), and in David Blakesley's "William Carlos Williams's Influence on Kenneth Burke," which is published on this website.

Some of you may not know that Williams performed surgery on Burke 1945 to remove a "protuberance" from his mouth. About the incident, Burke writes, "But I was disgusted when you started talking down your next book, while I had such a face full of blood and gauze that I could not defend you against yourself. What bad advertising!" (Dec. 15, 1945; Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University). Williams, of course, was quite pleased to be able to have all the final words on that day.

Page 11

The subject of the next three documents in the files is Walter Lowenfels, whose shipment of 156 "pieces of mail" was seized by the Egg Harbor, NJ, Postmaster because of her determination that "the printed matter contained within the envelopes she had inspected was of a subversive nature." Burke, was one of the addressees.

Walter Lowenfels (1897-1976) was an activist poet and prominent editor throughout his career. According to the dustjacket on his collection of poetry, Reality Prime (1998), he was "among the principal figures in 'the revolution of the word,' the movement to modernize American writing in the early years of this century. He broke major ground as a surrealist and as a politcal poet. Closely identified with Henry Miller and Anais Nin, he was a key figure in the Paris avant-garde during the 1920s and 1930s. After Lowenfels' return to the United States, he was jailed as a Communist. He was a familiar, radical presence in non-academic poetry."

Page 12

The opening quotation on this page describes Lowenfels's arrest by agents of the FBI. It is uncertain whether it is an account of the event that has been quoted from the material within the mailing (and perhaps written by Lowenfels himself).

Lowenfels was editor of the Pennsylvania edition of The Daily Worker, which is likely the newsletter deemed subversive and seized. The oldest of "The Philadelphia Nine," Lowenfels was arrested and prosecuted under the Smith Act in 1953. The Smith Act, otherwise known as The Sedition Act, was used by the Federal government to prosecute Communists during the late forties and early fifties for "inciting the overthrow of the government."

Katherine Anne Porter is the famous short story writer, feminist, and socialist who later in life argued for separating art and politics.

Page 13

Burke would have loved this page from the files. His is the only name not blacked out.

Page 14

This information sheet indicates that four pages have been withheld from this location in the file. The deletions were made for reasons 552-b.2, b.7.C, and b.7.C). The numbers refer to items in the Freedom of Information Act law, which states the following:

b.7.C: "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

b.7.D: "could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source, including a State, local, or foreign agency or authority or any private institution which furnished information on a confidential basis, and, in the case of a record or information compiled by a criminal law enforcement authority in the course of a criminal investigation or by an agency conducting a lawful national security intelligence investigation, information furnished by a confidential source."

Page 15

Once again, the FBI has withheld two pages from the file, on the basis that it

b.7.C: "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

Interestingly, such decisions may be appealed. Burke would appreciate the simplicity of the rhetoric required (in italics):

"There is no specific form or particular language needed to file an administrative appeal. You should identify the component that denied your request and include the initial request number that the component assigned to your request and the date of the component's action. If no request number has been assigned, then you should enclose a copy of the component's determination letter. There is no need to attach copies of released documents unless they pertain to some specific point you are raising in your administrative appeal. You should explain what specific action by the component that you are appealing, but you need not explain the reason for your disagreement with the component's action unless your explanation will assist the appeal decision-maker in reaching a decision. " (From the The Department of Justice Freedom of Information Act Reference Guide )

Page 16

Yet again, three more pages have been withheld from this location in the file because it has been deemed that releasing the information would violate someone's right to privacy.

In sum, nine pages of material have been withheld, which is roughly one-third of the entire file, all from the period between the previous entry (1954) and the next, which is from 1956.

That period was, of course, during the height of the McCarthy frenzy in the United States, a time when hundreds of thousands of civilians were being recruited by the U.S. Air Force as plane spotters amid fear of an invasion by the "Red Menace."

Burke was during this period producing work for The Rhetoric of Religion and for his Symbolic of Motives, which he still planned to complete and that only appeared in fragments in other works, such as Language as Symbolic Action (1966), until the posthumous publication of Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950–1955 in 2007.

Page 17

The next two documents concern Lily Batterham, who was Burke's first wife and the sister of his second wife, Libbie. According to the record, Burke and Lily were officially divorced in 1933.

The FBI believes that Lily was a member of the Communist Party. Burke himself claimed that he was never a card-carrying member, and nothing in the FBI file seems to contradict that.

JSSS stands for "Jefferson School of Social Science."

Page 18

The Jefferson School for Social Science was designated by the Attorney General as having "affiliation with the Communist movement." The evidence for that has been blacked out, and the document ends here.

Page 19

From the late forties on, Linus Pauling, as a member of Einstein's Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, actively sought to educate people about the dangers of nuclear war. Pauling won the Presidential Medal of Merit in 1948 and the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1954. According to his Nobel biography, in the early fifties and again in the early sixties, he encountered accusations of being pro-Soviet or Communist, allegations which he categorically denied. For a few years prior to 1954, he had restrictions placed by the Department of State on his eligibility to obtain a passport.

This Peace Rally took place in 1961. In 1962, Pauling won his second Nobel Prize (the only person ever to win two) for his peace efforts. Interestingly and because of a technicality, Pauling didn't officially receive his high school diploma until 1962.

The list of sponsors of this event appears on the next page.

Page 20

"Prof. Kenneth Burke, Andover, N.J." is the seventh name down in the lefthand column.

Burke, of course, was deeply concerned with the dangerous machinery of war, the ultimate disease of cooperation. In a letter to William Carlos Williams on Oct. 12, 1945, just two months after atomic bombs had struck Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Burke wrote:

Meanwhile, weather permitting, I sally forth with my scythe each afternoon, to clear the weeds from the fields about the house. I have driven the wilderness back quite a bit, since the last time you were here (at least in some places, though it is patient, and ever ready to catch me napping, and move in here as soon as I go there). So, while scything, in a suffering mood, I worry about our corrupt newspapers, about nucleonics (for where there is power there is intrigue, so this new fantastic power may be expected to call forth intrigue equally fantastic), about things still to be done for the family, about a sentence that should never have been allowed to get by in such a shape. (Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University).


Todd Deam was the project coordinator who acquired Burke's FBI Files and transcribed them for publication in PDF format. David Blakesley prepared the images for web publication and wrote the running commentary. Kathy Elrick also prepared some HTML files and images.

Conflict and Communities: The Dialectic at the Heart of the Burkean Habit of Mind [Keynote Address]

James F. Klumpp, Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland

Webster's defines "keynote" as "a prevailing tone or central theme, typically one set or introduced at the start of a conference." But as you are well aware, we have already had two and a half wonderful days of our conference. "How," I was forced to ask myself, "will my voice key the notes emanating from the conference?" Perhaps, I thought, I should listen to your projects over these first two days and then hide myself away Friday night to prepare the definitive synopsis of your ideas—leading you where you wanted to go, as it were.

Now, I assume that at least one of the reasons why Nathan and Annie Laurie issued their request to me to address you is that I am one of those—shall we say "elderly sages" or "old buffaloes"?—who were fortunate enough to have spent time with the stimulus to our study, Kenneth Burke. And my thought of spending Friday evening preparing my remarks reminded me of a Burkean moment. I was fortunate enough to host KB at a conference that Jim Ford and I put together in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1984. It was a marvelous conference on the subject of Critical Pluralism bringing together many of the great thinkers of the twentieth century including Richard McKeon, Wayne Booth, Robert L. Scott, Bruce Ehrlich, Ihad Hassan, Ellen Rooney, Stanley Fish, and of course, Kenneth Burke. The soon to be eighty-seven-year-old Burke was scheduled to present on the third morning of the conference. With no little amount of concern, I arrived early at the hotel to retrieve my charge for breakfast. I rang his room . . . , and rang, and rang. No answer. Finally, a weak voice answered. "What time is it?" "It's 8:30 KB. You are on in an hour and a half." "Oh, my gosh, I was up all night nailing that Howdy Wit," he said. I knew immediately he meant Hayden White who had spoken the day before. And, then I realized that Burke had rewritten his presentation that would take place within hours as a response to White's presentation that had riled his feathers. "I think I will skip breakfast and sleep a bit more." "You can't do that KB," I pleaded. "You need to have something to eat." Finally, he agreed to meet me for a bowl of cereal and some juice before we walked to the conference.

As the hour for his presentation arrived, he was certainly himself. The day before had ended with a presentation by Richard McKeon, who had ridden the ferry back and forth with Burke when they were studying together at Columbia University a century ago . . . in 1917 (Seltzer, 41). It was my distinct honor to host the last dinner that these two greatest humanists of the 20th century shared; McKeon would die within the year. For posterity it was at the Glass Onion in Lincoln, Nebraska. Anyway, I digress. That morning in March 1984, as Burke rose to speak, I realized that the appearance of these two displayed perfectly the contrasting habits of mind that made them so wise and so valuable to all of us working in their wake. McKeon, the day before, was as McKeon always was. He was immaculately coiffed, nattily and carefully attired in a three piece suit with a sparkling watch chain perfectly arced across his five button vest, visible through the perfect hang of his open suit coat. His wing tips were polished to a spit shine. He spoke in full sentences with each word seemingly measured. His presentation was easily outlined by those so inclined and each of his claims was presented clearly, explained precisely, and supported thoroughly.

Now this morning, the group was to hear from his counterpart in the humanistic Valhalla, Kenneth Burke. Burke's hair was in disarray. He wore a shirt that hadn't seen an iron in some time, and a green sweater lay askew around his shoulders, unbuttoned, with it quite obvious that none of those buttons were about to meet their corresponding button hole. Pants sagged just a bit. His loafers showed the mud generated from the rain the day before. As he approached the podium a sheath of yellow legal size sheets in his hand bore the unmistakable scribbles of his night's work. And sure enough, we were to hear him glide quickly from topic to topic, sometimes uttering a sentence, sometimes a fragment, sometimes a mere word, fumbling with the order of his pages, arms flailing, every once in a while breaking into that impish smile and saying "You know what I mean?" And we did. Maybe not fully grasping every thought, but certainly we understood the insightful direction he was leading us.

White sat somewhat uncomfortably, recognizing that he had been upstaged. I cannot remember the full impact of their dispute after 33 years, but I do remember the exchange that followed Burke's presentation. As I opened the floor to questions White's hand rose gingerly into the air. "It is my view that we think too little these days," White offered, "about death." Looking every year of his age, the nearly eighty-seven-year-old Burke did not pause. "Well, you may not think about it much, but I pretty much think about it all the time," he responded. The room broke into laughter and we were off to a rewarding intellectual parlor conversation.

Well, Burke would be Burke, but I decided I should not follow his example and spend a sleep-deprived Friday night preparing my remarks. For one thing, I am not as quick and witty as KB at his best, especially when sleep-deprived. But more than that, I do in fact have a message to deliver after my many years of interacting personally, and through his writings and mine, with the person who keynotes our conference far beyond my humble abilities to add or detract.

I want to make clear that I view my task today as something other than to tell you: "This is what the master actually meant." I will leave the exegesis to others. Nor am I here to declare precisely how we must now go beyond what Burke taught because the world has changed. Indeed, my pursuit is subject to neither a specific time nor a specific place. When I read Burke and similar scholarly models, I try to understand how they think through problems. "Habits of mind" is the term I used to refer to McKeon and Burke earlier: the characteristic way they array our understanding as they explain the world they experience. When we master such a habit of mind we advance our own capacity to richly encounter the experience that is life. We have not mastered an understanding, but acquired a way of seeing.

My last metaphor here has been visual which recalls one of my favorite Burkean figures: the two launches in the photograph hanging in the Museum of Modern Art. In the introduction to A Grammar of Motives, Burke described an incredibly complicated photograph: an intricate tracery of lines. But if the viewer briefly closed her eyes, opened them and looked again at the photo, she saw simplicity rather than complexity: two boats proceed side by side generating the interlocking patterns of their wakes (xvi). So, what I want to do today is to talk about what I take as a habit of mind that continually plays out in Burke's thought and journey, the simplicity of which is obscured by our seeing only the complication of his writing. Now, I will also warn you that I do not propose something made simple from cultural familiarity. No, indeed. This habit of mind has been largely lost to our culture because of our intellectual traditions and the politics of the twentieth century. Part of the reason we must seek it anew is that against our cultural and intellectual normality the habit of mind marks Burke as an aberration, not as a simple essence.

A Habit of Mind

Time to locate that habit of mind. I believe the best approach will be by triangulating the pattern, first from the perspective of our conference theme: conflict. The conference website traces the term back to its Latin roots: "to strike together." Over the years—specifically since the 1600s if we believe the OED—the term has acquired its more social meanings of combat, quarrel, or competition. I want to take my cue from the program and return to that Latin root. Two things are required for that meaning, (1) difference and (2) a vector that hurls the aspects of that difference into each other: to strike together. I think there is a word that will serve us better to communicate the imperative: "tension." I believe that Burke saw the world as composed—transitive and intransitive—through tension. Moments are given shape by the striking together. Understanding follows grasping the tensions that animate moments.

To continue the triangulation, consider a second approach: a little thought experiment. When we humans meet a moment and begin to engage it as an experience, what do we do? Many of us typically categorize: What just happened? What word best describes it? What other moment is this one like? We invoke these basic analytic tools: abstracting, naming, analogy. But I think Burke's habit of mind went at it with a slight difference. I think he experienced by seeking the tension that drew the moment into focus. What "striking together" compels us into the moment? Does it confront our expectations? Does its release of energy invite or threaten us? Are we called to become involved in resolution? What inherent conflict—what inherent energy—drew us into the moment?

Burke envisions this moment most explicitly in the beginning paragraphs of Attitudes Toward History. His living human critic—remember all living things are critics (P & C, 5)—embraces the tension of her moment. She senses the tension—the friendly and unfriendly—and having now constructed experience, begins to work into it, through the offices of human symbolic acts (ATH, 3-4).

The third perspective of our triangulation may finally put a recognizable name on this habit of mind for you: a focus on Burkean dialectic. Dialectical terms are everywhere in Burke's thinking and writing: permanence and change, identity and identification, actus and stasis, merger and division, the list goes on. These pairs emphasize how words do not define through their platonic ideal, but through their relationship with other terms. These dialectics mark tensions and they make the case for the centrality of tension. In terms of the meaning of words they reject referential theory—meaning is correspondence with a located reality—and point instead to meaning in use in context—a contextualist theory of meaning. And Burke was a major figure in the rise of contextualism in the twentieth century, perhaps its most thorough philosopher. When he considered the three orders of terms in A Rhetoric of Motives—positive, dialectical, and ultimate—it is in the dialectical order where humans live. Burke characterized this as "competing voices in a jangling relation with one another" (187). (As an aside we should note that even with the positive order of terms Burke invoked Kant to see them as "a manifold of sensations unified by a concept" (183). Thus, even a positive term is not in its essence a pointing, but a merger—a striking together.) Humans live in a web of connections where things strike together. Like the mental trick of blinking the eyes and seeing the intricate tracery turn into simplicity, encountering through abstracting, naming, and analogy disappears into a different habit of mind: dialectical tension.

This latter way into dialectic, however, emphasizes the role of words—of language, of symbolic action. After all, Burke's most concise definition of dialectic, that in A Grammar of Motives, proclaims, "By DIALECTICS in the most general sense we mean the employment of the possibilities of linguistic transformation" (402). Elsewhere, I have argued that Burke's dialectic differs from Hegel's philosophical dialectic and Marx's historical dialectic because it is a linguistic dialectic ("Rapprochement," 157). The symbol-using and mis-using animal differs because of the symbolic capacity. With language we project ourselves into the action of the world in conjunction with others. Our epistemological, sociological, and behavioral encounters develop within the capacity for language.

Well, dialectic can be complicated, particularly in Burke's hands. So, let me finally cut to a simplistic explanation: the simplest shorthand for understanding the habit of mind is the substitution of the "both/and" dialectic for the "either/or" binary. Either/or is the binary of mechanistic, referential habits of mind. The binary performs categorization and leads toward essences, platonic ideals, and what I call "hardening of the categories." Both/and turns the other way, emphasizing that division in the merger/division dialectic always draws back toward merger. Tension lies in their field of contestation—their striking together. So insistent am I that this is a key to Burke's thought that when my students parody me, they do so most often by simply mouthing in unison "both/and." But what their simplification leaves out is the complexity that opens up once our habit of mind turns to dialectical tension. For now, the contours of the striking together compel attention. What are the claims of the "and" in "both/and"? What narrative is set into action by the merger? And where does division defy the merger?

I see this as Burke's native habit of mind. Experience tension. Find the energy generated by the striking together. Accommodate both/and. Tease difference into the drive toward merger that inheres in every distinction. When encountering the either/or, transform it into its comparable both/and. Humanity—the human genius—lies in negotiating tension through the power of symbolic action.

Conflict and Communities

Of course, human action is at the center of this habit of mind. So, I suspect you are thinking about the both/and of our conference theme: conflict and communities. Going to that more socially focused pairing may provide an even fuller appreciation of Burke's habit of mind. Burke certainly formulated a sociology, developed by his disciples including most notably Hugh Dalziel Duncan and Joseph Gusfield, built on the constructs of other important contextualists in sociology, notably George Herbert Mead. There is no doubt of the presence of social concepts in Burke's work. He exploited the figure of the Tower of Babel linking language and diversity, and lodging the charge to humans to overcome that diversity through language. He exploited the figure of the wrangle of the barnyard. He portrayed war as the epitome of both cooperation and division, illustrating the extremity of dialectical tension and the both/and. He gave a central role in A Rhetoric of Motives to the dialectic of identity and identification that stresses how life is lived within the tension between the biologically autonomous individual and the loquacious inventor of community. The flow of life framed in those first two pages of Attitudes Toward History was a portrayal of communities managing the tensions of history through rhetorical interaction.

The key to understanding Burkean sociology is to grasp two things about his view. First, sociology is derived from the linguistic. Humans are the symbol using and misusing animal. Throughout daily life they transform the resources, the potentialities, of language to construct relations with their fellows, friendly and unfriendly. We are reminded that those two comm- words—community and communication—are intricately related to each other. One inheres in the other. The division in that conjunction "and" must be countermanded by the merger of "both/and." Conflict arises within the shared dialectical transformation of the linguistic into both rhetoric and social order. Perhaps this is a perfect moment to repeat the meaning of both/and, emphasizing the dialectic necessity of always forcing division into merger and vice versa.

The second key to Burke's sociology is this: Life is lived in the experiencing, creating, and cathartic relieving of dialectical tension. The concept of narrative, for example, arises from the interlocking of language and social action. No understanding of human interaction works well without understanding the linguistic transformation performed therein. I have argued elsewhere that this is the error of many treatments of Burke and hierarchy: separating the social hierarchy from the linguistic—seeing them as sequential causality—when instead they should be considered as dialectical performance. What is inevitable in hierarchy is simply how language inherently invokes and orders distinctions, and that inherent capacity is a linguistic resource, there to be exploited or transformed into the merger that is social order ("Burkean Social Hierarchy," 210-18).

Conflict and community are inextricably linked within the linguistic dialectic. Community naturally produces and is a product of conflict performed with the resources of human language. As conflict seems to divide, it requires and produces the cooperation from which the identity of communities emerges. This structural necessity illustrates again the power of both/and: conflict which seems to mark the divisions within a community is transformed as it performs the constructive process that reinforces the dance of community relations.

What Difference It Makes

I fear that I am guilty of multiplying a Burkean patois beyond easy assimilation, so let me move toward implications to illuminate what difference this Burkean habit of mind makes. Let me begin where my great teacher Bernie Brock always went: to contemporary politics. Obviously, those of us in the United States are now caught in a toxic political culture. Division is the order of the day, reason seems to have fled, and the line between words and violence seems quite thin. Conflict, indeed. Lamentation is heard daily, deploring the demise of civility, within a surrogate self-flagellation performed by our political intellectuals.

But if the habit of mind projects tension as natural, particularly in the human barnyard of politics, then the contemporary moment is reimagined. The best way to grasp this is to recall Burke negotiating the 1930s. As my co-keynoter Ann George and Jack Selzer have well documented, Burke was deeply involved in the intense political conflict of the 1930s. The politics of that decade were shaped by the tension between stability and anomie, the dialectic of permanence and change. Within that dialectic, democratic politics manifests permanence in consensus and change in ideological turmoil. At that time, as today, turmoil was clearly ascendant, but the yearning for the re-emergence of consensus was palpable. These were times appropriate to seeing politics as a striking together.

To complete the habit of mind, however, we must remember that Burke's dialectic invokes linguistic transformation. It is wise to ponder for a moment the perspective that gave rise to his two greatest political tracts: "The Rhetoric of Hitler's 'Battle'" and "Revolutionary Symbolism in America." They represent the both/and of another tension Burke lived, which I have characterized as "linguistic realism and social activism" ("Burkean Social Hierarchy," 218). The critic of "The Rhetoric of Hitler's 'Battle'" saw how political cultures constructed their motives from powerful symbolic resources with dramatic social consequences. He sought to divulge "what kind of 'medicine' this medicine-man has concocted" (PLF, 191). He worried out loud about the use of this medicine in America. In his deconstruction of the link between language and malignant political power lay the possibility of linguistic transformation of political motive.

In contrast, the social activist of "Revolutionary Symbolism" later described the intensity with which he approached his speech to the First American Writer's Congress: "I really wanted to get in with those guys." His message that day aimed at persuasion: the American party needed to adopt a vocabulary that would motivate Americans to their banner.

These two essays with their different approaches enact the merger of more tensions: the dialectic between identification with a political community and assertion of an individual political identity, paired with a tension between language's power to coordinate action through motive and the rhetor's power of persuasion to move others. Burke lived in a world which sought to bring these various tensions together in the service of linguistic transformation.

Would Burke deplore the state of our democracy? Sure, . . . in his comic way. For ironically, in the chest-pounding lament for our lost democracy today there is a surprising void of linguistic transformation. Today's public intellectuals seem to not only lack a Rexford Tugwell and William F. Buckley, they also lack an H. L. Mencken or Will Rogers. Where are the voices celebrating and invoking transcendent values to foster identification? Where are the narratives to envision a democratic resolution? The habit of mind that saw first the natural tension that defines democratic politics would seek to tease resolution, even within energetic critique.

Babel, however, was not just about politics. Genesis tells us that the Lord said, "Let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth" (King James Version, Genesis 11:7-8). Thus, the Judeo-Christian Bible linked language, understanding, and the diversity of communities. In the dialectic of his confounding, the Lord fashioned the challenge for humans to overcome their diversity. Today, in the conjunction of globalization and racism, that challenge is foremost. How would a habit of mind that began by seeing a striking together encounter the challenge?

In our world, the tensions of globalization versus tribalism (and its variant nationalism) manifest in the social conflicts that are terrorism and racism. Within their intense rancor, it is so hard to see the need for linguistic transformation.

But perhaps nowhere is the need for linguistic transformation more vivid. Underlying the current talk about these divisions is an understanding that language plays a role. The war on terror invokes the Manichean judgment of "evil" and prescribes "war," "killing the infidel," and "annihilation." Pejoratives such as "radicalized" and "hate speech" describe the language of the other in this Babel. Less prominently condemned is the dominant culture's voice: the symbolic aggression of cultural hegemony. Yet, to this point, the strategies that would transform the issues of cultural clash and once again invoke that powerful symbol of Christmas 1968—the image of the big blue marble rising above the moon—are wanting. Seeing the problem in these terms challenges this habit of mind to pull humans back toward identification and community.

It seems to this point I have sought the significance of this habit of mind exclusively on the conflict side of our conference theme. Hopefully the both/and that drives the two words of our theme together has not been lost as I have emphasized political and social conflict. So, let me ponder where we go if we emphasize the comm- side of the theme. And let me focus on that comm- interest in which most of us are occupied in some way or another: communication.

In our age, that focus teases out concern about the new technologies of communication. Late in life Burke saw and wrote about the dangers of technology, but I think he could not have foreseen the internet and the other new technologies of communication. If we begin with his habit of mind, however, and look through the eyes of dialectic, certain observations follow. At a rudimentary level, a habit of mind that begins in an inquiry of how tension draws moments into context compels students of language to engage the emerging concern with the economy of attention (Lanham). The difference is profound when tension is not the product but is the initiate of communication. A Burkean view on the economy of attention is ripe for work.

But at a more focused level, understanding the impact of the new communication technologies may be opened by their power to illustrate the dialectic of merger and division. The promise of the universality of the internet is to electronically remove divisive barriers that limit communication, to permit identification across geography and, with electronic translation, even across languages. Now, it seems, the people of earth have a new tool to overcome the Lord's decree at Babel. But alas, just as dialectic would promise, in the trajectory of the new technologies of communication the prospect of merger has confronted the reality of division. It turned out that easy access opened the power of the receiver over the author—Who shall I choose to hear?—and the openness multiplied rather than merged divisive voices. The dialectic tension created by the multiplied voices has been matched by a tension in the strategy of voice: the tension between identification—"We are one!"—and identity—"Because we are better than them!" So the new technologies have accelerated social conflict rather than resolved it. We can observe in the chatter within the new technologies, just as Burke observed about war, identification and identity enhancing both merger and division.

I do not foresee the linguistic transformation that will hasten the full potential of the new technology. We do remember that humans are "separated from their natural condition by instruments of their own making" (LSA, 16). But perhaps there are lessons in the two previous technological crises through which Burke navigated. In one—nuclear energy—we seem to have achieved a passing grade on our linguistic transformation of its potential to destroy us. At least until the potential is reignited by another linguistic transformation. The other technological crisis—the environment and global warming—is unfinished. Even Stephen Hawking is now joining the Helhaven essay's projection for the human race, albeit giving humans a bit longer to escape to another world (Holley). But linguistic transformations critique the struggle in motives that may yet save the planet. We shall see.

I finally want to consider the comm- side of our theme in concerns perhaps more familiar to many in this room: in the human capacity for creative strategic communication. How can those of us who study language and communication exploit the habit of mind that experiences human action within a striking together? Where is the potential in such habit of mind? Without fully documenting, let me charge that our tendency throughout the twentieth century was too often to view discourse and meaning referentially, and to generalize about its effects and the author's goals and achievements. We were failed stewards of dialectic. For many years of that century I taught and supervised others teaching argumentation. One of the hardest lessons for students in that classroom to learn was the concept of stasis—the point at issue in an argument; what the arguer was striking together. The notion that messages were expressions of an author's inner thoughts as a starting place for understanding was simply too strongly ingrained in the twentieth century mind.

So, if we do begin to see a message as capturing a tension—discourse contextualizing a moment into a striking together—several important things follow. We will see a text as both individual text and as context. We will see each of the terms of this dialectic pulling on the other: context arising from text and forcing limits on text. We will overcome the isolation of authorship as expression of identity and put the author's voice into relationship with engagement, toward identification. In the process, we must look always, through the strategies of messaging, into the motivational quality of language in a symbolic driven world. The result is to see more clearly the dynamic nature of the world and the role that the human capacity for symbolicity plays in that dynamism. We will become—with all living things—critics.

The Contextualist Way

I warned at the beginning that I would refuse two burdens in my keynote. First, I would refuse to "interpret the master's words." I renounced exegesis. By pursuing the habit of mind instead—moving beyond the words with the metaphor of two launches as guide—my challenge to you today is to approach your work from a more fundamentally altered orientation. Second, I promised to avoid the argument that in this new world Burke needed to be reinterpreted. Indeed, there is nothing time-bound in my message. The habit of mind I have emphasized is an alternative that opens up paths of response in any moment, past, present or future. My challenge is to try it on as Burke did. Use this habit of mind and see how it opens up the world differently. There are reasons why dialectical thinking has been so difficult in the twentieth century. But I do not have time to fully explore the historical barriers today. I would hasten to add, however, that I believe the case to pursue this habit of mind emerges strongly from its silencing in the past. And my thesis is that in seeing Burke's contribution to this well-established intellectual habit of mind we will advance our own understanding.

In characterizing his take on dialectic, I referred to Burke as perhaps the greatest philosopher of contextualism in the twentieth century. Let me end by returning there. As many disciplines developed through the twentieth century, contextualism as a mode of inquiry challenged the mechanistic view of the world. The terms here are Stephen Pepper's. Others have used different terms: humanism challenging science, interpretation challenging measurement, the subjective challenging the objective, and others. What contextualism championed was the role that the symbolic played in humans experiencing and participating in their world. The human assertion of text reached into the environment to construct context into meaning and ultimately into action. Burke's habit of mind developed through the century as he interacted with others to refine this way of thinking about humanity and its relationship to the material world. He elaborated the implications of the contextualist viewpoint: text gathered context and in its strategic core—what Burke referred to as the "great central moltenness" (GM, xix)—transformed meaning and coordinated action, by resolving the tensions emerging in interpretation. Words do not reflect change. Words do work; words perform change. Words—symbols—achieve linguistic transformation.

There is much potential in this spirit as we go forward. Those of us working to understand and guide humanity have not exhausted the potentialities of this habit of mind, of the Burkean dialectic. Much is promised by encountering the world with the different questions generated by this habit of mind: What tension drew us into the moment? What "striking together" compels us into this moment? Does the tension confront our expectations? Does its release of energy invite or threaten us? Are we called to become involved in its resolution? What inherent conflict—what inherent energy—drew us into the moment? And what resources that we can call upon as a symbol user and mis-user will guide us toward transforming our moment to join with our fellow symbolic using and misusing animals in inventing our tomorrows?

The text of this essay was first presented as a keynote address at the 2017 Conference of the Kenneth Burke Society on June 10, 2017.

Works Cited

Burke, Kenneth. Attitudes Toward History. 1937; Berkeley: U of California Press, 1984. Print.

—. A Grammar of Motives. 1945; Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

—. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays in Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966. Print.

—. Permanence and Change, 3rd ed. 1935; Berkeley: U of California P, 1983. Print.

—. Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1941. Print.

—. "Revolutionary Symbolism in America" (speech, American Writer's Congress, New York, 26 April 1935). The Legacy of Kenneth Burke. Ed. Herbert W. Simons and Trevor Melia. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1989, pp. 267-73. Print.

—. A Rhetoric of Motives. 1950; Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

—. "Towards Helhaven: Three Stages of a Vision" Sewanee Review 79.1 (Winter 1971): 11-25. Print.

George, Ann, and Jack Seltzer. Kenneth Burke in the 1930s. Columbia: U of South Carolina Press, 2007. Print.

Holley, Peter. "Stephen Hawking Just Moved up Humanity's Deadline for Escaping Earth," Washington Post, 5 May 2017. Blog.

Klumpp, James F. "A Rapprochement Between Dramatism and Argumentation," Argumentation and Advocacy 29.4 (Spring 1993): 148-63. Print.

—. "Burkean Social Hierarchy and the Ironic Investment of Martin Luther King." Kenneth Burke and the 21st Century. Ed. Bernard L. Brock. Albany: SUNY P, 1999, pp. 207-42. Print.

Lanham, Richard. The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2006. Print.

Pepper, Stephen. World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence. Berkeley: U of California P, 1942. Print.

Selzer, Jack. Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village: Conversing with the Moderns, 1915-1931. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1996. Print.

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A Scapegoat for the Scapegoats: Investigating AIDS Patient Zero

Erin Doss, Indiana University Kokomo

Twenty-nine years after headlines proclaimed Gaetan Dugas as "Patient Zero" and "The Man Who Brought Us AIDS," Dugas's name appeared in headlines again, this time declaring Dugas was not singularly responsible for bringing HIV to the United States (Howard). A team of researchers in 2016 revisited samples collected from early AIDS patients and found that AIDS in the United States can be traced to multiple sources, including a pre-existing Caribbean outbreak. Although the study did not pinpoint the exact origin point of AIDS in the United States, it did establish that Dugas was not AIDS "Patient Zero," or even the first to demonstrate AIDS symptoms (Woroby et al.). Although Dugas's name has been cleared (32 years after his death), he will always have a significant role in stories of the AIDS epidemic. First identified as Patient Zero by Randy Shilts in his 1987 book And the Band Played On, Dugas was characterized as a beautiful, charismatic playboy who loved attention and casual sex with partners around the world. He was the center of every party he attended and had a wealth of friends and lovers. When he was diagnosed with Kaposi's sarcoma (a form of skin cancer often found in early AIDS patients), and later with AIDS, according to Shilts Dugas continued to pursue his promiscuous lifestyle, infecting hundreds of partners. Dugas's story is interspersed throughout Shilts's chronologically-organized book, a few paragraphs at a time, as relayed to Shilts by Dugas's friends and lovers. Shilts did not argue that Dugas was directly responsible for the AIDS epidemic, but, as reviewer Sandra Panem of Science suggested, this was not made clear to readers until page 439 of Shilts's 629-page book. Panem argued that "anyone knowledgeable knows that to pin a global epidemic on the actions of a single individual is absurd" (qtd. in "National" G2), yet that is exactly what happened in the fall of 1987.

Naming Dugas "Patient Zero" was not Shilts's immediate objective when writing And the Band Played On. Instead, he hoped to illuminate the role the media, the medical community, and the government played in allowing the AIDS epidemic to spread. Shilts was an openly gay reporter and, in the early 1980s, the only journalist in the United States covering AIDS with any regularity. Through his reporting, he became recognized as one of the only homosexual voices advocating for gay AIDS patients in the media. Shilts was the "only reporter in America who made AIDS his beat. … Shilts alone was able to tell when individuals and organizations were telling the truth. He knew the whole story" (Jones 6D). Shilts was at times ostracized by the homosexual community for his decision to write about gay sexual practices, sometimes in graphic detail, and to condemn gay leaders for their lack of effective action in curbing the epidemic (Sterel 13). However, he was known by those outside the community as a "gay activist" (Chase) and was credited with saving countless lives through his AIDS writing (Kinsella qtd. in Shaw, "A Critical" 7D).

When Shilts's book was published, however, the majority of related news coverage centered on Patient Zero. The idea of having a single target to blame for the AIDS epidemic grabbed media attention the way a reasoned, researched condemnation of government policy did not. The (often false) claims made about Dugas and attributed to Shilts created a myth of Patient Zero that I argue served to assuage the fear and guilt felt by both the homosexual community and the larger heterosexual society, and both further divided and in some ways created what Kenneth Burke referred to as "curative unification" (Philosophy 219) between the gay community and heterosexuals. However, I argue that by presenting the media with a scapegoat, Shilts built a narrative based on homophobia and provided society with a reason to ignore his carefully researched argument that the federal government and scientific community were responsible for the spread of AIDS. I build on current scapegoating literature by analyzing the case of a reporter who worked to resist the scapegoating of his community by providing two alternative scapegoats—one consciously and one seemingly unconsciously. I argue that ultimately Shilts failed to remove the gay community from its role as scapegoat and at the same time provided gays and heterosexuals with a common scapegoat, Patient Zero.

I first provide an explication of Burke's scapegoating process as it relates to my analysis and then further explain the situation of Patient Zero and the circumstances and rhetoric through which he became the ultimate AIDS scapegoat.

Burke and the Scapegoat

The concept of a scapegoat long outdates Burke, as the term originated in the biblical Old Testament when the Israelites were commanded to sacrifice a goat to atone for their individual and collective sin. Burke recognized the origin of the term and argued that a scapegoat could be denoted and slain symbolically through discourse. In Burke's usage, creating a scapegoat rhetorically involves three relationships between the scapegoat and society. Each of these relationships is imperative to the scapegoating process—guilt, purification, and redemption. If one aspect is missing, the scapegoating mechanism fails to function (Kuypers and Gellert). The first of these relationships is "an original state of merger," in which the scapegoat and the rest of society share the same "iniquities" in religious language, meaning the same feelings of guilt, fear, and/or uncertainty (Grammar 406). Often this guilt arises from the unavoidable hierarchies in society—as Burke noted, order is "impossible without hierarchy" (Attitudes 374). Such hierarchies are often understood in terms of good versus evil and participants must prove themselves worthy of their place in the hierarchy (Carter 9). As the moral order further builds up the hierarchy, it produces a sense of inferiority, which leads to feelings of imperfection and the need for purification. This need is intensified when those within the hierarchy are faced with the very real possibility of their impending death. The fear of death, then, in Carter's interpretation of Burke, is the "real director of the drama" (17). As a hierarchy must come to terms with its own imminent demise, those within the hierarchy begin to abuse power to compensate for their fear and uncertainty, thus creating a greater load of guilt. This guilt, then, needs to be dealt with in one of two ways according to Burke: mortification, the acceptance of guilt by society in an attempt to wash it away, or scapegoating, the process of placing the blame on someone else—the perfect vessel who both shares society's iniquities and embodies those iniquities in some way, whether tangible or through a rhetorical construction. The scapegoat is chosen because they are "worthy" of sacrifice, whether because they are seen as "an offender against legal or moral justice" who deserves punishment or are considered a candidate for "poetic justice," a vessel "'too good for this world'" (Philosophy 40).

Once chosen, Burke's vessel experiences a rhetorical "principle of division," in which the "elements shared in common are being ritualistically alienated" (1969a, p. 406). Through discourse, rhetors in some way shift society's fear, guilt, and/or uncertainty to the scapegoat, who becomes the embodied representative of society's iniquities. The scapegoat is then separated from society—rhetorically and in some cases physically. The scapegoat begins to represent "those infectious evils from which the group wants to be released" (Carter 18). As this happens, the scapegoat is forced out of society's discourse, taking with them the iniquities of society. As the scapegoat takes on the societal guilt, those remaining experience what Burke terms a "new principle of merger," in which society comes together under a new, "pure identity" created in "dialectical opposition" to the sacrifice (Grammar 406). Through this process society is saved by the alienation of the scapegoat, as "antithesis helps reinforce unification by scapegoat" (Language 19).

Although those viewing the situation from the outside may question the creation of a scapegoat, Burke posits that individuals within the situation feel a sense of catharsis as the blame is shifted and society is saved and brought together through the process of victimage. Burke clarifies that he is not saying scapegoating should bring feelings of catharsis and seem normal or natural, but that within literature, history, and rhetoric, this seems to be the result experienced by those within the situation (Permanence 16).

At the center of the scapegoating process is language. Burke argued that language is not neutral, but is "loaded with judgements," making speech an "intensely moral" act that gives hearers social cues about how to act toward objects and individuals (i.e., treating them as desirable or undesirable). Language, then, is a "system of attitudes, of implicit exhortations" (Permanence 177). For Burke, the way a person is referred to in conversation outlines a course of action toward that person. By considering the implications of discourse beyond the conversation or written text, Burke argued that language shapes reality and facilitates action—how a person is spoken about results in actions taken toward that person ("Dramatism" 92). As noted by Carter, seemingly neutral identifiers are "ethically charged," implying "All ought to be this, and none that" (7). Such language is "intensely moral," suggesting that words can be judged according to the actions they suggest, whether morally right or wrong (Permanence 177). In the case of Patient Zero, languages choices made by Shilts and other journalists ultimately impacted not just one man's legacy, but an entire community.

Scapegoating Patient Zero

To assess the usage of the term "Patient Zero" in reference to Gaetan Dugas, I chose to analyze both Randy Shilts's book And the Band Played On, published in 1987, and related media coverage. I collected 87 articles published between 1985 and 1990 which included the key words, "Patient Zero," "Gaetan Dugas," "Randy Shilts," or "AIDS." The majority of these articles appeared in 1987 (37) and 1988 (23), with all but one of the remaining articles published in 1989 or 1990. Much of the 1987-1988 coverage was directly related to the publication of Shilts's book and the controversy surrounding Patient Zero. Later articles focus on film and television treatments of AIDS stories, including the movie adaptation of Shilts's book.

I adopted a critical rhetoric approach, gathering these fragments of discourse together in a way that provides an understanding of how terms such as "Patient Zero" circulated during this period and ways these texts operate to both create and reinforce power structures (see McGee; McKerrow). In using critical rhetoric as a methodological orientation, I move from a study of public address to a study of the "discourse which addresses publics," taking on the role of an "inventor" who observes the social scene and analyzes communication fragments as "mediated" by popular culture and society (McKerrow 101). To provide a broader understanding of the discourse surrounding Patient Zero my analysis addresses the content of both the book and related media coverage. I first analyze Shilts's attempt to resist the media's scapegoating of homosexuals even as he seemingly unintentionally created the ultimate scapegoat. I then discuss the treatment of Shilts's scapegoat in the media and the ultimate impact of Gaetan Dugas's transformation into "the man who brought us AIDS" (Howard).

Shilts: Creating a Scapegoat

And the Band Played On details the spread of AIDS from its first known contact with the West in 1976 through 1985 and the announcement that Rock Hudson was dying from AIDS. Throughout his book Shilts sought to resist the labeling of AIDS as a gay problem. His introduction argued, "The story of these first five years of AIDS in America is a drama of national failure, played out against a backdrop of needless death" (xxii). Shilts continually placed the blame for AIDS on the Reagan administration's refusal to fund AIDS research, the scientific community's focus on competition and career advancement, public health and local government officials for failing to act, and gay leaders for playing politics instead of working to preserve lives. From a dramatistic perspective, Shilts attempted to change the public narrative of gay men as responsible for AIDS, instead describing a situation in which victims were given incomplete or false information and were allowed to act in unsafe sexual practices that led to contracting AIDS. He described the bathhouses, locations where gay men could have sexual encounters with multiple partners each night, in graphic detail and chronicled the minimal efforts made to shut them down. His description of the scenes allowed to exist in New York, San Francisco, and elsewhere demonstrated that gay men found themselves in a situation custom made for the spread of disease with no government, health, or community leaders willing to intervene.

As Shilts made the case that the government and societal hierarchy was to blame for the rise of AIDS, he also made it clear that AIDS was being overlooked and underfunded because it only affected homosexuals. Part of this blame lay with the lack of media coverage related to AIDS. For example, the New York Times did not run a story about AIDS on the front page until 1983 when the United States had already seen 1,450 cases of AIDS and 558 AIDS deaths, and the Los Angeles Times ran its first lead AIDS story in 1982 with the headline, "Epidemic affecting gays now found in heterosexuals" (Clare, 1988). As Shilts put it, the lack of media coverage about AIDS and the slow response of the medical community and the Reagan administration was "about sex, and it was about homosexuals. Taken together, it had simply embarrassed people—the politicians, the reporters, the scientists. AIDS had embarrassed everyone… and tens of thousands of Americans would die because of that" (And the Band 582). Shilts understood that homosexuals were becoming the scapegoats for AIDS. The language used in media stories related to AIDS demonstrate Shilts's concern about the scapegoating of AIDS victims and their position within the social hierarchy. As more AIDS victims died and threatened to bring the gay community into the forefront of conversation, the media continually refused to write about gay AIDS victims. As Carswell noted, newspapers "sought stories about 'real' people—that is, not homosexuals, bisexuals, drug users and others who were the early unwilling victims of the HIV virus" (4). Shaw also supported this assessment of the media's attitude toward AIDS, writing that "the American media didn't cover AIDS in any meaningful way until it seemed to threaten 'normal' (i.e. heterosexual) men and women and their children" ("A Critical" 7D).

While phrases in media coverage such as "real people," "normal," and "gay plague" clearly separated homosexuals from the heterosexual population, Shilts presented gay leaders as "real" people in their own right. The majority of his book deals with the men and women trying to fight the spread of AIDS. Shilts chronicled the few successes and many setbacks in AIDS research and the attempts to raise awareness of AIDS through the eyes of these men and women. He presented each of them as a person attempting to make a difference against a seemingly unbeatable foe. Instead of framing homosexuals as the scapegoats responsible for AIDS, Shilts described them as victims caught in a horrible situation and looking for help. By switching the focus from gay men as the agents to gay men as the victims of the scene, Shilts resisted the scapegoating of homosexuals and provided an alternate scapegoat—the federal government and scientific community, both of which he argued had failed to deal with AIDS in any real way. As noted by Foy, scapegoats rarely have the opportunity to resist the scapegoating process, as their voices are usually silenced (105). Shilts, however, refused to be silenced and used his position as a journalist to argue that homosexuals were the victims of AIDS rather than its perpetrators.

While Shilts's motive in writing the book seems clear—resisting the public's view of AIDS as a gay problem and focusing instead on the need for research and funding—he also included the perplexing story of Patient Zero, Gaetan Dugas. In a book about victims and heroes struggling to fight death, Dugas enters in the shadows of the story, making his first appearance on page 11 and quickly becoming the villain of Shilts's contradictory narrative. Even as Shilts described in detail the failings of the government and scientific community, his treatment of Dugas played on the homophobia of the broader society and provided a single, tangible evil to blame for AIDS. Dugas is first referred to as "Patient Zero" on page 23 when Shilts wrote about Dugas's "unique role" in the epidemic, one which included intentionally spreading AIDS (198). In a reversal from his strategy of focusing on scene over agent, Shilts painted Dugas as an evil agent with the knowledge of what he was doing and the desire to spread suffering. Although Dugas's story only takes up 46 pages of Shilts's book, Patient Zero became the focus of media coverage, overshadowing Shilts's careful resistance narrative.

Newspaper headlines read "Patient Zero: The airline steward who carried a disease and a grudge" (Shilts "Patient Zero") and numerous articles referred to Dugas as "Patient Zero" (see Associated Press; Carswell; Dunlop; Lehmann-Haupt; "MDs Doubt Claim,"; O'Neill). While a few articles described Shilts's reporting of Dugas's behavior accurately, most chose to focus on the idea conveyed by the term "Patient Zero." Headlines in October 1987 read "Canadian blamed for bringing AIDS to US" (Bremner), "Book singles out steward as AIDS culprit" ("Book"), and "Seductive steward blamed for spread of AIDS to US" (Hill). The New York Post even ran the headline, "The man who gave us AIDS" (Howard), a conclusion that was not supported by Shilts's discussion of Dugas or by any study conducted at the time. Shilts discussed the attention given Patient Zero and the irony of media focused on the dramatic story rather than policy (Engel; Sipchen): "Here I've done 630 pages of serious AIDS policy reporting with the premise that this disaster was allowed to happen because the media only focus on the glitzy and sensational aspects of the epidemic. My book breaks, not because of the serious public policy stories, but because of the rather minor story of Patient Zero" (qtd. in Engel). As Shilts recognized, media coverage of AIDS was shaped by the social, political, and economic climate in the United States (see Hardt). Deeply entrenched homophobia had created an environment where reporters weren't interested in writing about an embarrassing disease that impacted less than 10 percent of the population ("an aberrant 10% at that"), where political and scientific careers were threatened if they gave AIDS too much attention, and where the government and other funding agencies were loath to spend money or resources to study a "gay disease" (Shaw, "Anti-gay Bias"). In this climate neither the media nor the public was ready to accept Shilts's argument that the government and scientific community allowed the unchecked spread of AIDS. Instead, the narrative that resonated with the media—and presumably the broader public—was that of Shilts's alternative scapegoat: Patient Zero.

Dugas: The Scapegoat Rotten with Perfection

The concept of identifying a "patient zero" was not original to AIDS. The goal of discerning a single person as the starting point of an epidemic can be seen in other cases, such as the treatment of "Typhoid Mary" Mallon, who was identified as a typhoid carrier and quarantined for nearly three decades (Leavitt). The actual term, however, originated in 1984 during a cluster study completed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Researchers interviewed the first 19 AIDS patients in southern California and found that four of them had sexual contact with a non-California AIDS patient, who was also a sexual partner of four New York AIDS patients. The study, which linked 40 patients in 10 cities by sexual contact, demonstrated that AIDS was an infectious disease spread through sexual contact. The study identified Dugas as "Patient 0" and included a cluster graph charting the spread of AIDS between sexual partners (Auerbach, Darrow, Jaffe, & Curran 488). The study did not identify Dugas as having brought AIDS to the United States. Instead, it demonstrated the connection between Dugas's sexual activity and AIDS diagnoses. Dugas was first referred to as Patient "O," meaning his residency was outside California. However, as the results were clustered, the abbreviation was misinterpreted and Dugas became known as Patient "0," a clear error when Dugas's file named him "Patient 057," the 57th patient whose records were sent to the CDC (Worobey et al. 4). Labeling Dugas "Patient 0," however, provided a much different implication—an instance of Burke's "impersonal terminology" (A Rhetoric 32). The danger of using impersonal terminology is that it strips away the moral implications of humanity and contributes to the "satanic order of motives"—the process in which scientific investigation, and potential bias, can lead to treating individuals as less worthy of attention and aid, and, in extreme cases, as an evil to be eradicated (A Rhetoric 32; see also Mackey-Kallis and Hahn 13)

By the time Dugas's name became synonymous with the spread of AIDS, he had already died from AIDS-related complications. In fact, Dugas died the same month he was (anonymously) identified as "Patient 0" (March 1984), and three years before Shilts narrated his activities. Any information known about Dugas came from CDC interviews, which focused on his sexual encounters (he boasted of sleeping with nearly 2,500 partners), and from Shilts's book. In his narratives about Dugas, Shilts described him as "what every man wanted from gay life" (439), the man who thought himself "the prettiest one" and wanted to "have the boys fall for him" wherever he went (21). Shilts's description of Dugas fit perfectly with the gay stereotype already associated with AIDS, making Dugas's promiscuity and lack of concern about spreading his disease seem indicative of the entire homosexual community. According to Shilts, after Dugas was diagnosed, first with Kaposi's sarcoma, and later with AIDS, he continued to visit the bathhouses and told friends he was going to keep having sex because no one had proven that AIDS was sexually transmitted. Later, in 1982, there were reports of a man who would have sex in the bathhouses, then turn up the lights to reveal his Kaposi's sarcoma lesions, saying, "I've got gay cancer. I'm going to die and so are you" (And the Band 165). In these examples and others Dugas is portrayed as vain, angry, and unwilling to take responsibility for his actions. He is described as being angry he got AIDS and feeling justified in spreading it to others. "'Somebody gave this thing to me,' he said. 'I'm not going to give up sex.'" (And the Band 138). When Shilts wrote about Dugas's death he highlighted the irony of Dugas's life, that what had made him the epitome of the perceived gay ideal was quickly destroyed by AIDS. As Shilts wrote, "At one time, Gaetan had been what every man wanted from gay life; by the time he died, he had become what every man feared" (439). Shilts's suggestion that Dugas's promiscuity and irresponsibility were the ideal of gay culture characterized both Dugas and the gay community as the immoral evil many Americans already assumed them to be. Just as Burke noted that "enslavement, confinement, or restriction" must be present as the dialectic that allows us to locate freedom (Philosophy 109), so Shilts provided the narrative of a villainous gay man for society to oppose.

The Media's Scapegoat

The scapegoating of Dugas as Patient Zero began with Rock Hudson's death in 1985. At that point it became apparent that heterosexuals might not be safe from AIDS. As stated in a USA Today editorial, "With Hudson's death, many of us are realizing that AIDS is not a 'gay plague' but everybody's problem" (qtd. in Shaw, "A Critical"). Shilts and others suggested that the threat to those outside the gay community may have been exaggerated at points to "get the government and reporters moving," resulting in increased AIDS funding by 1989 as the broader society began to worry about contracting the virus (qtd. in Neuharth). These anxieties and worries about the potential of AIDS to affect the general population created the feeling of disorder Burke described when something changes in the hierarchic order (A Rhetoric). When the disease began to receive greater coverage and invade news broadcasts and front pages of "normal" people it broke the hierarchy of safety and the heterosexual community began to see themselves as susceptible to AIDS. This feeling of susceptibility to the disease and the fear of death brought heterosexuals into the realm of identification with the gay community—something most of society was not willing to accept—the "original state of merger" in Burke's scapegoating process, where both gays and heterosexuals lived in fear of contracting AIDS. Although the homosexual and heterosexual communities did not often identify, the shared fear of death brought by AIDS served as a "special case of identification"—an identification that quickly led to division (Hartzog 527).

When Shilts narrated the story of Gaetan Dugas he seemed to be setting up the perfect scapegoat for AIDS: a stereotypical gay man whose promiscuity threatened the pieties of heterosexual society. As Burke explained, pieties are "loyalty to the sources of our being," and are formed throughout an individual's experiences, both in childhood and through more formal education (Permanence 71). When these pieties are violated or challenged by others they become more pronounced (Daas 83). For the heterosexual society of the early 1980s, religious pieties and conservative ideas of what constituted proper and improper sexual practices were dominant, what Cloud termed <family values> (283).

Because Dugas's behavior was so antithetical to these pieties and societal values, it was easy—even rational—to blame him for AIDS. At the same time, however, whether or not those in the heterosexual community recognized it, the act of continuously attempting to ignore AIDS and its effect on the gay community both reinforced the moral hierarchy and created apprehension about the disease spreading beyond homosexuals. Society was steeped in Burke's iniquities—fear, guilt and uncertainty—related to AIDS. Perhaps they felt at least partly responsible for gay men's suffering, and certainly they feared for their own lives and experienced a nagging guilt about what might happen if the disease continued unchecked. This guilt and fear, born of hierarchy and domination, then, required purification. Because humans nearly always prefer to blame someone else then to take responsibility for their guilt (Mackey-Kallis 3; Walch 63), society needed a scapegoat and Dugas became the obvious choice.

Once Shilts's book was published, news coverage shifted from highlighting the risk of AIDS for heterosexuals to focusing on the larger evil, the villain responsible for single-handedly bringing the scourge of AIDS to the United States. Dugas was "rotten with perfection" (Burke, Language 16) as the vengeful demon who brought terror and disease to the gay community, the epitome of a "powerful" sacrificial goat (Brummett 67). Media articles depicted Dugas as using "his good looks and French-Canadian accent to lure handsome American men, even after he was diagnosed with AIDS in 1980" (Associated Press). The term "lure" framed Dugas as malevolent and suggested he took away the free will of his "victims" and then forced his disease on them. Likewise, by pointing out that Dugas slept with "handsome American men," the article highlighted Dugas's otherness as both a homosexual and a Canadian—someone who traveled the world to bring fresh horrors to the United States. Highlighting the "otherness" of a scapegoat by pointing out all the ways he is different from the rest of society allows for the principle of division to function—the more different the scapegoat becomes, the larger his or her division from society grows (Butterworth 156). Dugas's "otherness" included his homosexuality, his national origin, his promiscuity, and his desire to spread AIDS to others—the last of which became a focus of several news articles. Dugas was described in one article as "a Canadian airline steward who spread AIDS from coast to coast in the early 1980s." (Wade A34).

A brief article published in 1987 under the headline, "AIDS: The man they blame" frames Dugas as a mass murderer:

Sex-crazed air steward Gaetan Dugas . . . brought AIDS to the western world after taking an incredible 250 male lovers… The randy Air Canada steward sentenced thousands to death . . . the callous homosexual continued to seduce young men even after he had been diagnosed as the first American AIDS sufferer. . . . It is believed that Dugas, a French Canadian, originally caught the disease in Europe after having sex with Africans. In March 1984, aged 31, Dugas died of AIDS-related kidney failure—four years after he started spreading the gay plague. (emphasis added)

Though this description of Dugas is based on facts from Shilts's book, the language used conveys far more blame, describing Dugas as "sex-crazed," "randy," and a "calloused homosexual," all of which focus on the salacious aspects of the story. The writer even remarked on Dugas's number of sexual partners, "an incredible 250 male lovers" (though, in fact, Dugas claimed 250 lovers per year for a total of 2,500). This phrasing denoted Dugas as immoral and aberrant, failing the test of piety both in the sheer quantity of his sexual appetite and in the multiple references to his homosexuality. Such description stressed that Dugas was not like the majority of readers, regardless of sexual orientation. The article moved beyond these moral concerns to describe Dugas as the man who "brought AIDS to the western world," who "continued to seduce young men even after he had been diagnosed," who spread the "gay plague," and who, ultimately, "sentenced thousands to death." Although numerous aspects of this brief article are incorrect (i.e., the clearly racist reference to Dugas "having sex with Africans," further labeling him an outsider who brought a foreign disease to the United States) the article clearly conveys the claims made against Dugas: he alone was responsible for spreading AIDS. Although not stated implicitly, the article implied that Dugas's death was what he deserved for "spreading the gay plague." In short, the coverage of Dugas gave Americans "an object of hate, an individual whom we can comfortably 'blame' for AIDS" (Carswell 4).

Dugas was the perfect scapegoat—the absolute villain with no redeeming qualities. Even as members of society could identify their fear of AIDS with him long enough to come to an original state of merger, as Burke described it, Dugas's behavior and lack of remorse set him apart as the perfect vessel to blame, to set aside, and to alienate as the root of fear and suffering. For heterosexuals beginning to feel the impact of AIDS—the number of deaths, the possibility that their inaction had allowed AIDS to spread, the guilt of those not directly affected by the disease—Dugas provided a perfect opportunity to assuage their guilt. Reading these descriptions of Dugas's behavior, heterosexuals could believe he deserved his fate in a way they never would.

Dugas as the Face of Homosexuality

One result of the media's focus on Dugas's homosexuality and promiscuity was fresh attention to the homosexual lifestyle. The Patient Zero story created an opportunity to blame not only Dugas, but the entire homosexual community, a further attempt to return to the previously ordered moral hierarchy. Dugas became a symbol of homosexuality—a synonym for promiscuity and immorality. The connections between Dugas's behavior and feelings toward homosexuality in general can be found in multiple news items, such as this letter to the editor: "Homosexuality does seem to be synonymous with promiscuity… it is also an inescapable fact that these same homosexuals brought on the crisis in the first place and for the most part refuse to curtail the activity that is spreading it exponentially" (Christy 3D). With sentiments such as these, the scapegoating of Patient Zero became the scapegoating of the homosexual population in general, separating gays from the rest of society and completing the division of the scapegoat from society. As explained by gay activist Eric Sawyer, "It stigmatized gay men…like vectors of infection that would be responsible for spreading HIV and other horrible diseases, and that they should be avoided at all costs. It created a hysteria, which resulted in gay men being fired from their jobs, evicted from apartments, denied public accommodations and denied health insurance" (qtd. in Neese). Rather than resisting the scapegoating of homosexuals, Shilts's book ultimately ensured that the gay community would forever be connected to the spread of AIDS.

In Burke's third step of the scapegoating process, the sacrificial offering is completed and a new principle of merger exists in which a new, purified identity is revealed (A Grammar 406). For Americans in 1987, blaming Dugas for AIDS provided a way to separate themselves from the panic and worry of the epidemic. Focusing on the homosexual community and Dugas in particular as being responsible for the disease made it easier to move AIDS back into the "gay plague" status of the early 1980s, moderate feelings of societal guilt related to AIDS, and stop worrying about its impact on the heterosexual population. Although, of course, nothing changed in the spread of the epidemic, the rhetorical act of alienating the scapegoat provided a kind of catharsis for the heterosexual population. One reporter described this feeling of relief, writing that "one only wonders whether Mr. Shilts hasn't inadvertently provided fuel for those unsympathetic to the fight against AIDS, by reassuring them of their exemption from the epidemic," (Lehmann-Haupt C20). For those who comfortably moved AIDS back into the realm of a homosexual problem, the detailed descriptions of AIDS victims in Shilts's book only served to further alienate the horror of AIDS from the consciousness of heterosexuals. For example, Shilts directly blamed Dugas for the death of Wall Street businessman Paul Popham, saying, "I realized I was looking at somebody who was effectively dying of the virus, and that was courtesy of Gaetan… That was when the entire scope of the AIDS tragedy hit me like a bullet between the eyes. Gaetan had slept with somebody on Oct. 31 of 1980 and now I was looking at somebody in 1986 who was dying'" (qtd. in Sipchen 5). Regardless of the terrifying story being told and the feelings of sadness or helplessness it created, all three individuals involved in the story—Shilts, Dugas, and Popham—were gay men dealing with a virus that was brought to the United States by a gay man, affected mostly gay men, and killed mostly gay men. In the wake of recent reporting that highlighted the threat to heterosexuals, this focus allowed consumers of various media to relocate the threat of AIDS back toward the gay community and feel a sense of relief at no longer needing to worry about the "gay disease."

If, as I argue, Shilts's motive in writing And the Band Played On was to resist the scapegoating of the homosexual community, media coverage related to the book produced the opposite result. His choice to include the story of Gaetan Dugas—a choice that seems contrary to his overall argument—dominated public perception of AIDS and gave society a Patient Zero to blame. Dugas became the face of homosexuality—the gay man to be feared and hated. The media attention on Dugas effectively allowed the Reagan administration and the scientific community to escape any consequences for their lack of action.

Even as Shilts's portrayal of Dugas as Patient Zero alienated the gay community, it also gave homosexuals someone to blame for AIDS. Shilts himself recognized Dugas as a scapegoat in his statement about Popham's death being "courtesy of Gaetan" (qtd. in Sipchen 5), and in the way he told Dugas's story. In one narrative Shilts detailed Dugas's visit to a former lover in the hospital dying from AIDS, writing that "For the first time, his friend thought, he's seeing how serious this really is" (And the Band 79), then in the next mention of Dugas, Shilts described him bragging about his sexual exploits and casually mentioning that "one of his old tricks was in a New York hospital with something strange now" (83). Regardless of his stated goals in writing the book, Shilts consistently portrayed Dugas as the villain of the story, the one man who filled the role of agent in his narrative of AIDS. The other men and women in Shilts's book were trapped in a scene dominated largely by forces they could not control. Dugas, however, chose to take agency and to intentionally cause harm. Shilts's depiction of Dugas created the ultimate evil that homosexuals and heterosexuals alike could hate and blame. Even 30 years later, activist Larry Kramer relayed his frustration with Dugas: "You know, the fact Gaetan was labeled 'Patient Zero' does not deny the fact that he was, I think, an irresponsible gay man" (qtd. in Neese). For Kramer and other gay men, then, Dugas became a symbol of what they were not—the man who spread death instead of trying to stop it; the man who was responsible, if not for all AIDS victims, for many, many deaths from AIDS. The story of Patient Zero, narrated by Shilts and perpetuated by the media, served both to further stigmatize the homosexual community and to provide a purification function for gay men—a scapegoat for the scapegoats.


When Randy Shilts published And the Band Played On, he wrote in the prologue that his story was "a tale that bears telling, so that it will never happen again, to any people, anywhere" (xxiii). This stated motive, then, explains his careful research and retelling of the trials faced by AIDS patients and researchers alike. He believed that if the federal government, the scientific community, the media, local leaders, etc., could be held accountable for their actions in the AIDS epidemic, future generations would learn from their failures and work to address health crises in a timelier manner. When applied to the story of Patient Zero, however, Shilts's stated motive falls short. Although Shilts admitted that whether or not Dugas actually brought AIDS to the United States "remains a question of debate," he attributed the first AIDS cases in New York and Los Angeles to Dugas and referred to his ubiquitous travel as an airline steward, facts that "give weight to that theory" (439). In his attempt to portray Dugas as the one man who could take away the AIDS guilt homosexuals faced, Shilts brought more societal stigma toward the gay community. The drama and sensationalism of the Patient Zero story attracted the media and gave reporters and book reviewers a juicy, succinct narrative to recount for their readers.

In Burke's terms, Shilts's Patient Zero narrative served a clarification function (Philosophy 219). Gaetan Dugas was Patient Zero and he was the ideal of gay life, which meant that both Dugas and those like him (homosexuals) were guilty and deserved to be punished. Moreover, if AIDS was their fault, perhaps it only affected homosexuals and the heterosexual community could escape their fear of AIDS. By creating a scapegoat in Dugas and the homosexual community, media coverage of Shilts's book allowed heterosexuals to feel safe in their separation from the threat, potentially opening up this community to increased risk of unsafe sexual practices and other risky behaviors because they believed themselves to be unreachable by AIDS. The rhetorical result of Shilts's book and the surrounding media coverage was a seeming sense of relief and catharsis by the heterosexual community, a stronger stigma related to homosexuality, and a single man that both the homosexual and heterosexual communities could blame for AIDS. In a rhetorical sense, these two communities experienced a "curative unification" (Philosophy 218) as they shared a common enemy (see Grey). Each group placed a different load of guilt on Dugas's metaphorical shoulders—heterosexuals their determination to ignore the AIDS virus; homosexuals the guilt placed on them for the lifestyle choices and connection to AIDS—and each experienced a different brand of catharsis. For heterosexuals the scapegoating of Dugas signaled a return to the original hierarchy, while for homosexuals Dugas took on responsibility for the stigma they faced and gave them a person to blame for their suffering. As Burke noted, it is difficult to "get people together except when they have a goat in common" (Cowley 499).

For both groups, the creation of Dugas as a rhetorical scapegoat changed nothing about the reality of the AIDS epidemic. People continued to contract AIDS and die from the disease. However, as Shilts and other journalists continued to write about AIDS, the medical community and the federal government took notice and slowly increased AIDS funding and research (Neuharth 13A). The story of Patient Zero, however, resulted in the further alienation of the gay community and has continued to impact homosexuals in the United States. One of many lasting effects is the standing ban on homosexuals and bisexuals donating blood. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) created the ban in 1985 in an effort to stop HIV-infected blood from contaminating the national blood supply. Blood banks have been conducting HIV tests on donated blood for years and screening has continued to improve since 1985, but the ban remains. In 2015 it was modified to allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood as long as it had been 12 months since their last male sexual encounter. However, in the wake of the Orlando shooting in the summer of 2016, thousands of gay and bisexual men wishing to donate blood were turned away. In the age of the Internet, these men took to Twitter, tweeting their frustration about the ban and asking others to donate in their stead (McKenzie, 2016). Even as Americans celebrated the Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage and other advances forward for the gay community, constraints such as the blood donation ban exist as a legacy of AIDs, Patient Zero, and the longstanding effects of the heterosexual society's desire for moral superiority.

* An earlier version of this essay was presented at the 102nd National Communication Association Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in November 2016. The author wishes to thank Clarke Rountree and Chris Darr for their helpful feedback, and Kambren Stanley for assistance in an early draft of this essay.

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Deacon, Burke, and Evolution of the "Symbolic Species": Six Points of Connection from Biological Anthropology

Edward C. Appel, Lock Haven University


Terrence W. Deacon, University of California, Berkeley, has become an international star in biological anthropology and evolutionary neuroscience. His empirical research appears to provide intriguing analogues to, and confirmations of, Kenneth Burke's Dramatism/Logology. This essay explores six intersections between Deacon's semiotics and Burke's dramatism that mark that correspondence. The study concludes that, by Burke's own standard, the label "coy," reluctant theologian may characterize both these seemingly secular theorists.

Terrence W. Deacon is Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is both a biological anthropologist and laboratory neuroscientist (Tallerman and Gibson xvii). Deacon's account of primate and pre-primate evolution, before the appearance of what he has called the "symbolic species," and his description of human symbolic attributes and behavior thereafter, appear to significantly articulate with Kenneth Burke's dramatism/logology. As both biologist and neuroscientist of national and international stature, Deacon's pre-symbolic and post-symbolic claims about communication have bearing on, and add perspective to, Burke's philosophy.1

Deacon's theory serves to support Burke in the main, while calling Burke into question on one key point. Deacon's challenge to Burke's sweeping binary between "(Nonsymbolic) Motion" and "(Symbolic) Action" is apparent (Deacon, Incomplete; Burke, Human Nature 139). Burke's facile inclusion of nonsymbolic animals and inanimate natural phenomena in the same "motion" bin may stand in need of nuance. From the vantage point of Deacon and his mentor Gregory Bateson, presymbolic animal activity and interaction are of such "intentional[ity]" and "sentience" that they form a more distinct and structured bridge to the drama of the "symbolic species" than Burke gives credence (Deacon, Incomplete 10, 485-507; "Re: Fw: Re: Deacon's Neo-Aristotelian Complication": "Bateson . . . was a powerful personal influence on me").2

The central piling undergirding that presymbolic bridge to Burke's symbolizing animal is Deacon's (and Bateson's) notion of the "absential," or intuition of some kind of negative, that motivates the "behavior," or "self-movement," of nonsymbolic animal life on all levels, microbial to the great apes (Incomplete 3; Burke, Permanence 5-6; Grammar 157). This sense of "what is not" denotes recognition of a "difference which makes a difference," as Bateson phrased it (381). The "difference" in "expectation" nonsymbolic animals respond to, Deacon asserts, is not merely a difference of any particular kind. It is a difference that is grounded in a "teleonomic," end-directed, consequence-oriented matter of survival or reproduction (Incomplete 281-83, 377, 392-420).

"Teleonomy" is a central concept for Deacon. Analogous to Aristotle's notion of "entelechy," it is "a middle ground between mere mechanism and purpose," as Deacon defines it. "Teleonomy" refers to behavior "predictably oriented toward a particular target state," even with "no explicit representation of that state or intention to achieve it" (Incomplete 553).

From the protonegative intuition that authors the teleonomic activity of nonsymbolic animals, there devolve multiple adumbrations of the fully realized "drama" of the symbolic species. As Deacon describes it, such predramatic animal behavior evinces a kind of protopentad in operation (Burke's agent, act, purpose, means, and scene). These "basic forms of thought," as Burke calls them, as reflected, Deacon makes explicit, in Aristotle's pentad-related "Four Causes" (material, efficient, formal, and final), explain the "function[ing]" of that protonegative in the behavior of all animal life. Something like Burke's "terms for order" ("order," "constraint," "work," then the denouement of "survival") bring to fruition such animal activity. The "noncomponential" negative the impetus for it all, such "activity" is not reducible to "spontaneous" motion, irreducibility a highlight of Burke's notion of the symbolic negative (Incomplete 34-35, 50, 161, 185-86, 190-205, 207, 210-14, 326-70, 508; Deacon, "In Response"; Burke, "Dramatism" 10; Burke, Religion 16). These are conceptions that prefigure Burke's reading of human language, life, and rhetorical orientation (Burke, Grammar, Religion, "Dramatism").

A case for a critique of Burke on the so-called "motion" of presymbolic animal life is thus implicit in Deacon's evolutionary theory. That critique will remain implicit for now. Deacon's support for Burke on the explicitly moral "action" of the "symbolic species," as evolving and fully evolved, is herewith offered. Negative intuition as prime motivator characterizes both Deacon (Incomplete) and Burke (e.g., Religion, Language). Their shared emphasis on the motive power of negation will not be elaborated here. Suffice it to say, the attributes of the presymbolic negative remain "enigmatic" in Deacon (Incomplete 1). Deacon concedes the idea is something of a "nontechnical . . . heuristic," a kind of exploratory assumption ("In Response"). Clearly nonmoralizing, the protonegative remains elusive conceptually. Yet, both Deacon and Burke argue for the same trajectory of implications, rooted in the "what is not": order, constraint or restriction structuring that order, negation energizing that constraint, leading to purpose (Deacon, Incomplete 23, 190-95, 273; Burke, Grammar 294-97, Religion 4-5, 20-21, 184). These notions go hand in glove in the thought of the scientist and the rhetorician. For Deacon, these interlocking motives suffuse the world of animate being in general. For Burke, they underpin his "Definition of Man [sic]" alone (Language 3-24).3

That shared negative affirmation will be taken as given. The concept suffuses Incomplete Nature and the thought of late Burke. Six additional Burkean themes, all of them features of the evolving and evolved symbolic species, are recapped in Deacon in empirically ponderable ways. Deacon's analysis of the "symbol user" highlights: content-empty abstraction; a "bi-layered" human symbolic existence "revers[ing]" reference and entitlement; origin of language in "absential[ly]"-induced, which is to say negatively-induced, purpose; hexadic attitude as inherent in proto, and fully-emergent, language; symbolism as the human essence; culminating in theological dispositions as the symbolizer's normative wont (Symbolic Species; "Beyond").

We begin with the similarities between Deacon and Burke on their anti-representationalist view of human symbolic abstraction.

"Icons," "Indexes," and the Subversion of Signifier-Signified

The particulars of the nonsymbolic communication of so-called "lower" animals held little theoretical interest for Burke, overall, even though Burke occasionally paid those creatures significant attention (Hawhee). It is the necessary starting point for Deacon's semiotics. Following American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, Deacon founds his semiotic theory of emergence on the "iconic" and "indexical" communication of presymbolic animals (Symbolic Species 70-71, "Symbol Concept" 396-98). Such animals keep in touch by way of "sinsigns": "icons," or significant forms, and "indexes," vocal or physical gestures that "point" to those significant forms, "one-by-one" (Symbolic Species 70-71, 89). Here is where a naïve "signifier-signified" has relevance. "Dolphin signature whistles," for instance, "are indexical sinsigns," Deacon says ("Re: 'The Symbol Concept'"; Symbolic Species 59, 69). They point or indicate in particular. The signifier, the whistle, points directly to the signified, the dolphin in question. The symbolic stick figure on a restroom wall, in contrast, is an iconic "legisign," as per Peirce. It portrays in general. Its reference is to another symbol, not an identifiable person (Deacon, "Symbol Concept" 396-98, 401).     

In respect to the symbolic species, then, Deacon alters the verbal realism of "signifier-signified," word-thing (Symbolic Species 69-70). For Deacon, the relationship is signifier-signifier, not signifier-signified. Symbolic reference is internal to itself. Symbols refer, abstractly and generally, "irrespective of any natural affinities" ("Symbol Concept" 393, 401). In other words, as per Burke, symbols synthesize, synthetically, disparate beings, entities, or events for seemingly pragmatic, culturally-conditioned purposes that transcend mere appearance of similarity (Permanence). Symbolic reference cannot be "map[ped]" in terms of any material aspect, according to Deacon (Symbolic Species 69). To the extent that a common word or symbol "maps" anything, it "maps" a position in a given lexicon in relation to other terminologies in that symbol system. Consult a dictionary or thesaurus to ascertain symbolic reference and relationships.

One point of clarification is required. Vervet monkey calls look, on the surface, something like symbolic abstraction. "Distinct [Vervet] calls referred to distinct classes of predators," eagles, leopards, or snakes (Deacon, Symbolic Species 54, 56, emphasis added; Seyfarth and Cheney 61). "Generalized . . . iconic overlap," or "stimulus generalization" of a "conditioned," "rote," one-to-one variety, is not, however, symbolization. "The grouping of these referents is not by symbolic criteria (though from outside we might apply our own symbolic criteria)" (Deacon, Symbolic Species 70, 81, 84).

A new kind of "generalization" is made possible by an "insight" a proto-symbolizer can summon: a shift from "stimulus generalization or learning set generalization" to "logical or categorical generalization." It is a shift from sheer token-object reference to "sense" or "semantic" reference, made possible by a dawning and interlocking network of abstracting gestures and sounds (Deacon, Symbolic Species 70, 83, 88, 93). Expanding "prefrontal computations" in the brain facilitate higher-order connectivities and thinking across all cortices, necessary for symbolization (Deacon, Symbolic Species 265-66). The larger prefrontal area in hominids supports the "sequential, hierarchic, and subordinate association analyses" required by human language and thought.

The prefrontal is not, though, the locus of language per se. "Widely distributed neural systems must contribute in a coordinated fashion to create and interpret symbolic relationships," Deacon maintains (Symbolic Species 265-66). Latent non-symbolic indexicality is superseded, but not obliterated, by the powers of cognition a mighty forebrain enhances. Echoes of the one-to-one indexicality of presymbolic mammals still reverberate, but are now subordinate to "higher-level associative ["hierarchical"] relationships" (Symbolic Species 73).

Symbolic reference, therefore, for Deacon, functions like this: "A written word [for example] is first recognized as an iconic synsign (an instance of a familiar form), then an indexical legisign (a type of sign vehicle contiguous with other related types), and then as a symbolic legisign (a conventional type of sign [making] . . . a conventional type of reference)" ("Symbol Concept" 397-98). Thus, in the symbolic communication of modern hominids, an emergent hierarchy of mental actions takes place that builds on their long mammalian past.

What is happening neurologically to effectuate this emergent hierarchal synergy is "counter-current information processing" that generally proceeds from lower to higher structures of the brain, and from back to front: from limbic, peri-limbic, and peripheral (e.g., thalamus and amygdala) to "specialized" cortical regions, and from "posterior (attention-sensory) cortical systems," to "anterior (intention-action) cortical systems"—and back again. This electro-chemical "counter-current" serves to monitor, check and balance, generate iconic, indexical, symbolic "equilibrium" (Deacon, "Emergent Process" 14-20; Deacon and Cashman 9). Transition, reference, syntax in general, are learned processes in Deacon-world. They become second nature, so to speak, via the mammalian "procedural" memory system, given detailed context below in the explanation of symbolism and religion (Deacon, Symbolic Species).

The empirically "empty" abstractiveness of Deacon's semiotics puts him at odds with positivist, representationalist, and scientist points of view. Crusius (69, 88-89, 228-32) and Appel ("Implications" 52-54) have argued the same for Burke. As Burke has said, in his pentad of terms, for instance, each element stands for "nothing" whatsoever, "no object at all . . .  not this scene, or that agent, etc. but scene, agent, etc. in general" (Grammar 188-89). Burke's notion of "Argument by Analogy" further explains the symbol-object disconnect: In the service of a common interest, intention, expectancy, purpose, or value, that functions as a unifying metaphorical, teleological perspective, or by way of analogy between disparate beings, entities, or events, analogy not synonymy, symbols generate the perception of similar strains in dissimilar events, leading to the classification of those events together in a common, idealized, essentialized abstraction (Permanence 102-07).

The Underlying "Hidden" Symbolic World of a "Bi-layered" Species

Following on that similarity between Deacon and Burke on the airy abstractiveness of symbolic reference, there devolve two radical, but congruent, conceptions: Deacon and Cashman's assertion that symbolizers live essentially in a "bi-layered" world, the interpretive layer symbolic, the interpreted layer practical, material, quotidian; and Burke's claim that "'things'" ought preferably be seen as "'the signs of words,'" not vice versa. Or, as Deacon put it, note "how icons can indicate symbols," "how . . . dissonant iconic relations point to symbols" (Deacon and Cashman 16; Burke, Language 361; Deacon, "Origin and Consequences of Life in a Bi-Layered World").

The symbolic species gives evidence of a two-world metaphysics, Deacon claims ("Beyond," "Symbol Concept"). Symbolizers, like nonsymbolic animals, confront a natural environment of "real," "material," "tactile and visible objects and living beings," a world of "concrete . . . events." Unlike those avian and mammalian precursors, however, symbolizers inhabit a "second world," as well. This underlying realm is one of "symbols that are linked together by meaningful associations," a "virtual," indeed "spiritual" world, one accessed directly and most basically by taking in hand a dictionary or thesaurus ("Beyond" 37, "Symbol Concept" 401; Deacon and Cashman 13-18). The title of Viktor Frankl's book comes readily to mind as summative legend for this hidden domain: Man's Search for Meaning.

Humans are "symbolic savants," as Deacon puts it. "We almost certainly have evolved," he says, "a predisposition to see things as symbols, whether they are or not." "The make-believe of children," "finding meaning in coincidental events," seeing "faces in the clouds," "run[ning] our lives with respect to dictates presumed to originate from an invisible spiritual world" are conspicuous expressions of this singular susceptibility. "Our special adaptation," Deacon goes on, "is the lens through which we see the world." With it comes an irrepressible urge "to seek for a cryptic meaning hiding beneath the surface of appearances" ("Beyond" 37, Symbolic Species 433-38; Deacon and Cashman 15-18).

Analogously, Burke's philosophy evolved from a concern with "being" to a focus on "knowing," from ontology to epistemology, from dramatism to logology, from what humans essentially are to how they come to understand the universe they live in (Grammar 63-64, "Dramatism and Logology"). Burke turned to the epistemic from his essays on the negative, 1952-53, to the mid-1960s and beyond ("Dramatistic View" in Language 419-79). Burke's version of that "lens through which we see the world" is much like Deacon's in its quest for higher meaning. Encapsulized in his definition of "logology," Burke describes that epistemic template as, "the systematic study of theological terms . . . for the light they might throw on the forms of language," theological terms being the most thoroughgoing, far reaching, ultimate terms one can imagine (Language 47; Religion v-vi, 1-42). Burke's book The Rhetoric of Religion and his essays "Terministic Screens" and "What Are the Signs of What? A Theory of 'Entitlement'" epitomize Burke's rendering of drama, especially theological drama, as perfected filter or frame (Language 44-62, 359-79).

Hence the partly, but not altogether, new and central concerns of late Burke: that theological "motive of perfection" as an all-too-often impetus toward "tragic" drama; the sin/guilt/redemption cycle of dramatic stages endemic to human thought, action, and social cohesion, yet lamentably taken so recurrently to tragic excess; the drama-cum-theology lens as humankind's window on the world; "reality" as approached through variants of such a terministic screen; "reality" a kind of virtual world of transcendental meanings, with its "fantastic pageantry, a parade of masques and costumes and guildlike mysteries," nature "gleam[ing] secretly with a most fantastic shimmer of words and social relationships," as Burke describes it (Permanence 274-94; Language 44-62, 379; Human Nature 54-95; Religion; Attitudes 37-39, 188-90n).

Burke's "theory of entitlement" served first as direct answer to Heidegger's "metaphysical" attention to the nature of "reality." Burke's focal point: the principle of the verbal, particularly as energized by infinite negation, as sole access to that "reality," as "deflect[ing]" as well as "reflect[ing]" prism (Language 45; Mailloux 7-8).

Two Million Years of Brain-Language Co-Evolution

Deacon says language came slowly to hominids. Homo Habilians got their start about 1.8 million years ago, at the beginning of the Quaternary. If it stretched across the Pleistocene until about B.C.E. 200,000, the Habilian-to-Sapient progression took a long time evolving toward its unique adaptation. Those adjustments between brain, on the one hand, and symbolic gestures and "talk," on the other, were reciprocal, Deacon maintains. Neurostructures and linguistic skill ramified together (Deacon and Cashman 14; Deacon, "Beyond" 33-34, Symbolic Species 328-29).

Deacon's conception of the origins of language sounds much like Burke's. Burke emphasizes, as generative force, a "'pre-negative' . . . tonal gesture" (Deacon's "absential"?) "calling attention to" "danger" with "sound[s] . . . hav[ing] a deterent or pejorative meaning" (Language 423-24). Not surprisingly, the negative as implicit impetus underpins Deacon's account as well. Deacon speaks of "an undifferentiated starting condition." "We must ask: What's the form of a thought "—or "the idea that a sentence conveys"—"before it is put into words," the "'mental images' not quite formed or desires and intentions to achieve some imagined goal only vaguely formulated?" These "embryos of a speech act" would be "focused on aiming for and achieving expressive [which is to say, emotionally-charged] goals," which is also to say, making a choice among not-yet-realized "options" ("Emergent Process" 5-6).

Iconic "significant forms" would prompt those nascent attempts at "speech" communication. Such arresting icons would likely be those that pose a danger or alert to an opportunity. Gestural symbolic reference to them would warn kin or other group members of a need to act cooperatively. The "absential feature," the protonegative, already functions in Deacon as the basic engine of intentionality Burke deems the negative to be. Goal-seeking, or "end-directedness," and the absential go hand in glove in all living beings, Deacon affirms. The negative "Don't do," and the seemingly positive, "Don't fail to do," serve well emerging human "teleology," in Deacon's scheme. The absential did the same, and continues to do the same, with respect to the pre-linguistic "teleonomic" (Burke, Language 419-79; Deacon, Incomplete 10, 24-31, 553).

Where Deacon may differ from Burke on the origins of language: The "vocal gesture" as "symbol" may have come fitfully to the process. Varied forms of vocality were difficult, Deacon states, for early primates ("Beyond" 31). In addition, like Stephan Jay Gould, Deacon sees no directionality or inherently upward thrust toward ever-greater complexity in the evolutionary process itself. Like Gould, his watchwords are "diversification" and "distribution," not complexification. The symbolic species may exist in lonely isolation on this small planet, a chance once-and-done phenomenon in an incredibly vast cosmos (Symbolic Species 29-30; Gould). That bleak conclusion was basically beyond the purview of Burke, though Burke hints at such possible symbolic uniqueness at the end of The Rhetoric of Religion (315-16).

"Mood" as "Focused Readiness and Expectation"

The above brings us to Burke's hexad as integral to the symbolic mix. Language, for Burke, primarily expresses an "attitude," Burke's sixth grammatical term, the adverbial "in what manner" of high school English. Language as essential bearer of "attitude" creates an orientation toward certain pathways of action, gives cues to action and a command to follow those cues. "Attitude," connotation, symbolic communication as more inherently "active" than impartially informative—such are the fundamentals of Burke's dramatism (Grammar 235-47).

For Deacon, that attitudinal "expressive" dimension is denominated a "mood." In respect to symbolic origins, "Within this frame of social communicative arousal, what might be described as the 'mood' of the speech or interpreted act is differentiated," Deacon says. "This 'mood,'" he goes on, "needs to be maintained." It is a "focused readiness and expectation with respect to social interaction" ("Emergent Process" 6-8).

Cognition and emotion go hand in hand in communication, Deacon affirms. A tendentious arousal state, however slight, attends all symbolic operations (Deacon and Cashman 20: "Emotion cannot be dissociated from cognition").

For Good or Ill, the "Symbolic Species"

Burke famously defines humans as the "symbol-using," "symbol-making," and, do not fail to take note, the "symbol-misusing animal." These symbolizing creatures are "moralized" by a sense of negation that not only opens up vistas of infinity and eternity, but also serves as goad to strive for whatever "perfections," transcendent or immanent, their heart chooses to reach for. That top-of-the-ladder denouement could be eternal life with God in streets paved with gold (speaking metaphorically or not), or richest, most distinguished, man or woman on their block or in their town, industry, state, or nation. In the face of their weakness and vulnerability as very imperfect animals, this vision of the flawless existence they "ought" to fulfill so often leads, sadly, to destructive excess. "Rotten with perfection" is the concluding codicil in Burke's assessment of the human (Language 3-25).4

Thus, "rational animal" or "political animal" is off the mark as anthropological entitlement. Symbolizing animals possess a marvelously gifted intellect. Burke so acknowledges. Intellect, though, is not what fundamentally drives these beings, according to Burke. Symbolizers are best thought of as "methodical," not rational (Human Nature 72-75, Permanence 234). "Perfection," malign as well as benign; "entelechy," Burke style; excess, are then humankind's constant temptation and lure, much less the "humbler satisfactions" Burke would enjoin to temper the "linguistic factor," with its "absurd ambitions" (Language 16-20, Grammar 317-20, Dramatism 57-58).

Deacon's "symbolic species" functions as virtual synonym for the first article in Burke's "Definition of Man [sic]" (Language 3-9). "In my work," Deacon says:

I use the phrase symbolic species, quite literally, to argue that symbols have literally changed the kind of biological organism we are. Indeed, there is ample evidence to suggest that language is both well integrated into almost every aspect of our cognitive and social life, that it utilizes a significant fraction of the forebrain, and is acquired robustly under even quite difficult social circumstances and neurological impairment. It is far from fragile.

So rather than merely intelligent or wise (sapient) creatures, we are creatures whose social and mental capacities have been quite literally shaped by the special demands of communicating with symbols. And this doesn't just mean we are adapted for language use, but also for all the many ancillary mental biases that support reliable access and use of this social resource. ("Beyond" 32-33)

So says Deacon. What these myriad traits all add up to serves as transition, for the biological anthropologist, into a climactic attribute he shares with Burke as final reckoning.

Theological "Savants"

Kenneth Burke self-identified as a nontheist (Booth, "Burke's Religious Rhetoric" 25). Nevertheless, the theme of Burke as a theologian-in-spite-of-himself is a well-traveled interpretive path. Wayne Booth has claimed so in multiple venues (Booth, "Many Voices," "Burke's Religious Rhetoric," Plenary Lecture). Booth cites eight other scholars who have noted much the same ("Burke's Religious Rhetoric" 44; see, for example, Appel, "Coy Theologian"). Supports for such a reading are many. Suffice it to say, in this brief treatment, the implicit route from the hexadic grammar of language to the sin/guilt/redemption cycle, as energized by a necessarily hortatory negative, leads to Burke's "motive of perfection" as culminating and most fully realized in some religious system (Burke, Religion 297-304, Permanence 292-93; Appel, Burkean Primer 1-85). If "perfection" were as thoroughly attained in mundane endeavors, Burke could just as readily have labeled this existential urge the hierarchal motive of perfection, and let it go at that. "Call them [those linguistic arrows that point in a theological direction] the 'basic errors' of the dialectic if you want," Burke allows. "We are here talking about ultimate dialectical tendencies, having 'god,' or a 'god-term,' as the completion of the linguistic process" (Rhetoric 276).

In a coauthored article, "The Role of Symbolic Capacity in the Origins of Religion," Deacon puts a neuroscientific exclamation point on Burke's religious obsessions. Most typically, evolutionary biologists call religion a nonadaptive mistake, a "misapplication" of a perhaps once-useful adaptation of a kind. Deacon says these Dawkins/Gould/Lewontin types offer only a superficial explication. Sources of the religious impulse are more complex, and their outcomes similarly complex, if virtually inevitable (Deacon and Cashman 2-3; e.g., Gould and Lewontin).

Three "synerg[ies]," or emergent combinations, of mammalian neurostructures and abilities, account for the religious intuition, Deacon and Cashman claim. As emergent phenomena, these compositions give rise to outcomes greater than the sum of their separate effects. Symbolic facility, it is averred, puts together all three (12, 26).

First, "procedural" and "episodic" memory-functions, extant but operating separately in all previous mammals, were integrated by language. The result is "narrative," with the particulars of episodic ("synchronic") recall dropping into "slots" generated by the rote procedural (or "diachronic"), second-nature memory function that follows the learned pathways of syntax and indexing. This facility for narrative came with the "absential" end-directedness that seeks for a meaningful "telos" beyond the stark and unfinished details of many, if not all, human lives. A religious denouement of a kind most satisfactorily provides that narrative consummation (Deacon and Cashman 7-13).

Second, the "two-world" synergy previously described accompanied symbolic power, as well. The mundane world accessed and reconnoitered iconically and indexically by dolphins, lions, and chimps, via one-to-one signs and gestures "mapped" by way of signifier and signified, was now grounded upon a hidden world of internal symbolic relationships. From thence a leap is so readily made, from those relentlessly inferred symbolic connections, via the "infinite flexibility," "final causality," and "special exaggerated compulsion that complements our unique gift," toward a "virtual" world of transcendental meanings (Deacon and Cashman 13-18; Deacon, Symbolic Species 434-35; see Burke on the analogous motive of "perfection" and the dialectical "Upward Way," e.g., Permanence 292-95; Religion v-vi, 1-5, 300-305; Grammar 295).

Finally, unprecedented emotional experiences of the kind often associated with religious experience emerged. Evolving symbolic equipment fused primary mammalian arousal states into the likes of awe, reverence, sacredness, elation, transcendence, and spiritual renewal, perceptions of unity with the cosmos, a sense of the holy and the sacred. Other feelings, tied especially to the highest of human ethics, experienced within and outside the bonds of conventional religion, surfaced as well: charity, humility, lovingkindness, selfless action for others. Humor, irony, and the "eureka" moments of discovery, scientific and otherwise, derived from the same kind of often-contradictory syntheses (Deacon and Cashman 18-25).

Thus, Deacon, like Burke, makes explicit a theotropic trajectory in human symbolic evolution. Like Burke, also, Deacon drops hints that the theological motive may serve as humankind's downside, if not a siren call to illusion and impracticality. In his "Religion" piece, Deacon compares these "symbolic savants" to often remarked "idiot savants," generally handicapped individuals remarkably adept at one operation, like math or music. In addition, Deacon alludes to the first two of the above synergies as falling well enough within the purview of the nonadaptive theme of conventional evolutionary theory. The third synergy, the symbolic confluence that produces those noblest of human emotions and ideals, many of which can accompany any belief or ideology, not just those of a transcendental cast, escapes invidious comparisons (Deacon and Cashman 15-16, 18-25; see Symbolic Species 436-38 for a less subtle treatment of what Deacon calls the "most noble and most pathological of human behaviors").

As for Burke, rhetoricians are generally aware of his deep dubiety toward "perfection," expressly theological or otherwise, and its melancholy manifestation in tragic drama. Yet, as Burke has said, the "magic spell" of language cannot be broken. The most we can hope for is to "coach" a "better spell." That "better spell" is George Meredith's "comic spirit," as anatomized in Burke's conception of comic drama. Perhaps that is why, when asked for his favorite theologian at SCA in Boston, 1987, Burke answered without a pause, "Niebuhr," Reinhold, the very embodiment of comedy's sense of "limitation" (the Christian realism of Moral Man and Immoral Society), coupled with the charitableness of mid-twentieth-century liberal Mainline Protestantism. In that "comic" orientation, the severities of eternal judgment had long since disappeared (Grammar 101, 406-408; Permanence 195-97, 286-94; Attitudes 37-44, 166-75, 188-90n; Philosophy 119; Meredith, Comedy; Queens College Reception). Burke's bête noir was always an earth-bound "cult of empire," a "perverted religiosity" he called it, not transcendental religion. "Empire" in Burke-speak stands for an immanentized perfectionism. The insatiable quest for "more," and yet "more" still, here in this life—it is this unquenchable striving that prompted the Helhaven Papers, Burke's final assessment of Homo Loquax and their telos. That vision of a decimated planet, the perpetrators of the carnage having escaped to an ultimate gated community in the sky, a "Moon" for the truly "Misbegotten," fleshes out Burke's prediction in the Grammar: the symbol-motivated as bent on carrying their technological project, come what may, to "the end of the line" (Grammar 317-20, 441-43; Human Nature 54-95; O'Neill).

Deacon appears no less pessimistic in his "Epilogue" to Incomplete Nature. There he "sens[es] the tragedy of being part of a civilization unable to turn away from a lifestyle destroying its own future . . ." (539).

Both Deacon and Burke seem to go well enough with the darker predictions about a planet in crisis.


Comparisons between the semiotic theory of anthropologist and scientist Terrence W. Deacon and the dramatism/logology of Kenneth Burke strengthen, it would seem, the validity of Burke's system as a philosophy of language, that is, of distinctly human communication. Six dimensions of support for Burke's dramatism were cited and explored, all of which devolve from, or reflect in some way, negative, noncomponential transcendence of the material world (Incomplete 484). Symbolic abstraction that articulates directly with other symbols in thesaurus-like relationship, not "objects" in the "real world"; a "bi-layered" conception of the human species that mirrors Burke's preference for "things" as necessarily the "signs of words," not vice versa; evolutionary linguistic development founded on an inextricable connection between "purpose" and negation, a hallmark of both Deacon's theory and Burke's philosophy; attitude, or "mood," as essential and motivating accompaniment of any symbolic action; and the nature of the human as, for good or ill (depending on one's ability to moderate via a "comic" linguistic "discount"), essentially symbolic and theological—all these features of Burke's "symbol-using animal" derive reinforcement from Deacon's research (Burke on "discounting," Attitudes 244-46).

One point of conceivable contention is Deacon's potent demonstration, or postulation, of that very "negative" ubiquity. For Deacon, some capacity for negative intuition apparently suffused and suffuses the "behavior" of all nonsymbolic, as well as symbolic, forms of animal life (Incomplete 480). To use Aristotle's term, an "entelechial" purposivness of a kind extrudes in animate beings in general, not just in the "symbol-using animal," one of Deacon's fundamental claims (Burke, Dramatism 57-58; Language 3-9). Four "precursors," as Deacon calls them, of symbolic action anticipated in some "enigmatic" way the full-blown drama of human striving: the negative "absential," the "act"-to-"purpose" trajectory, terms of a kind for "order" that seem to make sense when applied even to the minimally sentient, and an incommensurable, nonreductive aspect to it all, as to purely physical causation. Burke's usually unqualified contrast between symbolic "action" and nonsymbolic "motion" may therefore necessitate some revision. Too often, Burke's dichotomy places lower animals, plants, and the processes of inanimate physical nature all in the same "motion" bin (e.g., Human Nature 139-71).

Where the preliminary purposefulness, or "teleonomic" tendencies, of Deacon's theory may have originated, in the case of nonsymbolic living beings, still poses a dilemma. Deacon argues for an intermediate "morphodynamic," or "form-generating," step. Snow crystals and the hexagonal convection cells in a heated liquid, for two examples, become "spontaneously more organized and orderly over time," via "perturbation" between two morphodynamic systems, "spontaneously" self-organizing "without . . . extrinsic . . . influences" (Incomplete 235-63, 305, 462, 550; "Emergent Process" 3). The crystals and convection cells adumbrate pre-teleonomic dispositions as precursors to life. How convincingly Deacon closes this divide between inanimate and animate is for scientific peers to assess.

"Incidently," Burke says (actually not so "incidently"), "Logology would treat Metaphysics as a coy species of theology" (Religion 24n, 300). Speculation along those metaphysical lines leads to the possibility that "coy" theologian may apply to Terrence Deacon, as well as to Burke. According to Arthur N. Prior, some establishment philosophers call even the linguistic negative "metaphysically embarrassing," let alone one as ostensibly unexplainable and ontologically confounding as Deacon's (Prior 459). Many such thinkers evidence that embarrassment in strained attempts to turn negatives into positives, or by defending a pristinely scientist semiotics in which negation barely fits (Alston, Hacking, Heath, Mundle, Owen, Rosen, Wiggins). A pre- to proto-"drama" of a sort, devolving from a pre-symbolic tropism toward negation and end-directedness of an admittedly "enigmatic" kind, suggests realms of transcendence Neo-Darwinians understandably ignore (Incomplete 31-34). Surely, "bi-layered" beings that see "faces in the clouds" and "run their lives" by "dictates" from an "invisible spiritual world" will follow such transcendental cues to their "compulsi[ve]" "end of the line" (Deacon and Cashman 15; Mish 780, "metaphysical," def. 2a; Burke, Philosophy 70, 84, 86, 88; Dramatism 57-58, on the "metaphysics" of Aristotle's "entelechy").


The author wishes to thank Professor Terrence W. Deacon for his gracious help in facilitating research for this essay, as well as the KB Journal editor and reviewers for their careful reading and useful comments.


1. Deacon's first book, The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain, is widely considered a seminal work in the subject of evolutionary cognition (Schilhab, Stjernfelt, and Deacon 9-38; Deacon, "More Praise," Symbolic Species, frontispiece). Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter has been called, along with other encomiums, "Kuhn[ian] . . . revolutionary science," promising "a revolution of Copernican proportions" and "a profound shift in thinking . . . [to] be compared with . . . [those of] Darwin and Einstein" (qtd. in Deacon, Incomplete i-iii). Deacon has been accorded distinguished lectureships at universities and graduate schools in, among other venues, Holland, Norway, Denmark, and Atlanta, Georgia (Deacon, "Re: Update on Incomplete Nature"; e.g., "Naturalizing Teleology," "On Human (Symbolic) Nature").

2. Crusius calls the categorical distinction between "nonsymbolic motion" and "symbolic action" the "basic polarity" in Burke's philosophy. It subsumes or supersedes "mind-body, spirit-matter, superstructure-substructure . . . thought and extension" (164).

3. On the possibly cryptic meaning of "Incomplete" in the title Incomplete Nature, the order-constraint-"absential"/negative-purpose set of linkages can shed some light. With the term "incomplete," Deacon is referring to the telos, or end-directedness, "absential" or negative motivation confers on all nonsymbolic animal life, as well as the "symbolic species." Deacon posits such a trajectory, attenuated, "understood in a minimal and generic sense," for all living creatures (Incomplete 23, 190-95, 273). "Lower" animals are thus, like humans, creatures perpetually in transition, incessantly "not-quite-there-yet," oriented toward change, fulfillment of a kind, "completion," analogous, at least, in a sense, to the way humans are driven (Burke, Religion 42).

However, according to Deacon, such a negation-prompted "teleology" is, in reality, an "intrinsic teleology," bounded within earth's systems, or should be so conceived. Teleology names a "functional relationship" between "something physically present [that] depends on something specifically absent." Consequently, "Transcendent top-down [beyond-what-is-physically-present] teleology is redundant." The "eternal" does not, or should not, factor in. The quest for the likes of self-enhancement in the broadest sense, in the here and now, is as far as Deacon would take a useful notion of telos.

The symbolizers'problem, according to Deacon: Prompted by language, they, in the mass, do not see things that way (Deacon, "Naturalizing Teleology").

4. That hierarchal "motive of perfection" would not necessarily prompt a need to be "number one" oneself. It could be satisfied by attainment of a position within a respected, if not perfected, hierarchy, from the whole of which one can assess his or her personal standing as a worthy member. Thereby one becomes "a participant in the perfection of the total sequence," perhaps a "vessel of the major attribute identified with the 'superior' class" (Burke, Rhetoric 191, 287).

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The Holism ± Reductionism Dialectic and Transhumanism’s Terministic Screens

Joshua Frye, Humboldt State University


This essay interrogates transhumanistic rhetoric’s technotopian teleological assumption and the profound political implications for its entelechy of human transformation. Burke’s interest in rhetorical form and his insistence on a complex interplay of rhetoric and dialectic are good reasons to examine transhumanism through Burke, and Burke through transhumanism. Additionally, combining Burke’s definition of man, his action/motion distinction, and the body as the place where action and motion meet yields insights on both transhumanist rhetoric and Burke.


The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself —not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity. We need a name for this new belief. Perhaps transhumanism will serve.

—Julian Huxley

The human preoccupation with transcending our species’ physical limitations dates back to ancient history. Transhumanism is one of the most recent and successful discourses dedicated to the melding of technological experimentation and the extension of life for the human species. Transhumanism offers us a rhetorically imagined post natural history future. A robust technophilia and decentering of homo sapiens as a biological organism fuels the “trans-humanist fantasy of escape from the finite materiality of the enfleshed self” (Braidotti 91).

Most accounts of the origins of transhumanism date to the early twentieth century with J. B. S. Haldane’s 1923 publication of the essay Daedalus: Science and the Future. However, what began as an obscure, fringe technotopian science-fiction discourse now boasts of contemporary advocates such as Peter Thiel who have been described in all seriousness as the “shadow president” of the United States (Kosoff 2017). Although transhumanist rhetoric evolved throughout the twentieth century with ideological inflections from several noteworthy thinkers, it has gained quite a lot of considerable ground since then. In 2015, Sam Frank wrote an extended report on transhumanism for Harper’s. Frank discovered the belief in transhumanism alive and well among a cadre he called the “apocalyptic libertarians of Silicon Valley” who are “mostly in their twenties: mathematicians, software engineers, quants, a scientist studying soot, employees of Google and Facebook, an eighteen-year-old Thiel Fellow who’d been paid $100,000 to leave Boston College and start a company, professional atheists, a Mormon turned atheist, an atheist turned Catholic, an Objectivist who was photographed at the premiere of Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike. There were about three men for every woman.” (4). Since the turn of the twenty-first century, this cadre has been busy founding well-funded scientific and political organizations such as the Center For Applied Rationality (CFAR), the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI), and conferences such as the Singularity Summit. They are well-educated, well-resourced, and true believers (Hart 1).

Transhumanists take a machine metaphor and extend it to the digital age as a philosophically and scientifically tenable proposition: the body is hardware; the mind is software. Transhumanists eschew the essentialism of biological determinism and ecological holism, and instead choose to feature relationality as the starting point of an inherent and ontologically polysemous nature-culture continuum. This philosophical assumption could have positive political implications for typically devalued “others” in classical humanism such as nonhuman animals. However, one of transhumanism’s core beliefs is a technotopian telos for determining the best set of relationships and structures for humans and nature through technological intervention. The probable implications of this approach for non-human biological life forms, ecosystems within the biosphere, and the entire human species—are intentionally transformative. As an intellectual movement and social-political program, transhumanism has ethical consequences, implications for bodies and materiality, and transformations yielding altered agencies and responsibilities. Transhumanism imagines expanding the conventional boundaries of homo- sapiens through technological convergence. If this rhetoric were to become reality it would fundamentally alter ontology, epistemology, and axiology in the world as we know it. But what types of transformations are transhumanists trying to advance? And what are some of the implications to transhumanist assumptions and definitions of nature, technology, and man?

This essay interrogates transhumanist rhetoric’s technotopian teleological assumption and the profound political implications for its entelechy of human transformation. Kenneth Burke’s interest in rhetorical form and his insistence on a complex interplay of rhetoric and dialectic (Zappen5) are good reasons to examine transhumanism through Burke, and Burke through transhumanism. Additionally, Burke’s definition of man, his action/motion distinction, and focus on the body as the place where action and motion meet (Burke, Permanence 309), provide a splendid array of grammars that when combined yield insights on both transhumanist rhetoric and Burke. In order to do so, this essay is organized along the following lines.

First, the essay explains and synthesizes the above-mentioned Burkean rhetorical principles. Second, the essay examines transhumanist rhetoric by critically examining the ideological influences of two of its key historical texts— The World, The Flesh, and The Devil (Bernal, 1929) and Transhumanism (Huxley 1953). Third, two cornerstones of contemporary transhumanist rhetoric—the Transhumanist logo and the Transhumanist Declaration—are introduced and critically analyzed. Fourth, the essay concludes what Burke can tell us about transhumanism’s rhetoric on nature, technology, and man and what transhumanism can tell us about Burke’s attitudes toward humans. Throughout the essay, to enrich the dialectic with a perspective by incongruity (Burke, Permanence 89), I contrast transhumanism with its alternative—ecological holism. When juxtaposed with ecological holism, transhumanism appears to be a rhetorically sophisticated instantiation of a reductionist materialist ideology: Instead of a living whole, it offers a mechanically enhanced biological part. Aligning itself with a Cartesian conception of the body, it forsakes the very organicism with which it seeks to unite.

Theoretical Framework

According to Burke, terministic screens are language uses that filter human perception (LSA 45). All symbol systems employ terministic screens in the building of an ideology. As language is the primary resource used in constructing an ideology, terministic screens are an unavoidable part of any ontology, epistemology, or axiology. Therefore, coming to terms with the language uses that occur and recur in the construction, maintenance, contestation, subversion, and transformation of a symbol system that takes itself seriously is a serious undertaking.

In The New Rhetoric, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca present several philosophical pairs with important rhetorical uses. These are: (1) appearance/reality; (2) one/many; and (3) being/nonbeing (423). Examining any major philosophical pair as it manifests in a particular discourse through Burkean rhetorical criticism enables an understanding of the predisposed symbolic action suspended in that particular discourse. As Voigt attests, in the life sciences the holism-reductionism dialectic figures prominently. As an ideology transhumanism normalizes and advocates for a fundamentally altered natural order. As such, what it signifies can be better understood by exploring its latitude of acceptance or rejection of holism and reductionism. As the “universal invariant,” dialectic is both a structural framework and potentially transformative linguistic agent. This is true for the philosophical pair of being and non-being, as well as what Burke calls the fundamental rhetorical situation—segregation and congregation. How humans self identify themselves in this world has profound implications for the rest of this world. The non-humans in this world, including plants, non-human animals, and elements of earth, air, fire, and water are all affected by the ways humans segregate and congregate. How humans use rhetoric to create segregations and congregations of meaning will have consequences for being and non-being, also. Justifications for what gets to exist, in what way, where, how, and why, will be generated from the rhetorical resources of differing congregations and segregations of meaning. This rhetorical situation gives humankind incredible power to manipulate justifications for evaluations over being and non-being. Indeed, as Burke knew, we are both the symbol using and misusing animal.

The relationship between the whole and the parts of any system is a good indicator of a particular rhetorical discourse’s social consequences. Prevalent ecological attitudes toward invasive species are a good example of this. Ecosystems are communities of different species cohabitating. A holistic view of healthy ecosystem management requires from time to time the deliberate eradication of an individual member of a group that “does not belong”—an invasive species. Such a tactic prioritizes the whole over the part in order to maintain a semblance of equilibrium for the other pre-existing individual members of the ecosystem. A reductionist view, however, may question the legitimacy of privileging the whole over the parts, or even a particular part of a larger whole.

The holism-reductionism dialectic is a useful analytical framework for a Burkean interrogation of transhumanism’s terministic screens precisely because as rhetorical discourse, transhumanism thought will necessarily create congregations and segregations of meaning. Moreover, because transhumanism brings into question the very essence of human self-identity, its rhetorical situation uniquely affects not only humans, but the rest of the non-human world as well. In the spirit of Burke’s critical, rhetorical approach to dialectic, I coin the use of the ± symbol with the holism ± reductionism philosophical pair to apprehend transhumanism’s attitude toward holism and reductionism. It allows for an elegant Burkean articulation of how terministic screens goad audiences to develop an attitude of acceptance (+) of one pole of a dialectic while developing an attitude of rejection (-) toward the other. As Frank and Balduc indicated, these rhetorically-charged attitudes can create value hierarchies and through the negotiation of these attitudinal tensions, new social realities are constructed and legitimized (60).

Transhumanists envision virtually endless new social realities: portable holographic message devices transmitted and activated through biochemical control triggers; simulated simulations; boundaryless biomechanical technological advancements; nonmammalian machine men, abstracted information centers with diagrammed tele-nodes to connect with for a reasonable user-fee, memory downloading and identity uploading, etc. Rhetoric has always concerned itself with the probable contingent human social realities caused through intermediated symbolic agency. While “the possible” is a fertile space for imagination and rhetorical inventio, freewheeling symbolic action will always be interfered with at some point by a rhetor with some…or other bias or vested interest. In other words, while some aspects of tranhumanists’ vision for what is possible and desirable may be uncontroversial or beneficial, other elements of this “far-out rhetoric” (Frank 7) will likely meet resistance and become targets for rhetorical disputation on ethical, political, cultural, religious, economic, and medical grounds.

Now that the theoretical framework has been explained and synthesized, the essay uses this framework to examine two landmark transhumanism texts: J. D. Bernal’s essay “The World, The Flesh, and The Devil” (1929) and Julian Huxley’s “Transhumanism” (1953). These particular texts have been selected to analyze transhumanist rhetoric due to their central role in the ideological figuration of the contemporary transhumanist movement. Bernal was the first reputed respondent to J. B. S. Haldane’s groundbreaking 1923 essay Daedalus: Science and the Future and is one of the contemporary transhumanist movement’s progenitors. Huxley is purported to have been the first rhetor to have used the word “transhumanism” in his public discourse (Bostrom 2005).

Transhumanism’s Terministic Screens

Historical Texts and Ideological Influence

Transhumanist discourse enjoins a scientistic use of language. Early transhumanist discourse was influenced by twentieth-century scientists to “translate the problems of action into terms of motion” (Burke, Grammar 239). Perhaps this is not so surprising. This reduction of action to motion was one of Burke’s chief complaints with General Semantics—the field which influenced cybernetics, which has in turn been one of the most influential predecessors of the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), a version of action-motion convergence that transhumanism has embraced.

To apprehend this scientistic feature of transhumanist rhetoric one only need attend closely to its seminal writings through a Burkean lens. In the essay “Transhumanism” penned in 1953, Julian Huxley displays a curious scientistic application of an approach to the action-motion nexus while defining man. Huxley professes adherence to scientific knowledge, evolution, technological progress, and control over nature, while simultaneously offering a profound need for man to have faith in this knowledge:

It is as if man had been suddenly appointed managing director of the biggest business of all, the business of evolution —appointed without being asked if he wanted it, and without proper warning and preparation. What is more, he can’t refuse the job. Whether he wants to or not, whether he is conscious of what he is doing or not, he is in point of fact determining the future direction of evolution on this earth. That is his inescapable destiny, and the sooner he realizes it and starts believing in it, the better for all concerned. (13)

In other words, as Burke so ingeniously observed about how language functions as a terministic screen, “crede, ut intelligas,” or “Believe, that you may understand.” Burke provides us with the analytical ability to read into this passage the sine qua non of language as attitudinal and hortatory. In this passage, one of transhumanism’s early proponents prepares the way for future audiences to believe in certain implications of man’s advanced evolutionary status. There is also a strain of pre-determination in this passage. Whether he wants or realizes it, man has an “inescapable destiny." In this early transhumanist rhetoric, the predictive agency of science combines with a definition of man that itself uses symbolic action to advance an idealization of motion.

To elaborate on these features of transhumanism language use, and to provide further insight into transhumanism’s terministic screens, transhumanist rhetorics of materiality and body will now be addressed. Key words in transhumanism texts such as “mechanical,” imitate,” “construction,” and “possibility” bind together in the discourse and provide a better understanding of the metaphysics of the transhumanism ideology.

For transhumanism, the cosmos is essentially physical material to be conquered and repurposed for transhumans. Human existence has endless possibility in this manipulable material scene. In his landmark transhumanism essay, “The World, The Flesh, and the Devil,” written in 1929, J. D. Bernal expounds upon this “reality,” which is of course only one particular view filtered through the terministic screens which the author himself has invoked. This is what Burke meant when he wrote that

Not only does the nature of our terms affect the nature of our observations, in the sense that the terms direct the attention to one field rather than to another. Also, many of the “observations” are but implications of the particular terminology in terms of which the observations are made. In brief, much that we take as observations about “reality” may be but the spinning out of possibilities implicit in our particular choice of terms (Language as Symbolic Action 46).

Bernal’s notion of the cosmos, the “physical world” in his sub-essay “The World” is a stage where transhumans can rearrange the set at will and where the “macro-mechanical” (Bernal’s term for outer space) and the “micro-mechanical” (Bernal’s term for the subatomic molecular biological world) should be manipulated by imitating nature’s script—its “mechanism of evolution” in order to construct a new existence where our species can improve upon nature and defeat our “opponent”—space-time curvature and entropy.

Bernal’s rhetorical move of abstracting information from the physical forms of biological organisms and planetary or cosmic systems is one of many disconcerting features of transhumanism discourse (Brooke, 788). It is also interesting to note that in his exposition on “reality,” Bernal feminizes nature and adopts an antagonistic attitude toward biological, spatial, and temporal constraints on the human condition of mortality. Thus, it is interesting to note that in 2015—as Frank observed—there are three times as many men as women—at transhumanism gatherings. This rhetoric seems to exude a paternalistic and even misogynistic attitude toward nature, which is feminine. Furthermore, in Bernal’s rhetoric, due to the plastic nature of our mechanistic, materialistic physical reality (motion) and the antagonistic attitudes toward nature inherent in the essay, the terministic screen of “construction” yields the possibility of a newly built hierarchy complete with mechanical angels, transhumanism space colonies, and human zoos; It is almost as if this early transhumanism ideologue is rewriting Dante’s vision of the universe, with a set of decidedly different language filters. Out of this scientistic, antagonistic, and paternalistic materialism, derives the transhumanism corollary of the human body, which is devalued. An interesting perspective by incongruity can be offered here by the rhetoric of ecological holism.

Because ecology is a subfield of biology, ontologically speaking, corporeality is construed as living matter. Furthermore, in ecological holism, parts of a system are biological parts that are functionally integrated into mutually necessary relationships. It is precisely because ecological holism does not abstract information from biological bodies that the distinction between nature and culture is unwarranted. In ecological holism, information is embodied and distributed in functional networks constrained by ecological principles such as predation, population balance, and succession. In ecological holism, corporeal bodies are “bio” logical, embedded in, and constitutive of food chains. For this very reason organicism is vital to ecological holism. Bodies are for consuming and being consumed, not plastic material containers for a directing and extractable intelligence. Thus, one of the key terms of ecology—decomposition—provides a striking antilogy when compared with key terms constituting transhumanism’s terministic screens. Because the terministic screen of ecological holism begins with biological premises, bodies of living things decompose. This process means the bodies of individual life form parts of the living system and eventually become food for other members of the system.

As Hawhee has extensively argued, bodies are rhetorical. In Burke’s definition of man, the body is where action and motion meet. The body in transhumanism discourse, is degraded. This implication, as many deep ecologists and eco-feminists have noted, is already present in Descartes’ cogito ergo sum (Plant 1989). In transhumanist rhetoric, because of its essentialist materialist assumptions, the body becomes the site for a problematic tension between teleological mechanism and human identity. Because the body is the nexus between symbolic action and non-symbolic motion (Burke, “(Nonsumbolic Motion)”814) transhumanism’s terministic screen spins out its rhetorical resources in a reconceptualization of the body, including the brain. In his sub-essay, “The Flesh,” Bernal posits: “man himself must actively interfere in his own making and interfere in a highly unnatural manner”. It is here, with regard to the human body, that Bernal advances and perhaps “perfects” the reductive nature of transhumanism’s teleological materialism. In contrast, Burke understood the entelechial motivation of man as contributing to man’s rottenness. Man, for Burke, is “rotten with perfection.” It is the very symbol use and misuse that goads man on to perfect his vision of the world without recognizing that he is endeavoring to actualize the implications inherent in his own terminology. This is exactly the insight that brings Burke to declare that man is, “rotten with perfection.” It is when Bernal’s and Burke’s definition and conceptualization of man’s relationship to his body are juxtaposed that we see dramatic differences between transhumanist rhetoric and Burke.

According to Bernal, the invasive procedure of surgery has taken humans further along the evolutionary journey. The improvement of “primitive nature” in adapting stones, clothes, spectacles, and artificial languages are indicative signs of this technological progress. However, it is with surgery that humans need to “copy” and “short-circuit” evolution by altering the germ plasm to break off from organic evolution, manufacture life, transform human beings, and build a “mentally-directed mechanism”. The primacy of mind over matter is revealed in what Bernal believes is a mere difference of degree of the “mechanism of evolution” rather than a difference of type. Never mind that the body has now become a kind of mechanical canister containing a compound mind. According to Bernal, this “mechanical man” will “conserve none of the substance and all of the spirit” of our species’ previous selfhood. It is at this very place in the discourse where Burke would warn of the problematic overlay of the terminology of motion onto the symbolic world of action. The body has been reduced to a sheer canister (i.e., “substance”) exactly because transhumanism’s terministic screen has abstracted mind (i.e., “spirit”) to such a stellar degree that the converse pole of the dialectic—body—has been devalued so that corporeal reality could mean anything, even a plastic sheath. Early transhumanist rhetoric is not just authorizing plastic surgery but rather a complete manipulation of the human body to an unrecognizable form. Another way to think about this is that because of transhumanism’s prioritization of the abstracted mind the material body gets left behind or undeveloped. This is a lopsided dialectic where the mind is equated with action and the body with motion. This suggests that transhumanism is a complex version of a reductionistic materialism.

The implications for the material body as seen through transhumanism’s terministic screens are perplexing. Moving closer to machinery and further away from biology has many nuances. The intangibility of mind/spirit and the corporeality of the body has had humans wavering between animals and machines in classical and contemporary literature and philosophy. In classical Greek theater, God was introduced to a scene with humans brought onto stage suspended in air with the help of a mechanical crane-like device (Deus ex machine). Descartes introduced his famous mind/body dualism in the 1600s. More recent 20th twentieth-century accounts are found in examples such as Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle’s “Ghost in the Machine” and John Durham Peters contemporary account of the history of communication. These investigations span thousands of years of this most human preoccupation. In the transhumanism view, spirit and substance are posited as inherent binaries. Thus, fundamentally altering the body—including the brain—is acceptable because the “spirit” of humanity will continue in a vastly transformed if unrecognizable package.

The continuity in this material transformation of the human would result from immensely more complex physical configurations enabling redistribution of energy and information, but perhaps not memory. Mind controls and directs the information, thus body becomes a plastic vehicle necessary to house the infinitely greater potentiality of mind, which has been compounded with information added from other abstracted individual minds. The human body seen through this terministic screen is essentially a vessel for compounding and re-distributing information. By many current social norms organ transplants could give way to organ harvesting; substitution of living parts (e.g., organs) to extend the life of the whole (e.g., organism) is a comparatively accepted practice. However, mind uploading, eugenics, bio-ports, and nanotechnological implants—by and large commended by transhumanists—is another matter.  It is in this way that transhumanist rhetoric differs significantly from contemporary dominant biomedical ethics and functions as a mechanically-oriented mythology of the future. Transhumanism privileges a scientistic and technologically-rendered redefinition of what humans are meant to be: “Believe, that you may understand.” Transhumanists imagine that these further technological developments are consistent with “actively interfering with our own making” which we have been doing since we started making stone tools and using fire. In other words, they see even these fundamental alterations to the human being as differences in degree rather than differences in kind. The real difference however, can be seen in terms of the transformed identity and experience of transhumanist reality. These issues can be examined through transhumanism’s role for human beings—their agency and responsibility. For it is here in the mode of roles, Burke contends, where symbolic action shapes the Self.

It should be clear at this point in the analysis that transhumanism has strong tendencies for a kind of teleological mechanism and a species-centric frame. What needs to be understood and emphasized, however, is just how strong these ideological tendencies are in terms of the role and moral imperative of homo sapiens in transhumanism discourse. Key words such as “man,” “colony,” and “control” indicate a metanarrative of axiological claims with troubling sociopolitical and socioeconomic implications.

In transhumanism discourse, man’s agency comes not from his mutuality with other beings and his environment, as it does in shamanism (Abram The Spell 1996), but rather from his evolutionary uniqueness. It is with regard to the conception of man’s agency and his responsibilities that we see the rhetorical implications of transhumanism’s terministic screens spun out into full-fledged progress myth with man at the helm of the entire universe. Bernal writes of a “humanly controlled universe” where “as time goes on, the acceptance, the appreciation, even the understanding of nature, will be less and less needed” (The World, The Flesh, and The Devil). Huxley ordains man’s role as the “managing director of evolution” (Transhumanism). Isolated in his inevitable directorship, man will subdue, transform, and control everything, including his own ontological rearrangement. Here we see fully developed the agency of the transhumanist. His responsibilities include mastery of time and space, extending “human” life indefinitely, and establishing a superordinate hierarchy of power where a potential dimorphism between “humanizers” and “mechanizers” could result in transhumanist space colonies lording over a terrestrial human zoo where observation and experimentation are the purview of the more advanced “machine men.”

The reductionism inherent in transhumanism discourse is such a strongly developed version that this extinction scenario complete with a technologically-based evolutionary divergence within homo sapiens is the fatalistic outcome of a teleological mechanism. In this transhumanist rhetorical drama “intelligence” as a “product” of evolutionary process reacts to a “material” universe. In terms of this perfected machine-man’s agentic responsibilities for “humanizing” non-human features of the natural order, in 2015 a contemporary transhumanist explained to a Harper’s journalist,

If you think it through, actually, when a zebra is being eaten alive by a lion, that’s one of the worst experiences that you could possibly have. And if we are compassionate toward our pets and our kids, and we see a squirrel suffering in our backyard and we try to help it, why wouldn’t we actually want to help the zebra?” We could genetically engineer lions into herbivores, he suggested, or drone-drop in-vitro meat whenever artificial intelligence detects a carnivore’s hunger, or reengineer “ecosystems from the ground up, so that all the evolutionarily stable equilibriums that happen within an ecosystem are actually things that we consider ethical.” (Frank 6).

Finally, there is a conflation of intentionality and causality in this part of transhumanist discourse that can only be understood as a category mistake. It is the entelechial motivation of the transhumanism terminsitic screen that would bring about this scenario, not the necessary organic evolution of the species. It is instructive that Burke interprets Aristotle as locating the principle of evil in the realm of the potentiality of matter: “The scientific concept of potential energy lacks the degree of ambiguity one encounters in the potential as applied to the realm of living beings in general and human beings in particular” (Grammar of Motives 243). It is this tension between potentiality and actuality of matter where Burke’s paradox of substance and Aristotle’s concept of entelechy informs us that which is capable of being is also capable of not being. transhumanism ontology would bring about the end of not-being and usher in eternal life for its machine men. Just as potential however would be its consequence of bringing about not-being for human beings as we know them to be. But it is transhumanism axiology that is working to make this potential actual, not the inevitable evolutionary role and responsibility of human beings. For Burke, form was the fulfillment of entelechy. The transformation of the human that early ideological influences in transhumanist rhetoric propose is a perfect illustration of what Burke meant when he said that man was rotten with perfection:

The principle of perfection (the ‘entelechial’ principle) figures in other notable ways as regards the genius of symbolism. A given terminology contains various implications, and there is a corresponding ‘perfectionist’ tendency for men to attempt carrying out those implications (Burke 1966, p. 19).

Contemporary Transhumanist Rhetoric

The essay now examines two key elements to the contemporary rhetoric of transhumanism: The transhumanist logo and “The Transhumanist Declaration”. These rhetorics are essential to constructing the dominant symbolic identity of the contemporary transhumanist ethos. Logos have become an immensely potent force in contemporary culture, and are no longer the exclusive purview of corporate brands. They are equally central to social marketing campaigns and social movements of all types. According to Naomi Klein (1999), a logo is now “the central force of everything it touches” (29). In addition to the power of logos, declarations have long been used as political and legal statements of identity and value. In combination, the transhumanist logo and Transhumanist Declaration provide a synthesized “identity platform” including both visual and textual elements to analyze.

The transhumanist logo (see Figure 1) is the codified identity of the transhumanist movement and is featured by prominent organizations belonging to the movement such as Humanity+, Inc. and the Transhumanist Party. The transhumanist logo betrays an attitude of acceptance toward reductionism, or what this analysis calls a “Reductionist+” leaning.

Figure 1.

The primary contention regarding the transhumanist logo pertains to the misconceived or misrepresented nature of the dialectic of substance, or identity. The transhumanist logo is incomplete or partial, in a way. As we have seen, transhumanist rhetoric claims that its ideology values relationality rather than strict and narrow identity for human beings. The transhumanist logo, however, freezes a symbolic representation of identity that is rhetorically biased. The “h” stands for human or humanity. In addition to this, the logo adds a plus sign to suggest that transhumans are “more than” human. In fact, this positive integer is only a fraction, and a misleading one at that. The inherent significance of transhuman is that humans’ existence is obtained as a condition of permanent incompleteness and constant re-location or re-lationship. Harold (2000) identifies this quality of the posthuman condition when she states that bodies “are continually mutating through its relationship” (884) with outside forces such as food and technologies. The fact that the transhumanist logo symbolizes incompleteness is not inherently problematic. The problem is that with transhumanist’s logois that this intermediacy or indeterminacy is given an overt “+” sign and a correlating implicit attitude of acceptance. There is a subtle conflation of symbolism such that the plus sign (“+”) in the transhumanist logo means both “more than” and “positive”. Why is there not a minus sign in the logo also representative of what humans would be losing, subtracting, or giving up in their acceptance of being more than human?

From a Burkean perspective, this is a perfect revelation of the fundamental rhetorical situation. Transhumanism advocates have assembled as a group of human rhetors to rearticulate the meaning of the human condition. In the unfolding dialectic of their rhetoric, they have convinced themselves that the rhetorical vision they have articulated together is not only fundamentally accurate metaphysically or scientifically but fundamentally positive in terms of axiology. If transhumanism were a neutral or objective scientific rhetoric of the dialectic of substance, the logo would require the missing minus sign. Over time, the ambiguity of this meaning system would fade and future audiences would then be left with a polished meaning system belying the bias and vested interest of the meaning-makers themselves. In other words, while advocates of the posthuman condition may reasonably propose that humans are and always have been indeterminate, it is clear from the transhumanist logo that what is very determined is the positive bias toward whatever post-human entity is arrived at through whichever technological mutation is desired or sanctioned by transhumanist ideology.

What is more, the Transhumanist Party, founded in 2014, has encoded the transhumanist logo into a flag (see Figure 2) that is an alteration of the official flag of the United States of America. Flags, of course, are an important rhetorical staple in the legitimization of an imagined community (Billig 45-46). Decoding the Transhumanist Party flag is not difficult. In place of the stars that symbolize the 50 states that make up the United States of America, the transhumanist movement has substituted their logo. Apparently, instead of the political imaginary of 50 “states” united, under a Transhumanist Party ideology we would have a country united by various species of transhumanist beings. In addition to recently forming the Transhumanist Party as a non-profit organization, in 2015 the Party presented a Tranhumanist Bill of Rights to Washington and announced a 2016 US presidential candidate. In 2017, Peter Thiel—a prominent transhumanism advocate is a powerful presidential advisor for Donald Trump.

TH Flag
Figure 2.

The World Transhumanist Association and Humanity+, Inc. are two contemporary transhumanist organizations. They both offer substantially similar versions of the Transhumainst Declaration. Humanity+, Inc. acknowledges that the Transhumanist Declaration was originally crafted by an international group of authors in 1998 and has undergone several modifications. The current Declaration was jointly created between the World Transhumanist Association, Humanity+, Inc. and the Extropy Institute. The Declaration was adopted by the Humanity+, Inc. Board of Directors in 2009. The original World Transhumanist Association declaration offered seven transhumanist assertions while Humanity+, Inc. offered eight. As mentioned above, the assertions of these two versions of the Transhumanist Declaration are substantially similar. Taken from Humanity+, Inc., the Declaration offers the following formulations:

  1. Humanity stands to be profoundly affected by science and technology in the future. We envision the possibility of broadening human potential by overcoming aging, cognitive shortcomings, involuntary suffering, and our confinement to planet Earth.
  2. We believe that humanity’s potential is still mostly unrealized. There are possible scenarios that lead to wonderful and exceedingly worthwhile enhanced human conditions.
  3. We recognize that humanity faces serious risks, especially from the misuse of new technologies. There are possible realistic scenarios that lead to the loss of most, or even all, of what we hold valuable. Some of these scenarios are drastic, others are subtle. Although all progress is change, not all change is progress.
  4. Research effort needs to be invested into understanding these prospects. We need to carefully deliberate how best to reduce risks and expedite beneficial applications. We also need forums where people can constructively discuss what should be done, and a social order where responsible decisions can be implemented.
  5. Reduction of existential risks, and development of means for the preservation of life and health, the alleviation of grave suffering, and the improvement of human foresight and wisdom should be pursued as urgent priorities, and heavily funded.
  6. Policy making ought to be guided by responsible and inclusive moral vision, taking seriously both opportunities and risks, respecting autonomy and individual rights, and showing solidarity with and concern for the interests and dignity of all people around the globe. We must also consider our moral responsibilities towards generations that will exist in the future.
  7. We advocate the well-being of all sentience, including humans, non-human animals, and any future artificial intellects, modified life forms, or other intelligences to which technological and scientific advance may give rise. We favour allowing individuals wide personal choice over how they enable their lives. This includes use of techniques that may be developed to assist memory, concentration, and mental energy; life extension therapies; reproductive choice technologies; cryonics procedures; and many other possible human modification and enhancement technologies.

Both sets of declarations disdain biological determinism, adopt the master rhetorical frame of rights1 (Benford 1), advise rational discussion and debate on the integration of humans and technology, proclaim the well-being of all sentience, and are hopeful for “enhanced” human conditions but adversarial about technological bans/prohibitions.

A few significant differences between the two declarations deserve to be mentioned. The Humanity+ declaration calls for heavy investment in this research agenda and uses an appeal to urgency. The master rhetorical frame of rights is also used differently by the two different transhumanist organizations. Humanity+ uses the more accepted language of “individual rights”. The World Transhumanist Association uses a much more aggressive stance with the language of “moral right”. The World Transhumanist Association claims that transhumanism encompasses many principles of modern humanism and also that transhumanism does not support any particular political party, politician, or platform.

There are many noteworthy rhetorical maneuvers in these declarations, including the use of the rights master frame, appeals to urgency, association with generally agreed upon values, euphemisms, appeals to rationality, negative and positive rhetorical visions of the future, opposition and advocacy of different versions of determinism, and objectivist rhetoric. While fuller elaboration of these rhetorical moves is outside the scope of this chapter, they are significant rhetorical aspects to the Transhumanist Declaration.

The most important feature of these declarations for the thesis advanced in this essay is the recurrence of the focus on individuals. This lends further support for the claim that the transhumanist is a rhetorically sophisticated instantiation of a reductionist ideology: instead of a living whole, it offers a mechanically enhanced biological part. What is remarkable is the fact that this reductionism happens on two levels: the individual human being in relation to his/her environment as part of an ecosystem and the human organism in relation to his/her own biological organs and biochemical electrical systems. Whether the language invoked is “individual rights,” “personal growth,” “personal choice,” “human potential,” “modified human,” or “enhanced human conditions,” there is a thoroughgoing reductionism which privileges the (trans)human over another human or all (trans)humans over everything else. This reductionism leads to a problematic hierarchy. Burke (1950) reminds us that hierarchy, “with its original meaning of ‘priest-rule’” (306) can also be found in “the Darwinian doctrine of natural evolution” (137). But when the principle of hierarchy is reduced to purely material gradations of “higher” and “lower,” we “are then in the state of the ‘fall,’ the communicative disorder that goes with the building of the technological Tower of Babel” (139).

Ecological holism and even evolutionary biology on the other hand, recognize mutuality between human beings, other life forms, and the nested energy between individual organisms and their ecosystems. At a very basic level, the fact that the human body is teeming with millions of bacteria and outnumbers human cells at a ratio of 10:1, reflects this mutuality (Mara & Hawk, 2010, 2). Furthermore, ecological holism does not attempt to understand life forms in isolation. Not only do transhumanism’s terministic screens isolate human beings, they associate the human species more closely with machines and actively disassociates them from nonhuman animals and terrestrial flora. The omission of terrestrial flora and inanimate elements should be noted also; Man-made machines are given priority over naturally occurring non-animal biological or elemental forms of life. Some scholarly accounts go as far as claiming that transhumanism has no concern for other living beings (Welsch 3).

Prioritizing wholes rather than parts, rejecting reductionism, and eschewing oversimplification, ecological holism employs terms such as community, association, emergence, organicism, integration, niche, diversity, symbiosis, and web. Because ecological holism’s attitude that the whole is a community of organisms that create a “superorganism” (Voigt), individual species (and members of species), agency is constrained by the living system’s needs and responsibility manifests as playing one’s part in the community, analogous to an organ’s functioning for an organism. The terministic screens of ecological holism are socialized in a manner that transhumanism cannot be. While individual interactions constitute the whole, a living system (i.e., association, community, ecosystem) cannot be fully understood by reducing it to the sum total of its interspecific relationships.

Concluding Thoughts

This analysis of transhumanism’s terministic screens has fleshed out many of the filters this discourse has employed through the rhetorical resources of its key texts and contemporary symbols. In particular, this analysis brought into focus its positive bias toward “humanity+”; The Transhumanist Declaration’s reductive focus on the part rather than the whole at numerous levels; problematic hierarchy; a materialistic view of the physical universe; a degrading attitude toward the human body and a paternalistic attitude toward nature; teleological mechanism; a utopian myth of technological progress; and a category mistake between causality and intentionality.

If rhetoric emerges from dialectic, then the hope is that this critical analysis has provided some illumination of the assumptions, implications, and probable consequences of transhumanism’s terministic screens. The terminological screens through which transhumanists spin out the resources of their rhetoric include mechanism, imitation, possibility, colony, man, sentience, control, and construction. These screens filter some meanings and values in and other meanings and values out. Included in the in-filtering are ideologies of micro and macro mechanism, reductionism, technotopia, transcolonialism, neoanthropocentrism, material hierarchy, and a scientistic predetermination of man’s agency to transcend itself. The out-filtering contains many other versions of posthumanism, postcolonialism, classical humanism, evolutionary biology, ecological holism, egalitarianism, and normative biomedical ethics.

The word “transhumanism” has been selected to function as the title of this brave new movement. As any terminology “must implicitly or explicitly embody choices between the principle of continuity and the principle of discontinuity” (Language, 50) which do transhumanists choose? Does the “trans” or the “human” control the direction for the transhumanist’s rhetorically imagined future? If the “trans” wins, the principle of discontinuity for the species prevails; If the “human” wins, the principle of continuity for the species succeeds. Most terminologies do not conjoin the dialectical ambiguities of language into a unified whole. The new relationality transhumanists posit between man and nature with technology as the boundless mediator reflects this entitlement. This is both the genius of transhumanism as well as its associated risk. In this analysis, the conclusion is that transhumanism privileges discontinuity for the species’ public memory and inherited identity of what it means to remember and to be human.

In a way, the discontinuity between humans and the rest of nature stressed by other scientific (Darwinian evolution), metaphysical (Dante), and theological (Judeo-Christianity) hierarchies aligns transhumanists with a transcendent attitude of man’s “true nature.” On the other hand, transhumanists do declare an alliance with and respect for all sentient life. Most importantly, unlike ecological holists, transhumanists’ sense of continuity comes at the cost of a significant reductionism. This unique brand of reductionism would replace a biological whole for a mechanical part, not deducing a difference in kind that would result and consequently devalue other “non-mutated” biological forms in the elaborate web of life of which the human participates.

The fact that transhumanist adherents have continued to evolve this rhetoric over the past century to the current moment where The Transhumanist Declaration exhorts followers to advocate for a well-funded scientific research agenda aligned with these principles is perhaps where the rubber hits the road. If transhumanists are effective in their axiological claims (i.e., their worldly advocacy), scientific research would be redirected, biomedical ethics norms would be undermined, nanotechnology would incorporate an active program of biomechanics and genetic manipulation, and perhaps even eugenics would gain newfound legitimacy with machine men advancing over the “humanizers.”

One of the key insights of juxtaposing transhumanist rhetoric with Burke’s rhetorical theory is Burke’s humbling of humans. Rather than elevating man above the rest of the natural world, Burke recognizes both continuities and discontinuities between the human species and other life forms. Burke realized that not only are we caught up in webs of signification that we ourselves have spun, but that the urge and compulsion of humans to perfect their terminologies and thereby themselves does not lead to transcendence. We are animals, but so too are we separated from “our natural condition by tools of our own making” (Burke, 1966,  Language 13). In attempting to perfect its own terminology—and our species in the process—transhumanism’s terministic screens lead instead to a privileging of mere motion and machinery, and would substitute the authentic human spirit for mastery of an eternity of motion. It is the perfecting of transhumanism’s terministic screens through symbolic action that allow this possibility. Transhumanist rhetoric advocates for a type of transcendence for our species that some of us may be goaded by. But while we are goaded by this spirit of hierarchy, rather than collective elevation or sustainability through ecological holism, Transhumanist rhetoric spins out a strong materialist reductionism, substituting a mechanical part for an organic whole. Burke realized that “substitution sets the condition for ‘transcendence’” (LSA 8). But for him, this should not be seen by our species as an invitation to self-flattery, but rather admonition.


1. The concept of a “master frame” has been used by social scientists to explain the success of certain political discourse occurring within social movements.  Basically, a master frame such as “rights” is appropriated by a movement and applied to its own domain of discourse.  For example, “civil rights,” “animal rights,” “women’s rights,” “indigenous rights,” etc.  The fact that the Transhumanist Party has developed a Bill of Rights in the last year indicates this is a rhetorical strategy of the movement.  For a more lengthy explanation of the concept of master frame, see Robert D. Benford’s 2013 entry in the Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social & Political Movements.

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George Meredith and the Comic Spirit in Kenneth Burke's Early Poetry

William Schraufnagel, Northern Illinois University


This article reads several unpublished poems written by Kenneth Burke as influenced by George Meredith's 1877 Essay on Comedy. It argues that critics have expected too much of Burke's comic criticism, as Meredith restricted comedy to a narrow social realm. Contrary to an understanding of Burke's poetry as "arhetorical," the poems reflect social awareness informed by Meredith. However, Burke's internalization of Meredith sometimes inclined Burke to the bitterness of satire.

Introduction: Limitations of Burke's Comic Criticism

One of Kenneth Burke's best-known critical orientations is the "comic frame" of motives, first articulated in his 1937 work Attitudes Toward History. The comic frame applies lessons learned from the dramatic art of comedy to the interpretation of history. Arnie J. Madsen describes it as an attitude midway between "euphemism" and "debunking," neither totally condemning, nor totally praising (170). Both self-corrective and charitable toward the errors of others, "[t]he comic attitude thus allows for transcendence and the transformation of losses into assets" (171). Scholars have applied Burke's comic frame to discourses as various as Gandhi, nineteenth century feminism, the cult of empire, nuclear weapons, cyberpunk fiction, and film.1

Although it may have originated as a stage art in ancient Greece, "comedy" in Burke is a specific mode of criticism. William H. Rueckert traces Burke's "comic criticism" from its late-1930s articulation in Attitudes Toward History through the last appendix to that book written in 1983. Pitted against the global tragedy of an impersonal, relentless drive toward high technology and the cult of empire, Burke, the word-man, offers "comic criticism." According to Rueckert, in comic criticism "symbolic verbal structures function as purgative-redemptive rituals of rebirth for those who enact them" (114). The critic accepts some, rejects others, and thereby adopts a properly socialized attitude, reborn in the light of social correction.

Rueckert admits, however, the difficulty of the term "comic." The evils of technology and empire never go away. Comedy responds to the "tragic" situation as a corrective. What can comedy do in the face of such an intractable opponent? Is there an inevitable or fixed "comic stance" for the critic to adopt? Rueckert breaks down the answer into two components: comedy allows us, first, to adapt to external circumstances and, second, to "contemplate [our need for order] with neo-stoic resignation" (129). The "order" which oppresses us from the outside also drives us "internally." Recognition of this fact allows us, in a way, to forgive ourselves and others for the inevitable victimization inherent in order. It may even provoke laughter.

Herbert W. Simons, for one, objects to the finality of the comic stance. Calling for "warrantable outrage," Simons insists, "Surely there must be thought and expression that proceeds beyond humble irony," a watchword for Burke's comic frame. Simons continues, assuming his audience must agree with him, "Yet there surely must be in some cases—not all—a stage beyond the sneer of primal outrage and the smile of comedy" (n.p.). This use of "must" raises the question. Why must there be something beyond comedy? Undoubtedly, Simons perceives the warrant for his own outrage, but in the process he obfuscates, rather than clarifies, the function of comedy. Simons regards some geopolitical tragedies as "beyond comedy": for instance, Adolf Hitler. But as we shall see, comedy was never intended to stretch its capacities to all of human existence. Another way of phrasing "beyond comedy" would be to acknowledge the limitations which make comedy possible.

Building on the work of Simons, Gregory Desilet and Edward A. Appel do a better job of showing how what they call the "filter of comic framing" (351) can provide a "warrant" for outrage. One can justifiably oppose those actions which de-humanize others only after recognizing the universal tendency to de-humanize others: "Burke still sees Hitler as within natural (human) boundaries rather than absolutely 'other,' as horribly and censurably mistaken rather than essentially vicious and evil" (352). Comedy reduces all of us to fools, Hitler included, but it does not thereby imply moral equivalence or passivity in the face of injustice.

The comic frame remains integral to Burke's stance as a critic and cannot be reduced to a simple formula such as "humble irony." The deep concern the comic frame draws from scholars suggests that it warrants further exploration.

One fact, not heretofore stressed by scholars, is that Burke did not invent the comic frame but learned it in high school from the British poet-novelist George Meredith. In a damaged letter from the "Burke-3" archive at Penn State, written possibly on September 14, 1917, Burke wrote to his friend Malcolm Cowley, "as Meredith pointed out in that essay of his on comedy which was once my Bible for a week or two, a cultured nation must invariably find its expression in comedy." Burke refers to Meredith's An Essay on Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit, originally an address delivered at the London Institution on February 1, 1877, and published in the New Quarterly magazine in April 1877. Burke evidently read and absorbed this essay in high school (from which he graduated in 1915). Unpublished poems, also in the archive, from late 1915 demonstrate Meredith's influence on Burke and present an early expression of Burke's comic stance over two decades prior to its formulation as a critical mode.

By first examining Meredith's Essay on Comedy, followed by a close reading of Burke's 1915 poems, this study aims to reveal two aspects of a comic approach to criticism that have not yet been emphasized in the scholarship. First, comedy operates within a restricted domain under definite social conditions, the primary condition (in Meredith) being equality of the sexes; second, comedy originates in a social perspective. Burke's adoption of the comic stance internalized what Meredith calls the "comic spirit," and so Burke's version stresses self-criticism, but the solitary, romantic individual belongs to tragedy. These insights can help direct scholars' attention to better uses of the comic spirit in criticism.

George Meredith's Essay on Comedy

Meredith's essay shows explicit concern with the social conditions necessary for comedy, marked by anxiety over whether these have been achieved in England. Although Shakespeare shows characters "saturated with the comic spirit … creatures of the woods and wilds," Meredith's idea of the comic, as a social phenomenon, flourishes more precisely "in walled towns … grouped and toned to pursue a comic exhibition of the narrower world of society" (16–17). Here, Meredith's archetype of the comic poet is Molière at the royal court of Louis XIV in France.

The essence of the comic spirit as exemplified by Molière is to bring a "calm curious eye" (21) to the study of manners within a closed civilization. Such a society and such a poet are rarely to be found in any time or place. The archetypal comic activity seems to be a witty exchange between men and women as equals, as they approach each other: "[W]hen [men and women] draw together in social life their minds grow liker" (24). Meredith acknowledges the comic precursors Menander and Aristophanes in Greece, but implies that while they may have inspired hearty laughter with shrewd intellectual perception, their comic potential was limited by the inequality between sexes in their societies.

The possibility of comedy links directly to social conditions. Comedy illumines the social, but also takes its origins from an "assemblage of minds" (Meredith 76). Meredith expresses the interpersonal phenomenon of the comic spirit: "You may estimate your capacity for Comic perception by being able to detect the ridicule of them you love, without loving them less: and more by being able to see yourself somewhat ridiculous in dear eyes, and accepting the correction their image of you proposes" (72). To shy away from comic perception, according to Meredith, adopts an "anti-social position," of which Meredith significantly accuses the poet Lord Byron (76). A choice to enter society amounts to a choice to accept the world in comic tones.

Philosophically, Meredithian comedy represents "an interpretation of the general mind." Socially, "[t]he Comic poet is in the narrow field, or enclosed square, of the society he depicts; and he addresses the still narrower enclosure of men's intellects, with reference to the operation of the social world upon their characters" (79–80). This abstract, general mind, operating within a closed civilization, can be translated into a subjective feeling which Meredith equates with an explicit "class" ambition. To feel oneself the object of the comic gaze may sting, as one recognizes one's own Folly, but if one can transcend this momentary blow to one's ego, one will be rewarded with an apotheosis of health, good common sense, and elevated status:

[T]o feel [the comic spirit's] presence and to see it is your assurance that many sane and solid minds are with you … A perception of the comic spirit gives high fellowship. You become a citizen of the selecter [sic] world, the highest we know of … Look there for your unchallengeable upper class! You feel that you are one of this our civilized community, that you cannot escape from it, and would not if you could. Good hope sustains you; weariness does not overwhelm you; in isolation you see no charms for vanity; personal pride is greatly moderated. (84–85)

This promise of social advancement through laughter, through participation in the common mind, appealed greatly to the young Kenneth Burke, and quickly became for him an aesthetic ideal. Critics who wish to imitate Burke's model of self-chastisement should begin with Meredith as a starting point.

A curious dialectic between the individual and society pervades Meredith's essay on comedy. At first, individuals are lost in the wilderness, until they can manage to get themselves into the walled towns. Once they have gotten themselves into something called "society," comedy becomes possible: "A society of cultivated men and women is required, wherein ideas are current and the perceptions quick, that [the comic poet] may be provided with matter and an audience" (2). Clearly, the France of Louis XIV was Meredith's model, a mixture not only of the two sexes, but of occupations and classes: "A simply bourgeois circle will not furnish it, for the middle class must have the brilliant, flippant, independent upper for a spur and a pattern" (18). The comic spirit allows us all to live in Versailles as a mirror of society (not humanity), but it still requires the individual comic genius of Molière for its illumination.

The individual poet enters the social mise en scène at just the right moment to bring that "calm curious eye" to the study of manners. Following Meredith's digression through ancient Greek comedy, Molière's eye, or the eye of the comic poet writ large (a rare production indeed), vaporizes into an expression of the "general mind." A new individual, the auditor of Meredith's lecture, or its reader (including the young Kenneth Burke) appears at the end of the story as a beneficiary of comic chastisement, chosen to join the elect class of a spiritual Versailles.

Individuals escape into the confines of "society." A comic poet observes and immortalizes their foibles. The synthesis of society-plus-poet (actual dramatic comedy) provides the image of an abstracted comic "society," giving birth to the "spiritual" aspect of comedy. Now free to move on the winds across time and place, the comic spirit showers an ennobling "silvery laughter" (84) upon any willing disciple. Individuals come to society, and, transformed by an individual poet, an abstract sociality now comes to bless the wild individual once again with the spirit of society. The teenaged Kenneth Burke was one such wild, individual disciple. As an ambitious young poet, Burke internalized Meredith's dialectic of the individual and society, and attempted to capture the voices of both egoist and chastising social irony into individual poems.

By observing the transition from Meredith's theory of comedy into Burke's early poetry, we can see how Burke established an early foundation for his later, more explicit "comic criticism." Burke internalized the dialectic between individual and society at a very young age so that he was able to encompass, in a way, an internal check on his own egoism. The social origins of the comic theory, however, have been obscured. This has led critics to misinterpret the capabilities of comic criticism. If Burke tries to play both the comic poet (ala Molière) and the comic critic (ala Meredith), we must realize the social limitations that have made comedy possible in the first place. A great part of comic wisdom lies in this limitation. The comic poet or critic cannot, and should not, attempt to domesticate the entire tragic wilderness. Rather, the appropriate comic mode invites individuals into the "spiritualized" walled town of society, an invitation to a "higher civilization" as a relief from the general tragedy.

Established Criticism of Burke's Early Poetry

Critics have long recognized the element of "comedy" in Burke's poetry. Gerard Previn Meyer, John Ciardi, and Marianne Moore used the terms "satire" and "wit" to describe Burke's first poetry collection, Book of Moments (1955), and W. C. Blum called it "high comedy" (366). By 1981, Timothy W. Crusius elaborated this association into a theory of Burke's "comic" poetry, using Burke's well known "comic" criticism. In Crusius's view, comedy in the poems bemoans the victimizing forces of social order and represents human weakness in the image of Burke's poetic persona. Melissa Girard summarizes the poems' rhetorical effect as "subvert[ing] ideology through a process of communication" (144). The communication ironically "disrupts" conventional stability of meanings, especially through the pun.

A recent review of Burke's late poems by Gary Lenhart laments that "you don't discover much about [Burke's] thought through them" (23). A detailed look at Burke's earliest unpublished poems, written in 1915, challenges Lenhart's view. Read in the context of Burke's letters written to Malcolm Cowley at the time, and the influence of George Meredith, the poems very much illustrate Burke's process of thinking.

When the poems of Burke's final period were published posthumously in 2005, David Blakesley argued that "much of [Burke's writing] which remains to be published … may change the character of the narratives we tell about his emergence and the evolution of his thought" (xxi). Since then, a cache of documents known as "Burke-3" at the Pennsylvania State University library has become available on microfilm. This archive includes roughly one hundred poems written through 1920, when Burke's literary criticism began to appear in publication. Examination of the earliest poems in this archive shows a definite influence by George Meredith, and demonstrates how Burke internalized the "comic attitude" by applying Meredith's socially oriented chastisement to Burke's more individualistic impulses.

Not only does the archive help clarify the later development of comic criticism, but it changes the narrative regarding Burke's early poetic development. One major feature of this widely accepted narrative is that Burke as an "adolescent" was obsessed with aesthetic, romantic individualism, and only later (in the 1930s) adopted a "turn" towards rhetoric and social criticism. The poets generally thought to have been most influential on the young Burke are the French Symbolists.

The most detailed treatment of Kenneth Burke's earliest years is Jack Selzer's chapter "Burke among Others: The Early Poetry," in Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village (1996). Selzer follows a tradition, set by Malcolm Cowley, of associating Burke's "adolescence" with the French poet Jules Laforgue, but this too, as the archive shows, is misleading. Selzer reads Burke's poetry primarily in terms of French Symbolism with Baudelaire as its godfather and Mallarmé its prime expositor. Quoting from Arthur Symons's The Symbolist Movement of 1899 (expanded in 1908), Ludwig Lewisohn's The Poets of Modern France (1918), and Edmund Wilson's Axel's Castle (1931), Selzer constructs the image of an inward-focused, hyper-subjective, private, "arhetorical" poet, "personal and individual at the expense of the civic and political" (77). Selzer adopts the tone and stance of Wilson, hostile toward the Symbolists:

Aloof and radically alienated from contemporary life … the followers of Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Rimbaud after 1885 attempted to withdraw into an elitist realm of art … —like Swinburne, Pater, and Wilde in England—tended toward a radical aestheticism that expressed itself in an obsession with form and the determined pursuit of art above all. … that art could be an event in itself rather than a rhetorical statement about a worldly event … that ideal of arhetorical art. (71–72)

Selzer labels Burke's early poems as "personal and apolitical—far more aesthetic and Symbolist than the usual poetry of the Masses group" (77). Whereas artists associated with The Masses believed "art could be a lever for social change" (24), in Selzer's view—strongly indebted to Lewisohn (see Selzer 72)—the Symbolists seek only "to recreate … the speaker's inner condition … the inner consciousness of isolates" (74, 78). Removing a caricature of the isolated, adolescent Laforgue from his fixed position in scholarly opinion as the major influence on Burke's poetry restores the influence of George Meredith, and shows that Burke was always "socially-minded," from the earliest documents we possess.

Of the shreds of evidence concerning Kenneth Burke's high school years, we have, first of all, reading lists. Austin Warren, writing in 1932 (according to Selzer 206 n. 1, approved by Burke), listed "Meredith's Diana … Ibsen, Strindberg, Pinero, Shaw, Schnitzler, Sudermann, Hauptmann. Then came the Russians," Chekhov and Dostoevsky (227).  Malcolm Cowley, from personal reminiscence, added Kipling, Stevenson, Hardy, Gissing, Conrad, Wilde, Mencken and Nathan, Congreve, "Huneker, Somerset Maugham, Laforgue (after we learned French)," and Flaubert (Exile's 20–22). Cowley came to identify Burke, as an adolescent, with Laforgue.

Writing in 1934, Cowley retroactively pictures Burke's "moonlit walks along Boulevard East … the crown of his days and moment when his adolescence flowered" (25), citing a letter from Burke written September 11, 1916, almost twenty years prior. At the end of these walks, around midnight, Cowley imagines, Burke would "question his face for new pimples, repeat a phrase from Laforgue and go to bed" (27). Thus began the legend linking Burke's poetic origins to Laforgue, an adolescent "phase" to be surmounted.

Armin Paul Frank, drawing on Cowley, claims that in Burke's earliest poems "the young poet puts on the 'Armour of Jules Laforgue': romantic irony, sometimes anticlimactically tagged on to the end of a poem in the traditional way of Heinrich Heine, but also, more Laforguean, incorporated into the immediate context of the high sentiment" (121). According to Cowley, Burke himself termed this effect a "tangent ending" (And I Worked 79). Cowley illustrates its operation at the conclusion of T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and compares it to "a door that opened on a new landscape" (80) after the complete tour of a house.

Selzer combines this "tangent ending" with the "double mood" theorized by Yvor Winters (Selzer 78–79). Winters quotes Laforgue's poem "Complainte du Printemps" as an example of "two distinct and more or less opposed types of feeling" which cancel each other (Winters 65–67). Also called "moods," these "types of feeling" alternate between "romantic nostalgia … with no discernible object," and "immature irony" (67). Winters attributes the origin of this trend to Byron, but takes Laforgue as the prototypical instance.

Three decades before Frank, Winters clarifies the particular "double mood" he names "romantic irony": "the poet ridicules himself for a kind or degree of feeling which he can neither approve nor control … the act of confessing a state of moral insecurity" (70). Writing in the mid-1930s, Winters also links Joyce's Ulysses and Kenneth Burke's novel Towards a Better Life to this romantic irony. Ulysses is "adolescent as Laforgue is adolescent; it is ironic about feelings which are not worth the irony." Burke's novel, to Winters, offers "not even progression; we have merely a repetitious series of Laforguian [sic] antitheses" (72). The word "adolescent" dismisses the feeling (of unmotivated nostalgia) and the petty irony concerned with so worthless a matter.

Burke himself perpetuated this trope in his first critical essay of 1921, "The Armour of Jules Laforgue." Burke implies that Laforgue, as a human being or personality ("life"), was a kind of belated innocent. As a writer, however (Burke speculates), Laforgue felt some responsibility to "apologize" for his platitudinous emotions (9). What Winters calls a "cynical" rejection of an emotion "not worth having" (74), Burke portrays as a "metaphysical interest," common among "the sexually immature" (9). Burke represents Laforgue's sexual immaturity as a failure of aggressive instincts "paralyzed by the passive attitude of receiving outward impressions" (9). Burke asserts his own aggression by naming a fear of sexual passivity and casts this fear, in the poetic persona of Jules Laforgue, into the oblivion of not only an historical past but a kind of biological past. To banish this fear as a surmounted "adolescence" would enable Burke's passage into maturity.

Cowley, Frank, and Selzer have suggested Burke's early lyrics resemble Laforgue's, but Burke's criticism of the French poet could possibly, covertly, address a tendency in Burke's own earlier poetry projected onto Laforgue. Burke summarized in Laforgue's poetry a "tendency to incorporate various voices into a poem. Sometimes these voices are frankly labeled, like Echo, or Choir. At other times they simply exist as a tangent, a change in metre [sic] or stanza" (10). Laforgue's alternation of voices puts him "always one remove from his emotion" (9), but such "remove" does not cancel the emotion, nor is the emotion itself fruitless.

Let us translate the "tangent ending" into terms of Meredithian comedy. For Meredith, individual pride is subject to the social gaze of the comic spirit. The comic gaze does not bludgeon romantic individualism, but gently, lovingly chastises it in the invitation to a "higher fellowship" of society. The apology or "tangent" arises from a socially conscious bashfulness for a feeling which, however satisfying to the individual, remains socially out of place. These feelings, as Burke's poems in the next section illustrate, include such "romantic" or "tragic" tropes as soaring exaltation, wearied cynicism, sighing, tears, pains, music, the divine, love, moons, roses, and other forms of "high sentiment."

What Burke describes as Laforgue's "dilettantism" ("Armour" 9), concedes the poet's vulnerability to social irony. Moons and roses are played out. The poet, while "expressing" these romantic feelings, adopts a final irony or apology as a defense, by including it at the end of the poem. If Burke was and remains a belated romantic, he did and does contain his own critique of such romanticism, in a way consistent with his later "rhetorical" career. The "tangent ending" is an explicit social gesture or "pose," a smile at one's own expense like Meredith's ability "to see yourself somewhat ridiculous in dear eyes, and accept [. . .] the correction their image of you proposes" (72).

Compared to Rimbaud, Arthur Symons calls Laforgue "eternally grown up, mature to the point of self-negation" (Symbolist 111). A sensitive reader detects immense suffering beneath the cool, ironic façade, but Laforgue "will not permit himself, at any moment, the luxury of dropping the mask: not at any moment" (109-10). Tropes of self-ridicule, therefore, designate a complex social awareness, quite the opposite of the romantic solipsism they display to the unironic. Winters suggests that Byron initiated this pose, and that "Laforgue is not in every case [of this modern attitude] an influence" (65). It expresses insecurity, perhaps, but expresses it in a self-conscious rhetorical gesture. Winters's critique of this feature in Marianne Moore's poetry even accuses her of "a tendency to a rhetoric more complex than her matter" (71) as a symptom. Claims linking Burke or his poetry to Laforgue should not be used to support the notion that either Burke or Laforgue, in person or poetry, was ever "arhetorical" or univocal.

Furthermore—we have reason, from Cowley's own hand, to doubt his account in Exile's Return, published in 1934, that he and Burke had known Laforgue in high school:

At the end of a letter written the day after Thanksgiving, 1966, I asked [S.] Foster [Damon] a question. "Did you introduce me to Laforgue," I said, "or was I already Laforguing when I used to come out to Newton and drink tea in your room, in the spring of 1918? I remember your copy of Tender Buttons, but there is so much I forget." Foster waited a month, then answered frugally on a New Year's card. "Mal—" he said, using a nickname that everyone else has forgotten. "Yes, I remember showing you the poems of Jules Laforgue. We went over them together. Happy New Year to you both!" (And I Worked 35-36)

Cowley and Burke graduated high school in 1915. Cowley entered Harvard in the fall of 1915, but only gradually befriended Damon (And I Worked 37-43). Burke records having met Damon in a letter to Cowley of May 11, 1918. I am not sure how much French Burke knew at all in high school and throughout 1915, when a large number of now extant poems were written. I do know he was soaking in many authors—English, German/Austrian, Russian, Irish, and American—and this leads me to conclude that an over-emphasis on French Symbolists, primarily Baudelaire and Laforgue, has allowed scholars to obstruct a greater possible richness in Burke's poetry.2

Whether he encountered Laforgue directly in high school or absorbed a similar influence along other channels, Burke's poems from the earliest period do evince a "double mood" as described by Winters. Burke can have implicitly criticized, in 1921, his own earlier poetry through the substitute of Laforgue without ever having read Laforgue during the earlier period. Burke may have been only able to diagnose Laforgue's "adolescence" because he had already worked through it in his own poetry. Much can be added to Selzer's account by examining Burke's English influences as well as the French.

George Meredith's Influence on Burke's Early Poetry

Timothy Crusius establishes bathos as the primary rhetorical figure of Burke's poetry, and praises Burke's "comic genius for inclusiveness and mediation between opposing viewpoints." Crusius finds Burke's poetry a "comic meeting-place of equal, opposing ways of looking at the world, each 'tragically' perfected in its partial knowledge of the truth, but undergoing the comic process of gaining self-awareness … and hence tolerance" (18-9). On October 9, 1915, Burke wrote to Cowley, wondering whether some epigrams he planned to submit to the magazine Smart Set reflected more "the influence of Meredith or Mr. Hall's vaudeville shows." The abstractions of Burke's early poetry often turn on the comic perspective espoused by Meredith. Consider the following sonnet, sent to Cowley on October 5, 1915:

If I could view myself without a laugh,
If I could flee the roaringly pathetic
Self-introspectiveness my evil half
Imposes on me, showing how bathetic
It is for me to soar,— were not the staff
Of self-acquaintanceship so energetic.—
Did I not feel at times a strutting calf,
Or a forty-year old virgin's tired cosmetic:

Then stupidly I'd purr to my caress,—
At my own stupid blandishments I'd bow,—
I'd take the poor dear world beneath my wing,—
And be the wearied cynic of success.
What proud Byronic sniveling songs I'd sing!
But I would be less proud than I am now.

Burke's "evil half" imposes bathetic, ironical images of himself as a "strutting calf, / Or a forty-year old virgin's tired cosmetic." Mocking both the youth trying to appear old, and the aged trying to appear young, Burke admits his pride. Without the "self-acquaintanceship" which is really a self-chastisement, he would obey his own appeals, purr to his own caresses: in other words, retreat cynically like his image of Byron.

Meredith had written, "[Byron] had no strong comic sense, or he would not have taken an anti-social position, which is directly opposed to the comic" (76). The "laugh" here is Burke's irony aimed at himself. Laughing is pride, self-acquaintanceship, and Burke's complex rebellion against what he considers "Byronic," self-satisfying and anti-social poetry.3 The comic spirit in Meredith tends to subdue pride, but the young Burke obviously takes enormous pride in his comic irony.

Another poem, sent to Cowley on October 9, 1915, makes the Meredithian dialectic of the individual and society more blatant. But where Meredith's comedy can be described as a "calm, curious eye," and "an oblique light . . . followed by volleys of silvery laughter" (84), Burke's comedy has a more malicious edge in the quest to thwart not only Folly, but all tragedy. Burke in the letter calls this a "novelistic poem":

To A Sense of Humor

Aroint thee, wicked plague to sighing swains.
A pox on thee, thou blotter to our tears.
Thou idle anti-climax to our pains,
Leave us, and take with thee thy heartless jeers.

Thou tellest us the music of our lute,
Which we were pouring forth so soaringly,
Is but the wheezy pibroch, and to boot,
Thou addest that we played it roaringly.

We settle, to enthuse in the divine,
And hear a voice ring out from high Parnassus.
Thou tellest us, "Your ether is cheap wine.
The voice you hear's the chanting of some asses.

Thou snickerer, if we got rid of thee,
Then every one could have a tragedy.4

The use of "roaringly," as in the "Sonnet on Myself" quoted above, again shows Burke's contempt for loud profusions. His antagonism toward Byron in the previous poem expands to other "romantic" tropes: sighing, tears, pains, the divine Parnassus, and above all, the dignity of tragedy. Burke plays the cynic well before achieving success, as if defensively anticipating and warding off the possibility of failure. The idle, heartless snickerer of Burke's comedy (implied by antithesis to "tragedy") defensively misreads Meredith's "calm, curious eye."

One explanation of the difference between Meredith's comedy and Burke's early poetry may be that Burke began with the final product (the comic Muse) of Meredith's dialectic which had passed through several stages: from the wilderness, to society, to comic poetry, to general chastisement by the comic spirit. By internalizing Meredith's abstract sociality without himself patiently observing the manners of a closed, narrow society (as had Molière), Burke remains, in a way, an individual in quest of society. Meredithian comedy can hardly be considered a "heartless" jeer, which implies the young Burke has not yet been properly softened by social irony.

On the following page of the same letter, October 9, 1915, Burke includes a poem aimed at the idea of "love," with the comic spirit lying in wait:

Lamentations of a Latent Genius

I want to love.
I want to build me a goddess once.
I want to dress my love up in pretty similes,
            Be enraptured like drunken Bacchantes swirling
            on hillsides- and all that.
I want to weep poetic rivers, too.
I want to be sick unto death with love,
            So sick that I must moan in agonized sonnets.
Just let me love,
And I'll see to the moons and the roses.
Ah, Fatal Sisters, grant me one really ethereal love.
I want to have a Beatrice.
I want to have a noble, ecstatic love.
            Perhaps I could sell it to some magazine.

One of the most revealing lines of this poem, to name Burke's implicit antagonist, is "I want to weep poetic rivers, too." That "too" points a finger at all the anti-social poets, who purr at their own caresses, bow to their own blandishments, violently cloyed to the sighs and tears of divine Parnassus, a noble, tragic, ecstatic love entirely built of images from within, and sold to the nearest magazine.

The impulse to sell sets the young Burke apart; a mark of his self-acquaintanceship, not self-praise, but a kind of jealous anti-self which attempts to negate the British romantic tradition. Burke uses Meredith's concept of "comedy" as a lever to fight this battle (against, say, "Byronism"), but Burke may fall into what Meredith calls "Satire": "If you detect the ridicule, and your kindliness is chilled by it, you are slipping into the grasp of Satire" (Meredith 73). One may have to seek encouragement in the precursor, Meredith, to better detect the kindliness of the comic spirit.

That October, the British novelist Louis Wilkinson agreed to show two of the eighteen-year-old Kenneth Burke's poems to a recently formed poetry magazine called The Others. Wilkinson called the following poem "the one about music" (qtd. in Letter to Cowley 10/12/15), sent to Cowley by Burke in a hand-written letter of September 30, 1915:

Some would call music a prestidigitator,
Insinuating into them a change of mood,
And twisting their souls about a keyboard
As the labyrinth of a guilloche.
They are prestidigitators to themselves.
I am not tickled by a trill,
I do not choke at a dance of death,
Nor do I fling myself to syncopations.
Music, be it loud or soft,
Be it dainty wisps,
Or awful crashes,
Or motion,
Lends me no sentiment.
It bids me seek my own.

It is dark.
I am alone in my room,
Casting for a thought.
From somewhere cords are rising.
They come like recollection.
Raggy things, they become tender.

I am weeping at a fox trot.

As in the "Sonnet on Myself," Burke accuses those who allow themselves susceptibility to music as self-deceivers. Refusing to passively accept the sentimental "trick" of music, Burke undermines his own "Russian pride" at the end of the poem. Music takes its revenge on Burke in a grotesque return. The verbs "tickled," "choke," and "fling," in the first stanza, manifest bodily the musical forms of the trill, dance of death, and syncopation—or so the music would intend. "My own" initiates what Harold Bloom calls the Crossing of Solipsism involving emptiness and fullness, height and depth, and the Freudian tropes of isolation and repression (Wallace Stevens 403). The pathetic weeping at the end is a surcharge of the sublime, the return of the repressed.

The bathetic concluding line, "I am weeping at a fox trot," is fully aware of the earlier mood or attitude in the poetic persona's rejection of susceptibility to music. The bathetic weeper becomes a proto-Laforguean clown (even if Burke had not yet read Laforgue), Burke's "satirical presentation of himself, as he creates his most natural mask, his role of comic hero" (Crusius 23). The confrontation of moods or perspectives within the poem is the comic effect; Burke is the comic hero.

The other of the two poems Louis Wilkinson showed to The Others editor Alfred Kreymbourg (Selzer 63), was certainly written before October 5, 1915. Burke announces in that letter to Cowley that Wilkinson found the following poem "pretty good":

The Metropolitan Light as Seen from the Jersey Shore

I might liken you unto a jewel in the coronet of a sumptuous
                        Ethiop virgin,
In the coronet of a black-haired virgin as she lies upon a
                        bespangled couch;
Or unto the shapened soul of man, high, yet supported from
                        the earth;
Or unto a motionless balloon of sickly diamonds, with one
                        hidden, striving ruby;
Or unto the Star of Bethlehem, alluring the Seven Sages on
                        to Anti-Christ;
Or an emblem of purity- even an emblem of purity weeping over
                        an evil city;
Or unto the spirit of evil which glitters over an evil
Or an anxious lantern my love has hung upon the sky to warn
                        me constantly against inconstancy.
So might I tempt my fancy.
But I will not deceive myself so happily.
To me you are nothing but a light- measured, calculated,
You are there to proclaim not man's genius, but man's

The cluster which includes Comedy includes business. Byronic suffering, moons and roses, as well as religious yearning, the divine, and Parnassus, fall on the antithetical other side of Tragedy. So, in a painfully complex way, does music. The fox trot may be the only trope in the poems quoted above which approaches anything near to synthesizing or reconciling comedy and tragedy. Burke regards the fox trot as somehow banal, or bathetic, and yet it makes him weep. There may be a kind of weeping that is not tragic. A desire for this reconciliation comes through in these early poems, perhaps in spite of Burke's snickerer.

Burke longs for the tranquility that Meredith promises from the comic spirit: "[T]he laughter directed by the Comic spirit is a harmless wine, conducing to sobriety in the degree that it enlivens. It enters you like fresh air into a study; as when one of the sudden contrasts of the comic idea floods the brain like reassuring daylight" (Meredith 88). The sense of unresolved tension, or even hostility, in the irony of Burke's early poetry indicates that he has not yet earned the increment of his influence by Meredith. It may be that he achieved it by the late 1930s, but that question is outside the scope of this analysis.

Conclusion: The Cost of Internalizing the Comic Spirit

Contemporary frustrations with the "comic frame" of criticism arise because they hope for too much. William H. Rueckert's treatment of comic criticism tends to elevate it into a grand, final stance against the threat of over-powering technology and order. Perhaps in spite of itself, it presents Burke as something of a tragic hero. Against this looming image of a total confrontation against a total menace, Herbert Simons and his followers insist upon "warrantable outrage" that is foreign to the comic spirit as originally posed by George Meredith.

By returning to Meredith, we can see what the young Kenneth Burke blocked or ignored in his initial absorption of the comic idea. Writing about his ideal comic poet, Meredith claimed, "Molière followed the Horatian precept, to observe the manners of his age and give his characters the colour befitting them at the time" (14). Upon graduation from high school, Burke had not yet had time to observe the manners of his age. In his zeal, he took the entire comic process upon, and into, himself. Burke imposed a self-inflicted chastisement, as if anticipating later errors.

As described above, critics (beginning with Malcolm Cowley) have taken Burke's own self-criticism (in part revealed through Burke's criticism of Jules Laforgue) as a literal statement of Burke's adolescence. Reading the early poems against George Meredith reveals a more complicated picture, of Burke as a self-chastising romantic. It should be no surprise that Burke eventually turned to drama as an ultimate metaphor for human relations. After all, it was in the actual stage drama that Molière was able to capture the comedy of manners which gave birth to Meredith's social ideal. While skipping over its patient elaboration (the observation and presentation of manners in his own age), Burke held to an internalized comic ideal, and so, in a way, doomed himself to eventually return to drama.

What, then, of "warrantable outrage"? George Meredith makes no pleas for the goodness of human nature. He does not "forgive" or "tolerate" humanity, as some interpretations of Burke's comic criticism might urge us to do. No one, Meredith claims, will doubt that "it is unwholesome for men and women to see themselves as they are, if they are no better than they should be" (12). One does not need the extreme example of Adolf Hitler to perceive human ugliness, and no one, least of all the comic poet, will desire that we tolerate or forgive human weakness.

The key to comic improvement, in Meredith's scheme, lies in what "should be." We should learn to detect the comic spirit in our own and others' lives; we should shrink from being the object of comic chastisement; we should seek to gain admission into that "higher fellowship" defined by a narrow circumference, where men and women, meeting and conversing on equal ground, exchange in witty banter and grow more like each other. The fact that such occasions are so rare may warrant outrage. But outrage, far from "transcending" comic tolerance, may in fact take our eyes away from the comic goal of a better society. Let us keep our attention fixed on that "higher fellowship," and its absence in so much of the world will be criticism enough.


1. See Carlson (1986, 1988); Kastely; Toker; Renegar and Dionisopoulos; and Renegar, Dionisopoulos, and Yunker.

2. Archival letters to Cowley suggest that Burke did not seriously take up the study of French until late 1915. The first French writers Burke mentions in the letters are Anatole France, with whom Burke "made a bad beginning," and Victor Cherbuliez, whose novel Burke had not yet read, on November 9, 1915. On November 29, 1915, he wrote, "Which is better- to talk Berlitz French fluently, to read French poetry naturally, or to be able to know what I mean by, say, the Eleatic school?" He felt himself on the verge of entering college for the first time, and anticipated what he would study and do.

3. A version of this poem, likely written earlier, appears in the archive typed and dated June 1, 1915, some four months before Burke sent it to Cowley in the form printed above. The earlier version contains "that" for "the" in Line 2; and the last word of Line 10 was "blush" instead of "bow." As Burke transcribed the poem in the letter to Cowley of October 5, 1915, he first wrote the word "blush" but crossed it out, and wrote the four lines printed above to conclude. The final five lines in the original corresponded with the earlier "blush" in Line 10: "At my own stupid blandishments I'd blush,– / And be the gentle cynic of success. / Then I could waste my talents, not just booze, / And never would I call my genius mush gush. / But yet by that what Russian pride I'd lose." Without his self-imposed ridicule, Burke would waste his talents in praising his own genius; furthermore, the earlier version suggests a Russian influence behind this "self-acquaintanceship."

4. In transcribing Burke's poetry, I have maintained the spelling and punctuation from his archival documents. In the poem "To a Sense of Humor," he only puts the one solitary set of quotation marks.

Works Cited

Blakesley, David. "Introduction." Late Poems, 1968–1993: Attitudinizings Verse-wise, While Fending for One's Selph, and in a Style Somewhat Artificially Colloquial by Kenneth Burke. Edited by Julie Whitaker and David Blakesley, U of South Carolina P, pp. xvii–xxvii.

Bloom, Harold. Wallace Stevens: The Poems of Our Climate. Cornell UP, 1980.

Blum, W. C. "A Poetry of Perspectives." Review of Book of Moments by Kenneth Burke. Poetry, vol. 87, no. 6, March 1956, pp. 362–66.

Burke, Kenneth. "The Armour of Jules Laforgue." Contact, vol. 3, 1921, pp. 9–10.

—. "If I could view myself without a laugh." In Letter to Malcolm Cowley. 5 October 1915. Burke-3 P4 Box 1, Folder No. 20. Kenneth Burke Papers. Rare Books and Manuscripts, Special Collections. The Pennsylvania State University Libraries.

—. Letter to Malcolm Cowley. 30 September 1915. Burke-3 P4 Box 1, Folder No. 20. Kenneth Burke Papers. Rare Books and Manuscripts, Special Collections. The Pennsylvania State University Libraries.

—. Letter to Malcolm Cowley. 5 October 1915. Burke-3 P4 Box 1, Folder No. 20. Kenneth Burke Papers. Rare Books and Manuscripts, Special Collections. The Pennsylvania State University Libraries.

—. Letter to Malcolm Cowley. 9 October 1915. Burke-3 P4 Box 1, Folder No. 20. Kenneth Burke Papers. Rare Books and Manuscripts, Special Collections. The Pennsylvania State University Libraries.

—. Letter to Malcolm Cowley. 12 October 1915. Burke-3 P4 Box 1, Folder No. 20. Kenneth Burke Papers. Rare Books and Manuscripts, Special Collections. The Pennsylvania State University Libraries.

—. Letter to Malcolm Cowley. 9 November 1915. Burke-3 P4 Box 1, Folder No. 20. Kenneth Burke Papers. Rare Books and Manuscripts, Special Collections. The Pennsylvania State University Libraries.

—. Letter to Malcolm Cowley. 29 November 1915. Burke-3 P4 Box 1, Folder No. 20. Kenneth Burke Papers. Rare Books and Manuscripts, Special Collections. The Pennsylvania State University Libraries.

—. Letter to Malcolm Cowley. N.d. [14 September 1917]. Burke-3 P4 Box 1, Folder No. 22. Kenneth Burke Papers. Rare Books and Manuscripts, Special Collections. The Pennsylvania State University Libraries.

—. "The Metropolitan Light As Seen From The Jersey Shore." N.d. Burke-3 P0.6 Box 1, Folder No. 10. Kenneth Burke Papers. Rare Books and Manuscripts, Special Collections. The Pennsylvania State University Libraries.

—. "Some would call music a prestidigitator." In Letter to Malcolm Cowley. 30 September 1915. Burke-3 P4 Box 1, Folder No. 20. Kenneth Burke Papers. Rare Books and Manuscripts, Special Collections. The Pennsylvania State University Libraries.

—. "A Sonnet on Myself." 1 June 1915. Burke-3 P0.5 Box 1, Folder No. 4. Kenneth Burke Papers. Rare Books and Manuscripts, Special Collections. The Pennsylvania State University Libraries.

—. "To a Sense of Humor." In Letter to Malcolm Cowley. 9 October 1915. Burke-3 P4 Box 1, Folder No. 20. Kenneth Burke Papers. Rare Books and Manuscripts, Special Collections. The Pennsylvania State University Libraries.

Carlson, A. Cheree. "Gandhi and the Comic Frame: 'Ad Bellum Purificandum.'" Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 72, 1986, pp. 446–55.

—. "Limitations on the Comic Frame: Some Witty American Women of the Nineteenth Century." Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 74, 1988, pp. 310–22.

Ciardi, John. "The Critic in Love." Review of Book of Moments by Kenneth Burke. The Nation, vol. 181, 8 October 1955, pp. 307–08.

Cowley, Malcolm. And I Worked at the Writer's Trade. Viking, 1978.

—. Exile's Return. W. W. Norton, 1934.

Crusius, Timothy W. "Kenneth Burke on His 'Morbid Selph': The Collected Poems as Comedy." CEA Critic, vol.43, 1981, pp. 18–32.

Desilet, Gregory, and Edward C. Appel. "Choosing a Rhetoric of the Enemy: Kenneth Burke's Comic Frame, Warrantable Outrage, and the Problem of Scapegoating." Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 41, no. 4, 2011, pp. 340–62.

Frank, Armin Paul. Kenneth Burke. Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1969.

Girard, Melissa. "Kenneth Burke and the Claims of a Rhetorical Poetry." Kenneth Burke & His Circles. Edited by Jack Selzer and Robert Wess, Parlor P, 2008, pp. 129–48.

Kastely, James A. "Kenneth Burke's Comic Rejoinder to the Cult of Empire." College English, vol. 58, no. 3, March 1996, pp. 307–26.

Lenhart, Gary. "A Poet's Distrust of Poetry." Review of Late Poems, 196–1993: Attitudinizings Verse-wise, While Fending for One's Selph, and in a Style Somewhat Artificially Colloquial by Kenneth Burke. American Book Review, vol. 27, no. 4, May/June 2006, pp. 22–23.

Madsen, Arnie J. "The Comic Frame as a Corrective to Bureaucratization: A Dramatistic Perspective on Argumentation." Argumentation & Advocacy, vol. 29, no. 4, Spring 1993, pp. 164–78.

Meredith, George. An Essay on Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1915.

Meyer, Gerard Previn. "The Enemy of Bureaucracy." Review of Book of Moments by Kenneth Burke. The Saturday Review, vol. 38, 3 September 1955, pp. 28–29.

Moore, Marianne. "A Grammarian of Motives." A Marianne Moore Reader, Viking P, 1961, pp. 233–37.

Renegar, Valerie R., and George N. Dionisopoulos. "The Dream of a Cyberpunk Future? Entelechy, Dialectical Tension, and the Comic Corrective in William Gibson's Neuromancer." Southern Communication Journal, vol. 76, no. 4, September–October 2011, pp. 323–41.

Renegar, Valerie R., George N. Dionisopoulos, and Matthew Yunker. "Up in the Air with a Burkean Clown: The Comic Frame of Acceptance in Uncertain Times." Western Journal of Communication, vol. 80, no. 2, March–April 2016, pp. 185–203.

Rueckert, William H. Encounters with Kenneth Burke. U of  Illinois P, 1994.

Selzer, Jack. Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village: Conversing with the Moderns 1915–1931. U of Wisconsin P, 1996.

Simons, Herbert W. "Burke's Comic Frame and the Problem of Warrantable Outrage." KB Journal, vol. 6, no. 1, 2009, n.p.

Symons, Arthur. The Symbolist Movement in Literature. Archibald Constable & Co. Ltd., 1908.

Toker, Caitlin Wills. "Debating 'What Ought to Be': The Comic Frame and Public Moral Argument." Western Journal of Communication, vol. 66, no. 1, Winter 2002, pp. 53–83.

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Dialogism Versus Monologism: Burke, Bakhtin, and the Languages of Social Change

Greig E. Henderson, University of Toronto

Burke and Bakhtin have at least two things in common. First, both endorse and champion a dialogical theory of language and literature, a theory that is better explained and elaborated by Bakhtin but better enacted and dramatized by Burke. Second, both have compelling metaphors for history and society. For Bakhtin, the social and historical world is to be imagined as "something like an immense novel, multi-generic, multi-styled, mercilessly critical, soberly mocking, reflecting in all its fullness the . . . multiple voices of a given culture, people and epoch. In this huge novel . . . any direct word and especially that of the dominant discourse is reflected as something more or less bounded, typical and characteristic of a particular era, aging, dying, ripe for change and renewal" (DI 60). For Burke, history is "an unending conversation" into which people are thrown (PLF 110), a conversation that has neither a discernable originary cause nor an ultimate teleological endpoint.1

Both metaphors make essentially the same point, for whether we see human beings as characters in an ongoing novel or interlocutors in an unending conversation, we are situating them in the middle of a social and historical process that precedes and outlives them. The main difference between Bahktin and Burke is that Bakhtin is a "traditional intellectual" espousing dialogism in his discourse, whereas Burke is an "organic intellectual" producing dialogism in his. From Antonio Gramsci, I borrow these terms for two distinct types of intellectuals but put a slightly different spin on them.2 By traditional intellectual, I mean a critic and theorist like Bakhtin who writes in a more or less recognizable scholarly genre, in his case, the academic essay. The content of Bakhtin's argument may be counter-hegemonic, but its form is professional, scholarly, and conservative. By organic intellectual I mean a critic and theorist like Burke who is responding to the exigencies of his historical moment "us[ing] all that is there to use" (PLF 23). Bakhtin cites other experts and quotes from literary and non-literary documents, but his footnotes, unlike Burke's, do not constitute a parallel text, and his own discourse is not an instance of living heteroglossia, heteroglossia being his term for the multitude of social languages that exists within a single national language. Bakhtin's utterances tend to be propositional; they say things about the nature of language, literature, and communication; we assign a truth value to them, usually a positive one. Burke's utterances tend to be performative; they are doing something as well as saying something; his dramatism is dramatistically presented; it is an instance of self-exemplification. Though Bakhtin is clearly conversant with a myriad of other thinkers, he writes as if his arguments require nothing more than his own terminology. Burke, by contrast, writes as if his arguments are part of a swirling intertextual pluriverse, a pluriverse that tries to embrace everything, preferably all at once, as Howard Nemerov had cause to remark decades ago.3

Both Burke and Bakhtin reject the Saussurean view that the codes and conventions that undergird discourse are the true object of linguistic study. For them, language is better understood as social activity, as dialogue. Every linguistic act imagines, assumes, or implies an addressee. The word, Voloshinov writes, "is a two-sided act. It is determined equally by whose word it is and for whom it is meant. A word is a territory shared by both addresser and addressee, the speaker and his interlocutor" (Marxism and the Philosophy of Language 86). Language, therefore, is essentially dialogical. "The word in living conversation is directly, blatantly, oriented toward a future answer word. It provokes an answer, anticipates it, and structures itself in the answerer's direction" (DI 280). All language use is language use from a certain point of view, in a certain context, and for a certain audience. There is no such thing as language that is not ideological, contextual, and dialogic. The words we use come to us as already imprinted with the meanings, intentions, and accents of previous users, and any utterance we make is directed toward some real or hypothetical other. Moreover, each speaker "is himself a respondent" for he is "not, after all, the first speaker, the one that disturbs the eternal silence of the universe" (Speech Genres 69). Each speaker builds on previous utterances, polemicizes with them, or simply presumes that they are already known to the listener. Each utterance refutes, affirms, supplements, and relies on the others, presupposes them to be operative, and somehow takes them into account. However monological an utterance may seem to be, however much it seems to focus on its own topic, it cannot help but be a response to what has already been said about the topic.

Any concrete . . . utterance . . . finds the object at which it was directed already . . . overlain with qualifications, open to dispute, charged with value, already enveloped . . . by the 'light' of alien words that have already been spoken about it. It is entangled, shot through with shared thoughts, points of view, alien value judgments and accents. The word directed towards its object, enters a dialogically agitated and tension-filled environment of alien words, value judgments and accents, weaves in and out of complex interrelationships, merges with some, recoils from others, intersects with yet a third group: and all this may crucially shape discourse, may leave a trace in all its semantic layers, may complicate its expression and influence its entire stylistic profile. (DI 276)

In short, verbal discourse is a social phenomenon. All rhetorical forms are oriented toward the listener and his or her answer, this orientation toward the listener being the constitutive feature of such discourse. "Understanding comes to fruition only in the response. Understanding and response are dialectically merged and mutually condition one another" (DI 282). Language is conceived not so much as a system of abstract grammatical categories than as a network of ideologically saturated speech acts that constitute our world view as well as our collective existence. For Burke as for Bakhtin, there is a ceaseless battle between, on the one hand, the centrifugal and counter-hegemonic forces that seek to rip things asunder and challenge the unitary language or dominant discourse of a given society and, on the other, the centripetal and hegemonic forces that seek to hold things together and sustain the status quo.

For Bakhtin, the two most powerful centrifugal forces are polyglossia (different national languages) and heteroglossia (different social languages within the same national language). For Burke, there are other important centrifugal forces, one of which is perspective by incongruity, "a kind of sheerly terministic violence achieved by a method for wrenching words from a customary context and putting them in new theoretical surroundings" (On Human Nature 30). Bakhtin, however, mainly confines perspective by incongruity to the realm of heteroglossia.

For him, heteroglossia comprises

the internal stratification of any single national language into social dialects, characteristic group behavior, professional jargons, generic languages, languages of generations and age groups, tendentious languages, languages of the authorities, and of passing fashions, languages that serve the specific sociopolitical purposes of the day, even of the hour . . . This internal stratification present in every language at every given moment of its historical existence is the indispensable prerequisite of the novel as a genre. (DI 262).

By contrast, the canonic genres–tragedy, epic, and lyric–suppress this inherently dialogic quality of language in the interests of using a single style and expressing a single world view. To the degree that these genres have not been novelized, these genres are monologic. The novel is Bakhtin's representative anecdote, and for a stylistics of the novel to have an adequate scope and circumference it must foreground the conversation among different languages, speech types, and literary forms and thus take into account the multiplicity of social voices that constitute a cultural world. Indeed, Bakhtin believes that it is the destiny of the novel as a literary form to do justice to the inherent dialogism of language and culture by means of its discursive polyphony of fully valid voices and its carnivalesque irreverence towards all kinds of repressive, authoritarian, and monological ideologies. The authentic novel always runs counter to the dominant discourse of a given social order. There is an indissoluble link in Bakhtin's theory between the linguistic variety of prose fiction, its heteroglossia, and its cultural function as the continuous critique of all totalizing discourses and ideologies, including its own.

Bakhtin's theory, therefore, hinges on this binary distinction between dialogism and monologism, a distinction that is really a matter of degree rather than kind, even if he himself sometimes speaks as if it were categorical. His theory also hinges on a stipulated definition: a novel is genuinely a novel if and only if it is dialogical, heteroglot, and polyphonic. Ayn Rand's fiction, then, with its single-minded, one-sided, and didactic discourse on the philosophy of objectivism and the virtue of selfishness, is not in his terms novelistic. Shakespeare's plays, on the other hand, with their subplots and multiple perspectives, deploy variegated social languages that range from the base to the elevated, the bawdy to the sublime, and thus are abundantly novelistic in Bakhtin's sense of the term as is "The Waste Land," a poem constructed almost entirely out of heteroglossia and polyglossia. Nevertheless, Bakhtin's general point holds. Classical tragedy is linguistically homogeneous and embraces the virtues of civic order and unity even if its restorative catharsis can only be achieved through carnage and violence; the Homeric epic is also linguistically homogeneous, invoking the pietistic language of tradition and received value to inscribe the ethos and worldview of Greek culture; and lyric poetry usually embodies a singular semantic intention and expressive intonation. Each of these genres tends to deploy a single voice, perspective, and style.

As an advocate for the novel, Bakhtin endorses the virtues of a multivoiced, multiperspectival style. Strangely enough, however, his own style, though quotable and memorable, as Adam Hammond points out, is single-voiced and uniperspectival. Whereas Burke is always attentive to his readers–imagining their responses and objections, even telling them what parts of his argument they might skip–and whereas Burke's writing is full of hesitations, qualifications, digressions, parentheses, footnotes, asides, recapitulations, and retrospections, Bahktin is oblivious to his readers. His writing relentlessly churns out elegantly shaped and strongly phrased declarative propositions, propositions that are variations on and repetitions of a single theme. Burke is hard pressed to get through a sentence without modifying his position or being reminded of a related or unrelated point. As Hammond points out, Bakhtin's argument does not really progress. In "Discourse in the Novel," he identifies the enemy–monologism–and spends some 160 pages lambasting it while justifying and explaining his one major assertion–namely, that the novel–because of its heteroglossia, dialogism, and polyphony–is the enemy of totalitarianism as well as the most authentic and valuable artistic genre. He persistently denigrates poetic style because of its alleged monologism. With Bakhtin, taking quotations out of context is almost impossible. He is a staggeringly redundant writer whose penchant for repetition is so pervasive that it ceases to subserve a summarizing function but becomes instead a pleonastic celebration of tautology and synonymity. With Burke, one is forced to follow his argument sentence by sentence. This is because Burke is in conversation with himself and other writers as well as with his readers.

Bakhtin and Burke share the same dialogical view of language and literature, but they write in radically different styles. Bakhtin's style is far removed from what he argues for. He says that "the prose writer does not purge words of intentions that are alien to him, he does not destroy the seeds of heteroglossia embedded in words, [and] he does not eliminate those language characteristics and mannerisms glimmering behind the words and forms" (DI 298). A style that "does not purge words of intentions that are alien to it" would seem to have to acknowledge the inescapably polysemantic nature of language, its referential and rhetorical liquidity. We might expect such a style to be ludic, ironic, digressive, multivoiced, comic, grotesque, or what not. Moreover, a style that "does not eliminate those characteristics and mannerisms glimmering behind words" would, like Burke's, verbalize in a multiplicity of voices–linear academic prose would yield to parables, jokes, colloquialisms, proverbs, puns, poems, songs, prologues in heaven, rhetorical lexicons, dictionaries of pivotal terms, electioneering in psychoanalysia, the thinking of the body, and so forth. But Bakhtin's style is not like this at all. It is serious, uniform, and polite even when he is talking about carnivalesque revelry and the grotesque body.

Unlike Burke, Bakhtin is in no danger of turning "beauty is truth, truth beauty" into "body is turd, turd body." Nor is he in any danger of saying that when dealing with mystical poetry, "we may watch for alchemy whereby excrement is made golden or for ways of defining essence whereby the freeing of an evil spirit is like the transformation of flatus into fragrance" ("Mysticism as a Solution to the Poet's Dilemma" 110). For Burke scatology and eschatology go hand in hand, and as all seasoned readers of Burke are well aware, sometimes to their chagrin, Burke is obsessed with "the interpretative sculpting of excrement" (PLF, 259) and sings scat with an almost adolescent verve. He also has his urinary tracts, "Somnia ad Urinandum" (LSA, 344), to give the most obvious example, not to mention his demonic trinity of sperm, urine, and feces (GM, 300-03).
Returning to Bakhtin, we might further expect a heteroglot style to embrace opposing views and voices, to welcome rejoinders and counter-statements.4 But Bakhtin's style is neither embracing nor welcoming. For the most part, he unrelentingly argues that prose is dialogical, polyphonic, and therefore authentic, whereas poetry is monological, univocal, and therefore inauthentic even if according to his own theory of language, no discourse can ever be absolutely monologic. Near the climax of his argument against poetry, Bakhtin says that when the language of poetic genres approaches its stylistic limit, it "becomes authoritarian, dogmatic, and conservative, sealing itself off from the influence of literary social dialects" (DI 287). But, in a rare footnote, as Hammond points out, Bakhtin adds a damaging admission. "It goes without saying," he writes, "that we continually advance as typical the extreme to which poetic genres aspire; in concrete examples of poetic works it is possible to find features fundamental to prose, and numerous hybrids of various generic types exist" (DI 287, n. 12).

Hammond further points out that on the very next page, while still haranguing the poet for his meretricious and misguided efforts to achieve a "unitary" language, Bakhtin confesses that any positing of a unitary language is fictive, for language "is unitary only as an abstract grammatical system of normative forms, taken in isolation from the concrete, ideological formulations that fill it" (DI 288). He admits in his footnote to taking poetry in such isolation, to treating it as an extreme that does not really exist in its elemental purity. Central to his argument, however, is the assertion that poetic and novelistic discourses are categorically different. He calls novelistic style "the expression of a Galilean perception of language, one that denies the absolutism of a single and unitary language" (366) and says that poetry presents "a unitary and singular and Ptolemaic world outside of which nothing else exists and nothing else is needed" (286). The inference is obvious–Galileo is correct and Ptolemy is mistaken (Hammond, 646). Yet Bakhtin's footnote suggests that in practice there is no purely Galilean or Ptolemaic style. All styles incorporate shades of hybridity. He makes this admission in a footnote, Hammond maintains, because the critical style of his main text is unremittingly monologic and cannot tolerate counter-statement. Even though the objection against the absolutism of the distinction between poetry and prose "[goes] without saying" (Hammond, 646), it must be banished from Bakhtin's argument and relegated to an explanatory note.

Utterly convinced that dialogic novelistic style is superior to monologic poetic style, Bakhtin talks like a dogmatic authoritarian. But such a tone is understandable given his status as an exile in Kazakhstan for six long years in the 1930's. In the terrifying darkness of Russia's seemingly endless Stalinist night, it is no wonder that Bakhtin is so passionately opposed to monologic speech. But it nevertheless remains the case that his own critical style, rather than embracing dialogism, is incessantly monological. This is not to say that an argument in favor of dialogism necessarily has to be made in a dialogical style. It is only to say that Bakhtin does not write in a dialogical style whereas Burke does. Burke's dialogical style, as I said earlier, is an instance of self-exemplification. It enacts his dramatistic philosophy of language, and "language," as Bakhtin observes, "is not a neutral meaning that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker's intentions; it is populated–overpopulated–with the intentions of others. Expropriating it, forcing it to submit to one's own intentions and accents, is a difficult and complicated process" (DI 294).

Burke is sensitively attuned to the language of others–be they scholastic philosophers or members of the gas house gang. As an organic intellectual, he welcomes heteroglossia and language diversity into his own work. In fact, it is out of this stratification of language that he constructs his own style. Deploying his dramatistic pentad in A Grammar of Motives, he is able to make use of diverse philosophical languages without wholly giving himself up to any one of them. He makes use of concepts already populated with the intentions of other thinkers and compels these concepts to submit to his own intentions, to serve, as it were, a second master. These concepts carry with them their own propositional content, their own semantic intention, and their own expressive intonation, features which dramatism assimilates, reworks, adapts, and re-accentuates. This is not to say that Burke does not have his own style. He plays with other thinkers' languages so as to refract his own semantic and expressive intentions within them. But this play with languages in no sense degrades the overall entelechy of his own project, his dialectic of the upward way.

Burke's entire corpus–heteroglot, polyglot, and polyphonic–can be seen as a Bakhtinian novel. A Grammar of Motives is a massive exercise in conceptual and tonal re-accentuation, a multiply-voiced discourse that translates various philosophical languages into the language of the pentad, a translation that opens up zones of dialogical contact between dramatism and its ideological comrades, dramatism and its polemical antagonists. Burke's dialogical style makes the movement of an abstraction or concept become readable as the procession of a character through multiple trials and perils, menaced by its ideological adversaries and aided and abetted by its magical helpers. The protagonist is dramatism and its ideological comrades; the antagonist is scientism and other essentialist, reductivist, and determinist vocabularies of motives. And the book is the dialectical battlefield itself, for as Burke reflects elsewhere, "terms are characters . . . an essay is an attenuated play" (ATH 312). In A Grammar of Motives, terms truly are characters, characters on trial, characters in alliance and combat with other characters, characters in competitive cooperation moving toward a higher synthesis.

The same can be said of almost everything that Burke wrote. His arguments never constitute a seamless whole. There is no figure in the carpet. If you persevere as a reader, you can discover a way in, a way through, and a way out, but the structure of his books is more like a maze than a path. Part One of Attitudes Toward History begins with frames of acceptance and rejection in James, Whitman, and Emerson, devolves into a discussion of poetic categories and instances of transcendence, and ends by circling back to frames of acceptance and the advocacy of comic criticism. Part Two traces the curve of history, taking us from Christian Evangelism to Emergent Collectivism while furnishing comic correctives along the way. Part Three analyzes symbolic structure and the general nature of ritual, ending with a 122 page dictionary of pivotal terms that rehearses the discussion in a non-consecutive fashion. Throughout we are immersed in a polyglot and heteroglot world of Latin, German, French, the language of philosophy, the language of criticism, the language of the street, the language of politics, the language of advertising, and so forth. The invoking of "Unseen Value" in a car advertisement leads to a meditation on the Christ/Chrysler pun (ATH 91n). And lengthy footnotes are in dialogue with the main argument, paratext at times threatening to overwhelm text. And, of course, there is a conclusion, an afterword, an appendix, and a retrospective prospect.

Burke's writing is writing that looks like thinking, and all of his books might well be prefaced with a warning–"Caution, Mind at Work." We miss the point if we focus primarily on propositional content, for it is the drama of poiema (action), pathema (passion or suffering) and mathema (knowledge or transcendence) that is paramount. "The action organizes the resistant factors, which call forth the passion; and the moment of transcendence arises when the sufferer (who had originally seen things in unenlightened terms) is enabled to see in more comprehensive terms, modified by his suffering" (GM 264).

This is not to say that Burke does not have a master narrative, a dialectic of the upward way moving toward a higher synthesis, "a perspective-of-perspectives that arises from the co-operative competition of all the voices as they modify one another's assertions, so that the whole transcends the partiality of the parts" (GM 89). The cooperative competition of divergent voices may be the desideratum, but often at odds with this dialectical aspiration are the centrifugal forces of heteroglossia, along with "the paradox of substance" and other destabilizing concepts discussed under the chapter heading of "Antinomies of Definition" (GM 21-58). In Burke's writings, there is a productive tension between a progressive movement toward an ultimate order—a wholly ample dialectic—and a regressive lapse into unstable irony—an inevitable capitulation to the forces of aporia that perpetually frustrate what Wittgenstein derisively called the deplorable craving for unity that besets the human mind. Burke's mind was beset by a deep-seated logological yearning, but his honesty as a critic kept him from ever imposing a premature closure on the dialogical process.

Burke knew two things at least: the first was that a way of seeing is a way of not seeing, all education being trained incapacity, every insight containing its own special kind of blindness; the second was that a new way of seeing and a new way of living can only come from a new way of saying, that social change can only come from linguistic change. This is why he assigned such an extraordinary importance to language even if "no single terminology can be equal to the full complexity of human motives" ("Freedom and Authority," 374). Terminologies of motive are ways of talking about a reality that talking itself largely creates. And sometimes it is necessary to "violate cultural pieties, break down current categories, and outrage good taste" (PLF 303) because such taste engenders static and inert categories when what we need are dynamic and active categories. An unquestioned terministic screen fosters a static and inert view of our collective existence, a view that sees change–the historical–as permanence–the natural. Criticism is a form of intervention. By changing our vocabularies, it helps us change our ideas of purpose, our symbols of authority, and our hierarchies of value.

Let us take as an example an October 1933 occasional essay reproduced in The Philosophy of Literary Form: "War, Response, and Contradiction." Here Burke intervenes in a dispute between Malcolm Cowley and Archibald MacLeish, a dispute that focuses on the representation of war. The controversy plays itself out in The New Republic of September 20, 1933 and centers on a volume edited by Laurence Stallings. Burke presciently points out that the volume's very title, The First World War, may be read as a prophecy of ominous things to come in an anticipated second world war. MacLeish criticizes the volume for picturing only the repellent side of war, its horrible and ignoble aspects rather than its heroic and adventurous aspects, whereas Cowley applauds the volume for realistically picturing the atrocities of war and thus inducing a revulsion toward militarism in the book's readers. Both assume a one-to-one correspondence between aesthetic stimulus and reader response. For Burke, of course, it is more complicated than that.

A work picturing the "atrocities" of the enemy would exploit our attitudes toward such atrocities. It would arouse our resentment by depicting the kinds of incidents which we already hated prior to the work of art. Such a work might form our attitudes by picturing a certain specific people as committing those atrocities: it would serve to aggravate our vindictiveness toward this particular people. (PLF 235)

Thus, Burke intervenes to complicate the agenda and to advance the perhaps counter-intuitive position that

MacLeish's plea for a total picture of war has much to be said in its favor. There are some reasons for believing the response to a human picture of war will be socially more wholesome than our response to an inhuman one. It is questionable whether the feelings of horror, repugnance, [and] hatred would furnish the best groundwork for a deterrent to war. They are extremely militaristic attitudes, being in much the same category of emotion as one might conceivably experience when plunging his bayonet into the flesh of the enemy. And they might well provide the firmest basis upon which the "heroism" of a new war could be erected….The sly cartoonists of The New Yorker might possibly do most to discourage militarism, while deeply pious tracts are but the preparation for new massacres. (PLF 239)

For Burke, a genuine question emerges, for if a depiction of "only the hideous side of war lays the aesthetic groundwork above which a new stimulus to 'heroism' can be constructed, might a picture of war as thoroughly human serve conversely as the soundest deterrent to a war?" (PLF 239). Noting that he has never seen anyone "turn from The Iliad a-froth with a desire for slaughter" (PLF 239), he wonders whether the graphic depiction of an inhuman war might act as a stimulant for a future war by inadvertently inculcating a "counter-hysteria of rabidity and ferocity" (PLF 240). In our day, rabid and ferocious anti-terrorist rhetoric promotes violent acts against the demonized other. It inculcates a rabid ferocity that invites us to make ourselves over in the image of our opponent.

Moreover, paradoxically, a steady diet of graphic violence may result in desensitization or anesthesia. "A book wholly constructed of the repellent may partially close the mind to the repellent. It may call forth, as its response, a psychological callus, a protective crust of insensitiveness" (PLF 241). We are so inured to images of bombings and beheadings that we are largely immune to them. Such immunity is not surprising. Under the contradictions of a capitalist society, responses to stimuli are bound to be contradictory and paradoxical. The stimulus of the horrific side of war does not necessarily engender antimilitarism just as the stimulus of the human side of war does not necessarily engender militarism. Characteristically, Burke wishes "merely to raise the question" (PLF 243). Does a pro-war book make its readers pro-war, an anti-war book make its readers anti-war? The answer itself is tentative. Not necessarily, Burke says.

Not necessarily, for there are good grounds for suspecting that our responses to stimuli under "normal" capitalist conditions of cognitive, sensory, and informational overload are inevitably contradictory. There is no one-to-one correspondence between stimulus and response. The machine metaphor and behaviorist model are insufficient. It is just not clear that anti-militarism produces anti-militarism. Indeed, contradictoriness of response yields apt equipment for living because "our capitalist social structure contains fundamental contradictions" and anyone "born and bred under capitalism" cannot "be expected to honestly and correctly express his attitudes without revealing a contradiction in them" (PLF 244-45). Those who display leftist attitudes in public may privately make profits on the stock market and thus practically thrive under the system they theoretically despise. They may believe in fair trade philosophically yet still purchase cheap commodities made in the third world under deplorable conditions. This is the existential burden most of us in the first world bear—the self-deception we permit ourselves to live in. A complete and nuanced response to a contradictory society is bound to be contradictory.

Contradiction can only be avoided if one embraces a monological or essayistic method of recommendation. But the dialogical or

poetic (tragic, ethical) method of recommendation would be quite different. The poet might best plead for his Cause by picturing people who suffered or died in behalf of it. The essayistic critic would win us by proving the serviceability of his Cause—the poet would seem as spontaneously to stress the factor of disserviceability. For how better to recommend a Cause by the strategies of a fiction than by picturing it as worthy of being fought for? And how better picture it as worthy of being fought for than by showing people who are willing to sacrifice their safety, lives, and happiness in its behalf? (PLF 251-52).

Business Christianity, Burke goes on to say, may be rational, but "Poetic Christianity" is contradictory, "building its entire doctrine of salvation about the image of a god in anguish" (PLF 252), a god dying on the cross, pierced by swords and bleeding profusely. The monological, essayistic, or "rational method would clearly be to plead for one's Cause by the most unctuous strategy one could command—but ethical attachments make one tend to 'testify' by invitation to martyrdom" (PLF 254).

"War, Response, and Contradiction" intervenes in the dialogue and becomes part of it, leaving the dispute between MacLeish and Cowley open and unresolved. It does not try to make a unifying synthesis emerge out of the clash between thesis and antithesis. Instead, it affirms Burke's earlier observation in Counter-Statement that "no categorical distinction can possibly be made between 'effective' and 'ineffective' art. The most fanciful 'unreal' romance may stimulate by implication the same attitudes toward our environment as a piece of withering satire attempts explicitly" (CS 90). Nostalgia for remembered plenitude, alienation from present reality, and projection toward future plenitude are all capable of functioning as revolutionary stimuli. "People have gone too long with the glib psychoanalytic assumption that an art of 'escape' promotes acquiescence. It may, as easily, assist a reader to clarify his dislike of the environment in which he is placed" (CS 119). Similarly, as we have seen, an art of unflinching realism toward the heinous brutalities of war does not necessarily make its readers recoil from militarism. It may, as easily, desensitize readers to violence or spawn in them a desire to take revenge against the evil enemy. Responses to the imagery of war run the gamut from numbed anesthesia to vindictive violence, and, as an organic intellectual responding to the exigencies of his historical moment, Burke keeps the contradictions alive and the dialogue ongoing.

In the end, Bakhtin is an essayistic and monological thinker espousing dialogism, whereas Burke is a poetic and dialogical thinker enacting it. Both, however, believe that linguistic and social change are intertwined and that whatever life and literature may be, criticism had best be comic.5 As Bakhtin puts it, the purpose of the comic frame is "to apply the corrective of laughter and criticism to all existing straightforward genres, languages, styles, and voices" as well as "to force people to experience beneath these categories a different and contradictory reality that is otherwise not captured in them" (DI, 59).

For Burke as for Bakhtin, history is an unending conversation, and the aims of comic criticism are threefold: first, to liberate what identifies itself as culturally given and politically correct from the hegemonic language in which it is enmeshed; second, to destroy the homogenizing power of myth and ideology over that hegemonic language by cultivating heteroglossia and perspective by incongruity; and third, above all, to create a distance between that language and reality so that the emancipatory possibilities of new languages and new social programs become not only visible but viable.


1."Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress" (PLF 110).

2. In his Prison Notebooks, Gramsci sees the traditional intellectual as implicated in the ideological state apparatuses of education, law, religion, and so forth. Exiled by Stalin in the 1930's, Bakhtin was not part of the establishment. His work is traditional in form but not in content.

3. "Everything, Preferably All at Once: Coming to Terms with Kenneth Burke" is the title of a 1971 article published by Nemerov in The Sewanee Review, an article that confronts the perplexities of Burke's critical style. In "The Honest and Dishonest Critic," Adam Hammond compares and contrasts the critical styles of Erich Auerbach and Mikhail Bakhtin. Although I have learned much from this article and am deeply indebted to Hammond for the manifold insights and leads he has proffered, the issue for me is not honesty versus dishonesty, mainly because I do not see why there is any imperative for a writer to write in the style that he or she advocates. In the case of Burke and Bakhtin, what we have is the dialogical style of an organic intellectual versus the monological style of a traditional intellectual. By contrast, Auerbach and Bakhtin, though stylistically distinct in the same way, are both traditional intellectuals.

4. In this and the next paragraph, some of the points made, quotations used, and examples adduced have been adapted from Hammond's essay.

5. As Burke puts it in a famous passage from Attitudes Toward History: "The progress of humane enlightenment can go no further than in picturing people not as vicious, but as mistaken. When you add 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, you complete the comic circle, returning again to the lesson of humility that undergirds great tragedy" (41). He later concludes that this "might be a roundabout way of saying: whatever poetry may be, criticism had best be comic" (107).

Works Cited

Bakhtin, Mikhail. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Trans. Vern W. McGee. Ed. Caryl  Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1986.

—. The Dialogic Imagination (DI). Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Ed. Michael  Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981.

Burke, Kenneth. A Grammar of Motives (GM). Berkeley and Los Angeles:  U of California P, 1969.

—. Attitudes Toward History (ATH). 3rd Edition. Berkeley and Los Angeles:  U of California P, 1984.

—. Counter-Statement (CS). 2nd Edition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 1968.

—. "Freedom and Authority in the Realm of the Poetic Imagination." Freedom and Authority in Our Time. Ed. Lyman Bryson, et al. New York: Harper, 1953. 365-75.

—. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method (LSA). Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 1966.

—. "Mysticism as a Solution to the Poet's Dilemma." Spiritual Problems in Contemporary Literature. Ed. Stanley R. Hopper. Gloucester, Mass: Peter Smith, 1952. 95-117.

—. On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows, 1967-1984. Ed. William H. Rueckert and Angelo Bonadonna. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 2003.

Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. Ed. and trans. by Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1971.

Hammond, Adam. "The Honest and Dishonest Critic: Style and Substance in Mikhail Bakhtin's 'Discourse of the Novel' and Erich Auerbach's Mimesis. Style, 45.4 (Winter 2011): 638-53.

Lodge, David. After Bakhtin: Essays on Fiction and Criticism. London: Routledge, 1990.

Nemerov, Howard. "Everything, Preferably All at Once: Coming to Terms with Kenneth  Burke." Sewanee Review 79.2 (Spring 1971): 189-205.

Voloshinov, V. Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Trans. Ladislav Matejka and I.R. Titunik. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1986.

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A Response to Greig Henderson's "Dialogism Versus Monologism: Burke, Bakhtin, and the Languages of Social Change" by Whitney Jordan Adams

Henderson, Greig. "Dialogism Versus Monologism: Burke, Bakhtin, and the Languages of Social Change," KB Journal, 13.1, 2017.

Whitney Jordan Adams, Clemson University

In regard to a dialogic theory of language and literature, Greig Henderson articulates the similarities between Burke and Bakhtin. Why bother making this comparison, as he does in "Dialogism Versus Monologism: Burke, Bakhtin, and the Languages of Social Change"? Henderson does so to reflect on why Burke and Bakhtin should be studied together, or at least considered similar in terms of their scholarship on dialogism. The unique relationship between Burke and Bakhtin is important and one that warrants continued study. Henderson suggests that "[b]oth endorse and champion a dialogical theory of language and literature, a theory that is better explained and elaborated by Bakhtin but better enacted and dramatized by Burke." Bakhtin is the informer, and Burke does the enacting. Further investigation of the relationship between these two thinkers can illuminate some of the discord within the U.S., as well as the gap in identification between divided groups, especially those within divided regions like the American South. As Henderson writes, for both Burke and Bakhtin, language "is better understood as social activity, as dialogue." Henderson brings up an important point here, as it is this very notion of dialogue as a social activity that holds the potential for social change through dialogic language. This social change is needed in a region like the American South, where monologic discourse has held court for so long.

So, what is dialogic about Burke's body of work? How is he specifically enacting dialogism? Burke's work is dialogic in his focus on the rhetoric of identity, especially with his work on consubstantiality, or the ability to identify with others. Identification through consubstantiality also allows for the realization of division and suggests ways to confront it. Although division is apparent, as Burke suggests in the Rhetoric, the recognition of division fosters dialogism, which opens up the possibility for ongoing conversation and a return to past ideas and discourse to see how and why they impact the present and future. If we can first see how we identify with someone, then the differences might not seem so great. Focusing on Burkean identification and commonalities might have the potential to reduce division in regions like the American South, or in any area or situation where dichotomies have held power. Dialogic conversations about say, the proposed removal and vandalization of Confederate statues can position competing perspectives to be in conversation with one another. This type of dialogic move would not force closure, resulting in false unity, but would rather open conversation. Forced closure is monologic, whereas acknowledgment of differing perspectives is dialogic. This concept can be very useful when considering the current debate surrounding the Confederate monuments. I see the acts of vandalization as monologic, furthering the impossibility for identification between the different groups in the South. However, there is also severe monologic discourse on the other side, as hate groups like the KKK take over protests, espousing their one-sided rhetoric of white power.

Drawing on not just the South, personal identity and group identity are of significant importance at the moment, especially in terms of the current political climate. A real division exists between individual and collective identity, as Henderson mentions with his reference to Ayn Rand's fiction: "Ayn Rand's fiction, then, with its single minded, one-sided, and didactic discourse on the philosophy of objectivism and the virtue of selfishness is not in [Bakhtin's] terms novelistic." Bakhtin saw the novel as important due to its ability to critique itself, therefore encompassing the ability to promote social change, which Henderson is interested in.  However, "As [critic] Hammond points out, Bakhtin's argument does not really progress. In "Discourse in the Novel," he identifies the enemy—monologism—and spends some 160 pages lambasting it while justifying and explaining his one major assertion—namely, that the novel–because of its heteroglossia, dialogism, and polyphony—is the enemy of totalitarianism as well as the most authentic and valuable artistic genre." It is important that Henderson discusses Bakhtin's shortcomings here because this further necessitates the consideration of Burke to see if he moves beyond Bakhtin's critique of what Burke called in Counter-Statement "pamphleteering" (vii). As Henderson so importantly points out, "Burke is in conversation with himself and other writers as well as with his readers." It is this conversation which is so desperately needed.

The specific structure of Burke's work lends to its dialogic nature and shows dialogism in action, therefore allowing for this conversation with himself, other writers, and his readers that Henderson discusses. The dialogic, as a multiply voiced discourse, is illuminated through Burke's work, and it is unique in this aspect. As Henderson writes, "The main difference between Bakhtin and Burke is that Bakhtin is a "traditional intellectual" espousing dialogism in his discourse, whereas Burke is an "organic intellectual" producing dialogism in his." An example of this "produced dialogism" is Burke's "Dictionary of Pivotal Terms" at the end of Attitudes Toward History. The inclusion of the dictionary suggests a different undertaking for a text in terms of produced dialogism, furthering Burke's personal ongoing relationship with language. Although Burke's total accessibility may be comparable with that of Bakhtin's, his application of theory is what differentiates him. Through produced dialogism, Burke makes dialogic theory accessible to his audience and readers, whereas Bakhtin was writing to a more limited audience. As Henderson suggests, "Though Bakhtin is clearly conversant with a myriad of other thinkers, he writes as if his arguments require nothing more than his own terminology." Burke's writing is involved and complex, but his inclusion of the dictionary stands in contrast to Bakhtin. Burke makes his writing dialogic rather than just suggesting it.

Although Burke's writing is dense, especially when considering texts like A Grammar of Motives or A Rhetoric of Motives. Burke is self-taught. His scholarship reflects this self-taught education; as Henderson suggests, Burke, "writes as if his arguments are part of a swirling intertextual pluriverse, a pluriverse that tries to embrace everything, preferably all at once, as Howard Nemerov had cause to remark decades ago." Burke's work and writing reflects this self-created education of studying everything—literature, poetry, rhetoric, philosophy and aesthetics. As Henderson articulates about Grammar, Burke "is able to make use of diverse philosophical languages without wholly giving himself up to any one of them."Did Burke's lack of a "formal" education allow for his move away from "traditional" rhetoric? Burke still engaged with traditional rhetoric and aspects of rhetoric, as he does in "Traditional Principles of Rhetoric" (Rhetoric), but did his distance from the academy allow for his ability to see and experience rhetoric in unique ways? Burke's acknowledgment that rhetoric exists in nontraditional places allows for his work to be more dialogic, especially when considering works like Permanence and Change and Counter-Statement. Permanence and Change, written during the Great Depression, highlights the importance of form and its impact on society. Burke claims that forms of art are not "mutually aesthetic." These texts represent a "pulling apart" of ideas and thought structures which up to this point had largely been untouched. Burke opens up new conversations, which allows for continued play and engagement with these ideas. His ability to recognize rhetoric in literature is another aspect that separates him from other scholars, considering that the split between literature and rhetoric/composition occurred late in the nineteenth century. Burke's treatment of literature as rhetoric has allowed for continued conversation on the topic, influencing later scholars, like James R. Averill, to investigate the rhetorics of emotion and how they connect to literature.

In Counter-Statement, Burke takes on "pure literature," psychology and form, poetry, as well as the "Lexicon Rhetoricae", or his narrative theory. The second edition of the work contains the "Curriculum Criticum," where Burke enters into a dialogic conversation with his own work, in order to consider Counter-Statement in light of his later texts. To revisit a work to reconsider how it impacts an evolution of thought is certainly dialogism in action, as Burke sees the importance of returning to his earlier ideas to track their change and progression. Henderson remarks that Bakhtin's "style is neither embracing nor welcoming." Henderson also suggests that "Burke is sensitively attuned to the language of others—be they scholastic philosophers or members of the gas house gang." Burke's superb attunement to the language of others, and not just those in the academy, is what leads to the language of social change Henderson alludes to in his title.

Burke's idea of returning to your own ideas and opinions, as well as being attuned to the language of others, is what is needed now in the wake of recent events, like the Confederate statue dilemma. If those within the academy, as well as those outside, can understand that ideas can change, and that how we think about things should be constantly shifting depending on dialogic conversation, then I am curious to see how a continued exchange with Burke's work can open new possibilities and push forward the social change through language that Henderson discusses.

Work Cited

Burke, Kenneth. Counter-Statement.1931. Second ed. U of California P, 1968.

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Toward a Praxis of a Language of Social Change: A Response to Greig Henderson on Burke and Bakhtin by Charlotte Lucke

Henderson, Greig. "Dialogism Versus Monologism: Burke, Bakhtin, and the Languages of Social Change," KB Journal, 13.1, 2017.

Charlotte Lucke, Clemson University

While both Burke and Bahktin propound theories of the dialogic, only Burke performs it. Thus, Burke practices what he preaches, and Bahktin only preaches. This is the essence of Greig Henderson's argument in "Dialogism Versus Monologism: Burke, Bakhtin, and the Languages of Social Change," where he compares the pair's theories and practices as they pertain to theories of monologic and dialogic discourses. Moving forward, I would like to revisit and extend Henderson's comparison of Bahktin and Burke as well as use this extension to reconsider their implications for a "language of social change."

But first, what is the dialogic? Using Bahktin, Henderson explains the dialogic as happening when "[e]ach speaker builds on previous utterances, polemicizes with them, or simply presumes that they are already known to the listener.  Each utterance refutes, affirms, supplements, and relies on the others, presupposes them to be operative, and somehow takes them into account." This account of discourse considers the use of language as social act, where speakers are in conversation with each other and build on each other's utterances.  It is a critical conversation where a speaker reflects on and incorporates another's utterance into their own, whether in agreement, disagreement, or somewhere between. Unlike Bahktin, Burke formally explicates neither a theory of the dialogic nor of the monologic. However, we can see the way Burke's texts enact this discursive model. As Henderson states so well, "In A Grammar of Motives, terms truly are characters, characters on trial, characters in alliance and combat with other characters, characters in competitive cooperation moving toward a higher synthesis." Henderson explains that for Burke, "The protagonist is dramatism and its ideological comrades; the antagonist is scientism and other essentialist, reductivist, and determinist vocabularies of motives." Henderson compares Burke's opposition between dramatism and essentialism to Bahktin's comparison between dialogism and monologism.

To develop his theory of the monologic, Bahktin compares the novel to the traditional epic, lyric poem, and traditional literary genres. Henderson explains that Bahktin develops this dichotomy to champion his theory of a dialogic discourse that challenges the authoritarian, traditional dominant discourses that sustain the status quo. Monologism is pious discourse; Henderson uses Ayn Rand's fiction as an example of such pious discourse, explaining that it is monologic "due to its single-minded, one-sided, and didactic discourse." Although Burke doesn't explicitly theorize the monologic, we can note the way he describes similar concepts in his own writing. When discussing occupational psychosis, for example, he writes about the "doctor's point of view, as distinct from the lawyer's, the chemist's, the sandhog's, and the reporter's. Such interlocked diversification may be revealed psychotically in our emphasis upon intellectual intolerance, information giving … also perhaps in a kind of individualism" (PC 47). Each of these points of view could be considered monologic insofar as they are limited to specific, professional points of view. The same could be said about Burke's use of the concept, "piety," which refers to "a schema of orientation" such as utilitarian or religious orientations. It seems, then, that the monologic is the expression of a didactic or pious discourse. For Henderson, the primary difference between Burke and Bahktin's conceptualizations of these types of discourses is Bahktin's analysis of the discourses in comparison to Burke's enactment of the dialogic against the monologic.

Henderson focuses primarily on the distinction between Burke and Bakthin with respect to the form of their writing as dialogic or monologic, raising the question of the critic-writer's own involvement in the act of interpretation, the hermeneutics of criticism, and reaching an audience. According to Henderson, language, for both Burke and Bahktin, is best understood as "social activity, as dialogue" and "all rhetorical forms are oriented toward the listener and his or her answer, this orientation toward the listener being the constitutive feature of such discourse." Thus, a critic not only enacts the dialogic through their writing but also stages the dialogic to better reach an audience. Unanswered, then, is how critics orient their writing toward listeners— especially listeners who may be dogmatic or entrenched in their own monologic discourses and whose own pious orientations may be under critique. How does the critic engage dogmatic and monologic discourses in a way that works toward understanding rather than conflict? In addition to their focus on monologism and dialogism, or essentialism and dramatism, both Bahktin and Burke theorize a sociological and psychological approach to discourse and those who embody discourse. Focusing on this approach can perhaps extend Henderson's discussion about Burke and Bahktin's shared approach to a language of social change.

In the introduction to the Bahktin Reader, Pam Morris argues that Voloshinov and Bakhtin propound a "Marxist sociological understanding" of texts. She writes that Bahktin believes that "[r]elations of production, political and social structures determine the discursive forms of social interaction across a multitudinous range of daily and occasional speech, formal and informal verbal interactions referred to in the text as speech performances and speech genres" (12). The relations described suggest that economic, social, and political environments determine speech, further suggesting that such environments influence individuals to internalize discourses. In addition to considering the way productive, political, and social structures determine informal and formal speech and texts, Bahktin and Voloshinov suggest that such structures and speeches reflect ideology, suggesting a relationship between speech and ideology. Morris argues that they recognize "the Freudian account of the psyche as the existence of the unconscious and arising from it, a dynamic and conflictual account of life" (9). They, however, extend the notion of the psyche, and while Freud's conflictual emphasis is retained, Voloshinov and Bahktin "[transfer] this conflict from what is seen as Freud's report to elemental biological forces to the realm of social and ideological conflicts" (9). This transference suggests both that the psyche arises from structures and discourses and that conflicting social and ideological positions allow the opportunity for growth. While such growth of consciousness or ideology is possible, it is important to understand the way dogmatic or monologic discourses may resist this opportunity due to entrenched discourses and beliefs. Bahktin's focus on material influences on discourse, however, allows an understanding of how he interprets discourse to enact dialogue as a social activity oriented toward an audience.

Burke, like Bahktin, uses both Marxist and Freudian ideas to interpret the influence of social, political, and economic conditions on individual identities and discourses, suggesting that such interpretive processes can bolster communication. Consider again, for example, Burke's notion of occupational psychosis, a term borrowed from John Dewey and extended in Permanence and Change. Burke explains that "the term corresponds the Marxian doctrine that a society's environment in the historical sense is synonymous with the society's methods of production. Professor Dewey suggests that a tribe's way of gaining sustenance promote certain pattern of thought which, since thought is an aspect of action, assist the tribe in its productive and distributive operations" (PC 38). Although Burke insists on a complexity beyond simple reduction to methods of production and their impact on human thought patterns, his belief that economic circumstances play a role in the formation of human identity and experience is evident. In the Rhetoric, Burke extends this idea, suggesting that individuals develop or identities and habits through identification with properties, writing that "Man's moral growth is organized through properties, properties in goods, in services, in position or status, in citizenship, in reputation, in acquaintanceship, and love" (24). While properties can be considered in terms of economic properties, they can also be considered in terms of religious, moral, or nationalist properties. As a person develops through such properties, his or her morals, thought patterns, and discursive schemas also grow, and Burke discusses this through a focus on ideology. In Permanence and Change, Burke, like Bahktin, discusses the Freudian idea that consciousness develops or transforms through conflict. He writes, "there is general agreement that, whatever the so-called phenomenon of consciousness may be, it occurs in situations marked by conflict" (30). This implies that conflict can contribute to development of consciousness, allowing further consideration of the way different ideological discourses have potential to contribute to ideological growth. For this growth to take place, however, it seems necessary to interpret and recognize social and economic influences on an audience or discourse, in order to develop better communication and understanding. Henderson argues that in the dialogic, a critic orients rhetorical forms toward an audience. A focus on Bahktin's and Burke's shared sociological and psychological approaches to interpreting discourse and audience allows a better understanding of how this can take place.

When Henderson writes about monologism and dialogism, he writes about a writer's use of them in critical texts or novels. Today, dialogism for literary critics and writers in the humanities does not seem that revelatory. Rather, it seems to be something that critics and writers tend to practice through their writing and by responding to scholars in their field. Throughout Burke's work, however, he analyzes orientations and identification and discusses their implications for communication. This suggests that the dialogic could be enacted not only in the textual but perhaps even in the corporeal realm. Although neither Burke nor Bahktin explicitly discusses dialogism as it could relate to the public sphere, I wonder if they could be applied to the public sphere as a kind of social dialogic. Could a language of social change happen outside of academic texts and in the public sphere? Burke wrote during a time of "crisis," when communication was failing and concepts were shifting. Today, the crisis seems exacerbated, given the state of divisive discourse and social relations in the United States and across the world. Could it be worthwhile to consider the concepts of monologism and dialogism, as they relate to social and economic conditions and ideology and identity, when trying to enact languages of social change in the public sphere?

Works Cited

Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives. 1950.  U of California P. 1969.

—. Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose. 1935. 3rd edition. U of California P, 1984.
Morris, Pam, ed. "Introduction." The Bahktin Reader: Selected Writings of Bahktin, Medvedev and Voloshinov. Oxford UP, 1994.

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Review: Out of Mind by Michael Burke. Reviewed by Karyn Campbell

Out of Mind Cover

Burke, Michael. Out of Mind: A "Blue" Mystery. Anderson, SC: Parlor Press, 2014. 188 page. $14.99.

Reviewed by Karyn Campbell, Clemson University

In Out of Mind, Michael Burke's richly-drawn private eye is back for another raucous ride on the roller-coaster that is the life of Johnny "Blue" Heron.  The third book in the series layers themes of Greek mythology, sexual fantasies that interrupt the narrative in unexpected places and the gritty characters who live at the Gold Hill Arms into a sandwich sprinkled with a slew of possible suspects and a cell phone that rings to the tune of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkaries."  In addition to the familiar ringtone, Out of Mind brings us Blue's love interest, Kathy, aka the Chief of Police, grey-haired, pony-tailed hippie Leroy, owner of Leroy's Bar and (added almost as an afterthought) Strip Club, and a perfect plot puzzle that incorporates scenes from the story of mythic Perseus.

We are first introduced to Blue Heron in Swan Dive, Burke's 2009 debut mystery novel that borrows themes from the myth of Leda and her swan god lover.  If you like your mystery with a side of Greek mythology, you will appreciate how Burke weaves small details from the myths into the narrative of his novels, but still leaves enough surprises and even the obligatory twist at the end of the novel to satisfy the reader with an unexpected culprit.  In his second novel Music of the Spheres (2011) we revisit Blue's balcony with the panoramic view of the night skies where we are treated to small, but regular references to Pythagoras's theory of the inaudible musical frequencies created by the rotation of the planets. In fact, one of the strippers, Stella Starlight, pole dances every night to "Music of the Spheres" (no cameras allowed). The tie between the title of Out of Mind and mythology is a bit more elusive and the twist is revealed on the very last page of the book.  However, Burke does allude to the legend of Perseus who severed the head of the Gorgon Medusa and we even have references to Hades's helmet of invisibility used by Perseus in his quest.

It's not surprising that the son of a gifted literary critic would be able to write a novel that embodies what Kenneth Burke had to say about the nature of form in Counter-Statement.  If "form" in literature is an arousing and fulfilment of desires that leads the reader sequence by sequence in anticipation and gratification, Michael Burke has mastered the ability to tell a rousing story that creates expectation in the reader and then meets that need. However, like any good mystery writer, the syllogistic progression is not perfect, as the unexpected intrigues us and keeps us turning the pages.  Michael Burke does not follow a completely predictable trajectory, which would give the mystery away, nor does he pin the whodunit on an illogical suspect.  He has mastered the trick of following a logical progression while still surprising us.

Part of that surprise is in the characterization of Blue Heron himself.  The back cover of Music of the Spheres refers to Johnny (Blue) Heron as a "down-on-his-luck detective," and at first glance, he doesn't appear to be what most little boys dream of becoming when they grow up.  However, Blue is, in fact, living a pretty good life. Yes, he does reside at the Gold Hill Arms on Machinist Drive.  Yes, to reach his place you have to pass by Iron Inc, the "rusted remains of a once-thriving iron industry" as well as Pharm-a-Lot, the drugstore that still hangs on because even those who are down on their luck need pharmaceuticals.  Blue's place of residence is inhabited by the strippers at LeRoy's bar and others who, for whatever reason, do not feel a need to have a McMansion in the suburbs, but most of them are exactly where they want to be.  Blue, a man of uncertain age, but definitely young and good-looking enough to have a lot of hot women hitting on him, seems to have plenty of things go his way. While many of the women who proposition him are only fantasy figures, he actually has real live women flirting with him wherever he goes and in every book, he gets to make love to a sexy character.  While his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Kathy, wants him to get a "real" job, he manages to live his vagabond lifestyle of picking up private eye gigs and freelancing for the local police department, and keep the girl, despite her threats to leave him.  And it's not like he can't get a real job; his friend at the police department frequently offers him full-time employment, which he turns down because he doesn't like the morning hours. 

Michael Burke's eclectic life trajectory can be seen in the little details of Out of Mind.  His turn as an astronomer is evident in the book's first line, "It was a hot, damp August night, and the Perseids were spectacular."  In fact, his description of the night sky as seen from Blue's balcony is a spectacular painting, executed by a master artist.  Burke's turn as an urban planner is evident in his spot-on descriptions of Blue's generic town, somewhere on a train line to New York City, that has seen better days.  Burke is currently a painter and sculptor who has held exhibitions and installations in the U.S. and Europe and he puts this experience to good use as he paints pictures of the characters inhabiting Blue's world as well as the world itself – from the crumbling ruins where Blue lives and hangs out to the palatial realms of his clients.

One of the most satisfying mysteries about Out of Mind is the title itself.  What does this have to do with Perseus, Medusa, a headless corpse and a charity for kittens? As we gallop through the novel, we see plenty of references to the Medusa tale, but the relationship to "out of mind" is elusive.  It is only after the mystery is solved and all the loose ends are wrapped up, that Burke brings us back to the final mystery – that of the book's title.  Deftly using pieces of the Perseus legend and tying them in to the characters in the novel, Burke solves that final mystery on the very last page, wrapping up the syllogism neatly in a way that would have made Kenneth Burke proud.

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Review: Tibet on Fire: Buddhism, Protest, and the Rhetoric of Self-Immolation by John Whalen-Bridge. Reviewed by Ashley S. Karlin

Cover of Pedaling the Sacrifice ZoneWhalen-Bridge, John. Tibet on Fire: Buddhism, Protest, and the Rhetoric of Self-Immolation. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. 216 pages. $89.99 (hardcover)

Reviewed by Ashley S. Karlin, University of Southern California

When words fail, rhetoric turns to the rest of the body, beyond vocal chords and orthographic markings—when the voice cannot persuade an end to oppression, in the absence of learned helplessness and apathy, the body calls out in whatever way it can to end its suffering. It strives against the oppressor and, in some cases, turns on itself. In such cases, depending on the presence and perspectives of its witnesses, death becomes a rhetorical act and a rhetorical end. As Burke himself notes in A Rhetoric of Motives, "The depicting of a thing's end may be a dramatic way of identifying its essence" (17). The "may be" in this quote is important—particularly when we try to understand suicide. Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide knows how harrowing an attempt to reconstruct that story can be, and how a context and a story can either heal or haunt.

While death is in most cases a private event, it has many public faces. The visage of death almost always prompts visceral responses and, sometimes, it prompts political action. From the viral 2015 photograph of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned on the journey to safety on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea, to the contested media-circulation of the images of Sadaam Hussein's executed sons in 2003, the images of death carry potent rhetorical material. Those images, however, are the aftermath of death, not "dying" in action—In Tibet on Fire: Buddhism, Protest, and the Rhetoric of Self-Immolation, John Whalen-Bridge seeks to understand the images and stories of self-immolation as a performance on a public stage. When I first approached this text, I was concerned it would be a distancing, academic analysis of deep pain, but as I progressed through the pages, Whalen-Bridge offered not only an academic lens but the heart, empathy, and deep engagement with the Tibetan diaspora necessary to fully process this acute manifestation of human suffering.

In Tibet on Fire, Whalen-Bridge situates self-immolation in Tibetan monastic communities and seeks to understand its causes and effects through the lens of Burkean rhetoric. Of the many ways a person can take their own life, fire is perhaps most dramatic and has specific historical and sociocultural meaning in Tibet and its neighboring nations. A fire puja cleanses, a butter lamp illuminates a spiritual path, and 1,000 flames celebrate the legacy of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug lineage (the Dalai Lama's own sect). Fire has many symbolic purposes in Tibetan Buddhism, which Whalen-Bridge is quick to note should not be lost on a reader when it comes to the subtle messages the act of self-immolation delivers to Tibetans. With the dual purpose of spiritual meaning and community protest, self-immolation also violently shines light on China's long-standing oppression of Tibetan people, from cultural genocide (moving Han Chinese residents into the Tibetan Autonomous Region) to political gaslighting (kidnapping a Panchen Lama and putting a decoy in the child's place). Like most refugees, displaced and exiled people, Tibetans have experienced a shared loss of home, comfort, and meaning. Whalen-Bridge, without losing sight of the seriousness of his object of analysis, honors those lost lives by trying his best to understand the message of self-immolation—to situate it in context and to elucidate the complexity of each individual case.

In the simplest and most brutal sense, setting oneself on fire is an action that cannot be reneged, cannot be reversed, and, destroys all evidence of the act and the agent. In both symbolic and material senses, the act leaves an indelible mark on the earth, a tangible absence, but is a fleeting, cancelling event. Whalen-Bridge argues that the act is also a dramatic one, in Burkean terms, in the sense that it relies on the responses of a global public to give it meaning. According to Whalen-Bridge, drama makes an event newsworthy, and lack of coverage is ultimately a form of censorship. He gears this book toward an audience who may not be familiar with rhetorical terms—in doing so, he spends a great deal of space explaining concepts that may be relatively elementary to a rhetorician. The effect is that it is at times unclear who the audience for this book may be: academic or public. This may be a product of the fact that the "[a]udience for self-immolation is up for grabs" (6).

So, too, are the motivations behind acts of self-immolation. For Whalen-Bridge, dramatism is a way to "forestall premature conclusions about motivation" (15). This is an apt message because we could easily get lost in "drama" and forget "reality." Yet, here dramaturgy offers the reader a gap, a way to take a step back to get a clearer perspective on a confusing, terrifying, and emotionally jarring event. To achieve this critical distance, Whalen-Bridge's analysis of self-immolation progresses in four main parts, the first two translational and the second two meditations on rhetorical impact: 1) a translation of key terms; 2) translation of cultural meaning; 3) analysis of the impact on the internal community;, and 4) analysis of the impact on the global stage. From a rhetorical perspective, this piece adds new dimension to Burke in two key ways: it examines the fine line between the dramatic and the real; and it frames performance not as fantasy or whimsy, which is incredibly important when covering such a sensitive topic.

Tibet on Fire first approaches the question of how we define the word immolation and whether the English term translates well from the Tibetan. Whalen-Bridge argues that in English the term connotes "sacrifice" and "martyrdom"­—in a sense this translation is both deficient and ebullient. He offers a unique interdisciplinary perspective here, interweaving a Burkean rhetorical analysis of political context and text with a Tibetan Buddhist phenomenological perspective to understand religious and political motivations and how these are witnessed translated, understood, and reiterated across a broad, global audience. He charts the ebbs and flows of the internal culture, religious, cohesive narratives of Tibet in Exile and the extreme tidal impact of the CTA and Western Liberal values. As such, he joins an interdisciplinary conversation that is already well underway about Tibet in the "West", including arguments form religious studies scholar Donald Lopez (2008), historian David McMahan (2008), and cultural anthropologist Michael Lempert (2012), among others.

Whalen-Bridge asks more important fundamental questions that undergird self-immolation in the name of "Tibet": What is Tibet? Where is Tibet? Who is Tibet? Prior to 1957, we may have had a clearer sense of what the answers to those questions might be, but in 2017, there are few clear answers that link ethnicity, geography, and culture.

And in the final chapters, he asks what will happen not just in the next 5 to 10 years while the Dalai Lama presumably still reigns in the hearts and households of the Tibetan diaspora, but the next 50 years. What will happen when the Dalai Lama passes, when battles of reincarnation ensue, what obstacles the Karmapa will face when taking over political power?

Two things are useful about Burke in this context. First, Tibet on Fire employs Burke's theories of dramatism and rhetoric to foster awareness that the global stage has great bearing on the meaning of an act of self-immolation. The post-colonial relationship between Tibet and China plays out on that global stage, and a Western-liberal audience becomes exceedingly important for both to leverage power, but particularly for Tibet to foster alliances and solid identifications. Second, Burke offers a framework for analyzing "motive" and a fundamental fascination with the "ends" of rhetoric, which is key to parsing out whether or not death, per Burke's flourishing language around mortality and immortality, transcends the individual lifespan and uses the thrust of rhetoric to achieve immortal aims. Or, conversely, whether self-immolation is merely symbolic of tragedy and very real pain and heartbreak. To be clear, I am inclined to see it as the latter, but Whalen-Bridge's analysis aptly balances on the edge of this tension.

While the complexity of the issue means that there are few answers at the end of this book, its focus on "emanation" at the very end makes me look forward to a longer, extended conversation. Borrowed from the idea that the Dalai Lama is not merely the Dalai Lama in human form, but also Avalokiteshvara (or Chenrezig in Tibetan), the thousand-armed deity of compassion. Add to that Tenzin Gyatso, the man himself, an idea distinct from his role as Dalai Lama, and you have three people occupying the same space, filling the same vessel. An extension of this idea is that, perhaps, opposites can coexist, that we can be this and that, here and there, simultaneously. The idea is particularly compelling in the face of widespread global change, displacement, and strife. In applying Burke, it would have been a beautiful addition to look at some of the teleological perspectives that inform Burke's theory, since those are quite different from the iconography and teleologies that inform Tibetan Buddhism.

An element that could add to this analysis would be to examine whether Burke's overview of consubstantiation would be at all relevant to emanation—it would have been a natural fit to reference consubstantiation, but "emanation" offers a stronger, more optimistic and more Buddhist framework for dealing with cognitive dissonance. Burke, writing for a monotheistic perspective, may not entirely fit the underlying epistemologies feeding into Tibetan Buddhist iconography—the multi-deity (tantra) and otherwise nontheistic worldview. Moreover, sacrifice, interpreted by and through these two epistemologies, holds very different meanings.

It is also noteworthy that whether an act of self-immolation is powerful or futile relies on the response of global institutions, academic institutions notwithstanding. Western academic institutions are often the tangible grounds on which global forces fight on behalf of Tibet (such as in dialogues between Buddhism and Science hashed out via the Mind and Life Institute, Robert Thurman's vocal activism, or the intensely positive media coverage of Richard Davidson's study of Tibetan monks' pre-frontal cortex activity) and China (such as a growing base of Confucius Institutes in the U.S.). Whalen-Bridge argues that the constraints and cognitive dissonances that global audiences see when Buddhists get angry—that "monks and mobs" (19) do not fit together, that Tibetans demonstrate "political weakness and perceived moral superiority," that systems of karma and expressions of anger are at odds—have given rise to a "engaged Buddhism" (36). He asserts that this is how Buddhism will preserve itself in the near future—through direct, compassionate political action.

Buddhism is often reframed as "this, not that": open, not dogmatic; skeptical, not new-age-y; a philosophy, not a religion. As I've argued in my own research, the floating, contested definition of Buddhism (religion, philosophy, or fill-the-blank), makes it both easy to defend and culturally vulnerable. What Buddhism is in some ways is "up for grabs," in the same way the audience for self-immolation is. Whalen-Bridge asks essential questions in this book that, in my estimation, make this important reading for public audiences. The preface and concluding remarks of the book show an author who is not just invested in his own academic analysis but in the humane and humanistic ramifications of that work.

On the whole, this book is a strong contribution to the field of Buddhist studies and, one heartily hopes, to the Tibetan community and those who wish to protect it. Moreover, with the rise of new nationalistic movements, it is increasingly salient that we reflect on the many ways that oppressed people have fought to preserve their identities, their cultures, and their human rights in changing global contexts, as precious, fragile, mortal bodies call out for ever more powerful rhetorical ends.

Works Cited

Burke, K. A Rhetoric of Motives. 1950. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1969.

Lempert M. Discipline and Debate: The Language of Violence in a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery. University of California Press, 2012.

Lopez, Donald S. Buddhism and Science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Lopez, D The Scientific Buddha, CT: Yale University Press, 2012.

McMahan, D. The Making of Buddhist Modernism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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Review: Kenneth Burke + the Posthuman, ed. by Mays, Rivers, and Sharp-Hosking. Reviewed by David Measel

Kenneth Burke + Posthuman cover

Mays, Chris, Nathaniel A. Rivers, and Kellie Sharp-Hoskins, eds. Kenneth Burke + the Posthuman. Penn State University Press, 2017. 248 pages. $32.95 (paperback)

David Measel, Clemson University

Kenneth Burke + The Posthuman, edited by Chris Mays, Nathaniel A. Rivers, and Kellie Sharp-Hoskins, is a collection of responses to the emergence of posthuman studies in an era when Burkean literary and language theory remains pervasive. As we know, there are "many Kenneth Burkes," and naturally his work requires a great amount of unpacking. That unpacking is exactly what the authors of these essays do, in the light of posthumanism and a technologically oriented future. This collection brings Burke into proximity with a number of theoretical perspectives, all voiced by scholars seeking to pull more from Burke's thought than has already been illuminated.

The introduction to Kenneth Burke + The Posthuman contains two points that characterize the collection effectively. First, the editors sum up the book's thesis with a statement that is supported by all of its authors: "In brief, we argue that Burke is compatible with posthumanism." Compatible is the perfect versatile term here: Burke's work is notably skeptical of a techno-future, but it also contains enough ambiguity and, quite frankly, hope, to be altered, carried into, and grafted on to posthumanism in ways that alter how we currently think about that field of inquiry.

The second quote that I will highlight from this introduction is this description of a future (present) network of entities and ideas: "As Deleuze and Guattari remind us, despite its seeming table, from this multiple can always be subtracted the one; as they put it, a person must begin mapping, or must find a point at which to engage, via 'subtraction.' In short, to deal with the multiple, as we do with this project, a person has to start somewhere" (3). It is on this self-explanatory note from the authors that I launch my critical review of this fantastic collection.

"Boundaries" opens with "Minding Mind: Kenneth Burke, Gregory Bateson, and Posthuman Rhetoric." In this essay Kristie Fleckenstein kicks off the book's greater conversation by diving directly into cybernetics through a comparative analysis of the work of Kenneth Burke and Gregory Bateson. She connects Burke's perch above history, which allows for his panoramic view, with Bateson's concept of "second-order cybernetics," arguing that both express the vision of monitoring complex systems in a metacognitive way. Essentially, the idea is that we are (or house) our own ways of knowing, and we are watching ourselves (27). Fleckenstein boldly ushers Burke directly into the posthuman conversation (alongside Bateson, to note), and brings Burke's sense of moral obligation along for the ride, which may be what the posthuman discourse needs most: "These, then, are the three implications of Burke's minding Mind: responsibility-with-intent, differences with a future, and a kairos of the long view" (38). Key to understanding the relationship between Burke and Bateson is their mutual understanding of difference and how it can be harvested and applied to futures. Fleckenstein highlights this facet of the Burke-Bateson conversation well, and demonstrates an understanding of how harnessing and harvesting ambiguities can serve to our betterment, illuminating a sometimes dim cyberfuture.

Jeff Pruchnic recognizes the inevitability of a posthuman rhetoric, and asks ethical questions that straddle a border between What can we do? and What will we do? In "The Cyberburke Manifesto, or Two Lessons from Burke on the Rhetoric and Ethics of Posthumanism," Pruchnic quickly reminds us that Burke never forgets the self-serving quality of ethical behavior, and the mirrored self-interest that characterizes (or, essentially, is) humanism. Pruchnic suggests that if the key ethical component of posthumanism is to extend our ethical behavior to consider nonhumans as subjects deserving of ethical treatment, then we can capitalize on the self-serving quality of humanistic ethics, and carry it over into posthumanism as a pillar of a new ethics: "…a posthuman rhetorical strategy that focuses on the 'vice' in the human tendency toward perceived exceptionality or supremacy, in order to motivate more ethical action toward other humans and nonhumans, might be a far from unethical process for creating more responsible behavior in the world" (57).

"Revision as Heresy: Posthuman Writing Systems and Kenneth Burke's 'Piety'" by Chris Mays is a fascinating exploration of mechanistic agency at work in the writing process. Mays asserts that each text comes equipped with its own agency, and therefore the revision process is not only much more complex than it may seem but it is also largely outside of the writer's hands, so to speak. Mays writes, "By taking seriously the notion that texts themselves have agency," his own argument "complicates commonplace notions of writing and, in particular, of revision" (61). He builds on the suggestion by Peter Elbow that a text is "in itself" oriented in a particular direction (qtd. in Mays, 61). The insertion of Elbow into this discussion is highly enlightening personally; the inquiry into agency in language and texts is not new, but it is in need of much more concentrated attention if we are to fully understand and articulate language's potential as a co-agent to the human.

Mays highlights Burke's emphasis on increasingly complex systems and our involvement in them, both as movers and moved entities. The implications behind Burke's designation of piety as expression of a need for orientation expand significantly when considered in the context of complex systems theory. Utilizing Dramatism, Mays uses Burke's pentad of terms to analyze the writer and text as codependent actors working together to create meaning in a shared drama. Ultimately his point is this: "Systems [here, texts] aren't 'willed' into new configurations. They 'drift' into them" (74). What sets this essay apart from others in this collection is its insistence on carrying pentadic analysis into the posthuman conversation.

The topic of the nonhuman as periphery enters the conversation with Robert Wess's essay, "Burke's Counter-Nature: Posthumanism in the Anthropocene." According to Wess, "Counter-nature may well be more important today than when Burke conceived it. Furthermore, it could become much more important in the decades ahead if posthumanists and Burkeans join together to use it to turn theorists toward Anthropocenic posthumanism" (80). He appropriately highlights critical attention beyond his own to Foucault's prediction of a coming epoch at the close of The Order of Things. Wess draws a line between posthumanism and the Anthropocene, arguing that the posthumanists can "turn to Burke" to find a bridge between posthuman and the Anthropocene, to an "Anthropocenic Posthumanism" (83). He notes, "Burke's interest in human difference is actually suited to the Anthropocenic difference that undermines the humanist difference. For Burke consistently sees that what makes us different is no reason to make us proud" (84). Wess's delineation between posthumanism and the Anthropocene is difficult to disentangle at first, but it becomes more apparent as the essay continues.

Wess digs into Burke's 1983 revisions (afterwords) to Permanence and Change and Attitudes Toward History to reveal Burke's reconsideration of his own term "counter-nature," which assigns to it an "open-ended" ambivalence rooted in the Latin contra (87). The strength of Wess's argument lies in the assertion that Burke's "counter-nature" anticipated the Anthropocene, and the Anthropocene in turn influenced Burke's own revision of his term "counter-nature." This particular part of the argument is a bit windy, but I believe it is intended to demonstrate through the prose the complexity of this (post-)predicament. Wess's argument ultimately boils down to this: the ambivalence that ultimately prevails in Burke's assessment of man's future in an environment dominated by technology can be applied in the modern epoch to emphasize human awareness of our ongoing interaction with technology, and move forward with (or against) technology with a sense of both curiosity and caution.

In his essay "Technique—Technology—Transcendence: Machination and Amechania in Burke, Nietzsche, and Parmenides," Thomas Rickert performs a comparative analysis of three daunting thinkers, focusing on their understandings of the relationship between technique and technology. His invocation of the Greek terms askesis, amēchania, and mêtis reminds us of the interactivity of these terms both aurally and logically (and lexically), and stakes a position similar to that put forward by Robert Wess in the previous chapter. To sum up the relationship between methods and modes of being, Rickert writes, "Technique, then, would be equivalent to styles of being with the technological. Techniques and technologies share a transcendent push, with technique emerging as the machining of the human that has sprung a technological attitude" (119). By "modes of being" I refer here to the human and the technological. These Rickert refers to additionally as the "Ding" and the "Non-Ding," heading to his suggestion of the human's awareness of shared activity, and possibly shared being, with technology, or the Überding (118). While the notion of "techniques and technologies" working together can be apprehended simply, the scope of this essay is awe-inspiringly large. It's a wide net that catches Burke, Nietzsche, and Parmenides together, but Rickert has the ethos to manage such an argument.

In "The Uses of Compulsion: Recasting Burke's Technological Psychosis in a Comic Frame," Jodie Nicotra seeks a path toward hope in Burke's skepticism toward technology. Nicotra draws attention to Burke's curious shift from the comic corrective focused on acceptance frames, to a tragic perspective focused on rejection frames. I can't help but wonder how this argument will transform in the light of Robert Wess' argument in "Burke's Counter-Nature." The attention Wess pays to Burke's "self-revision" brings to light a fresh perspective on the term "counter-nature" that could lead Nicotra to reconsider Burke's tragic perspective on technology (87). The "affirmative approach" that Nicotra suggests is curious: "How could we use this [Burke's] very idea of compulsion not as a corrective to technology, but as a way to push it through? […] naming and treating technology compulsively will open up certain possibilities for responding and shut down others" (137). The strength of this argument is in Nicotra's diction: her equivocation of Burke's "compulsion" with the modern buzzword "addiction" makes immediately clear the area where we can pivot between multiple positions on our relationship with technology. She demonstrates through examples (dependence upon oil, etc.,) that understanding the deeply rooted relationships between humans and technology can lead to insights into our dependence on technology, which we can use to fulfill the potentials we choose. In other words, the more we know, the fewer limits we have, and the more intelligently we can manage our dependence, or perhaps codependence, as surrounding essays suggest, on technology (138-39).

Steven B. Katz and Nathaniel A. Rivers state the issue succinctly: "As with Burke, so with posthumanism. Neither is stable and settled, and so much hinges on the point of departure and the attitude of the journey. How does one move from a given starting point?" (143). These authors identify "seeds of a postambiguity" in The Rhetoric of Religion, and move forward from this point to attempt answering the difficult question posed above. Katz and Rivers hone in on a curious phrase that shows up in Burke's prose: "the ground of the process as a whole" (151, quoting Burke). This is a classic postmodern juncture: what are the grounds of an ambiguous structure? How do we identify the seeds of a being in flux?

Before launching an extensive analysis of the film "Fixed," these authors deal with Burke's concept of entelechy with a complexity that leaves my head spinning. While arguing for the retention of Burke's dramatistic method of analysis in the consideration of "new materialisms," Katz and Rivers employ a Burkean move themselves, shifting from emphasis on the term "entelechy" to the term "predestination," and arguing for not only the potentiality in predestination, but also the prima facie quality of that entity: "Entelechy certainly seems to emerge, but it is only ever predestined." As I understand, it is to Burke's own "blurry predestination" that these authors turn in their rereading of his attitude toward our future in a complex technological environment. Despite the complexity and, honestly, the difficulty of the many points in this argument, Katz and Rivers offer eloquent summative phrases at key points in the essay: phrases like, "Posthumanism is…nothing new," "blurry predestination," and "Entelechial black boxes emerge" clarify what otherwise might be arguments too complex for most readers to untangle. Then again, these are complex subjects to tackle, and difficult questions often spur difficult answers.

All of this discussion is followed by a lengthy analysis of the film Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement, directed by Regan Brashear. The analysis of this film brings a thoughtful criticism to emerging and imagined technologies in a new world that works with human bodies to blend the human and technological words. The analysis certainly follows well conceptually where the argument by Katz and Rivers leaves off: interviews offer individual accounts of satisfaction and even ongoing joy as a result of technological implements that allow additional mobility to individuals with disabilities, expanding their worlds of possibilities. While the film analysis may fit more comfortably into the greater discussion that this book inhabits as a separate article, it is another example of how the editors in this collection bring a selection of authors with an eclectic array of interests and positions together in one resource.

In "Emergent Mattering: Building Rhetorical Ethics," Julie Jung and Kellie Sharp-Hoskins bring the issue of "mattering" to the table in order to discuss "the politics of differential mattering—namely, how and why objects come to matter differently" (163). Like many of the other chapters in this collection, this essay examines borders and oppressive activity in both the environmental and human worlds, and how modern and future technologies come to bear on both. What separates this essay from its surrounding arguments is that it calls for us to pay attention to a future that is already upon us. Not only do we know that our traditional linear considerations of time are becoming irrelevant, but even while we still can see the "future" as what it is, we can, according to Jung and Sharp-Hoskins, find significant issues to address here on our periphery, if we take the time to look for them.

These authors demonstrate the presence of these issues through examples concerning mandatory implantation of IUD's and "Toxic Tours," which highlight these problems through a shock tactic that these authors suggest can be utilized to reorient the viewer's perspective dramatically in the moment of viewing the toxic spectacle. For my money, the strength of this essay is its treatment of Burke's master tropes. Jung and Sharp-Hoskins demonstrate the metonymic relationship between a term and its entelechy (171), as well as the relationship between material excess and synecdoche (176). It may work as well in other contexts, as it supports much activity in critical studies and various genres of activism.

Nathan Gale and Timothy Richardson return to the theme of competing agencies in "What Are Humans for?" These authors argue that "pure persuasion" is evidently operative in modern data "data-driven technology": "Technological devices, like literary devices, make demands beyond the uses to which they are put by users and authors" (185). Gale and Richardson combine Kevin Kelly's idea of the "technium" and technological agency with Burke's "admittedly pessimistic treatment of Big Technology" to establish what they call "technolostic screens (185)." The holistic in "technolostic" refers to a perspective that takes in all of the humano-technological future in field of endless possibilities. The argument in this essay is similar to that of Rickert's and Wess's, except that Gale and Richardson are quick to point out that in Kelly's theory, the entities of language, humanity, and technology remain individual. One issue in this essay is an apparent double iteration of Kevin Kelly's theory.

Gale and Richardson asserts that Kelly's optimism toward what Burke refers to as "Big Technology" does not challenge the delineations that he draws between humanity, technology, and language (191). However, this assertion follows one of the highlights, for me, of the book as a whole: Gale and Richardson quote Kelly stating that language very well should be considered a technology: "…we tend not to include in this category paintings, literature, music, dance, poetry, and the arts in general. But we should. If a thousand lines of letters in UNIX qualifies as a technology (the computer code for a web page), then a thousand lines of letters in English (Hamlet) must qualify as well" (190). Despite this confusion, these authors employ the concept of technolostic screens to make a compelling argument as to how we can apply Burkean theory and keep it alive in a new era that does, and quite frankly has to, embrace technology. Personally, I get lost in reading and rereading the closing argument about looking for love in technology. Beautiful.

Casey Boyle and Steven Lemieux's essay A Sustainable Dystopia" closes the collection well by summing up the hopeful spirit of "Futures," and ends the collection building directly on another cornerstone (many Burkes; many cornerstones) of Burke's work. These authors look closely at Burke's "Towards Helhaven: Three Stages of a Vision," identifying it as a dystopia. The strength of this essay is the same as its weakness: it is in the wordplay. Their advent of the term "dystopoi" to orient and manage the human role in the field of emerging technologies upon which the human becomes dependent both smoothly leads the eye and the ear from one term to the next, and insists upon more than validates itself. Then again, this is how Burke achieves much of his brilliant linguistic magic, so the tactic is not without its merit.

Regardless of this issue, the ensuing discussion of man's potential for insisting upon resistance to his machines by creating technological screens to work against his writing faculty is both fascinating and . . . well, more fascinating. I feel the need to create a Kafka desk and limit myself to working in some difficult contraption not yet conceived. I sense that, in this way, I would be both challenging myself and the technology. Boyle and Lemieux close the essay with these memorable constructions: "We shall enact a reversal of the ultimate medium, life itself, when we realize that the manageable strife offered by dystopoi offers us equipment for living forever by dying well. In concert with Burke's claim that the human is "rotten with perfection" (Language 16), we propose the posthuman is ripe with imperfections."

Beyond its unique point of inquiry and the brilliant set of voices it brings to the table, the strength of this collection is in its coverage of Burke's many complex ideas. Furthermore, the close readings that these authors bring to the conversation touch on thoughtful points in Burke's prose that can easily otherwise be missed, due to his depth of thought and the breadth of his corpus. Not only do these texts enlighten the reader to fine points of Burke's theory and how it can be applied in new ways and new sectors, but we are reminded of the sheer breadth and complexity of his work.

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Review: The Role of the Rhetorician in Sacrifice Zones

Cover of Pedaling the Sacrifice ZoneGuignard, Jimmy. Pedaling the Sacrifice Zone: Teaching, Writing, and Living above the Marcellus Shale. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2015. 256 pp.  $24.95 (paperback)

Reviewed by Megan Poole, Penn State University

It is rare that a Burke book becomes intimately personal. Scholars of rhetoric often theorize Burkean terms and theories yet overlook how these teachings transfer to everyday lived experience. In other words, living by Burke's rhetorical precepts might differ from theorizing or teaching them. This practice—employing rhetorical awareness to better intervene in the community and the surrounding world—is precisely the task of Jimmy Guignard, associate professor and chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Mansfield University, in Pedaling the Sacrifice Zone. More specifically, Guignard sets out to reveal his personal encounters with the rhetorical techniques used by extractive industries in north central Pennsylvania to influence how people understand the land and its resources.

Pedaling the Sacrifice Zone opens with a map of Tioga County, Pennsylvania, the "blank space," Guignard narrates, that he and his family attempted to transform into a "place" of their own (x). This space is "blank" for Guignard because it has not yet been filled with meaning, those hopes, beliefs, and ideologies that transform space into place. That is, all locations appear as blank spaces to those who have never inhabited or heard about them. In Guignard's experience, blank spaces can either become a place of belonging or a "sacrifice zone," those locations pillaged of their worth for the desires of others. The outcome is dependent on how actors conceive of and act upon that scene.

Residents who have leased their mineral rights and risked the safety of their land so that others throughout the nation can enjoy the privileges of natural gas occupy the "sacrifice zones" of Tioga County. Although Guignard's depiction of sacrifice zones provokes unanswered questions—what does it mean to "own" land? does one sacrifice the land or a way of life? who can be sacrificed by whom?—he offers a unique version of "rhetorical analysis made personal" (7) that places Burke's theories into action. As Guignard literally cycles through the rural landscape on various roads throughout north central Pennsylvania, he narrates how farm and forestland devolve into contamination sites and how the wildlife traveling backcountry roads give way to freightliner trucks hauling equipment for fracking. To put it another way, Guignard witnesses what happens when oil and gas industries consider places as blank spaces on a map. The map of Tioga County, then, becomes a site of contestation that could best be described as a "confusing web of words" (7).

Words have power to shape the land—this is the controlling idea that Guignard sets out in the first two chapters of his book. Though his specific task is to understand "how rhetoric used by extractive industries influences the way we see and use places" (77), he addresses not only rhetoricians and residents of Tioga County but also individuals at the local level who experience the realities of sacrifice zones. Indeed, the book is published by Texas A & M University Press (as part of a new series titled "Survival, Sustainability, Sustenance in a New Nature") in College Station, Texas, a town near the Gulf Coast that also bears witness to such realities. To these individuals and others like them, Guignard extends the following directive: "We need to care for the world we live in, and we owe it to ourselves and the land to understand how the rhetoric we craft and encounter shapes our attitudes toward it" (77). Burke's definition of humans as symbol-using animals becomes even more crucial to the book's argument as Guignard moves into the second chapter. It is through symbols, and the people who use them, that spaces becomes defined, appropriated, or saved. As Guignard reports, "Symbols can be understood in different ways, depending on what the person reading the symbol brings to his or her reading of it. That also means that symbols can be used in different ways to achieve different ends. . . . Same map, different attitudes. That's how symbols work." (60). That is, the symbols that compose individuals' attitudes and actions determine how they work with or against one another and how they use or misuse the land.

Chapters three through five center on specific rhetorical techniques engaged in by the natural gas industry in Tioga County to persuade individuals and families to lease their land to private companies. These techniques include oscillation between abstract concepts to valorize the industry's successes and concrete examples to downplay its failures. For example, the jobs, benefits, and economic successes of the industry are experienced by "us" and generalizable to "any place," while instances of pollution and contamination are specific to a certain location and a select few individuals (82). Other techniques include evidence of visual rhetoric on company websites: images of open farmland evoke notions of the pastoral, images of stoic laborers conjure the idea of the "roughneck," and continual display of the American flag appeals to a sense of patriotism. Throughout his analysis, Guignard reveals the complexity of the individuals who must consider socioeconomic concerns when deciding whether to work with or against fracking. Indeed, Guignard never offers a solution, implying that there is no one-size-fits-all resolution to a problem that consists of a multiplicity of motives. Even rhetoricians, Guignard demonstrates, have trouble determining exactly how symbols interact, persuade, and hold power to redirect the conversation.

The role of the rhetorician is the focus of the book's final two chapters. At times, the ethical responsibilities of this role seem nearly impossible for Guignard: "It's hard enough to keep up the energy to question something. It's even harder when I have to keep up the energy to see what I need to question" (166-67). Rhetoric, in other words, is not just about knowing the rhetorical situation—it's about seeing the self, a constant examination of the one acting within scenes and among other rhetorical agents. Pedaling the Sacrifice Zone ends with a call for non-academic readers to develop and employ rhetorical awareness and for academic rhetoricians to realize the stakes inherent to their work. If words can turn places into desolate, blank spaces, Guignard insists, they are also what can redeem the land.

Throughout this untraditional mix of narrative and analysis, Guignard's "pedaling" through the landscape serves as his way of witnessing the effects that the natural gas industry has on the land. While this aspect is part of the book's appeal, it is also what constrains the message: his perspective is unique to one individual whose position as a white, middle-class, male professor is not common to all. Guignard does seek to overcome his situated role in the academy by emphasizing his status as a first-generation college student with a blue-collar upbringing. Yet such an admission does not quite excuse the explicitly gendered tone of the book in which Guignard casts his wife as someone who should defer to his opinions because he "bring[s] home the damn cash" (2). Although Guignard attempts to dismiss his gendered moments with humor, admitting that they are evidence of "good, old-fashioned patriarchy" (2), such moments risk alienating readers who do not share the author's sympathies or sociocultural background.

Admittedly, Guignard's goal is to present rhetorical criticism through a personal narrative unique to this own situatedness in life, and in this he is successful. Such a narrative might also help individuals living in places impacted by the natural gas industry learn how to evaluate their rhetorical landscape and garner tools for pushing against verbal weapons. Further, while Pedaling the Sacrifice Zone does not offer Burke scholars any novel evaluation of Burke's work, the book may still be revelatory if we pair it with Burke's persistent concern with environmental issues throughout his career, concerns that Marika A. Seigel and Robert Wess have explored in their scholarship. Lastly, the book holds appeal for any scholar of rhetoric interested in the ethical role of the rhetorician at the local level of the community.

In the interest of making analysis personal, perhaps I should end with my own encounters with the oil and gas industry, which Pedaling the Sacrifice Zone made more immediate. Growing up in a rural town in Southwest Louisiana, I was acutely aware that the oil industry employed friends and family members and placed food on many tables. In 2005 when Hurricane Rita demolished homes and kept students away from school for many months, it was a local natural gas company that provided food, water, and clothing for those who lost their homes. As I grew older, I often questioned whether the ground I lived on was contaminated, but as a young college student I felt disempowered, as if pushing against the oil and gas industry would be a death sentence for my hometown.

Years later when I made the decision to move to central Pennsylvania, fracking was certainly in the back of my mind: I was moving from one contaminated state to the other. Yet was there any other choice? Was there a place where contamination of our land, our ecosystems, our lives starts and stops? Pedaling the Sacrifice Zone allowed me to articulate such questions and realize that our land and the words that shape that land are always contaminated, whether by oil or ideology. The task becomes reading, writing, teaching, and perhaps even pedaling, in such a way that makes a difference.

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Review: Rhetorical Criticism, ed. by Jim Kuypers. Reviewed by Eryn Johnson

Cover of Rhetorical Criticism

Kuypers, Jim A. Rhetorical Criticism: Perspectives in Action. 2nd ed., Rowman & Littlefield, 2016. 344 pages. $55.00 (paperback)

Reviewed by Eryn Johnson, Indiana University

The second edition of the textbook Rhetorical Criticism: Perspectives in Action from Jim Kuypers and his chapter contributors offers an insightful and productive look at what it means to write rhetorical criticism and why that practice matters, especially today. In the preface, Kuypers notes the challenge instructors face when students desire a "formula" for writing criticism and explains that with this book he has tried to give students "some starting point" while also stressing "the very personal nature of criticism" (xiii). While I agree with J. Michael Hogan of Penn State who describes the text as "sophisticated yet accessible" for both undergraduate and graduate students, I would add that Kuypers also delivers a textbook that lives up to the challenges of teaching rhetorical criticism.

New to this edition are "chapters on critical approaches to rhetorical criticism and the criticism of popular culture and social media" and appendices containing thirteen additional perspectives, four steps to begin writing criticism, and a glossary (xiii). Though Kuypers includes only the one chapter on Dramatism, notably at the heart of the text, Kenneth Burke's influence on both Kuypers and rhetorical criticism as we know it can be felt throughout. The investment in rhetoric as a pragmatic and humanistic subject is perhaps the text's most important overarching argument and its most apparent link to continual echoes of Burkean thought. This is evidenced early on when Kuypers's writes that rhetoric "allows for the creation of new knowledge about who we were, who we are, and who we might become" (1).

In the effort to show students why and how rhetorical criticism is worthwhile, Kuypers and his chapter contributors explain the basics of a range of rhetorical perspectives, ultimately advocating for rhetorical criticism as a means of civic engagement. Though Kuypers sets out to overview what rhetorical criticism looks like for the rhetoric scholar, he stresses the point that bringing these tools into our daily lives bears the potential to effect real societal change—a truly Burkean notion.

The textbook is organized into three parts: Overview of Rhetorical Criticism, Perspectives as Criticism, and Expanding Our Critical Horizons. Following an introductory first chapter, part one includes chapters two through six where Kuypers and contributors cover basic concepts related to the study of rhetoric in general and how those concepts translate into criticism. Chapter two covers rhetoric in its traditional sense (as persuasion) while encouraging students to understand rhetoric in its more nuanced forms. Among other important concepts, the authors also address rhetoric as it intersects with questions of intentionality, ethics, ideology, and objectivity and subjectivity.

In chapter three, Kuypers writes of the "critical turn" in rhetoric scholarship by defining criticism broadly and then explaining its application in the study of rhetoric. In rhetorical criticism, he writes, "We are looking at the many ways that humans use rhetoric to bring about changes in the world around them" (21). He takes care to characterize rhetorical criticism as an art rather than a science, stressing the idea that even though it does not adhere to a scientific method, criticism is still meant to be "quite rigorous and well thought out" (23).

In chapter four, Marilyn J. Young and Kathleen Farrell discuss "rhetoric as situated" (43). Leaning on the tradition of Lloyd F. Bitzer, they emphasize that situational rhetoric involves more than just context. Though exigence, audience, and constraints are essential factors, they explain how public knowledge comes to bear upon interpretations of rhetorical situations. Ultimately, Young and Farrell convey to readers that "[s]ituational analysis allows us to view rhetoric as an organic phenomenon" (44).

Additionally, William Benoit's chapter on genre and generic elements addresses the role of genre in the development of rhetorical criticism. He explains that "[g]eneric rhetorical criticism is based on the idea that observable, explicable, and predictable rhetorical commonalities occur in groups of related discourses as well as in groups of people" (47). Though no two pieces of rhetoric are identical, Benoit advocates for the "intelligent use" of criticism to broaden our understanding of rhetorical discourse (57-58).

To conclude part one, Edwin Black's chapter, "On Objectivity and Politics in Criticism", argues that rhetorical criticism has no obligation to avoid subjectivity; rather, as Benoit has suggested, it has the obligation to be intelligent (62-64). Black's closing paragraph succinctly captures this textbook's overarching message:

The only instrument of good criticism is the critic. It is not any external perspective of procedure or ideology, but only the convictions, values, and learning of the critic, only the observational and interpretive powers of the critic. That is why criticism, notwithstanding its obligation to be objective at crucial moments, is yet deeply subjective. The method of rhetorical criticism is the critic. (66)

The eight chapters included in part two of the text describe various perspectives from which to approach rhetorical criticism. Each chapter provides an overview of the perspective and its key terms, an explanation of the perspective in practice, sample essays, and a brief overview of the potentials and pitfalls of each perspective.

Part two begins naturally with a chapter on The Traditional Perspective in which Forbes Hill covers the traditional notions of rhetorical criticism. He includes content that instructors would typically expect to find here as well as key rhetorical concepts like artistic/inartistic proofs and syllogisms (74-7). Though Hill addresses a lot of content in this chapter, he does so effectively for students already familiar with basic rhetorical concepts.

In chapter eight, Stephen H. Browne illustrates the role that close textual analysis can play in rhetorical criticism. In spite of the tension between communication studies and literary studies, he asserts that this type of analysis "requires a sensibility cultivated by broad reading across the humanities and asks that we bring to the task a literary critic's sharp eye for textual detail" (91). In plotting out the "guiding principles" of close textual analysis, Browne emphasizes that "rhetorical texts are sites of symbolic action" (92), further cementing the Burkean strain of the text.

In their chapter Criticism of Metaphor, David Henry and Thomas R. Burkholder illustrate how this perspective can be a useful tool when metaphor is central to the artifact under consideration. Metaphors can be important sites for analysis, the authors suggest, because they influence how we understand seemingly unrelated ideas and "establish the ground for viewing" a given rhetorical situation (108). This chapter builds nicely upon the previous one by offering a tool that can work well in tandem with close textual analysis.

With chapter ten, Robert Rowland provides insight into narrative criticism, another perspective closely connected to Burkean notions of rhetoric. Because people have been telling stories for thousands of years, he asserts, narrative rhetoric is not only worthy of critical attention but also functions differently at the persuasive level than traditional argumentative or descriptive rhetoric (126). The theories of Burke and Walter Fisher become important assets to Rowland in this chapter as he lays out four functions for narrative in rhetoric. This perspective is essential, for Rowland, because narrative is central to how humans influence one another.

Notably, Kuypers's strategically places Ryan Erik McGeough and Andrew King's chapter, "Dramatism and Kenneth Burke's Pentadic Criticism", at the heart of the textbook. Building upon the previous chapter, they stress the idea of humans as storytellers by explaining Burke's theorization of Dramatism and the pentad's correspondence to narrative construction. They emphasize Burke's notion of identification because of the less often considered way in which persuasion occurs unconsciously. McGeough and King remind students in this chapter that "Burke thought that people ought to be able to analyze and understand public questions on their own" (151), which also ties this chapter back to Kuypers's original purpose of advocating for rhetorical criticism as a means of civic engagement.

In their overview of fantasy-theme criticism in chapter twelve, Thomas J. St. Antione and Matthew T. Althouse define a fantasy theme as "a narrative construal that reflects a group's experience and helps a group understand that experience" (168). The authors explain this perspective's relationship to symbolic convergence theory and provide a sample essay that analyzes multiple fantasy themes surrounding the same topic. They do well to explain that this perspective is useful to understanding webs of communication and the influence of fantasies on constructions of reality; however, this chapter will require more work on the part of the instructor to help students see how this perspective transfers into practice.

In chapter thirteen, Donna Marie Nudd and Kristina Schriver Whalen offer a compelling chapter on feminist analysis. In addition to making space for a productive discussion of gender, they define feminism as "a pluralistic movement interested in altering the political and social landscape so that all people, regardless of their identity categories, can experience freedom and safety, complexity and subjectivity, and economic and political parity—experiences associated with being fully human" (191). These authors identify four prevailing critical "techniques" for feminist criticism and emphasize language analysis as a means for reclaiming and redefining the symbolic systems that perpetuate gender inequalities (195-96).

Following Nudd and Whalen's important chapter on feminist analysis, Ronald Lee and Adam Blood provide rich insight into the practice of ideographic criticism. The authors identify Michael McGee's theory of "rhetorical materialism" as the "ideological turn" in rhetorical criticism and add significant points to the text's multiple discussions of ideology (215). While students are typically first introduced to rhetorical analysis as the nature of the effects of rhetoric on an audience, they explain that ideographic criticism better reflects what rhetorical critics actually do, which is to understand rhetoric as "a symptom of changes in ideology" (224). This chapter challenges students to move beyond the standard textbook notions of rhetorical analysis and toward the more complex, artistic notions of rhetorical criticism that Kuypers calls for.

 With Lee and Blood having elevated the expectations for rhetorical criticism, Kuypers begins part three of the textbook by discussing eclectic criticism. This chapter pushes students to think about the previous chapters as tools rather than proscriptive methods for becoming effective critics. He makes this point best when he writes that eclectic criticism "takes components of various rhetorical theories and blends them together into a comprehensive whole, all to better explain the workings of an intriguing rhetorical artifact" (239).

Though Burke's influence can be felt throughout, Raymie McKerrow's chapter on critical rhetoric carries particularly Burkean overtones. While he foregrounds the necessity for students to understand that "the critic gives voice to his or her own ideological commitments in the act of evaluating the discourse of others", he also emphasizes that critical rhetoric is about embodying an orientation for its "emancipatory potential" (254). McKerrow credits Burke with influencing his idea of the orientation of critical rhetoric and concludes that the critical rhetoric project commits us to "the realization that action is never final" (266)—critical rhetoric commits us to keeping the conversations going ad infinitum.

In the final chapter, Kristen Hoerl demonstrates the value of popular culture and social media analysis as it allows critics to "participate in the political and social struggles of our time" (269). Citing Raymond Williams's conception of culture as a "'whole way of life'", Hoerl argues that this definition opens the door for scholars to critically approach what might be considered "low brow or trivial" cultural practices (269). She distinguishes pop culture as "an object of analysis" rather than a method and argues that rhetorical criticism of popular culture has a direct connection to "investment in civic life" (270). If for no other reason, Hoerl contends that we should be interested in pop culture and social media analysis for the same reasons that Kuypers believes we should care about rhetorical criticism—it can teach us something about "who we were, who we are, and who we might become" (1).

For as much as Burke's influence on rhetoric is apparent here, Kuypers and his contributors also resist allowing that influence to overpower the various perspectives that are offered. In keeping with the nature of rhetorical studies as a humanistic discipline, this text continually advocates for rhetorical criticism as an exercise of human agency that can affect social change. As intended, the textbook provides structure for students learning to write criticism while emphasizing that criticism is an art that requires intellectual rigor. Though students may not yet see it, Kuypers seems to argue, engaging with rhetoric is as crucial to their lives as anything. After all, he writes, "We simply cannot do without rhetoric. In fact, knowledge about the wise use of discourse has never been more necessary than it is today" (18).

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Review: "Rhetoric, Narrative, and Management: Learning from Mad Men" by Ronald Soetaert and Kris Rutten. Reviewed by Martha Sue Karnes

Soetaert, Ronald, and Kris Rutten. "Rhetoric, Narrative, and Management: Learning from Mad Men." Journal of Organizational Change Management, vol. 30, no. 3, 2017, pp. 323–33.

Martha Sue Karnes, Clemson University

Ronald Soetaert and Kris Rutten in "Rhetoric, Narrative, and Management: Learning from Mad Men" use theories from Kenneth Burke and Richard Lanham to analyze Mad Men and discuss advertising and marketing in terms of rhetoric. In particular, the authors use the main character of Mad Men, Don Draper, as a case study for Lanham's homo rhetoricus. The authors use Mad Men due its massive popularity as a television show and its display of the professional and personal life.

The article begins by explaining the concepts from Burke and Lanham that will make up the theoretical backing of the study. The authors draw on Burke's definitions of identification and division, as well as his famous concepts of terministic screens and the principles of selection, reflection, and deflection, calling terministic screens "a vocabulary or a discourse to frame reality" (324). They briefly mention trained incapacities and how they act as "blind spots of human communication" (325). Richard Lanham's economy of attention serves as the major theoretical point of entry for this article, as it "highlights the role of styling and image-making in an economy where branding has become a central principle of marketing and corporate success" (325). This manifests itself in the concept of "stuff" and "fluff," which the authors invoke throughout. Finally, Lanham's concept of homo rhetoricus is discussed at length. The homo rhetoricus, evolving from Burke's homo symbolicus, results when a man or woman is trained in rhetoric. Soetaert and Rutten claim "The rhetorical man/woman is trained to interpret reality as dynamic or narrative and describes him/herself as a role player" (325).

The authors argue for Mad Men as a "revival of rhetoric as a major skill" (326) and offer various examples of rhetorical sophistry at work in the series They use Burke's concepts of identification and terministic screens to display how the show itself acts as an advertisement: "All over the world, people identify with the characters and this identification is the basis for the success of the series... this process shows how identification is based on how symbols can be used to create and perform identity" (327). Draper creates his own identity in order to sell and uses terms to carefully allow people to identify with the product.

Soetaert and Rutten conclude by claiming that Don Draper "becomes a case study of what it means to be a homo rhetoricus (and the entelechy of the concept)" (330). Draper creates the reality around him and is able to sell it to others, as displayed in the example Soetaert and Rutten offer about Draper selling Jaguars. Although Soetaert and Rutten explain the Burkean concepts and theory of Richard Lanham quite well, more examples would help connect all the theories together. While Draper makes sense as a homo rhetoricus, the reader is left to wonder just how the principle of terministic screens funtions in the series. Nevertheless, this article offers a interesting application of Burkean concepts to a popular culture phenomenon.

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Review: Joel Overall's "Kenneth Burke and the Problem of Sonic Identification" by Martha Sue Karnes

Overall, Joel. "Kenneth Burke and the Problem of Sonic Identification." Rhetoric Review, vol. 36, no. 3, 2017, pp. 232–43.

Martha Sue Karnes, Clemson University

In "Kenneth Burke and the Problem of Sonic Identification," Joel Overall discusses Kenneth Burke's contribution to the field of sonic rhetorics. Namely, Overall contends that Burke's conception of identification can be applied to sonic rhetorics to form sonic identification, a term that melds Burkean scholarship and sonic rhetorics. Through the analysis of two of Burke's reviews for The Nation and Burke's early definitions of identification in Attitudes Towards History, Overall offers "a Burkean theory of identication that more fully accommodates sonic symbols such as music" (233).

Burke served as a music critic for The Nation from 1934 to 1936, right in the midst of Hitler's rise to power in Germany. During this time, Burke reviewed Paul Hindemith's Mathis der Maler and Roy Harris's "A Song for Occupations." According to Overall, Burke saw in the Nazi music scene sonic identification that "merged problematic ideologies while concealing divisions" (235). Hindemith weaved together conflicting identifications of Nazism and traditional German values in his Mathis der Maler in a way that did not preserve division. Burke saw this as deeply problematic and led him to "consider a more balanced approach between advocating sonic identification while preserving division as well" (235).

In the second half of the essay, Overall discusses the term integration in terms of sonic symbols. He says that "music integrates a variety of musical forms and the many disparate experiences of the audience into one symbolic synthesis, while erasing any reference to prior divisions" (239). Sonic symbols, according to both Burke and Overall, "lack the linguistic material of 'the negative'" (239). This is how sonic identification is problematized for Burke. If there is no negative present in sonic identification, there can be no division.

Joel Overall skillfully weaves Burke's theories of identification into sonic rhetorics. His contention that Burke's contribution emphasizes "the fragile nature of sound, meaning, and division in sonic symbols" (240) is articulated through his use of Burke's work as a music critic and his involvement in the Nazi Germany music scene. Overall's work is relevant today as the field of sonic rhetorics continues to grow, and hopefully Burkean concepts will continue to open the field.

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Volume 12, Issue 2 Spring 2017

Contents of KB Journal Volume 12, Issue 2 Spring 2017

The Uses of Compulsion: Addressing Burke’s Technological Psychosis [Keynote Address]

Jodie Nicotra, University of Idaho

I'm so pleased to be here, not least because now I feel like I've come full circle with Burke and technology—writing this paper reminded me that back when I took Jack Selzer's seminar on Burke at Penn State in 2001 or so, I had initially proposed "Kenneth Burke and technology" as the topic for my seminar paper.* Jack said "eh, I don't think you want to do that. Why don't you write about Burke and this guy Korzybski instead?" Well, now I understand why he said that. I have to confess - about a third of my way into the research for this talk, I said out loud, "Why would ANYONE use Burke as a way to talk about technology?" But, as always, I'll be damned if I didn't come away understanding the human-technology relationship differently thanks to the depth of Burke's thinking about symbolic action and the function of language.

If the thinly veiled autobiographical protagonist of his short story "The Anaesthetic Revelation of Herone Liddell" was "haunted by ecology," then Burke himself was haunted by technology. Or perhaps it would be more proper to say that he was "goaded" by technology, judging by his repeated attempts to both theorize it and uncover some sort of symbolic action that might serve as a corrective. Beginning with "Waste—The Future of Prosperity," a prescient satirical essay from the late 1920s, the problem that Burke later termed the "technological psychosis" turns up again and again over the course of his career. But his later writings especially reveal what Ian Hill describes as "full apocalyptic overtones," an intensifying dread of technologically based environmental destruction that Burke, with comic ambivalence, viewed as the perfection, the logical, entelechial outcome of the rational animal's rationality.

Burke's pervasive anxiety about humanity's terrible, inevitable final goal manifests in these later works as an incessant hashing and rehashing of ideas. William Rueckert and Angelo Bonadonna characterize the Burke of the late essays as staging a "[relentless attack] on hyper-technologism" (On Human Nature 1), the essays rife with signs of his "late compulsion to refer back to earlier and other works of his, and to quote himself often" (6). Indeed, Burke himself likened his odd obsessiveness about technology to a compulsion. In one late essay, he admits to his "fixations about the problems of what I would call either 'technologism' or the 'technological psychosis'" ("Realisms, Occidental Style 105). In another he writes, "for several years I had been compulsively taking notes on the subject of technological pollution - and I still do compulsively take such notes." Burke actually loathed this compulsive note taking and longed to shut the door on the issue, "even," he wrote, "to the extent of inattention by dissipation. But it goes on nagging me" ("Why Satire" 72). If, as we can glean from reading this account, Burke took to drink in order to get shut of his obsessive attention to technology (not that he really needed that as an excuse), then certainly it must have had quite a grip on him.

Rueckert and Bonadonna suggest that Burke's obsession as it shows up in the redundancy of his later writings may have been the result of his advancing years combined with a loss of the desire to produce new work after the passing of his wife Libby. But further reading in Burke suggests that his language of compulsion in connection with technology warrants more sustained attention. Burke's own compulsions in regard to thinking about technology were also reflected in the way he talked about technology itself, to the extent that technology could be said to occupy a special third term in the nonsymbolic motion/symbolic action distinction that some scholars have marked as central to the whole of his philosophy. But more than this, I think pushing further on this idea of technology as compulsion actually suggests an avenue of response to the problem of technology as Burke sets it up. In my talk today, I want to dig a little deeper into Burke's attitudinizing of technology as compulsion and obsession; to think about what it means for Burke to characterize technology in this way, and the possibilities for action inherent in such a formulation. My talk is in two sections, the first being...

Haunted by Technology

For Burke, technology and language are deeply interconnected. In the afterword to Permanence and Change, he writes, "Technology is an ultimate direction indigenous to Bodies That Learn Language, which thereby interactively develop a realm of artificial instruments under such symbolic guidance" (296). Since for Burke as goes language, so goes technology, thinking about his treatment of one helps us understand the other. Despite his language of "instruments," Burke's depiction of the human relationship to both language and technology deeply troubles, if not reverses altogether, the typical understanding of control and agency. To wit, while the "Definition of Man" posits humans first as "symbol-using animals," reading a bit further clarifies that by this Burke doesn't mean that language is actually under our control, or that we can just use it in some instrumental fashion. He asks, "Do we simply use words, or do they not also use us? . . . An 'ideology' is like a spirit taking up its abode in a body: it makes that body hop around in certain ways: and that same body would have hopped around in different ways had a different ideology happened to inhabit it" (LSA 6). Likewise, since technology for Burke is inextricably bound up with symbol systems, he conceives of it less as an instrument than as a force that subsumes us, or at least a force that is not subject to our command.

As he suggests in the above passage, technology isn't simply neutral or passive, but has an inbuilt directionality - an "ultimate direction," to use his language. He writes, "I am but asking that we view [technology] as a kind of 'destiny,' a fulfillment of peculiarly human aptitudes" (296). Burke's mention of "destiny" and "fulfillment" here, of course, alludes to his appropriation of Aristotle's notion of entelechy; for Burke, entelechy is the "perfection" of language, such that the establishment of a particular terminology or nomenclature carries within itself its own "perfection" or inevitable end. And because of technology's inextricability from symbol systems, this entelechial drive is hence also inherent to technologies. As Burke explains in the afterword to Permanence and Change, human history has involved the turn from an early mythic orientation to what he writes is "our 'perfect' secular fulfillment in the empirical realm of symbol-guided Technology's Counter-Nature, as the human race 'progressively' (impulsively and/or compulsively) strives toward imposing its self-portraiture (with corresponding vexations) upon the realm of non-human Nature" (336). Note here Burke's language of impulsion and compulsion - the fulfillment of the technological imperative isn't just a passive happenstance of directionality, but an active drive. Thus, enmeshed in his notion of entelechy is this idea of an impetus or compelling force (i.e., something that's pushing through the perfection of symbol-guided technology). The language of compulsion, which crops up frequently in Burke's discussion of technology, appears most overtly in this passage from his satirical essay "Towards Helhaven": "Frankly, I enroll myself among those who take it for granted that the compulsiveness of man's technologic genius, as compulsively implemented by the vast compulsions of our vast technologic grid, makes for a self-perpetuating cycle quite beyond our ability to adopt any major reforms in our ways of doing things. We are happiest when we can plunge on and on" (61).

If entelechy comes from Aristotle, Burke borrows the language of compulsion from Freud, specifically the idea of the repetition compulsion developed in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. For Freud, the compulsion to repeat an originary psychic trauma across time and in differing circumstances was perhaps the most fundamental human instinct, albeit one that calls into question traditional notions of agency and freedom. Indeed, Freud suggested that the feeling of dread experienced by many people who are just beginning analysis might have its origins in the realization that they may not be as in charge of their lives as they'd like to believe. He writes, "what they are afraid of at bottom is the emergence of this compulsion with its hint of possession by some 'daemonic' power" (30).

David Sedaris's essay in the New Yorker called "Living the Fitbit Life" provides a comical, though pretty accurate portrait of such "possession by daemonic power." For those of you who don't know, a Fitbit is one of the new gadgets called "activity trackers," and it basically is like an amped-up pedometer. Sedaris writes, "To people, people who are obsessive to begin with, the Fitbit is a digital trainer, perpetually egging us on. During the first few weeks that I had it, I'd return to my hotel at the end of the day, and when I discovered that I'd taken a total of, say, twelve thousand steps, I'd go out for another three thousand." His dismayed partner asks, "Why? Why isn't twelve thousand enough?" to which the narrated Sedaris replies, "Because my Fitbit thinks I can do better." Soon, the narrator finds himself walking more and more, driven by what he refers to as the "master strapped securely around my left wrist": first 25,000, then 30, 45, and finally 60,000 steps a day. He writes, "At the end of my first sixty-thousand step day, I staggered home with my flashlight knowing that I'd advance to sixty-five thousand, and that there will be no end to it until my feet snap off at the ankles. Then it'll just be my jagged bones stabbing into the soft ground."

Of course, Sedaris's description of the logical end of Fitbit wearing also happens to perfectly demonstrate Burke's definition of the entelechial function of satire, namely, "tracking down possibilities or implications to the point where the result is a kind of Utopia-in-reverse" ("Why Satire" 75). By the rationality of Sedaris's Fitbit, you must continue walking until you've worn your legs down to nibs. But while I agree with Burke that the Fitbit's symbolic framework is essential here for setting up this kind of logical end, I want to focus more specifically on the mechanisms of this compulsion. It's by the study of these mechanisms, I'll argue, that the "solution" for the technological psychosis diagnosed by Burke actually lies. To do that, I want to turn to an exchange that Burke had with Father Walter Ong, who, as you may or may not know, happened to teach at Saint Louis University for thirty years. The exchange between Burke and Ong provides some insight into the mechanisms of the technological psychosis.

This particular exchange of letters happened around an essay that Ong had sent Burke entitled "Technology Outside Us and Inside Us," in which Ong critiques instrumentalist notions of technology as "things 'out there,' in front of us and apart from us, belonging to and affecting the world outside consciousness" (190). Rather, Ong argues, we should think of how technologies also claim our insides, reorganizing our bodies through habit and reshaping our consciousness. Using the example of actual (musical) instruments, Ong points out that in learning to play, musicians must in a very material sense give themselves over to their instruments - as he writes, they "[appropriate] this machine, make it part of [themselves], [interiorize] it, gather it into the recesses of [their] consciousness" (190). Rich Doyle in Wetwares similarly articulates the human-technology relationship as a "grafting" that requires a hospitality of sorts to an inhuman form. This hospitality, writes Doyle, "relies intensely on forgetting; one must be capable of responding to the new action of a body….a capacity linked to a forgetting or an undoing of the old arcs of eye, hand, and memory" (5). In other words, we don't use technologies (including the ecologies that they come bundled with) so much as we are enticed or thrown into alliances that in return necessitate a reorganization of our bodies and our consciousness. Repeated encounters between human and technology in the light of purpose and scene prompt bodily reorganization in the form of new habits of action and perception, and new capacities. We might think of the regular user of Facebook, for instance, who starts to filter all of his experiences through the lens of their potential as written or photographic status updates; or the computer word processing program habitue, who, searching for a physical book on a shelf, finds her fingers reflexively attempting to use the Ctrl-F function; or the Fitbit user who becomes so accustomed to seeing his daily activity as the blinking dots on the device that he asks, like Sedaris, "Walking twenty-five miles, or even running up the stairs and back, suddenly seemed pointless, since, without the steps being counted and registered, what use were they?" This is more than human "use" of technology - in essence, through repeated interaction with the technology, a new virtual body has developed. And it is this virtual body, I want to suggest, that is the mechanism of the compulsion that Burke attributes to technology.

While Burke agrees with Ong's description of the mechanisms by which technology, in shaping humans, also serves as a compelling force, he still walks away from the exchange with a fatalistic view of the human-technology relationship. What he calls his "troubled attitude" in relation to Ong's essay is the fact that owing to technology's unintended byproducts (especially pollution and waste), and how much more powerful it makes individuals beyond their naked human bodies, no social or political system, no matter how full of self-consciousness, has been developed that can control "the astounding powers of technology." "Hence," he says, "mankind has a tiger by the tail." His Definition of Man reveals his lack of faith in the human ability to hang onto this tiger - he says, "The dreary likelihood is that, if we do avoid the holocaust, we shall do so mainly by bits of political patchwork here and there, with alliances falling sufficiently on the bias across one another, and thus getting sufficiently in one another's road, so there's not enough 'symmetrical perfection' among the contestants to set up the 'right' alignment and touch it off" (LSA 20). In other words, at his most pessimistic, Burke sees the technologically induced perfection of nuclear holocaust only not happening by chance.

Amplifying Obsession - Responses to Technology

Despite his anxiety about what he sees as the inevitable, terrible conclusion of the technological psychosis, Burke failed to secure a truly satisfactory solution to the problem as he defines it. As Rueckert and Bonadonna write, "Burke never developed a final vision beyond defining humans as bodies that learn language, establishing the link between language (symbol systems) and technology, and determining that technology was our entelechy" (272). Judging from the number of apocalypse narratives that currently populate screen, novel, and newspaper, there are many who would agree with Burke's fatalistic vision about the inevitable tragically perfect end of humanity's current rationally guided course. But I want to suggest that in Burke's very language of entelechy and irresistible compulsion there is a compelling framework for "solving" the problem of technology.

Because for Burke the human relationship with technology was thoroughly bound up with language, symbolic action was therefore the thing necessary to adequately address it. But what kind of symbolic action is the question. Perhaps because for Burke technology is so rooted in the idea of entelechy, both Burke and his critics assume that what is necessary to address the technological psychosis is a symbolic corrective - i.e., something that could serve to block or put the brakes on technology lest it continue rolling along to its disastrous finale of environmental apocalypse. James Chesebro summarizes the essence of this view in his argument that rhetorical critics must adopt a "decisively skeptical" role when it comes to the symbolic constructions of technology; everything must be put on hold until "dramatists have determined how a symbolic perspective can be used to counter technology" (279).

For some, such a corrective could only be grounded in human consciousness. Even Rueckert and Bonadonna, glossing Burke's take on the technological psychosis, fall into the consciousness trap. In their introduction to one of Burke's late essays, they write, "What you have at the 'end of the line' is a vast human tragedy which might have been averted if humans had paid heed to their own knowledge of what more and more technology might bring. We are not talking about pollution here, but about foreknowledge and the ability or failure to act on it. The other factor is the failure to foresee the consequences of an action or development" (4). With the language of knowledge and foreknowledge, we might hear in Rueckert's summary echoes of Ong's faith in human consciousness as the thing that might protect us from technology's disastrous consequences and preserve human freedom - that if we just knew enough or had enough knowledge about an issue, we could rationally discuss it and come up with a solution. Indeed, raising awareness about technologically induced environmental problems is what many environmentalists rely on to spur the public to action. But it's clear from even a cursory glance at the landscape of current public opinion and legislative wranglings over science and technology that mere awareness of problems (or even the provision of mountains of information and evidence) ultimately matters very little when it comes to decision-making or policy creation about environmental matters like, say, climate change.

Using tactics that are more recognizably Burkeian, T.N.Thompson and A .J. Palmeri recommend that rhetorical critics and dramatists develop what they call a "poetic psychosis" in order to counter Counternature. Psychotic poets would, they say, "exercise the resources and range of symbols, giving wings to 'agitating thoughts' so that they might enlist the action of others" (280), in countering technology. They write, ominously, "Poetic and comic correctives are needed to counter the rapid mutation of counternature before it reaches the 'end of the line' - its perfection - where the merger of mind and machine will leave no need for a poem" (283). But while I like this idea of fighting psychosis with psychosis, I still want to call into question the author's frame of rejection of technology here. [Problem with saying no - does Burke say anything about this in his ideas of the negative?.]

Satire was Burke's own solution for correcting the technological psychosis. As he explained in the essay "Archetype and Entelechy," satire can help reveal the terminological choices that lead to entelechies, but in a way that provides different possibilities for action. He writes, "satire can so change the rules that we have a quite different out. The satirist can set up a situation whereby his text can ironically advocate the very ills that are depressing us - nay more, he can 'perfect' his presentation by a fantastic rationale that calls for still more of the maladjustments now besetting us" (133). Burke employed this symbolic strategy of amplification in both his earliest satire on technology "Waste - The Future of Prosperity" and one of his final ones, "Towards Helhaven." With tongue in cheek, Burke suggests in the early essay that rather than people maximally waste in order to better the economy. He improves upon this amplification strategy in "Towards Helhaven" by "recommending" an action proposed by a certain gentleman who suggested that if a lake has been polluted, rather than turning backward or countering this action by asking how to undo or mitigate the destruction, to rather "affirmatively" address the issue by continuing to maximally pollute the lake, ten times as much - thereby, Burke writes, either converting it to a new form of energy or "as raw material for some new kind of poison, usable either as a pesticide or to protect against unwholesome political ideas" (61). The image is bitterly hilarious.

But even though Burke's approach to satire works mechanically by amplifying or pushing a particular notion through to its logical end, it still ultimately (as Thompson and Palmeri point out) is a frame of rejection. It hopes to counter technology, to say "no" to it. But, using Burke's notion of satire as a cue, what if we were to think of a form of symbolic action that uses this same strategy of amplification as a frame of acceptance - one that says "yes" rather than "no"? I want to suggest Burke's own concept of technology as irresistible compulsion as a candidate for this idea of amplification or pushing through. In other words, we might take the final words of the Helhaven essay - "No negativism. We want AFFIRMATION - TOWARDS HELHAVEN" (65) more seriously than Burke meant them - perhaps not in a directly material, technological sense, like adding maximal pollutants to a lake, but in a symbolic sense, whereby we amplify the concept of compulsion to its logical conclusion, by thinking of technology as a compulsion over which we have no control. What if we literally could not help ourselves when it came to technology? That we had to, as Burke says, "perpetually tinker" until we blew up the world or sank ourselves in a horrific miasma of pollution from which only the lucky rich few could escape? How could we use this very idea of compulsion not as a corrective to technology, but as a way to push it through? If nomenclatures, as Burke argues in his essay "Archetype and Entelechy," are formative, or creative, in the sense that they affect the nature of our observations, by turning our attention in this direction rather than that, and by having implicit in them ways of dividing up a field of inquiry" (Dramatism and Development 33), then naming and treating technology as a compulsion will reveal certain possibilities for responding, and foreclose others.

Consider, for instance, the range of responses by environmentalists to the problem of climate change, a convergence of factors that Burke would certainly have read as the moment before the apocalypse. Most mainstream environmentalist approaches - a perfect example being Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth - rely on maximizing consciousness about climate change, the inherent assumption being that if people just understood or had enough information about the problem, they would change their behavior and their voting strategies. And while there's certainly nothing wrong with attempting to combat misinformation, one only needs to do a quick survey of the majority of Western attitudes to see that even if people have the "correct" information, it doesn't mean they'll automatically change their behavior or even their beliefs, thanks to factors like identification. (Along similar lines, X has an excellent article showing how, despite mountains of evidence for evolution, creationists still refuse to believe it).

Far more interesting approaches to the problem of climate change, I think, are those that amplify the idea of technology as compulsion by literally metaphorizing the Western relationship to oil as an addiction. Rather than setting up a frame of rejection, as do the strategies that rely on maximum consciousness, amplifications using the metaphor of oil addiction turn the attention affirmatively toward particular kinds of solutions. Those who adopt the nomenclature of oil as addiction can (to use more traditional rhetorical terminology), argue at the stasis of policy rather than fact or definition. They bring different sets of questions into play - like what is the most effective way to treat an addiction? For instance, Larry Lapide, the Research Director of MIT's Supply Chain Management 2020 initiative, argues that most American supply chains are "addicted to oil." The oil-as-addiction metaphor allows Lapide to move past arguments about whether there is a problem and who caused it to more pragmatic issues like identifying the most oil-heavy aspects of supply chains and encouraging businesses to analyze their own supply chains in order to make themselves less dependent on the fraught resource of oil. Lapide actually relies on a sort of petroleum-based Pascalian wager, recommending what he calls a "no regrets" risk management strategy when it comes to oil - namely, "Decrease your supply chain's dependence on oil to make it less vulnerable to price increases and supply chain disruptions." ("Is Your Supply Chain").

An even more interesting example is the Transition Network, an organization aiming to respond to the realities of climate change that was designed from the beginning around the concept that Western society is literally addicted to oil - in fact, the subtitle of The Transition Handbook, a bible of sorts for those who want to start a "Transition Initiative," is "From oil dependency to local resilience." In its pragmatic materials for guiding towns and other areas begin what Transition refers to as an "energy descent," lessening their dependence on oil, the Transition Network is grounded in metaphors of addiction. Arguing that generally speaking "the environmental movement has failed to engage people on a large scale in the process of change," (84), Rob Hopkins writes in the Transition Handbook that it is critical to understand how change actually happens, which led him to a model well known to addiction psychology called the Transtheoretical Change Model. The "Stages of Change," as the TTM model is popularly known, identifies a number of stages (like pre-contemplation, or the awareness of the need to change, through action, and maintenance) that addicts incrementally move through in treating their addiction. According to advocates of this addiction treatment model, understanding which stage one is in offers opportunities for understanding what might be blocking change (or, conversely, what pitfalls one needs to be aware of in the treatment of one's addiction). In applying this model to entities beyond an individual, Hopkins encourages potential Transition Initiatives to think of themselves as addicts and (like the supply chains above) apply the model to understand the specific nature of their dependence. As Hopkins says, "Recognising oil dependence makes it easier to understand why it might be difficult to wean ourselves off our oil habit, while also joining us towards proven strategies from the addictions field that might help us move forward" (87). A strategy of information—a strategy that says "yes."

Owing to his own tragic vision of technology, Burke ultimately could only view it through a frame of rejection. But while his writings specifically having to do with technology may not themselves offer to a productive response to technology, considered in a broader context - especially in terms of technology's enmeshment with language and all that entails in a Burkean sense, I find that they offer a way of thinking around the back door of technology, but one that says Yes rather than No, that affirms attitudes and hence pushes actions. Of course, I'm not suggesting that thinking of oil as addiction (or technology as compulsion) is the answer to all our environmental problems. But the general notion of looking for strategies of affirmation. I'll end here with an idea from Guattari that speaks to how I think Burke would have wanted to see technology were it not for this peculiar blind spot.

"This new logic - and I wish to stress this point - has affinities with that of the artist, who may be induced to refashion an entire piece of work after the intrusion of some accidental detail, a petty incident which suddenly deflects the project from its initial trajectory, diverting if from what may well have been a clearly formulated vision of its eventual shape. There is a proverb which says that 'the exception proves the rule'; but the exception can also inflect the rule, or even re-create it" (140).

The assignment according to Guattari is figuring out how to "promote a true ecology of the phantasm - one that works through transference, translation, the redeployment of the materials of expression - rather than endlessly invoking great moral principles to mobilize mechanisms of censure and contention" (141).

* This is an unrevised version of a keynote address at the Triennial Conference of the Kenneth Burke Society hosted at Saint Louis University in 2014. The revised version, "The Uses of Compulsion: Rewriting Burke's Technological Psychosis as a Posthuman Program," appears in Ambiguous Bodies: Kenneth Burke and Posthumanism, edited by Christopher Mays, Nathaniel Rivers, and Kellie Sharp-Hoskins. Penn State University Press.

Works Cited

Burke, Kenneth. "Waste, or the Future of Prosperity." The New Republic 63 (1930), 228-31. Print.

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

—. "The Anaesthetic Revelation of Herone Liddell." The Complete White Oxen and Other Stories. U of California P, 1968. 255-310. Print.

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Technological Devolution, Social Innovation: Attitudes Toward Industry

M. Elizabeth Weiser, The Ohio State University

Weep not that the world changes—did it keep /A stable changeless state, 'twere cause indeed to weep.                                                                                                        —William Cullen Bryant


Technology changes our identity, with the same ambiguous results Burke saw evidence of all around him eighty years ago.1 His reaction was to counsel caution, even repudiation, but his dialectical rhetoric and comic corrective offer a more nuanced theoretical approach to the ambiguous conversation between humans and technology. His theories point toward a means to replace both his extreme distrust of technology and industrial communities' previous naïve optimism with an active, critical shrewdness.

AS IAN HILL NOTES IN KB JOURNAL, "Because [Kenneth] Burke's theory of rhetoric is so intertwined with bodily survival and the technological threat thereto . . . Burke's critical program embodies a technological rhetoric." But his attitude is not friendly, Hill goes on: "Burke's observations of technology again and again emphasized its destructive capacity."

Rhetorical communication today, in contrast, with its emphasis on digital media analysis and production, oftentimes embodies a different sort of attitude. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, it is more like "better get out of the new world if you can't learn to code—for the times, they are a-changin'." Like so many, I teach my students to use the technology of the 21st century in a Rust Belt town bruised and battered by the technology of the 20th. So should our conversation with technology be one of praise or blame? Changing our viewpoint from the tragic to the comic frame makes it clearer that it is both. Technology has always been a-changin' our identity, with results more ambiguous, more akin to the love-hate relationship Burke saw evidence of all around him 80 years ago. His reaction—in his writing and his life—was to counsel caution, even at times repudiation, but his dialectical rhetoric and comic corrective offer a more nuanced theoretical approach to the ambiguous conversation between humans and technology. His theories point toward a means to replace both his extreme distrust of technology and industrial communities' previous naïve optimism with an active, critical shrewdness.

Because I study identity formation in museums, I became particularly interested in the potential manner in which this shrewdness was dramatized in museums in former industrial centers like my town. How do communities which thrived through technology, whose identity was based on their relationship to technology, narrate the story of their betrayal when that technological identity is lost? The experience of industrial museums in depicting the ambiguous human-technological relationship yields useful insights as we in post-industrial settings face the need to re-orient our perspectives.

In this brief article I compare two similar industrial museums—both named "Work"—in two similar industrial boom-bust-cautious recovery towns: Newark, Ohio (where I teach) and Norrköping, Sweden (where I worked while on sabbatical). I also look at the new industrial exhibits in the National Museum of American History, perhaps the first exhibits in any national museum to focus specifically on the business side of technological innovation. I examine museums because their epideictic frame is more likely to provide the space and time to consider multiple voices in debate, a hallmark of the comic frame. Through their promotion of a communal identity, they may also prompt visitors to engage as Agents in their world. I argue that Burke's interminable conversation in the comic frame, in a Scene which has the potential to promote identification with a polyvocal community, which has never been so important as now, as humanity continues "on the edge of the abyss" in a rapidly technifying world (Burke, "Anaesthetic Revelation" 296). Without recourse to an identity as Agents, communities facing industrial change as a tragedy become fatalistic and despairing, see heroes and villains rather than co-workers, invent scapegoats and strongmen, long for the past rather than challenging the future—in short, they become the "heartland" electorate that rose up in the last election in populist revolt against a changing nation. Changing the narrative that forms their identity is no mere aesthetic exercise, then, but a real-world exigence.

Before examining specific museum exhibits, let me acknowledge the ongoing conversations in museum studies over the degree to which any museum exhibit is memory rather than history, story rather than truth; as well as questions of whose memory/history/story/truth is recounted and to what effect. These are important questions, but leaving them aside in this article, I will instead focus on the effects of the narratives told by the exhibits, adopting Burke's pragmatic social constructivism that acknowledges both the viability of multiple perspectives and the recalcitrant nature of "reality": It exists, and it sets bounds on the ways the past can be portrayed and the future envisioned. As Edward Schiappa writes in a piece comparing Burke's master tropes and Thomas Kuhn's scientific paradigm shifts, "Despite the potential cries of relativism against both, neither Kuhn nor Burke meant that people can 'see' anything they want" in our metaphor-infused world "because, as Burke noted, 'the universe displays various orders of recalcitrance' to our interpretations, and we are forced to amend our interpretations accordingly. Thus, our perceptions have an 'objective validity' (PC 256-57, qtd. in Schiappa). It is not that museum exhibits and the communities they serve cannot shape the story, it is that the material objects, the communal memories, the larger sociopolitical context, and even the generic characteristics of narrative itself all set bounds on just how the shaping will occur—and it is the shaping and its consequences I examine in this article.

As Hill notes, Burke's concern with technology was due in part to its role in heightening people's natural reluctance to change in response to changing circumstances because "although capable of communicating, machines lack the poetic sensibility to react to changing conditions with altered symbolism." Human motivation is understandable but not rational, as Burke insisted repeatedly as a counter to his positivistic age—it is shot through with attitudes while "the technological machine [is] the external expression of the rational ideal" (Burke, "Literature and Science" 160). Technology, like the science that develops it, pushes the human toward that "rational ideal," but the human condition recalcitrantly refuses. Thus, wrote Burke in this 1937 address to the Third American Writers Congress, "I think that the restricted concept of scientific style is not adequate to name human motivations. I doubt whether references to 'causality' will ever 'explain' choice; they can only chart limitations of choice" (163). For Burke, it is the artist who sees beyond the strictures imposed by current expected connections to make new connections. These new juxtapositions, new ways of looking at a situation, are what allow people to move beyond an entrenched mindset—in this case, to see themselves as more than the cogs in a machine (particularly if that machine is now failing). Whether a given museum allows the needed juxtapositions into its narrative can mean the difference between a community asserting itself as a change Agent in the conversation with technology and a community struggling to do so, as we shall see.

The Towns

Newark, Ohio, pop. 48,000, and Norrköping, Sweden, pop. 87,000, are surprisingly similar. Both were home to prehistoric native communities which left important archaeological remains that both towns, until recently, have largely ignored. Both towns took advantage of their strategic transportation opportunities—rivers and railroads—to become proud engines of the Industrial Age during the 18th to 20th centuries. As a Norrköping pamphlet explains, "Several hundred years ago a number of factories were built along the river Strömmen. Imposing factory buildings took shape, providing many of the inhabitants with work producing textiles, weapons, paper and electronics. Norrköping was a flourishing industrial city for many generations" (Upplev Norrköping). Newark, meanwhile, was a stop on the Ohio & Erie Canal, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and the National Road. Even today, Interstate 70, with its stream of semis delivering products back and forth across the country, runs just a few minutes south of town. By the 20th century Newark was the world's leading manufacturer of stoves and interurban cars, and its glass manufacturing, from Coke bottles to fiberglass, made it an important supplier in the global network. Large factory complexes dot its landscape. In the mid-20th century, Norrköping was called "Little Manchester"; Newark was "Little Chicago."

Clearly, the two towns' similarities are due in part to their integral roles in the industrial machine. As Burke noted in Attitudes Toward History, "We use the term 'world empire' with relation to technology because technology's vast and ever-changing variety of requirements means in effect that areas hitherto widely separated in place and culture are integrally brought together" (20). Both Norrköping and Newark utilized similar resources and locations to build powerful identities linking themselves to the global marketplace during the height of the Industrial Age, and with similar results. Beginning in mid-century, however, both towns suffered the effects of deindustrialization from automation and globalized competition. Little by little for the next forty years, the factories and mills shut down, thousands of people were thrown out of work, and the sense of identity in both towns suffered tremendous dislocation that continued through the turn of the new century. This was the destructive industrial force—or at least one of the destructive forces—that Burke saw as inherently threatening. The analogy Burke used in a 1974 article explaining his aversion to industrial technology was that "the driver drives the car, but the traffic drives the driver" ("Why Satire" 311)—that is, individuals are buffeted by the social force of the tools they supposedly control. Certainly this is what happened to the people of both Newark and Norrköping.

Out of this common industrial devolution, both towns opened museums devoted to their industrial legacy.

The Works Museum

The Works Museum, in Newark (hereafter the Newark Museum), was founded in the former Scheidler Machine Works, a 100-year old factory beside the mass of railroad lines and canal just south of the downtown courthouse square. Most of the museum, which attracts an audience mainly of local schoolchildren and their parents/grandparents, is oriented toward its ground floor science center, and the museum focuses the majority of its programming on science education and the returning small visitors who "play" in the center. But the reason the science center exists is because Newark identifies itself as a longstanding hub of technology, and that history is depicted on its much-less visited upper floor. One-third of this second-story space is devoted to the settlement and growth of the town into a "manufacturing city" during the19th century. Another third features volunteer-staffed "living history" displays from the era. A final third, "Manufacturing in Licking County," attempts to encapsulate the 20th century. Here are vitrines of self-contained displays from some dozen or so of Newark's key 20th century industries: Pure Oil, Rugg Lawn Mowers, Burke Golf Clubs, Wehrle Stoves, Heisey Glassware, Jewett Interurban Cars, Park National Bank, Holophane Lighting, Owens Corning Fiberglass.

Image of the Works Museum

Figure 1. Image of the Works Museum, Newark, Ohio, showing some of its historical exhibits of Newark industries. Photograph by the author.

More than half of the companies exhibited are now closed, and most of the others have seen significant local workforce reductions. The human impact on the workers of this dramatic change is only hinted at: "The Heisey Company closed its doors for Christmas vacation in 1957 and never re-opened." "In 1971 the Burke line moved to Morton Grove, Illinois." "By 1966 the plant was sold to the Roper Company." "The Jewett company declared bankruptcy in 1918 and never recovered." "What changes will take place in the 21st century?" asks the sign that closes the history section. Many of those changes have already occurred from the post-war industrial peak— the percentage of people in poverty in the County has nearly doubled in the first 15 years of the new century (Ohio Development Services Agency Research Office)—but that story is largely absent. Absent as well, then, is a dialogue on contemporary or future Newark.

What is this if not a Burkean terministic screen, the symbolic reflection of reality that by its very nature must be a selection of reality that must function also as a deflection of reality? Hill writes of technologists choosing terms that "select beneficial technological artifacts as argumentative proof of progress" thereby deflecting their "destructive reality." At the Newark Museum, the "proof of progress" that is selected is the glory that was, the technological achievements of an earlier era. The destructive reality that is deflected, therefore, is the human cost of the business cycles rendering many of these accomplishments obsolete. The company went bankrupt, the factory moved to Mexico, the business was sold to others . . . but what does this mean for the town? Because the Newark story focuses terministically on technology, it must spend its epideictic capital on praise alone—praise for the growing manufacturing might of the town, praise for the transportation channels, praise for the innovators who made technological advances and the entrepreneurs who opened factories; praise, then, for the factories themselves. If it were to epideictically blame anything, it would have to call into question the very advances—and advancers—that it is designed to praise.2

It is this gap in the selected conversation that the Arbetets Museum in Norrköping attempts to address.

The Museum of Work

The Arbetets—which means "Work" in Swedish, thus the Museum of Work—is housed in a former textile mill, and like Newark's The Works, it attracts a largely local audience of families, students, and retirees, with a smattering of tourists. Like Newark, the Norrköping Museum emphasizes upfront the educational fun of its children's science center. The historical aspects of Norrköping industry, meanwhile, are found next door in the Stadsmuseum (Norrköping City Museum), which includes a large section of textile mill and a "street" of 19th century tradesmen (cooper, cartwright, blacksmith, cobbler, tailor). So far this is not dissimilar to the Newark Museum, and from 2012-15 an exhibit of 20th-21st century history, displayed jointly in the two museums, echoed the post-war "Manufacturing in Licking County" exhibit as well. The synopsis for this exhibit, "Crisis and Vision: Dare to Love Norrköping," however, immediately makes it clear that the exhibit is more than epideictic praise for the glorious past. As it explains, "[h]istorically, the city of Norrköping has experienced both great successes as well as immense failures both of which have left their mark on the city and its inhabitants. What can we learn from these crises and visions and how will the city look in the future?" ("Facts about the Exhibition").

Image of the Arbetets Museum

Figure 2. Image of the Arbetets Museum, Norrköping, Sweden, showing the entrance to its multi-year exhibition "Crisis and Vision." Photograph by the author.

With its mix of epideictic praise and blame for the communal values on display throughout Norrköping's 20th-21st century iterations, the exhibit wades directly into a conversation that would be familiar across the industrial rust belt: "What happened, and what will we do now?" Like Newark, Norrköping in the first half of the 20th century billed itself as "The City with Self-Esteem." Like Newark, its signage reports that it had transportation, "amazing gear-driven technology," and "skilled, low-paid workers." It is here that the "work life" orientation of the Norrköping Museum comes forth, however, as the exhibit goes on to add that "factory work at this time was low paid, dirty, noisy, and dangerous." While the Newark Museum mentions that post-war life was faster paced, the Crisis and Vision exhibit notes that that fast-paced life also meant that "The work tempo was increased and breaks were shortened." Industry was good for Norrköping—but not only good. Yet it was also not only bad. There are many examples of civic pride in the successful town. When textile mills began closing in the 1950s-60s, then, as the exhibit goes on to narrate, Norrköping struggled to respond. In its self-identified "City of Tomorrow" of the 1960s, it first attempted diversified industry and tourism. In the 1980s, "A Friendly Town" welcomed government agencies and demolished block after block of the old 19th century worker apartments. The exhibit shows a photo of the bright modern worker apartments that replaced the slums, but it also discusses the epithet resulting from this demolition—"The Bombed City." "The bleak 1990s" threw thousands more out of work, yet the exhibit also displays promotional videos from the period touting the pleasures of Norrköping for both tourists and businesses.

Looking to the Present

In the 2000s, the area around the Norrköping Museum has seen its sprawling, shuttered factories revitalized and turned into a college campus branch, a science park for new knowledge-based industries, shops, concert hall, and tourist office, all linked by pedestrian/bike pathways along the rejuvenated river in "The City of Knowledge and Culture."

The area around the Newark Museum is also revitalizing, with its 19th century courthouse and jail now deemed "historic" and marked for renovation, its closed movie and ballroom "palaces" turned into live concert venues, its square made pedestrian-friendly, its paved-over canal transformed into a covered Farmer's Market, and, slowly, ugly streetscapes turning into inviting areas. Industrial technology is also making new inroads into the county at large, with new companies moving in, taking advantage once again of the central location. Unemployment is down to 3.8% as of this writing, one of the lowest in the state (Williams).

At the same time, both towns face a continuing problem of poor health, low education, and un- (or under-) employment among their poorest residents. The workers that new industries need are dozens of highly skilled engineers and technicians, not the thousands of low-skilled line workers of decades past. This ambiguous recent development is documented in the Norrköping Museum exhibit, but not at the Newark Museum, where the epideictic praise-display upholding the value of Newark's past industrial greatness closes off the narrative from critique, and therefore from the possibility of discussing an ambiguous present. In contrast, the final sign in the Norrköping exhibit not only lays out the data on current successes and failures, it also encourages audiences to actively consider their impact and identify with the town: "Today, a lot of hard work is being done to create an attractive image of Norrköping. But the reality is more complicated. What is your view of Norrköping?" In a more dialectical world, people are the Agents in the conversation.

Assigning the Agents

What is it about the Norrköping Museum that allows it to engage visitors in the ongoing technology-driven changes outside its doors in a way that the Newark Museum cannot?

First, the mission statement of the Norrköping Museum focuses on people in dialogue, not industrial success. The Norrköping Museum's mission is "to document working life and bring its history to life through: providing a forum for debate and interpretation of the working lives and conditions of women and men" ("About the Museum"). Though this is similar to the mission statement of the Newark Museum, which aims to be "an interactive learning center where people of all ages can have fun and be inspired by the history, technology and artistic accomplishments of the communities we serve" ("About the Works"), there are two fundamental differences. One is the terministic screen through which the museums examine the role of industry in their communities. The Newark Museum adds to its mission statement an origin narrative noting that its founder "assembled a group of local citizens interested in preserving Licking County's industrial past" ("About the Works"). That is, preservation of industry was the impetus for the museum. Both museums recognize that workers and technology are the two components of industry, but the terministic screen for Norrköping—the linguistic lens with which it names its world—focuses on the workers ("working life") while that for Newark focuses on the technology ("industrial past"). Not surprisingly, then, the Norrköping Museum includes a number of social commentary exhibits among its rotating collections, such as the "Industrial Country—Sweden in the Modern Age" exhibit when I was there in 2012; "Job Circus," whose goal was both to help young people explore careers of the future and explain causes of the skills mismatch in 2014; or their recent "Land of Tomorrow," an exhibit that is "meant to be a tool box and source of inspiration for discussions and thoughts about a future that is sustainable – ecologically, economically and socially" ("Current Exhibitions"). That is, the Norrköping Museum uses its exhibits to re-orient its audiences from a late-century perception of themselves as (failing) industrial giants by posing critical questions designed to encourage thinking not so much about the technology itself but about the city's reaction to it, and their continuing reaction. The Newark Museum, in contrast, is more trapped in the past. It might, with its terministic screen of technology, add extant industries to its display cases, but by focusing on technologies rather than people its narrative can only relate the next industrial success rather than the ongoing town actions/reactions. Thus, its two industrial exhibits in the past few years have (1) added a display case on communication that "encourages all to examine how the cell phone has changed their own life and the world" ("History Exhibits"); and (2) housed a temporary exhibit on the history of glass-making, focusing on praising the post-war innovations of mid-century giants Owens Corning and Holophane, two companies that have downsized and closed in the county, respectively, in the past 10 years.

The difference in their terministic screen (industrial past or working life), in turn, affects to whom they assign the pentadic role of Agent in the dramatic conversation between human and technology. Newarkians should love Newark because it has been great. This terministic choice, however, in combination with its necessary focus on decades-old history, has consequences not only for the narrative but also for the current communal identity of the narrative's audience. To Newarkians today—to the 21 percent below the poverty line, for instance (Ohio Development Services)—"it has been great" is neither a current reality nor a future promise with which they can personally identify. The possible responses to this narrative of past industrial greatness are only passive: People can despair that the greatness is gone or they can wait for it to return (and hope it touches them). In this light, even the vote for a demagogue who promises to "Make America Great Again" is in the end a passive gesture—a shot in the dark that someone with the authority of industry can make bring back the past for them. In all cases, it is industro-technology which is the acting Agent, the one in the driver's seat, not humanity.

In contrast, the Norrköping Museum narrative is not one of industrial greatness but of industrial greatness and corresponding humanitarian difficulties. Its focus on working life means that its epideictic narrative can both praise workplaces for their industrious innovation and blame them for working conditions, pay, etc. Focusing on the social means focusing on the town, in other words, and the town can advance and retreat and (ambiguously) advance again. This is a narrative not of greatness but of resilience, and innovative Agents are not only technological but also social—perhaps most importantly social. Burke thought this focus on sociability to be key to understanding human motivation. Humans, he thought, were best explained not by their role as individuals who happened to join into groups, but as primarily political beings, "a context of definition whereby his individual role is defined by his membership in a group" ("Literature and Science" 165). It is through their identification as social/political beings that humans find themselves, Burke thought, not vice-versa, and therefore a focus on social resilience is in essence an appeal to human nature. Norrköpingers are encouraged by the museum narrative's praise and blame of the ongoing social history to identify with this ongoing social resilience of the town itself, and this calls for a more active response than that of Newark. It is a response that promotes ongoing cooperative innovation. To put it another way, residents of Norrköping are encouraged by the narration of their past century to become participating Agents in the succession of challenges and successes brought by technology to their town, while residents of Newark are prompted by the narrative to see their historic role as passive Agencies who may (or may not) be used by the industrial Agents that are changing the town today.

The Comic Corrective, the Industrial Past, and the Critical Present

Burke's America in the late 1930s was a time not wholly unlike our own. The disruptions and hardships of the Depression dragged on, war grew more and more imminent, and the bright promise of technology to make lives better that was so keen in early decades of the century grew increasingly muddied by its human consequences. Despite widespread struggle and the specter of worse, however, people did not rise up and embrace structural change—and Burke struggled in articles and books to understand why not. As he put it his 1937 piece for the Third American Writers' Congress, "[I]f we do learn by analogy, if we do form our response to new situations on the basis of what we have learned from past situations, it would seem to follow that we must, to an extent, be hypnotized by a past situation while confronting a new one" ("Literature and Science" 169). Technology was the rational outcome of the rational mind—and if the rationality that produced the very technology creating such new situations could only lead to continuing down the same path, regardless of human desire for other choices (the traffic driving the driver) then some way of perceiving the situation that was less purely rational was a needed corrective. As I've written about elsewhere (see Weiser, Burke, War, Words), it was the New Critical way of looking at old situations, exploring juxtapositions and paradoxes, embracing ambiguity, all so much a part of the modernist poetry of the early 20th century, that was Burke's model of the "sharp sound that awakens us [from our hypnosis], at times when the rise of new materials requires us to shake off an old perspective and to frame a wider circle of correctives" ("Literature and Science" 171). That is, the solution to "technosis," the kind of rational technological perspective that would lead to misery and war, was not more of the same but something different, a new, wider frame of reference enabled by a conscious reframing from inevitable tragedy to Agent-driven comedy.

To return to Burke's technological conundrum, does the fast-paced world in which so much of society finds itself, with technological advances that drive the driver, benefit society or threaten it? Although in Burke's 20th century those in power largely answered "benefit" and Burke therefore focused on "threaten," a Burkean comic frame would instead answer "yes." Yes, it does both, but—as was evident at the recent global climate summit—it is humans, not machines, who have the potential agility to adapt their conversation with technology to reflect changing Scenes and the shrewdness to continue the dialogue. Burke's stated view on technology seems so decidedly negative—as he sums up in "Why Satire," a relentless drive toward industrial technology produces waste, war, and pollution—that it seems too hopeless, of little use in forming an adequate conversation of "words about words about technology." For in fact Burke's view was rarely hopeless, and he both acknowledges the extremes of his perspective and offers a possible way out via what he termed from the beginning of his career the comic corrective (see Attitudes Toward History). While in a dramatic tragedy it is only through human suffering that catharsis is achieved, he noted, within the comic frame difficulties are not viewed as evils but as mistakes—and mistakes can be fixed. Thus Burke's explanation for the differences between the reactions to past greatness and ongoing resilience would be that the people of Newark are asked by their own industrial narrative to place themselves in the frame of a technological tragedy, invoking heroes and villains (then deflecting from the perceived villainy), while the people of Norrköping can place themselves within the frame of a social comedy, with its cast of fools, and then act to fix mistakes made earlier.

The outcome of the former is inevitable, that of the latter is a work in progress; thus, the tragic frame, Burke acknowledged, does not really offer a true perspective on the technological world.

Though the present developments of technological enterprise . . . have led to the affliction of much suffering, and raise many threats, the technologically experimental attitude behind all such activities is not in spirit tragic. So far as I can see, the technological impulse to keep on perpetually tinkering with things could not be tragic unless or until men became resigned to the likelihood that they may be fatally and inexorably driven to keep on perpetually tinkering with things. . . . Also, I keep uneasily coming back to the thought that, with the cult of tragedy, maybe you're asking for it. ("Why Satire" 312)

The technological impulse does not, in fact, lie in the hero-or-villain arena of tragedy unless we resign ourselves to its inevitability—whether that inevitability is the wasteful destruction of the planet or the technotopia of a brave new world. Thus pure indictment as surely as pure praise of our technological identity merely reduces our role as Agents in our own conversation.

The comic frame is the escape from the passive resignation or disengagement of such either-or thinking. "The comic frame of acceptance," he wrote in Attitudes toward History, "considers a human life as a project in 'composition,' where the poet works with the materials of social relationships" (173). As Burke had discussed in Permanence and Change, much social interaction tends toward stagnation rather than action—it was either wholly "euphemistic," upholding the status quo, or wholly "debunking," tearing down the existing structure (166). The comic attitude toward social interaction, in contrast, is neither overly sentimental—a nostalgic remembrance of better times—nor overly shocked when faced with the betrayal of those good times. It is instead a "shrewd but charitable" view toward one's opponents, one that acknowledges the possibility of betrayal even while continuing to engage, "picturing people not as vicious, but as mistaken. When you add 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, you complete the comic circle" (ATH 41). This shrewdness is what allows for social interaction rather than withdrawal— in interpersonal relationships as much as in political parlays and social dynamics. We might build an industrial empire only to lose it all and throw thousands out of work, we might pin our hopes on an industrial savior only to see it move to a cheaper labor market, we might try to clear out the slums and make better housing for all only to look like we've bombed our own city, we might better our lives through technology only to realize it is destroying the planet . . . and then, if properly primed by narratives of past engagements in similar dire moments, we might keep on trying. Notice again the Norrköping Museum's "Land of Tomorrow" exhibit: In a "future that takes the threat of climate change seriously," "what can you or I do?" it asks. Improving the conversation with technology—which is both part of the problem and part of the solution—is key to that future.

The comic frame, therefore, is not only a corrective to an overly rational historic hypnosis, not only a pragmatic solution. In its ambiguous perspective, its acknowledgment that there are multiple cuts of cheese even as one's own looks best, it is also the best way to converse with technology because technology itself is an ambiguous conversant, neither villain nor hero. At times technology is the Agency or tool, the thing made by our industrial genius; at times the Action, the interactive exploration of our innovative selves; oftentimes it is the problematic Scene, the context within which industrial cities like Newark and Norrköping forge their communal identity; other times it is the Purpose, its perfection the entelechial end goal of our actions regardless of the human consequences. As hero or villain or fool, it can appear also as the co-Agent with us humans, acting on us even as we act on it. The comic frame, though, reminds us that we humans are also always Agents in this drama, needing to act and react to the ongoing conversation with technology.

The National Museum of American History

To demonstrate a bit of this comic frame enacted in a cultural scene, let us look at one other museum, the National Museum of American History (hereafter National Museum) in Washington, DC. Unlike Sweden's national museum—indeed, unlike any of the 25 other nations' museums that I examine in my forthcoming monograph Museum Rhetoric—the U.S. National Museum has two permanent exhibits (opened in July 2015) expressly devoted to industrial entrepreneurship and business innovation. To what extent does the comic frame exist in the narratives of these two exhibits? How is ambiguity acknowledged, and who are the Agents in this industrial scene—people or technology?

The more technologically focused exhibit, "Places of Invention," uses a tripartite narrative frame of people, place, invention to tell the stories of six American regions where technological innovation occurred. "What kind of place stimulates creative minds and sparks invention and innovation?" asks its introductory sign. "See what can happen when the right mix of inventive people, untapped resources, and inspiring surroundings come together." In dramatistic terms, particular groups of Agents paired with particular Scenes and Agencies enabled an innovate Act moving the nation into the modern world. So for instance, Stanford, sunny weather, and a "casual but fiercely entrepreneurial business climate" lured tech workers who eventually banded together as "academic, corporate, and hobbyist communities [to] invent the personal computer" in Silicon Valley. These simple, monologic praise narratives are openly family-friendly, not meant for in-depth critical thought. Its exhibits, however, do walk a line between our two local "Works" museums by assigning agency to people and places in conversation to produce technology. That is, if the bust, gender equality, or privacy issues are not discussed in the Silicon Valley section, neither are the silicon chip nor Ed Wozniak given sole credit for personal computing. Collaboration, the narrative tells us, was the key to the invention—and what better way to materialize Burke's dramatistic contention that in any symbolic action the Act, Agent, Agency, Scene, Purpose overlap, none of them complete without the others, because "we are capable of but partial acts, acts that but partially represent us and that produce but partial transformations" (GM 19). The comic ambiguity of these partial acts-interacting is the essence of how invention occurs in the "Places of Invention" story.

This partial biographical agency given to communities of people interacting in places is continued in the narrative of the other new permanent exhibit, "American Enterprise," just across the hall. The intended audience for this exhibit is clearly older, more educated, and more willing to take the time to contemplate than the audience for Places of Invention. Thus artifacts are musealized in vitrines with a variety of signage offering both casual and in-depth reading, but the attitude of knowledge-production is not necessarily equated with one solo Truth. Instead, American enterprise in this exhibit moves by fits and starts, sometimes taking a wrong path only to course-correct later, generally moving toward increased industrialization but always within a scene of ongoing debate over whether this movement is necessarily "progress." The exhibit moves chronologically and divides US industrial history into four epochs: the Merchant Era, Corporate Era, Consumer Era, and Global Era. Each section tells its story from a variety of perspectives, making overt for the visitor those multiple cuts of cheese that, as Burke insisted, would make it easier to view one's own cut as just one possibility. For instance, in the Merchant Era visitors learn about business in the early years of the nation from the stories of Metis fur traders, Eli Whitney, shopkeeper William Ramsey, weaver Peter Stauffer, and stories of electricity, slavery, debt, gold, and land grabs.

As we can see already, the frame of the exhibit allows for the inclusion of a number of "mistakes" in the entrepreneurial path, from slavery to (later) the annexation of Hawai'i, the Dust Bowl, and consumer debt. Rather than a tragic frame that insists on either epideictic praise or blame, the comic frame of the exhibit allows for both/and in the interaction between human and technology. For example, it notes that with digital technology, "immediate access to everything helped spawn a social media revolution, gave consumers greater choices, and sped up business. Some loved being connected, but others worried that they could never escape work or surveillance." The artifacts accompanying this ambiguous signage also sometimes support the narrative of praise and sometimes that of blame. Thus, accompanying the digital technology sign is a radial display of all the types of devices (phone, watch, camera, map, computer) that are now contained in one smartphone—a praise display. But accompanying the signage on globalization, which tells us that "in a globalized economy, innovative ideas and products flowed easily across national borders," a more ambiguous display includes a Japanese McDonald's sign, a Walmart truck, and a Disney shirt, raising questions about the kinds of "innovations" flowing across the world. And a vitrine discussing green business practices, which notes that at first "companies responded with empty public relations campaigns" and only later saw the potential for profit, accompanies this statement with photos almost exclusively of people, rather than technology, acting to promote change for a more sustainable future. Within a comic frame these human Agents interacting with technology need not be pure in their motivations nor produce wholly praiseworthy results in order to proceed. Indeed, the history of wrong turns included in the entrepreneurial story lessens the need to imagine that such future-forward acts as digital media, globalization, and sustainable energy must be already resolved as good (or bad). In the comic frame, where tragic absolutism turns to comic potentiality, they may well be good and bad.

Image of the National Museum of American History

Figure 3. An image of the National Museum of American History, Washington, DC, showing the diversity of perspectives in its display of industrial eras. Photograph by the author.

At the end of each of the four industrial eras, signage "Debating Enterprise" sums up the intended comic frame of the exhibit…. and Alexander Hamilton debate whether government should promote industry at all or should encourage farming to grow the new nation. (Admittedly, these "differing voices" are nearly exclusively male, a weakness of their selection.) The visitor may infer that the question of how to balance government and business for the benefit of the nation has been the predominant debate of American enterprise—and it is a debate at best unresolved and perhaps unresolvable. That as readers of this article we may feel strongly that there is, in fact, a proper balance that, almost certainly, the nation has not achieved demonstrates our propensity to embrace the tragic frame of right and wrong, good and evil. The comic frame opts instead for the ambiguous answer between Agents whose varying positions are not considered evil but at most mistaken, and partially foolish, capable of persuading/being persuaded.

Conclusion: Symbolic Engagement

In his presentation at the 9th triennial Burke conference, Jimmy Butts argued that for Burke it would be the end of the conversation that would be the real tragedy. Butts began with Burke's interest in the word "apocalypse," which (like substance, another favorite Burkean word) has a paradoxical meaning. From its Latin root, kalypto, we get "eclipse," a covering of the sun; adding apo- or "away from" gives us the "apocalypse"—so the cataclysmic end-time is literally an unconcealing or unveiling, "a revelation of the truth," says Butts. For Burke the end of the world as we know it, the entelechial stasis would be the revelation of some ultimate truth that ended the interminable conversation that is "always decentering" (Butts). Such a revelation of truth is often a desired goal—including a goal of visitors to a museum, who want to hear the one true story—but Butts points out that for Burke it is the ever-ongoing conversation that keeps us from apocalypse. The end of the debate is stasis, and in any living organism stasis equals death.

As is evident in today's spiral of rancorous, ad hominem attacks, most of us do wish for an end to the always decentering dialectic whenever we debate opponents with strongly held beliefs. Surely the giant industrial complex of the 20th century either was, in truth, heroic or was, in truth, demonic. It is well to remember that in Burke's definition of the human, homo dialecticus, the creature who ­­­"by nature respond[s] to symbols" (Burke, RM 43), is also homo technologicus, "separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making" (On Symbols and Society 70). What industrial museums and exhibits offer to the polarized world of homo technologicus, then, is a way to poetically interact with alienated (and alienating) technology. Recall Hill's insight that Burke's concern with technology was that it impeded change because unlike humans "machines lack the poetic sensibility to react to changing conditions with altered symbolism." The comic frame of a narrated exhibit can bring the human visitor into conversation with her own inventions—be they a full-scale turn-of-the-century machine workshop (Newark) or automated looms producing real woolen items (Norrköping) or the knick-knack-filled workshop of the inventor of Pong (National). They remind us materially of the relationship between humanity and technology. Though this can potentially be a mere nostalgia trap, the museal equivalent of "make America great again," it can also engage us in the narrative. And narrated as a heuristic for a community seeking agency, this engagement with the comic past of trial and error and trial again is an argument to move from the disempowering search for heroes and villains. As the National Museum asks visitors repeatedly, "What would you do?" This is the question not of victims of a tragic past but of citizens of an ever-struggling (ever-striving) future.


1. A version of this article was presented as a conference paper at the 9th Kenneth Burke Society Triennial Conference, July 2014. I am indebted to James Zappen's 2014 presentation at the Triennial Conference for the idea of this human-technology interaction as a "conversation" and a relationship, as well as his gracious reading of an earlier draft of this article. I am also grateful for the insightful comments of the KB Journal reviewer whose advice better focused the final draft.

2. Newark's newest permanent exhibit does highlight a person—local resident Jerrie Mock, who in 1964 became the first woman to fly solo around the world—but visitors are asked to imagine being her ("test your skills at a flight simulator"), rather than being asked, for instance, to consider how we in Newark today teach or learn the skills to become first in the world in a field.

Works Cited

Arbetets Museum. "About the Museum." n.d. Web. 2 Aug 2014.

—. "Current Exhibitions." 2015. Web. 13 December 2015.

—. "Facts about the Exhibition." Norrköping, Sweden, n.d. Print.

Burke, Kenneth. "The Anaesthetic Revelation of Herone Liddell." The Complete White Oxen: Collected Short Fiction. Berkeley: U of California P, 1968. 255-300. Print.

—. Attitudes Toward History. 3rd rev. ed. 1937. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984. Print.

—. Counter-Statement.1931. Berkeley, CA: U of California P, 1968. Print.

—. On Symbols and Society. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989. Print.

—. Permanence and Change. 1935. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984. Print.

—. "The Relation between Literature and Science." Henry Hart, ed. The Writer in a Changing World. New York: Equinox Cooperative Press, 1937. 158-71. Print.

—. A Rhetoric of Motives. 1950. Berkeley: U of California P, 1968. Print.

—. "Why Satire, With a Plan for Writing One." Michigan Quarterly Review 13.4 (1974): 307-37. PDF.

Butts, Jimmy. "How Burke Wanted to Save Us from Our Techno-Apocalypse." 9th Triennial Conference of the Kenneth Burke Society. St. Louis, MO, 19 July 2014. Presentation.

Hill, Ian. "'The Human Barnyard' and Kenneth Burke's Philosophy of Technology." KB Journal 5.2 (2009). Web. 1 Aug 2014.

Ohio Development Services Agency Research Office. The Ohio Poverty Report. Columbus, OH, 2014. PDF.

Schiappa, Edward. "Burkean Tropes and Kuhnian Science: A Social Constructionist Perspective on Language and Reality." JAC 2.13 (1993). Web.

The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art, and Technology. "About the Works." 2014. Web. 2 Aug 2014.

—. "History Exhibits." 2015. 13 December 2015.

Upplev Norrköping. The Industrial Landscape. Norrköping, Sweden: Upplev Norrköping AB, n.d. Print.

Williams, Mark. "Central Ohio Jobless Rate at 14-Year-Low." Columbus Dispatch 22 Sept. 2015. Web.

Zappen, James. "Kenneth Burke's Conversation with Technology." 9th Triennial Conference of the Kenneth Burke Society. St. Louis, MO, 19 July 2014. Presentation.

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Consummation: Kenneth Burke’s Third Creative Motive

David Erland Isaksen, University College of Southeast Norway


Kenneth Burke scholars differ on what the meaning of Burke's concept of consummation is and how it relates to perfection and entelechy. This article argues that consummation is a third creative motive (transcending self-expression and communication) that requires a rigorous vocabulary in order to be an active motivational force.

IN “A RHETORIC OF FORM: THE EARLY BURKE AND READER-RESPONSE CRITICISM,” Greig Henderson writes that we can divide Kenneth Burke’s scholarly project based on three creative motives which were at the center of his attention: self-expression, communication, and consummation (Henderson 127). Kenneth Burke himself discusses these three stages in his 1967 afterword to Counter-Statement, titled “Curriculum Criticum”: “The step from the opening chapter . . . to the next essay . . . clearly indicates a turn from the stress upon self-expression to a stress upon communication. And all that follows can be properly treated as the tracking down of the implications inherent in this turn. In later works I have added an explicit concern with the kind of consummation that is inherent in this very process of ‘tracking down the implications of a nomenclature’” (223-4). In other words, the transition from the first to the second chapter of Counter-Statement shows us Kenneth Burke shifting his focus from self-expression to communication, and the rest of the book tries to come to terms with (or track down) what it means to consider a text and its aesthetic qualities in terms of communication rather than self-expression. According to Burke, these findings were already implicit in the turn to communication, and he spends most of the book making them explicit. Later, he looked at the process he went through to track down the implications of this turn and “the kind of consummation” inherent in that process. By “the kind of consummation” I believe he is referring to the kind of drive, motivation, or urge he had, to find and flesh out the implications of this turn. Although Kenneth Burke never abandons self-expression or communication, we could make a rough outline of this scholarly progression based on these three creative motives, with the pre Counter-Statement era (1915-1931) concerned with self-expression, the 1930s and war years (1931-1945) concerned with communication, and the vast bulk of Burke’s later work (1945-1993) concerned with, or at least including a concern with, consummation. Of course, neither of the three motives are absent in his later work, so the best description of this progression may be as a shifts in emphasis rather than complete turns. 1

Even though consummation occupies a very central place in Kenneth Burke’s critical terminology, Burke himself mentions it by name very rarely. We find it mentioned twice in A Grammar of Motives, once in the essays that were meant to be a part of A Symbolic of Motives, twice in Rhetoric of Religion, four times in Language as Symbolic Action, and once in the essays collected in On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Everything Flows, 1967-1984. Yet the principle is discussed and illustrated at length in the manuscript Poetics, Dramatistically Considered (parts of which have been published in Unending Conversations) and it is referred to many times without him using that specific name. For example, William H. Rueckert writes in the preface to On Human Nature that the drive to take a vocabulary to the end of the line, which I argue is consummation, was Kenneth Burke’s major concern in his final years. Kenneth Burke himself refers to this drive as “consummation” on page 244 of the collection, but throughout the other essays he gives a description of the drive without using the word consummation. The drive is discussed in detail on pages 73-78 and is a recurring theme throughout the entire collection. 2

A survey of secondary scholarship and recent dissertations on related terms highlights the disagreement concerning this concept among some scholars and the complete absence of the term among others. Considering the density of Burke’s scholarship, it may not be surprising that this term has not been more developed and used in secondary scholarship than it has. Many scholars use terms like entelechy and perfection to discuss what Burke describes as consummation in the sources mentioned above. Others claim that Burke’s use of the term was similar to or the same as that of George Herbert Meade and John Dewey, or connect it with his concept of catharsis.

However, based on Burke’s writing, I claim that consummation is substantially different from entelechy and perfection. Whereas entelechy and perfection describe general tendencies and motivations, consummation is explicitly a linguistic phenomenon since it is the explicit drive to “track down the implications of a terminology.” Burke explains it with the example of an artist who starts with a desire for self-expression, develops this expression through a public medium for communication, and as a part of that process "encounters possibilities purely internal to the medium” that the artist then feels driven to complete or develop into reality “regardless of either self-expression or communication” (“Watchful” 48). As such, consummation describes a specific stage in the development of a terminology where the dialectic of self-expression and communication has developed a vocabulary with a momentum and life of its own. 3

Consummation in Secondary Scholarship

As mentioned above, few Burke scholars treat consummation individually as a significant term, often grouping or conflating it with entelechy or perfection. For example, in Kenneth Burke: Rhetoric, Subjectivity, Postmodernism, Robert Wess claims that “consummation” is basically a synonym for culmination, entelechy, and perfection, and that “sometimes even the same examples are used to illustrate entelechy in one context and another term in a different context” (246). However, Wess does not claim that consummation means exactly the same as the other terms, but rather that they are a part of the same “cluster of terms and examples” (246) 4. Of these terms, Wess chooses to discuss primarily entelechy and perfection and does not clarify any further how consummation is related to these. It may be indicative of similar thinking that in Kenneth Burke in the 21st Century, an edited collection of papers from the Kenneth Burke Society, there is not a single mention of consummation; however, there are frequent mentions of entelechy as a central principle. The way entelechy is described in this collection often sounds similar to how Burke describes consummation. For example, Star Muir writes that entelechy means “the tracking down of implications within a particular vocabulary” and that “Entelechy is illustrated, for Burke, in the scientific ‘perfection’ of the vocabularies of genetic manipulation” (36). Here, it seems that Muir conflates the principles of entelechy and consummation.5

There is a similar tendency to conflate perfection and entelechy or use them together without distinguishing clearly between them. In “Perfection and the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Teleology, and Motives,” Barry Brummett uses Burke’s concept of perfection to analyze why the atomic bomb is “such a powerfully motivating symbol” (88). He writes that the concept of perfection “is based on Aristotle’s idea of entelechy” (85) and describes a motive to extend and complete a vocabulary as “perfectionist,” implying that it is related to the drive for perfection. Brummett does not explain the specific relationship between the perfectionist motive, entelechy, and perfection, but the general impression is again that these terms are related, but do not mean exactly the same thing. In “Reassessing Truman, the Bomb, and Revisionism: The Burlesque Frame and Entelechy in the Decision to Use Atomic Weapons Against Japan,” Bryan Hubbard writes that entelechy is “the drive towards perfection,” so entelechy is the drive and perfection is the aim or end of the drive. This drive, he writes, “results from our ability to use symbols to envision the extreme ends of behavior” (360). Consummation is not mentioned by Brummett or Hubbard, which may indicate that they accept consummation as simply a synonym for entelechy.

Other scholars have briefly discussed the concept of consummation, but usually in a way that is peripheral to their main argument. In the introduction to Unending Conversations, for instance, Greig Henderson and David Cratis Williams write that Burke “shows how the motives of self-expression, communication, and consummation interanimate each other” (xi), but then do not write about exactly how Burke shows this. Henderson recognizes it briefly as a central motive in Kenneth Burke’s scholarship, but concerns himself more with the communicative aspects of Burke’s aesthetic theory (127). Similarly, Donald L. Jennerman briefly discusses consummation in “Burke’s Poetics of Catharsis.” He claims Burke developed consummation from his concept of “internal catharsis,” where a work is purified by being completed just as the fear and pity of the audience are purified by experiencing a tragic play. He states that this internal catharsis contains an “entelechial motive” and is “primarily an intellectual or aesthetic catharsis rather than emotional, it pertains less to pity and fear than to consternation and pleasure” (Jennerman 45). Yet, because his focus is on comparing the social and the individual aspects of Burke’s concept of catharsis, he does not discuss how this motive is developed and sustained. Cary Nelson discusses Burke’s more radical claims about language’s power to determine human action in “Writing as the Accomplice of Language: Kenneth Burke and Poststructuralism,” and includes a brief mention of consummation as the natural result of language and an “unconscious” that is desirous to complete terminologies (162). All these authors give some interesting insights, but do not give us any in-depth treatment of the concept.

Finally, there is a group of Burke scholars who connect consummation to the aesthetic theory of John Dewey and see it as the conclusion or result of a completed aesthetic process. In “Communication in Society,” Hugh Dalziel Duncan claims that the concept “consummation” has essentially the same meaning in the writings of Burke, Meade, and Dewey, and that it refers to a moment of finality at the end of an aesthetic process (417). Duncan sees consummation as a result rather than as a creative motive, which seems to go against Burke’s own description of where consummation fits in his critical vocabulary. In “A Dramatistic Theory of the Rhetoric of Movements,” Leland Griffin describes consummation as a stage in the life of a social movement and, therefore, talks about “consummation rhetoric” as containing specific traits. His description of rhetoric in the consummation stage is quite detailed and pulls together many of Burke’s thoughts on consummation, although he also sees consummation as a result rather than a motive.

These two main approaches to consummation, viewing it as a synonym for entelechy and perfection or relating it to Dewey’s aesthetic theory, seem to both be in use in modern publications on Burke. In his dissertation, “The Burkean Entelechy and the Apocalypse of John,” and in Implicit Rhetoric: Kenneth Burke’s Extension of Aristotle’s Concept of Entelechy, published in 1998, Stan A. Lindsay posits entelechy as Kenneth Burke’s most transcendent and most important term, and he analyzes the Revelation of John and the Branch Davidians at Waco to illustrate the mechanism of entelechy. In these two treatises, Lindsay mentions consummation only a few times, primarily as a synonym for the completion or fulfillment of an aesthetic process. In Kenneth Burke and the Conversation after Philosophy, published in 1999, Timothy V. Crusius sees consummation as being the fourth function of language. The first three are language as rhetoric, language as a “chart function” of realistic ambition, and language as self-expression (the dream function). Crusius writes, “After his initial treatment of symbolic action . . . Burke became interested in a fourth function of language, which he called ‘consummation’ that is, thoroughness, or the desire for ‘perfection,’ the drive to unfold to the last implication the meanings inherent in a given vocabulary” (73). However, he never distinguishes clearly between consummation, perfection, and entelechy. He talks about perfection as “a symbol-driven motive” and speaks of entelechy as a principle that leads to a “terministic compulsion” (170), which seems to conflate the concepts.

Most recently, Gregory Clark deals with consummation in Civic Jazz: American Music and Kenneth Burke on the Art of Getting Along. Of the two previously mentioned approaches, his treatment of consummation most closely mirrors the Dewey tradition. Clark sees consummation as a part of an aesthetic, communicative process where “separate identities dissolve into one, losing the differences that divide them in a felt experience of profound unity” (46). Thus, consummation is an aesthetic result, an “arrival at a destination where in our interactions no adjustment is needed for us to understand each other” (46). Clark believes that this is a state humans do not reach often, but that, as an experience, it maintains an aspiration and works as an ideal we are drawn towards (46, 134)6. I would argue that he is correct in his description of some of the social consequences of consummation, although his emphasis on the Dewey tradition does not give a very complete picture of how consummation is generated and sustained in terminologies.

Consummation in Kenneth Burke’s Theory

As is the case with many Burkean terms, consummation is perhaps best understood as a specific, defined link in a cluster of terms or a limb on a tree with significant contact points and areas of overlap with other terms and concepts. This does not mean that each individual concept lacks a meaning of its own, but it rather shows how Burke liked to think of things and how he tried to explain them. Burke describes his approach in A Rhetoric of Motives as follows: “Let us try again. (A direct hit is not likely here. The best one can do is to try different approaches towards the same center, whenever the opportunity offers)” (137). The result is often a myriad of explanations and terms to describe similar phenomena, and yet each different pathway touches on different aspects and different mechanisms. Though terms may be related, they are usually not interchangeable. In order to explain the relationship between consummation, entelechy, and perfection, I will first focus on consummation as an individual concept and then show how it operates with other terms in Burke’s critical vocabulary. The two main approaches Burke tried to get at consummation were the two texts “The Criticism of Criticism” and “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics.” In addition to these, there are brief references to consummation scattered throughout Burke’s last two essay collections, Language as Symbolic Action and On Human Nature, which seem to share a common concern for the relationship between consummation and agency. I believe these constitute a third approach to consummation. My treatment of consummation will follow these three approaches.

First Approach: “The Criticism of Criticism”

In “The Criticism of Criticism,” published in the autumn of 1955, Burke compares consummation with two philosophical and theological systems to explain the term.7 First, he compares his triad of self-expression, communication, and consummation with Saint Anselm’s triad of faith, understanding, and vision, calling his own three terms the “secular, aesthetic analogues” of Saint Anselm’s three theological stages: Faith equals self-expression, understanding equals communication, and vision equals consummation (245).8 In a secular, aesthetic sense then, consummation becomes analogous to the religious “vision” described by Saint Anselm. Although the terms are not exactly equivalent, we may reason that what Burke says about faith, understanding, and vision in this article will also hold true for or have a correlation with self-expression, communication, and consummation.

We learn from Burke that vision “transcends the ergotizing 9 ways of the understanding” (238) and is a kind of synthesis of both faith and understanding (239). The first (faith), is characterized by “energy” and “momentum” (242), and it is an “initiating intuitive power” (242). Intellectus (understanding) is a kind of intellectual frame that then strikes the imagination and can feed a “contemplation (or ‘vision’)” (243). For Saint Anselm, faith meant an active love of God that needed to then gain a deeper knowledge (understanding) of God. He writes in "Cur Deus Homo," “to my mind it appears a neglect if, after we are established in the faith, we do not seek to understand what we believe” (II). Faith is emotional, intuitive, almost instinctive,10 whereas understanding gives this emotional energy direction and structure. In “The Criticism of Criticism,” Burke criticizes R. P. Blackmur for seeing these two concepts as a dyad, with faith being able to question the intellect (understanding) and the intellect being able to curb faith. Burke claims that the goal for Saint Anselm was not that these should balance one another, but rather that the two together would transcend each other and lead to a vision or contemplation of God (238). A vision in this sense is a fusion of perfect faith and perfect understanding. More than merely seeing something, it is being able to grasp the essence of God, both intellectually and emotionally. It is in the vision or contemplation of God that intelligent nature finds its happiness or fulfillment (Anselm XVI).

To explain the analogous aesthetic triad, Burke writes that self-expression is the origin of art, with spontaneous utterances such as “outcries, oaths, interjection,” which are matured by translation into communication. Comparable to faith and understanding, self-expression is the initiating intuitive desire with energy and momentum, and communication is the matured realization of that desire. Just as with Saint Anselm’s triad, the two terms work towards a third: “the work of art moves towards the transcending of both self-expression and communication” (245). The way he describes the development towards this third stage is that an artist is motivated by self-expression, and then uses a public medium to transform it into a kind of communication, “but in the course of perfecting his work, he encounters possibilities purely internal to the medium; and he may exploit these possibilities ‘to the end of the line,’ regardless of either self-expression or communication” (245). Burke’s example is James Joyce’s later work, which he developed from a standpoint “of its ultimate possibilities” (245) even at the expense of clear communication. In so doing, Joyce answers a call (expresses himself), but the product is consummatory “in a way that could not be adequately confined to either of the first two stages, but would have something of both in being beyond both” (245). The artist is expressing and communicating, but he or she is also a discoverer on a journey or someone trying to complete a puzzle with the pieces available. The medium itself, meaning the language the artist uses or has developed for self-expression and communication, contains an inherent vision that the artist may pursue for its own sake.

In Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, Michael Polanyi gives us some examples of how people in scientific disciplines move from communication to consummation. Drawing on Saint Anselm’s theological triad, Polanyi tries to explain what motivates scientists to pursue their research in terms of a scientific vision. He claims that a scientist is “an intelligence which dwells wholly within an articulate structure of its own creation” (195). The structure may be “a theory,” “mathematical discovery,” or “a symphony,” but the principle is the same (195). It is only when the scientists surrender to the framework that they can gain a scientific vision. An astronomer reflects on the “theoretic vision” and experiences the “intellectual powers” of an astronomic theory, and a mathematician “loses himself in the contemplation” of the greatness of mathematics (195) in order neither to “observe or handle them, but to live in them” (196). The vision gained by scientific discovery is comparable to what he has termed the religious “ecstatic vision”:

Scientific discovery . . . bursts the bonds of disciplined thought in an intense if transient moment of heuristic vision. And while it is thus breaking out, the mind is for the moment directly experiencing its content rather than controlling it by the use of any pre-established modes of interpretation: it is overwhelmed by its own passionate activity. (196)

Polanyi sees intellectual passions, such as a desire for order, as the first step toward this vision. These passions then lead humans to articulate and construct frameworks that “handle experience on our behalf” (196), which are then again demolished as they are replaced by “more rigorous and comprehensive” frameworks until this process “culminates in the scientist.” The scientist has now acquired an articulate structure that can give her access to such a scientific vision, and this vision gives the scientist further direction and motivation. In this respect, Polanyi claims that science is just like art. Art “exerts to the utmost the artist’s powers of invention and discrimination merely for the purpose of satisfying the standards of appreciation which the artist has set for himself” (195), making artistic vision a self-sustaining motive. Here is a paradox that Polanyi claims is ‘inherent in all intellectual passions’: The human exerts itself to follow the dictates of a framework it has set up by itself. In Polanyi’s version of the triad, faith is intellectual passion, understanding can be a scientific theory, and the vision refers not to God but to intellectual power and beauty, which Polanyi claims are indicative of truth (135). The scientist gains this vision by what Polanyi describes as surrendering, yielding to, or contemplating the articulate structure he or she dwells within. This seems to describe a kind of aesthetic appreciation of the order or logical symmetry of an articulate structure, such as the way Bertrand Russell describes the study of mathematics: “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty. . . . The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry” (Russell 31). Polanyi’s example shows us that Saint Anselm’s triad is recognized as a driver of human motives in secular as well as religious contexts.

After writing about Saint Anselm, Burke gives a second analogy to explain his triad of creative motives: the three-term system of cognition in Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics.11 The three terms are “(1) opinio, or imaginatio; (2) ratio;” and “(3) scientia intuitiva” (244). Spinoza writes of opinio or imaginatio that, “from the fact of having read or heard certain words we remember things and form certain ideas concerning them, similar to those through which we imagine things” (Spinoza). The connection with Burke’s self-expression is not completely clear, although one may say that to imagine or have an opinion displays a kind of faith in individual perception. Self-expression is the expression of individual imagination or opinion.

Of ratio he writes that it is “the fact that we have notions common to all men, and adequate ideas of the properties of things” (Spinoza). The common notions make it possible to check our initial perceptions and discuss them with others. To communicate is to make use of common notions to make others understand what we are trying to express. This may be how this step is related to Saint Anselm’s “understanding”: ratio is the level of thinking where we move beyond individual perception or faith and try to make it comprehensible and understandable to others also. The common notions and adequate ideas of, for example, the existence and proportions of things make this kind of communication possible.

Spinoza explains the third level, scientia intuitiva, as follows: “there is, as I will hereafter show, a third kind of knowledge, which we will call intuition. This kind of knowledge proceeds from an adequate idea of the absolute essence of certain attributes of God to the adequate knowledge of the essence of things” (Spinoza). There is some debate as to what Spinoza meant by this third term. The main idea seems to be that we can gain some kind of absolute understanding of or crucial insight into the Creator of all things, and as a result, we see things differently and are able to gain new knowledge. By seeing or understanding the One who is the essence of all things, we gain a derivative understanding about how the rest of the world must be.

Burke’s aesthetic analogue to God is the God-term, and his description of the perspective we gain through the God-term sounds similar to Spinoza’s scientia intuitiva: “Whereas before we were among varied worldly uses looking towards a single purpose, we are now in the realm of supernatural purpose looking down upon worldly multiplicity and seeing in it more strongly the new starting point at which we have arrived” (“Notes on ‘Nature’”). Anselm’s vision, Spinoza’s scientia intuitiva, and Burke’s consummation all name a totality, a grasp of life’s essence and diversity. By knowing God we also come to know all the things that God has created, and by grasping the God-term of a vocabulary we understand how the other words function in relation to it and each other. From these connections, consummation seems to be the grasping or creation of an essence, which then transforms all of our motivational vocabularies in its image.

Second Approach: “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics”

The second approach gives more details as to the origin of consummation as a creative motive and its relationship to Burke’s theory of form. During this approach, Burke also connects consummation to the great practical and political problems that occur as a result of scientific developments, such as the development of thermonuclear bombs. “Watchful of Hermetics to be Strong in Hermeneutics” is a selection of the unpublished manuscript Burke wrote called Poetics, Dramatistically Considered. The manuscript is an extended treatment of Aristotle’s Poetics and how Aristotle’s theory relates to Burke’s theory of form. In the manuscript, Burke gives his longest continuous treatment of consummation.12

It becomes clear in “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics” that consummation requires a rigorous, well-developed vocabulary in order to be a significant force. To explain how this force is generated and sustained, I will briefly discuss Kenneth Burke’s theory of form, which he laid out in Counter-Statement, and show how consummation relates to it. For Kenneth Burke, form is the arousing and fulfilling of desires or expectations in the audience or reader (124). A story arouses and fulfills desires through a narrative, but any other text or vocabulary does the same: a textbook introduction creates expectations for what the book will discuss and how it will discuss it, a legal opinion cites laws and precedent cases that set up the usually expected conclusion, and the vocabularies of the natural sciences train us to expect mechanisms in the natural world rather than agents, and as such set up expectations for the discovery of more mechanisms.

Burke claims there are four aspects of form: progressive form (subdivided into syllogistic and qualitative progression), repetitive form, conventional form, and minor or incidental forms” (Counter-Statement 124). The kind of literary form that best explains consummation is “syllogistic progression.” 13 Burke writes that, “We call it syllogistic because, given certain things, certain things must follow, the premises forcing the conclusion” (Counter-Statement 124). This aspect of form is created and maintained by structures of language that direct desires and expectations towards certain developments. The first act of the play sets up the conflict and the conflict sets up the resolution. For Burke, the same applies to any text or group vocabulary. Any definition of the world at the same time sets the stage for the drama of benevolent and malevolent forces, or the thou shalt and thou shalt not (Religion 279). 14 (I shall hereafter group all genres that use language under the general term vocabularies, since Burke claims every text makes its own vocabulary in the sense that it will give terms different nuances of meaning than those you will find in a normal dictionary (Philosophy 35)). Form thus creates a structure of requirements and directives that make both the endings in stories and the developments in group vocabularies somewhat predictable. Burke writes, “If the beginning of a work is viewed as setting up potentialities which are fulfilled at later stages in the work, in this sense the beginning can be thought of as matter that is subsequently actualized. The beginning, we might say, has ‘the makings’ of the ending” (“Watchful” 45). In the same way, one may say that the seeds for a vision or consummation are evident already in the first intellectual understanding or framing of the faith or self-expression.

I will now proceed to discuss Burke’s explanation of consummation in “Watchful of Hermetics to be Strong in Hermeneutics”. Syllogistic progression makes it possible for a vocabulary to take on a life of its own, in the way Burke indicates. The aesthetic principle that supports this autonomy is the requirement for consistency: “The principle of unity implies the fulfilling of expectations, for if a work violated expectations it would not be considered consistent” (47). The requirement of consistency may seem like a feeble motivation until one considers the great moral, scientific, and mathematical systems in the world that rely primarily upon consistency for legitimacy. 15 Burke writes that “consummation, obtained by exploiting the possibilities of a symbol-system as such, without primary regard for either self-expression or communication, may be better explained in terms of self-consistency than expectation, though the two imply each other” (49).

Burke’s general description of form is “the arousing and fulfilling of desires” or expectations (Counter-Statement 124), but when a writer or an audience is following a structure of expectations that has already been set up, one merely has to be consistent to achieve or experience literary form. As Burke writes, the two imply each other, and yet one can be primary while the other is secondary. It may be helpful to think of a continuum where expectation and self-consistency are at each end. At the beginning, a vocabulary starts arousing and fulfilling expectations, with self-consistency playing a relatively minor role simply because there is very little material for the new developments to be consistent with. As this text or vocabulary develops, the readers or participants have soon learned “the rules” well enough that they can anticipate the next developments even without having been given specific clues. At this level, self-consistency becomes the more dominant principle. On the far end of this continuum one may find systems such as mathematics or formal logic, where self-consistency becomes the primary and almost exclusive expectation for learned practitioners. Consummation, it seems, can only be an active principle in a vocabulary or system that has developed enough rules to require it to be self-consistent in order to maintain the aesthetic principle of unity.

Once a vocabulary or symbol-system has reached this level, it tends to “become a guiding principle in itself” (Counter-Statement 157) and can “appeal independently of its functional uses” (Counter-Statement 145). In “Watchful,” Burke warns that, “This formal principle of consummatory self-consistency is important when we consider technological developments as the possible manifestation of ‘aesthetic’ motives rather than as instruments of sheer pragmatic utility” (49). This is where consummation goes beyond being simply aesthetic theory. Kenneth Burke argues that this aesthetic principle of consummation, this desire for consistency, can lead a person or group of people to desire results that are devastating to humanity in general in order to satisfy an aesthetic craving. Thus, he claims, “In this regard, the various scientific specialists are to be viewed as carrying out the implications of their terminologies, and thereby seeking technological consummation for its own sake, however deceptively their efforts might be justified” (49).

One historical example of this motive could be the reaction of the young scientists at Los Alamos when the 1949 GAC report 16 advised against development of the hydrogen bomb. In The Legacy of Hiroshima, Edward Teller and Allen Brown write:

It [the GAC report] seemed to restrict the Los Alamos scientists to minor improvements in the old field of fission. But many of the scientists, especially the younger men, found it difficult to control an adventurous spirit urging them to get into the newer field of thermonuclear reactions. The GAC report seemed to state the conflict rather bluntly: As long as you people work very hard and diligently to make a better atomic bomb, you are doing a fine job; but if you succeed in making real progress toward another kind of nuclear explosion, you are doing something immoral. To this, the scientists reacted psychologically. They got mad. And their attention was turned toward the thermonuclear bomb, not away from it. (45; emphasis added)

Teller and Brown later credit this “scientific anger” with helping to propel the USA towards development of the hydrogen bomb (45). Remarkably absent from Teller’s description of their reaction is any kind of discussion of politics or morals related to the hydrogen bomb. The motivating factor among the young scientists seems to have been success and “real progress” in the “newer field of thermonuclear reactions” or, as Burke would say, seeking technological consummation for its own sake.

The specific example Burke gives of such motives is very likely a direct response to a text written by Edward Teller. In 1957, when Teller, along with Ernest O. Lawrence, tried to convince President Eisenhower not to sign a nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union, their main argument was that they would be able very soon to develop “clean thermonuclear weapons” that would be of almost unlimited benefit to humankind (Magraw 32). The following year, Teller and Albert Latter wrote an article in LIFE Magazine titled “The Compelling Need for Nuclear Tests” in which the possibility of clean thermonuclear weapons again featured as a main argument. 17 It seems plausible that this is what Kenneth Burke is responding to in “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics.” Burke writes, “For instance, whether or not it is possible to develop ‘clean’ thermonuclear bombs, some men might well want to go on experimenting with these dismal weapons. For they have brought their calculations to the point where further experimental steps are in order, steps suggested by the present state of their terminologies” (49). 18 Studying the example of consummation Burke was referring to may help to illustrate some of the principles of consummation that he is describing.

Concerning Teller’s arguments, Magraw writes that “[a] consistent theme in the arguments for the development of the clean bomb and against a test ban was that it was positively un-American to believe that there are limits to what technology can achieve, or that one might want to impose such limits” (35). In addition to this, Teller argues that it is in a way anti-science to do so. Following Teller’s logic, there seems to be no other logical solution than continuing testing for the next 100 years. The essence of the argument is in the conclusion of the article, where Teller and Latter imply that if one opposes nuclear tests, then, by definition, one opposes science and humanity’s great endeavor to control nature:

The spectacular developments of the last centuries, in science, in technology and in our own everyday life, have been produced by a spirit of adventure, by a fearless exploration of the unknown. When we talk about nuclear tests, we have in mind not only military preparedness but also the execution of experiments which will give us more insight into the forces of nature. Such insight has led and will lead to new possibilities of controlling nature. There are many specific political and military reasons why such experiments should not be abandoned. There also exists this very general reason—the tradition of exploring the unknown. It is possible to follow this tradition without running any serious risk that radioactivity, carelessly dispersed, will interfere with human life. (Teller and Latter 72)

Teller states that all kinds of progress have been achieved by “a spirit of adventure” and “fearless exploration of the unknown,” describing primarily attitudes that he later terms “a tradition for exploring the unknown.” He then identifies this source of all progress with nuclear tests, which give us insight into and power over nature, and claims that it would be inconsistent to abandon an approach that has given us so much progress. Progress here is equated with controlling nature.

In The Legacy of Hiroshima Teller gives us a vision of how thermonuclear weapons could be used to control nature: using H-bombs to blast channels, tunnels, harbors, and coal mines (84-5); to “frack” for oil (87); to blast the Canadian tar sands and distill oil (88); to make diamonds (89); to mutate plants for our benefit (115); to cultivate the oceans by killing off species that have no value as human food (93-4); and to finally make it possible for humans to leave Earth and colonize space (125, 133, 140).

According to Burke’s reading, some of these reasons would be rationalizations to justify work on weapons of war, but Burke also believes that they, at least at times, genuinely reflect a terminology that almost compels these scientists to continue onwards in the same direction. Teller openly admits that the final goal here is not victory over the Soviet Union or even peace, but rather “increasing man’s control over nature.” 19 Teller had pursued and perfected the hydrogen bomb for over 20 years by the time he published his book. Reading his version of the history, one almost gets the impression of an addict. Teller writes that, for him, talent in science or mathematics is an addiction, a love (160) and that “the force of inner necessity” (not motivated by utility or any external circumstance) is “the greatest power on the earth” (163). It seems to be this power that drives him to pursue the hydrogen bomb in times of both war and peace, and to label people as allies or opponents based on the help or hindrance they provide towards that goal.20

In “Watchful,” Burke treats this kind of addiction or compulsion as the result of an aesthetic principle: “the ‘principle of consummatory self-consistency’ would provide an incentive, or almost a compulsion, to continue in this same direction, quite as an author who had carried a novel to near completion might not be able to rest until he had finished it” (49). Although this may be a particularly powerful drive in the case of Teller or in the field of thermonuclear reactions in general, Burke claims that this drive is common for all fields of science: “The principle is the same. Each scientific specialization has its own particular idiom, making for its particular idiocy, in line with its particular possibilities of communication” (49). Note that it is the medium of communication, in most cases a professional vocabulary, which sets the terms for the potentialities available within a scientific specialization. The rigorous vocabularies of the scientific disciplines make them conducive to the aesthetic appeal of self-consistency and hence to the creative motive of consummation. Burke calls consummation “an autonomous formal principle” (“Watchful” 49), and both Polanyi and Kuhn agree that similar aesthetic principles play a large role in the developments within the natural sciences. 21 These sciences, Burke claims, are all developing towards aims determined by their professional vocabulary rather than any shared notion of the “common good” for mankind. Burke concludes his discussion of consummation with a broader view of the effects of these autonomous formal principles in operation all around us:

A clutter of such autonomous formal principles, each aiming at its own kind of perfection, can add up to a condition of considerable disarray—and especially insofar as many of the new powers thus being developed lend themselves readily to destructive purposes while even their ‘peaceful’ uses are menacing, as with the pollution that goes with the disposal of atomic wastes. Yes, the ‘aesthetics’ of recent technological consummations can become quite ugly. (49-50)

Here Burke ironically observes how the aesthetic desires of a range of scientific specialists create a markedly aesthetically unappealing world. Their desire for beauty leads to a hideous reality. He uses the word “perfection” to describe what these consummations or “autonomous formal principles” are aiming at, but makes it clear that the autonomous formal principle is not the same as perfection. I will discuss the relationship between perfection, entelechy, and consummation in the concluding section of this paper.

So what have we learned from the second approach to consummation? Consummation is an autonomous formal principle sustained by the aesthetic requirement for self-consistency. In order for self-consistency to become the dominant motivation, one needs an extensive vocabulary that is also rigorous, meaning that it has set up a wide range of rules for self-consistency that it follows consistently. The terminologies of different scientific specializations are examples of such extensive and rigorous vocabularies, and Burke mentioned the field of thermonuclear physics as one field where the principle of consummation was a significant factor.

Third Approach: Various Texts Written 1960-1993

Kenneth Burke often found it useful to separate between action and motion, where action infers an active consciousness that makes choices, and motion does not require consciousness or choices, exemplified in such mechanisms as the body’s ability to breathe (Religion 41). So far, based on the texts written in the 1950s, Burke’s explanations of consummation seem to reduce human agency to mere motion; indeed, he writes about this period that “[e]xperimentally, I often turn the usual perspective around, and think not of us as using language but of language as using us to get itself said” (22 April 1958; Jay, Correspondence 332).22 He writes, “To a large extent, I am sure, we are simply like a telephone exchange run by an automatic dialing system. Things go in and out of us much as though we were the coordinating center that didn’t even know what was being said” (Correspondence 332). As he works further on the concept of consummation, however, he seems to moderate this view and shows consummation as a complex interaction between action and motion, and between conscious and unconscious symbol-using. This approach comes at the end of Burke’s published work in The Rhetoric of Religion (1961), Language as Symbolic Action (1966), and essays gathered in the collected edition On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows 1967-1984. This is also where he theorizes ways in which this creative motive can be diffused or at least made less harmful. I will first show the potential cures or correctives Burke suggested for consummation, and then apply this in a discussion about the extent and the possibility consummation leaves for choice or action.

In The Rhetoric of Religion, Kenneth Burke uses the Bible as an example of a vocabulary that is capable of sustaining the creative motive of consummation. The cyclical chart of terms for Order that he finds through his analysis of the Bible “sums up the ‘directionless’ way in which such a cluster of terms imply one another” (4).23 The goal of the book is to develop a critical metalinguistic vocabulary (logology) that can make us aware of such persuasive structures in other non-religious vocabularies, such as the metaphysics of empire, technologism24, and scientism (170, 302). This implies that people can learn to question the consummatory drive if they become aware of it and have a critical vocabulary they can use to analyze it (301).

In Language as Symbolic Action, Burke seems to suggest a sort of competitive check on consummation:

Whereas there seems to be no principle of control intrinsic to the ideal of carrying out any such set of possibilities to its “perfect” conclusion, and whereas all sorts of people are variously goaded to track down their particular sets of terministically directed insights, there is at least the fact that the schemes get in one another’s way, thus being to some extent checked by rivalry one with another. (19-20)

The principle seems to be that a plurality of voices or at least the lack of univocality can constrain the negative impacts of consummation. Moves towards debate, inclusion, and interdisciplinarity may help to check consummation in specialized vocabularies.25

Finally, in On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows, Kenneth Burke describes the consummatory drive as a kind of autosuggestion, and he suggests a potential cure: “Might the best protection against the dangers of autosuggestion be in the development of methods designed to maintain maximum liquidity in all symbolic exercising?” (50). Aristotle’s Rhetoric is one example he gives of tools that can help us maintain such liquidity. If consummation requires a rigorous and disciplined vocabulary, symbolic liquidity could help to loosen the chains of formal syllogistic progression that make consummation possible.26 He recounts how he himself as an author became the victim of autosuggestion and was only able to free himself from it by criticism (49), and he seems to think that the same cure could help other people in the same way. Later, he suggests satire as a method of popularizing criticism of rigorous vocabularies by taking the demand for self-consistency to an excess and thereby showing its absurdity (73).

These opportunities for correction suggest that consummation is not ineluctable, despite Crusius’s claim to the contrary (Crusius 73). Even though Burke played with turning around the concept of people using language to language using people, he never claimed that it is false that people can and do use language. Because consummation is a motive that requires a rigorous vocabulary, it is as subject to criticism and capable of correction as the vocabulary it relies on. By debate it can be dissipated, by maintaining symbolic liquidity it can be destabilized, and by logology and satire it can be analyzed, criticized, and defused. Consummation seems to only be a danger when people are not aware of it, when the vocabulary is shielded from debate, or when the proponents of the vocabulary actively choose to disregard the danger.

How, then, should we conceptualize the extent or possibility for active choice for people driven by consummation? Self-consistency is an aesthetic desire; a sense for what is appropriate or beautiful, and yet it can become a “trained incapacity” to the extent that it becomes hard for someone habituated to that kind of thinking to think differently. It may be useful to use Burke’s phrase that “The driver drives the car, but the traffic drives the driver” (Human 71). People driven by consummatory self-consistency act, think, and make conscious decisions, but they do so within a framework defined by their vocabulary. For example, rather than considering whether or not it is good or even useful to “increase man’s control over nature” in the form of thermonuclear weapons, someone who buys into Teller’s scientific vision would simply ask “how can I best increase man’s control over nature.” The scientist thinks and makes choices, but the terminology determines the range of thoughts and choices available or acceptable to him or her.

To give a specific example, in “Physics in the Contemporary World,” Robert Oppenheimer dismisses the claim that scientists are responsible to society for the results of their discoveries. Instead, he argues, “The true responsibility of a scientist, as we all know, is to the integrity and vigor of his science” (67). Oppenheimer goes on to discuss what a scientist should and should not consider: “Science is disciplined in its rejection of questions that cannot be answered” (86), by which he means any question that cannot be answered by empirical measurements or mathematical proof. A person that has adapted such a way of thinking by commitment and habituation may feel more compelled by, and less able or willing to resist, the consummatory drive for self-consistency within that vocabulary. Although Kenneth Burke describes the drive at times as a compulsion, he uses words of action to describe people following it. For example, in Language as Symbolic Action, he writes:

A given terminology contains various implications, and there is a corresponding perfectionist tendency for men to attempt to carry out those implications. Thus, each of our scientific nomenclatures suggests its own special range of possible developments, with specialists vowed to carry out these terministic possibilities to the extent of their personal ability and technical resources. (19, emphasis added)
The terminology suggests potential developments, but it is people that fulfill them because of their commitments and their desires. It is possible to reject the urge for completion, just as an author can refuse to finish a book or a listener can turn off a song before it has ended.

Burke compares this terministic compulsion to an astronomer who, through calculations and observations, predicts that an asteroid will soon hit Earth and destroy all life on it. “He would . . . feel compelled to argue for the correctness of his computations, despite the ominousness of the outcome” (19), not because awareness could in any way avoid the disaster, but because it is the answer that fits. The difference is that, in bioengineering or nuclear physics, following caluclations to the end of the line is what creates the ominous outcome. The potentiality may be latent in nature, but cloning and nuclear weapons do not just materialize from potentialities in nature; people choose to uncover and develop these potentialities. When James Joyce or Beethoven follow the implications of their symbol-systems, they can choose not to complete that journey, although it may feel gratifying and right to do so (305). Burke writes that artists or speculative minds can feel like “there is no rest” once they have glimpsed certain ultimate possibilities until they have “transformed its potentialities into total actualization” (Human 73). The person who glimpses the possibilities is “called” and is under “a kind of compulsion” to pursue those possibilities (Human 74), but it is possible to avoid heeding that call.

In terms of the action/motion duality, it seems that people who have been “under the spell” of such a consummatory drive feel they are less free to act.27 The level of agency and ability to act in opposition to the consummatory drive may be highest before one commits to a specialized vocabulary of a science, academic field, ideology, or religion, although it is questionable whether humans can operate without any such terminologies. Still, there is a great difference between the rigorous vocabulary of positivistic science and the playful vocabulary of an omnivorous reader of world literature,28 and they are not equally capable of generating expectations of self-consistency.

Conclusion: Entelechy, Perfection, and Consummation

As mentioned earlier, some Burke scholars tend to see consummation, perfection, and entelechy as identical, and there are some passages in Burke’s writings that could justify such an interpretation, and I will discuss them. However, I will make the argument that consummation should be seen as a separate term with a separate meaning.

In On Human Nature, Kenneth Burke discusses his thoughts on the third creative motive (consummation), which arose from speculations in the late 1930s, and then writes: “Later I began to ask myself whether I could round out this notion of a purely formal motive (or goad, implicit in our nomenclatures) by adapting for my purposes the Aristotelian concept of entelechy” (74). He goes on to explain that whereas Aristotle applied the term to explain biology, physics, and almost every development in nature and society, Burke only applies it to symbolic action. Different verbal structures are “illustrative, in their different ways, of the entelechial principle, tracking down the implications of a position, going to the end of the line” (74). One reading of this passage could be that Burke replaces consummation with entelechy since he realizes what he is talking about is basically a symbolic version of what Aristotle discussed in his writings on biology and physics.

The essay the quote is taken from, “Why Satire, With a Plan for Writing One,” was written in 1974, which definitely sets its date after his previous discussions of consummation. Although he discusses a third creative motive in the same article, he does not use the term “consummation,” which could justify the interpretation that entelechy simply became the new consummation. In fact, I have not been able to find an article where he uses the word “consummation” after 1967, when he uses it in both “A Theory of Terminology” (Human 244) and “Curriculum Criticum,” the afterword to the 1968 edition of Counter-Statement (225).29 However, it is not as if entelechy is a new invention in the Burkean vocabulary in 1974. He used the term actively in his criticism since at least 1952 (in “A ‘Dramatistic’ View of ‘Imitation’”) at the same time as he was writing about consummation as a separate term with a separate meaning. 30

I would argue that the concepts of consummation and entelechy, though related, are not the same. Entelechy is the “rounding out” of consummation in the sense that Burke takes a specific category of creative motive and shows that it is just one example of a general tendency within all symbol-using. I would argue that consummation is a specific manifestation of the entelechial principle, but that not every manifestation of entelechy is consummation. In this sense, they operate together in a cluster where entelechy is the greater summarizing term and consummation is the more limited and restricted term.

So what exactly is entelechy? In his introduction to “Archetype and Entelechy,” Rueckert writes that Burke borrowed the term entelechy from Aristotle, applied it to literary texts, and later “he expanded its application so that it applied to all symbolic action and became one of the prime functions of language and central concepts of logology” (Human 121). Rueckert’s explanation of entelechy is that “[l]anguage, or, perhaps, just the human mind, seeks perfection, is compelled to go to the ‘end of the line’ in its many endeavours” (Human 121). If we accept Rueckert’s definition, then it seems clear that entelechy is more expansive than consummation. The passages on consummation previously referred to all seem to require an established and preferably specialized vocabulary in order for consummation to be a factor, whereas entelechy applies to all symbolic actions and is one of the prime functions of language itself. To give an analogy: If entelechy is the general tendency humans have to get sick, then consummation is a particular class of diseases that can afflict them. This does conflict with Star Muir’s definition of entelechy as “the tracking down of implications within a particular vocabulary” (21st Century 36), although I would agree that what Muir is describing is one manifestation of the entelechial motive.

So how does entelechy relate to perfection? Are they the same for Burke? In “Archetype and Entelechy,” Burke defines entelechy as “such use of symbolic resources that potentialities can be said to attain their perfect fulfillment” (Human 125), with perfect victimage being one example. Other examples are the perfect villain, the perfect fool, the Nazi version of the Jew as the perfect enemy, and the perfect Communist (Human 126). These examples of entelechy seem to show that entelechy is a general tendency to take a concept, image, or principle to its extreme. For example, labeling someone as vicious or evil and taking that to its extreme might lead anyone defined as “good” to kill or conquer that person, whereas labeling someone as mistaken would direct good people to try to correct or persuade him or her (Attitudes 41). In the same way, Burke labels Freud’s myth of “the fatherkill” as entelechial in the sense that, although it may never have really happened, it is a “perfect representative expression of the tensions he viewed as intrinsic to the family structure” (Human 127). The fatherkill is the entelechy of the Oedipus complex. It is the fruition or culmination of a struggle or tension taken to its furthest extent. Unlike the descriptions of consummation, there is no qualification that this motive requires a highly developed vocabulary or that this form operates primarily through self-consistency rather than by the arousing and fulfilling of new expectations.

In order to understand entelechy, this drive towards the perfection of a concept, image, or principle, we have to understand what Kenneth Burke means by perfection. In “Theology and Logology,” he writes that perfection is the secular or logological analogue of the “idea of God as the ens perfectissimum” (Human 177) (most perfect being or conjunction of all perfections), but that Burke’s concept of perfection does not require that the perfection be positive, only that it be the ultimate of its kind. One example is how we may impute terrible motives to our opponents until they are little less than the pure embodiment of evil (such as one sees in war propaganda). By so doing, we “perfect” the idea of our opponents until they are the most loathsome enemy we could possibly imagine. This perfection of the enemy is what Burke would call an entelechy, a manifestation of the entelechial motive taken to its ultimate form. This seems to fit well with Bryan Hubbard’s definition of entelechy as the drive towards perfection. Entelechy is the drive and perfection is the goal that inspires the drive, comparable to how, in theology, piety is a yearning for God and a perfect God is the center or locus that makes such a drive possible. Burke describes the secular grounds for this drive as a formal obligation: “Discourse can be truly discourse only by having the power to be fully itself. Such a formal obligation applies always” (Religion 289).

To summarize the relationship between the three concepts, entelechy is a general drive towards perfection. Perfection is a goal or ideal fueled by a “formal obligation” for a discourse, concept, or principle to “be fully itself” which means to actualize inherent potentialities to its fullest degree (such as “perfecting” the enemy). Consummation is one manifestation of the entelechial drive, where a vocabulary sustains a drive towards a particular kind of perfection. The perfection the consummatory terminology is driving towards is most likely symbolized by a God-term. Unlike some other manifestations of the entelechial drive (such as creating “the perfect enemy” or “the perfect bread”), consummation requires an extensive terminology to be a significant motive. Self-expression and communication must first create utterance and structure before consummation can arise as an active motive, just as faith and understanding precede vision in Saint Anselm’s theology. The terminology must also be rigorous enough to allow self-consistency to become the dominant form and give rise to this autonomous formal principle.

So what does the concept of consummation add to Burke’s corpus of critical terms? First of all, it adds precision. Instead of just describing the existence of a general principle, consummation describes a motive which only arises at a specific stage in a dialectic between self-expression and communication. It gives a clearer description of how the general entelechial principle is developed and sustained in specialized vocabularies. Second, it adds understanding of a specific mode of persuasion that may be the source of some of the greatest problems we have in the world today, and just as vision transcends the ergotizing ways of understanding, so consummation may elude many of our normal filters for detecting and analyzing arguments. This rhetoric operates through self-consistency rather than expectation, and as such it may seem inevitable or unproblematic and therefore it is not subjected to criticism. Kenneth Burke warns us of the specific dangers of consummation in specialized vocabularies and directs us to study these vocabularies carefully for implications of future developments. Finally, this is a specific manifestation of the entelechial principle which requires a terminology in order to function as a motive, and it is therefore capable of criticism and correction through the remedies suggested by Kenneth Burke.

Based on these and the previous arguments, I maintain that consummation deserves to be considered independently of entelechy and perfection as an important term in Burke’s critical vocabulary. It is my belief that Kenneth Burke intended for it to be considered in that way. But, as Burke often said, “we may settle for less.” In either case, I argue that this concept of consummation is useful for Burke scholars and rhetoricians to distinguish an important manifestation of the entelechial drive.


1. Burke refers to such a shift in a letter to Cowley written 9th of August 1945: “I may end up where I began: with Flaubert” (Jay 268). He also mentions in “Curriculum Criticum” (in 1967) that he has added an explicit concern with consummation in his later works.

2. Rueckert writes that the essays in Part One “(and others in the collection)” are warnings about taking the development of terminologies (science and technology) “to the end of the line” (4). Although this also relates to entelechy and perfection, Burke specifically describes a motive of “tracking down implications of a terminology,” which I argue is the definition of consummation, over thirty times throughout the collection.

3. Burke’s concept of self-expression is universal and not limited to artists. People can, for example, express themselves by living or acting out the occupation or social class they belong to.

4. When asked to clarify this quote, Wess wrote in an email dated 19 November 2015: “The key word in the paragraph you quote from is ‘cluster.’ Terms in a cluster are synonyms in a Burkean sense, which is a bit different from the conventional meaning of ‘synonym.’ Broadening the context, I would say that Burke was always especially interested in action undertaken for its own sake rather than as a means to something else. Over the years, he theorized such action is a number of ways that are different but that also may be ‘clustered’ together.”

5. At least, his definition and description of entelechy match that of consummation in «Curriculum Criticum» and other texts.

6. There is no necessary contradiction between Clark’s concept of the social consequences consummation can have and my explanation of the term, although his book focuses more on the positive effects and my article focuses more on the dangers consummation entails.

7. The text is a review of The Lion and the Honeycomb by R.P. Blackmur. Kenneth Burke starts by critiquing Blackmur’s criticism of rhetoric and then goes on to digress on Saint Anselm and explains consummation in terms of Saint Anselm’s triad.

8. Burke connected the terms with the symbol =, which I transcribe as “equals.”

9. To ergotize is to argue logically or sophistically. Burke seems to imply that “vision” operates on a different plane than understanding and convinces us in a different way.

10. Faith is primary for Saint Anselm and does not require understanding. As he writes, “Were I unable in any way to understand what I believe, still nothing could shake my constancy” (II).

11. He gives it as an example of a triad structure and does not explicitly link it to consummation, but considering the proximity in the passage there is good reason to think that Burke at least viewed Spinoza’s triad as indicative of his aesthetic triad.

12. According to David Cratis Williams, the section on consummation was most likely written “in part” during 1951-2 “with the remaining . . . most likely written during Burke’s stay at the Center for Advanced Study at Stanford in 1957-58” (Williams 23), so temporally it was probably written both before and after “The Criticism of Criticism.”

13. Syllogistic progression has most to do with structures of language that direct our desires in a certain way and make a certain outcome almost inevitable. Qualitative progression has more to do with moods and states of mind that feel appropriate in sequence (the calm before the storm, etc.). Repetitive form is created by consistently repeating one principle while changing the guises it appears in, making the reader to expect further revelations of the same principle. Conventional form has to do with what we could call genre conventions, where we come to a play with certain expectations of that genre. The expectation is aroused before one experiences the content. Minor forms are such as metaphor, paradox, and other smaller forms that operate in any given text, without a necessary connection to the overarching form of the text. All these aspects will at times overlap and at times conflict in a text (Counter-Statement 124-8).

14. In Rhetoric of Religion Burke writes, “And implicit in their supposedly objective versions of what is and is not, they will have concealed a set of shall’s and shall not’s which they will proceed methodically to discover” (279).

15. In positivism, math and logic only have legitimacy because they are self-consistent tautologies, and any inconsistency would immediately doom both as nonsense (Ayer 10); similarly, Perelman claims that consistency helps to give a law legitimacy among the public (Perelman 62).

16. General Advisory Committee for the United States Atomic Energy Commission.

17. Over 50 years later, the military is still no closer to this elusive goal that Teller once described as merely a couple of years away (Magraw 34).

18. As mentioned before, this text was most likely written “in part” during 1951-2 and the rest written during Burke’s stay at the Center for Advanced Study at Stanford from 1957 to 1958 (Williams 23). Considering that Burke is describing “clean thermonuclear weapons,” it has to at least be after the advent of thermonuclear weapons in 1952. In addition, Katherine Magraw writes in “Teller and the ‘Clean Bomb’ Episode” that it was first in 1957 that “clean bombs” were discussed with the president (32) and that it was not discussed much publicly until February 1958, when Edward Teller and Albert Latter advocated for them in the LIFE magazine article. Probably, Burke wrote this text in 1958, making it likely that he is responding to Edward Teller and his justification for continued nuclear tests.

19. Teller sees this as an almost automatic mechanism: «Science brings progress; progress creates power» (93).

20. Teller sees the rejection of work on the H-bomb as almost a betrayal, and details the betrayal of Oppenheimer (41), Fermi, Rabi, and others (43-4). On the other hand, Ernest Lawrence (who was in favor of the H-bomb) is given a moving eulogy as “the best defender of our cause” and one who “sacrificed his life for science and for his country” (73).

21. Kuhn and Polanyi agree that scientists are motivated by a sense for order, consistency, and beauty in both their work and in their support of paradigms or theories. See Kuhn (154-5); Polanyi (13-4). Robert Oppenheimer claims that one of the main virtues of science and scientific life is its beauty (Oppenheimer 86).

22. This was in a letter to Malcolm Cowley written from the Center for Advanced Study at Stanford. As mentioned before, this was when he was writing “Watchful,” so it is likely that these are thoughts related to consummation.

23. Burke lists a chart of religious terms that can be viewed as logically dependent on and logical consequences of the idea of order. If there is order, then there is also potential for disorder, hence there is a law and a potential to either disobey or obey it. The whole cluster of terms ranges from Heaven to Hell with all of the terms seemingly logically dependent on each other. Thus, you are never “outside” of the larger order built on the terms implicit in the idea of order. Whatever choice you make, there is a description for it and a remedy assigned to that behavior.

24. A set of beliefs built upon the assumption that “the remedy for the problems arising from technology is to be sought in the development of ever more and more technology” (Human 133).

25. Although positivism, which was envisioned as the greatest hope for interdisciplinarity and unification among the sciences, became perhaps one of the greatest promoters of univocality and stifled dissent. So interdisciplinarity does not necessarily mean a plurality of voices.

26. Because Burke does not here explain what he means by symbolic liquidity, one can only make a guess based on the context of what he says and the content of Aristotle’s Rhetoric. My guess is that he believed that cultivating “an ability, in each case, to see the available means of persuasion” (1.2.1), would help people size up a situation in a lot of different ways, thereby avoiding too narrow views of a situation or an argument.

27. Robert Wilson describes that it was as though they had been programmed to finish the bomb and Frank Oppenheimer mentions being trapped by the machinery and momentum. Both are descriptions of limited agency (Trinity)

28. Kuhn writes that broad exposure to competing and incommensurable solutions is what distinguishes a student in the humanities or social sciences from a student in the natural sciences. This makes a natural scientist less prepared to handle paradigm crises and discover a fresh approach to answering the questions of his or her field (164-5).

29. In “'Always Keep Watching for Terms': Visits with Kenneth Burke, 1989-1990," edited by William Cahill, Kenneth Burke is still referring to three creative motives. In this interview he refers to the third motive as follows: "When you get to the third stage, it’s just fulfilling, you see, you finally get—what I decided to call it is the technical equivalent of inspiration, technological inspiration. You see, you’re really inspired when your vocabulary takes over. You start using words and words finally get you going and then the thing comes to life."

30. Burke writes that, "Since circa 1955, I have felt impelled to round out theories of 'self-expression' and 'communication' with a third term, 'consummation'" and states that consummation "essentially involves matters to do with 'tracking down the possibilities implicit in a given terminology" (Language 486).

Works Cited

Anselm. “Cur Deus Homo.” Medieval Sourcebook: Anselm (1033-1109). Internet History Sourcebook Project. Ed. Paul Halsall. Fordham University. 11 Dec 2015. Web. 31 Dec 2015.

Brock, Bernard L., ed. Kenneth Burke in the 21st Century. New York: State U of New York P, 1998. Print.

Brummett, Barry. “Perfection and the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Teleology, and Motives.” Journal of Communication. 39.4. (1989): 85-95. Print.

Burke, Kenneth. A Grammar of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

—. A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

—. Attitudes Toward History. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984. Print.

—. “Archetype and Entelechy.” On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows. Eds. William H. Rueckert and Angelo Bonadonna. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003. Print.

—. Counter-Statement. 2nd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1968. Print.

—. “Dramatic Form—And: ‘Tracking Down Implications.’” The Tulane Drama Review. 10.4. (1966): 54-63. Print.

—. Essays Toward A Symbolic of Motives, 1950-1955. Ed. William H. Rueckert. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor P, 2007. Print.

—. Equipment for Living: The Literary Reviews of Kenneth Burke. Eds Nathaniel A. Rivers and Ryan P. Weber. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor, 2010. Print.

—. “I, Eye, Ay: Emerson’s Early Essay on ‘Nature’: Thought on the Machinery of Transcendence.” The Sewanee Review 74.4 (1966): 875-95. Print.

—. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: U of California P, 1968. Print.

—. “Notes on Emerson’s ‘Nature.’” N.d. TS. Kenneth Burke Papers. Paterno Library, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.

—. On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows. Eds. William H. Rueckert and Angelo Bonadonna. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003. Print.

—. “The Criticism of Criticism.” In Rivers and Weber. 228-45.

—. The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P. 1973. Print.

—. “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. Print.

—. The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology. Berkeley: U of California P, 1970. Print.

—. “‘Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics’ Selections from ‘Poetics, Dramatistically Considered.’” Henderson and Williams 35-80.

Cahill, William. “'Always Keep Watching for Terms': Visits with Kenneth Burke, 1989-1990.” K.B. Journal: The Journal of the Kenneth Burke Society. 7.2. (2011). Web.

Crusius. Timothy V. Kenneth Burke and the Conversation after Philosophy. Southern Illinois UP, 1999. Print.

Duncan, Hugh Dalziel. “Communication in Society.” Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke, 1924-1966. Ed. William H. Rueckert. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1969. 407-20. Print.

Griffin, Leland. “A Dramatistic Theory of the Rhetoric of Movements.” Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke, 1924-1966. Ed. William H. Rueckert. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1969. 456-78. Print.

Henderson, Greig, and David Cratis Williams, eds. Unending Conversations: New Writings by and about Kenneth Burke. Carbondale: Southern Illinois U P, 2001. Print.

Henderson, Greig. “A Rhetoric of Form: The Early Burke and Reader-Response Criticism.” In Henderson and Williams 127-42.

Hubbard, Bryan. “Reassessing Truman, the Bomb, and Revisionism: The Burlesque Frame and Entelechy in the Decision to Use Atomic Weapons Against Japan.” Western Journal of Communication. 62.3. (1998): 348-385. Print.

Jay, Paul. Ed. The Selected Correspondence of Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley: 1915-1981. Berkeley, Los Angeles: U of California P, 1990. Print.

Jennerman, Donald L. “Burke’s Poetics of Catharsis.“ Representing Kenneth Burke. Eds. Hayden White and Margaret Brose. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1982. 31-51. Print.

Kenneth Burke Papers. Paterno Library. Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 4th ed. U of Chicago P, 2012. Print.

Lindsay, Stan A. Implicit Rhetoric: Kenneth Burke’s Extension of Aristotle’s Concept of Entelechy. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1998. Print.

—. “The Burkean Entelechy and the Apocalypse of John.” Ph. D. Diss. Purdue University, 1995.

Magraw, Katherine. “Edward Teller and the ‘Clean Bomb’ Episode.” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. 44.4. (1988): 32-7. Print.

Muir, Star A. “Toward an Ecology of Language.” In Brock 35-70

Nelson, Cary. “Writing as the Accomplice of Language: Kenneth Burke and Poststructuralism.” The Legacy of Kenneth Burke. Eds. Herbert Simmons and Trevor Melia. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1989. 156-73. Print.

Oppenheimer, Robert J. “Physics in the Contemporary World.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 4.3. (1948): 65-68, 85-86. Print.

PBS American Experience: The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Dir. David Grubin. PBS, 2009. DVD.

Perelman, Chaim. The Realm of Rhetoric. Trans. William Kluback. South Bend: U of Notre Dame P, 1982. Print.

Polanyi, Michael. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. Chicago, U of Chicago P, 1974. Print.

Russell, Bertrand. “The Study of Mathematics.” The New Quarterly. 1.4. (1907): 29-44. Print.

Spinoza, Baruch. The Ethics. Trans. R. H. M. Elwes. Project Gutenberg. 29 Jul 2007. Web. 31 Dec 2015.

Teller, Edward and Brown, Allen. The Legacy of Hiroshima. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962. Print.

Teller, Edward and Latter, Albert. “The Compelling Need for Nuclear Tests.” LIFE. 44.8. (1958): 64-72. Print.

The Day after Trinity. Dir. Jon H. Else. Image Entertainment, 2002. DVD.

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. Richard Feynman. Films Media Group, 1981. Online.

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

—. “Re: Latour and Nuclear Science in France.” 19 Nov 2015. TS.

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Kenneth Burke Digital Archive

Ethan Sproat, Lead Archivist, Utah Valley University


This brief document introduces the Kenneth Burke Digital Archive (KBDA) that was established during a three-day seminar at the 2014 KBS conference in St. Louis, "Attitudes Toward Technology/Technology's Attitudes." A brief critical introduction to the KBDA, an explanation of goals, and an associated CFP are also included. Finally, this document also contains a list of all known audiovisual recordings of Kenneth Burke that are archived at various locations and universities across the country.

"The Discussion Is Interminable": Continued Conversation through the KBDA

KENNETH BURKE DEVELOPED HIS ENTIRE SYMBOL-USE PROJECT throughout the 20th century when our theories of communication were out-paced only by our means of communication. However, even though KB was one of the most influential theorists of human communication in a time of so many advances in communication technology, there is an apparent dearth of audio or video footage of KB. Yet such a dearth is only "apparent" because there actually are many existing audio and visual recordings of KB lecturing, performing readings, or participating in discussions or interviews. Most KB scholars have not seen or heard much of this footage for two basic reasons: first, the existing footage is not centrally accessible or cataloged in any one place; second, such footage is often in a medium that prohibits broad distribution (as with various analog recording technologies).

Accordingly, a small group of KB scholars led by Dr. Ethan Sproat convened during a three-day seminar at the 2014 KBS conference in St. Louis, "Attitudes Toward Technology/Technology's Attitudes." During that conference, these seminar participants effectively established the beginnings of the Kenneth Burke Digital Archive (KBDA).

The KBDA has the following goals: 

  • Coordinate efforts among KB scholars to identify the current repositories of all existing audio and video recordings of KB. 
  • Assemble historical notes and contexts of theory surrounding each recording. 
  • Catalog all these in one resource through KBJ: The Journal of the Kenneth Burke Society
  • Work with individual repositories to digitally transfer and transcribe all existing KB footage that is not already digitized. 
  • In cooperation with the Kenneth Burke Literary Trust, arrange to secure permissions to digitally archive as many of these digital materials and transcriptions as possible. 
  • In coordination with KBJ, arrange to have as many of these digital materials, transcripts, historical notes, and associated contextual/theoretical commentaries peer reviewed for inclusion in future issues of KBJ.

Apropos to the location of the 2014 KBS conference, the first recordings to be thus transcribed and submitted for peer review in KBJ are recordings that took place in St. Louis (see below for the entries for the reading and discussion with Howard Nemerov that KB delivered during the 1970-1971 school year at Washington University at St. Louis).

Additionally, the KBDA is a practical response to larger theoretical concerns about the role of digitization in current archiving practices. Specifically, the KBDA is a response to recommendations made by Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner in their article “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archiving Processing,” published in the Fall/Winter 2005 issue of the American Archivist. While many responses to Greene and Meissner’s recommendations have addressed the institutional concerns of individual libraries and other associations with sizable physical/analog holdings, the KBDA project represents the formation of a digital archive outside of any given institutionalized collection. The KBDA is a meta-archive in the sense that it catalogs digitizations, transcripts, and commentaries of analog audiovisual materials that are physically archived at institutions around the USA (and perhaps, eventually, in other parts of the world). The KBDA emphasizes making digital copies of audiovisual recordings of Kenneth Burke available to KB scholars by crowd-sourcing the traditional archive staff responsibilities of arranging, preserving, and describing individual items in the KBDA (see “Call for Participation” below). The KBDA seeks to achieve what Greene and Meissner describe as the “golden minimum” for any archived collection: “the least we can do [as archivists] to get the job done in a way that is adequate to user needs, now and in the future” (237). As a peer-reviewed portion of KBJ, the KBDA also represents one way of responding to a pointed question facing any digital archive as posed by Greene and Meissner (who, in turn, are quoting the Council on Library and Information Resources): “Does the intellectual quality of the source material warrant the level of access made possible by digitizing?” (Greene and Meissner 248). In effect, the KBDA introduces contemporary KB scholars to material by Kenneth Burke that has neither been widely available nor submitted anywhere for peer review. Thereby, the KBDA allows Kenneth Burke (who passed away in 1993) to continue to contribute to ongoing conversations about his own theories.

This claim deserves more attention. In what is one of the most widely quoted passages written by him, Burke asks and then answers the question, “Where does the drama [of human life and symbol-use] get its materials? From the ‘unending conversation’ that is going on at the point in history when we are born” (110). Burke then immediately dives into his well-known parlor metaphor. In addition to a multitude of other uses, Burke’s parlor metaphor serves as part of the express theoretical basis of the bestselling composition textbook They Say / I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein (Graff and Birkenstein 13). Graff and Birkenstein’s textbook is a very notable instance of Burke’s parlor metaphor being used as an invention strategy for composition students to engage with contemorary academic conversations in which they find themselves. However, in our current age of digital reproducibility, the temporally locked aspect of Burke’s parlor metaphor (i.e. whatever “is going on at the point in history when we are born”) becomes less pronounced than the “unending” aspect of the metaphor. Most pointedly, as Burke concludes his parlor metaphor, he suggests that “the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late [i.e. you grow old], you must depart [i.e. you will eventually die]. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress” (111). A digital archive of audiovisual recordings disallows Burke (or any other similarly recorded individual) to fully depart the still-in-progress discussions surrounding their work (even after death). It’s true that a similar argument could be made about the availability of reprints of Burke’s written books, essays, fiction, and poetry. However, the “interminable” and inherently reproducible nature of audiovisual recordings made possible by 20th and 21st-century technologies situate all such recordings on more dynamic and fluid trajectories in time and space than is possible with the temporally static physicality of print materials. Furthermore, transforming any piece of analog media (audiovisual, print, or otherwise) into digital media only further unmoors the temporally grounded nature of all such media.

The basis of this sort of observation is not new. Indeed, Walter Benjamin articulates a sort of prolegomena to any future study of reproducible media in his 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility.” While Benjamin’s essay specifically addresses the technological reproducibility of film as an art form, his observations apply presciently to digitally archived media as well. Benjamin acknowledges that works of art had been reproduced before his technological age. However, Benjamin contends, “In even the most perfect reproduction, one thing is lacking: the here and now of the work of art—its unique existence in a particular place. It is this unique existence—and nothing else—that bear the mark of the history to which the work has been subject” (103, emphasis in original). Conversely, Benjamin observes that new technological art forms like film lack similarly unique physical existence and instead rely on their reproducible nature for their existence in many identical iterations throughout time and space. Benjamin explains that, “In film, the technical reproducibility of the product is not an externally imposed condition of its mass dissemination, as it is, say, in literature or painting. The technological reproducibility of films is based directly on the technology of their production. This not only makes possible the mass dissemination of films in the most direct way, but actually enforces it (123, emphasis in original). If Benjamin’s observations find resonance as they relate to film (a technology originally dependent on physical copies of film reels), then his observations ought to apply more completely to digital media (a technology dependent only on computer code regardless of physical manifestation). Certainly, a piece of digital media exists by virtue of its ability to be digitally transferred more than by virtue of whatever physical platform may serve as the display for such media at any given time or place in history.

In the end, the KBDA is much more than merely a collection of recordings of Kenneth Burke at various “here-and-now” moments in his life. Ultimately, the KBDA invites KB scholars to reflect on the transferability of Kenneth Burke’s commentary in digital form (and in his own voice) into contemporary conversations of KB’s work long after he has personally departed his specific historical parlor. Certainly, KBJ: The Journal of the Kenneth Burke Society—as a digital peer-reviewed publication independent of any specific library or other archival institution—emerges as the ideal vehicle for such conversations.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Second Version." In Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 3: 1935-1938. Trans. Edmund Jephcott et al. Ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings. Cambridge, MA: Belkanp P of Harvard UP, 2002. 101-133. Print.

Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. 3rd Ed. Berkeley, CA: U of California P, 1973.

Graff, Gerald and Cathy Birkenstein. ”They Say / I Say”: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. 3rd Ed. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2014.

Greene, Mark A. and Dennis Meissner. "More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing." The American Archivist 68.2 (2005): 208-63. Print.

Call for Participation in the KBDA

As you can see from the extensive list of not-yet-digitized recording below, there is much work to do. Ethan Sproat (the KBDA lead archivist) is working with the Kenneth Burke Society and the KBJ editorial staff (who, in turn, are working with the Kenneth Burke Literary Trust) to take care of the necessary permissions and digitizations of every possible recording listed below.

KB scholars from any background (university faculty, independent scholars, graduate students, undergraduate students, etc.) are invited to participate in any of the following activities:

  • Identifying recordings of Kenneth Burke (or involving Kenneth Burke) that are not yet listed in the "List of Known KB Recordings" below.  
  • Being a person on-the-ground at any of the physical archival locations listed below to work as an in-person intermediary between the KBDA lead archivist and the institutions that possess not-yet-digitized KB audiovisual material. 
  • Transcribing a recording in coordination with the lead archivist once a recording is digitized. 
  • Writing historical/critical/theoretical commentary about a recording (what KB was up to at the time, the larger conversations KB was participating in at the time, the implications the recording may have for current strands of KB studies, etc.).

Digitized recordings (in accordance with appropriate permissions), their transcriptions, and any associated historical/critical/theoretical commentary will be submitted for peer review in future issues of KBJ.

If you would like to participate in the KBDA in any of the ways mentioned above, or if you would like more information about the KBDA, please contact Dr. Ethan Sproat, the KBDA Lead Archivist at or on his office phone at 801-863-5192.

Personal copies of not-yet digitized recordings of (or involving) Kenneth Burke can be shipped to the following address for quick industry-grade digitization and return shipping of the original recording:

Dr. Ethan Sproat
English and Literature, MS-153
800 West University Parkway
Utah Valley University
Orem, UT 84058

List of Known KB Recordings

The 2014 seminar in St. Louis was successful in identifying all the audio and video recordings listed below. Some recordings have already been digitally archived and transcribed at other universities and institutions (such as the 1949 Western Round Table on Modern Art at the San Francisco Art Institute; a 1966 lecture on the Theory of Terms on the American Rhetoric website; and a number of 1979 lectures and readings at the University of Cincinnati).

Each entry below is listed in chronological order by year, month, and day of its recording. A title is given for each recording (if known). Each recording's current format(s) and location(s) are given (if known). And the status of transcription, commentary, and publication in KBJ are listed.

Date of Recording: 1947
Title: "Lecture Series, 1947 / Title N/A"
Current Format(s): PDF (maybe audio)
Current Location(s) of Recording: Bennington College
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1949
Title: Western Round Table on Modern Art
Current Format(s): Audio Wire, MP3, PDF Transcripts
Current Location(s) of Recording: San Francisco Art Institute
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: San Francisco Art Institute
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1950, January 8
Title: "'The Rape of Culture,'" Broadcast on the University of Chicago Roundtable"
Current Format(s): Reel-to-Reel Audio
Current Location(s) of Recording: Michigan State University Libraries
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1950, February 19
Title: "'Human Nature and the Bomb,' by Helen B. McLean; William F. Ogbum; Harrison Brown; Herbert Blumer; Kenneth Burke. Broadcast of Chicago Roundtape"
Current Format(s): Reel-to-Reel Audio
Current Location(s) of Recording: Michigan State University Vincent Voice Library
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary:

Date of Recording: 1950, August 14-18
Title: "Harvard Summer School Conference on In Defense of Poetry" [readings by Kenneth Burke and others]
Current Format(s): Reel-to-Reel Audio, possible MP3 with Harvard ID access
Current Location(s) of Recording: Harvard University, Houghton Library, Woodberry Poetry Room digital collection of poetry readings
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Harvard University Library, cataloged as "BLUE STAR PN1271 .H33 1950x"
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1951
Title of Recording: "Reading and Commentary [of William Carlos Williams] recorded by Kenneth Burke at his home in Andover, NJ. June 21, 1951"
Current Format(s): MP3
Current Location(s) of Recording: The Pennsylvania State University
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1952
Title of Recording: "Kenneth Burke; Janet Flanner; Marianne Moore; Elmer Rice; Glenway Wescott; Monroe Wheeler; Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.). Junior Council."
Current Format(s): Reel-to-Reel MP3 recording (partial)
Current Location(s) of Recording: Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York, NY
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1964, October 22
Title of Recording: "Regents Lecture: 'Language in General: Poetics in Particular'"
Current Format(s): Audio Tape
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of California Santa Barbara, Tape No. A5509/R7
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1964, November 5
Title of Recording: "Regents Lecture: 'Terministic Screens'"
Current Format(s): Audio Tape
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of California Santa Barbara, Tape No. A5508/R7
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1964, November 19
Title of Recording: "Regents Lecture: 'Mind, Body, and the Unconscious'"
Current Format(s): Audio Tape
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of California Santa Barbara, Tape No. A5510/R7
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript:
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1964, December 3
Title of Recording: "Regents Lecture: 'Coriolanus and the Delights of Faction'"
Current Format(s): Audio Tape
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of California Santa Barbara, Tape No. A5511/R7
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1966
Title of Recording: "A Theory of Terms"
Current Format(s): MP3
Current Location(s) of Recording: American Rhetoric Website
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: American Rhetoric Website
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1970
Title of Recording: Washington University in St. Louis Reading
Current Format(s): Audio Tape, MP3
Current Location(s) of Recording: Washington University in St. Louis Special Collections, Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: Volume 12, Number 2 (Spring 2017)

Date of Recording: 1971
Title of Recording: Washington University in St. Louis Discussion with Howard Nemerov
Current Format(s): Audio Tape, MP3
Current Location(s) of Recording: Washington University in St. Louis Special Collections, Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: Volume 12, Number 2 (Spring 2017)

Date of Recording: 1974-1986
Title of Recording: "An Introduction to Poetry: Edited from the Poetry Series Archives of the County College of Morris from 1974-1986"
Current Format(s): VHS, Laser Disc
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Pittsburgh; University of Virginia; Oglethorpe University, Atlanta, GA
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1977
Title of Recording: "Evening with Kenneth Burke"
Current Format(s): Audio tape
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Maryland Libraries (OCLC: 4019880)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1979
Title of Recording: "An Evening with Gregory Bateson and Kenneth Burke: Asilomar, 1979"
Current Format(s): DVD
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of California, Santa Cruz (OCLC: 61104619)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1979, May 8
Title of Recording: "Poetry Reading: 'Life is a Day by Day' First Draft"
Current Format(s): MP3
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Cincinnati
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1979, May 8
Title of Recording: "Words in a World That Is Wordless: A Talk on the Relation Between the Realms of Motion and Action"
Current Format(s): MP3
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Cincinnati
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1979, May 9
Title of Recording: "Picking Up the Pieces: as we round things out with questions, comments, and suggestions that have turned up along the way"
Current Format(s): MP3
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Cincinnati
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1984
Title of Recording: "'Literary Criticism 1984: Interpretation, the Critical Difference': with Stanley Eugene Fish, Michael Riffaterre, Nancy K. Miller, Gerald Graff, Kenneth Burke, Gayatri Spivak, Charles Alteieri"
Current Format(s): Audio cassettes
Current Location(s) of Recording: Georgetown University (but unknown for sure)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1985
Title of Recording: "Rhetoric and meta-rhetoric: The Contribution of Secular Communications Theory to Effective Preaching" (1985 Rossiter lecture given October 8-9, 1985 at Colgate Rochester Divinity School/Bexley Hall/Crozer Theological Seminary)
Current Format(s): 2 sound cassettes (ca. 150 min.) : 1 7/8 ips, mono
Current Location(s) of Recording: Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, Ambrose Swasey Library, Rochester, NY
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1984-1986
Title of Recording: "The Year of the Pennsylvania Writer Collection, 1984-1986"
Current Format(s): Audio Cassette
Current Location(s) of Recording: The Pennsylvania State University
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript:
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1986
Title of Recording: "Conversations with Kenneth Burke: Interview 1, Literary Period"
Current Format(s): U-Matic, VHS, Digital Video
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Iowa, Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1986
Title of Recording: "Conversations with Kenneth Burke: Interview 2, Social Criticism"
Current Format(s): U-Matic, VHS, Digital Video
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Iowa, Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1986
Title of Recording: "Conversations with Kenneth Burke: Interview 3, Dramatism"
Current Format(s): U-Matic, VHS, Digital Video
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Iowa, Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript:
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1986
Title of Recording:  "Conversations with Kenneth Burke: Interview 4, Logology"
Current Format(s): U-Matic, VHS, Digital Video
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Iowa, Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1986
Title of Recording: "'Excerpts: The Kenneth Burke,' by KB and Malcolm Cowley"
Current Format(s): VHS
Current Location(s) of Recording: The Pennsylvania State University
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1987
Title of Recording: "Poetry in the Round Presents: Kenneth Burke & Dennis Donahue on Marian Moore"
Current Format(s): VHS
Current Location(s) of Recording: Seton Hall University, Walsh Library, South Orange, New Jersey
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1987
Title of Recording: "The First American Poetry Disc" (volume 2)
Current Format(s): VHS, CD
Current Location(s) of Recording: McGill University Library, Montreal, QC; County College of Morris, Randolph, New Jersey
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1988
Title of Recording: "Marianne Moore, in her Own Image" (KB is one of several thinkers who talk of Marianne Moore and her works)
Current Format(s): VHS
Current Location(s) of Recording: New York Center for Visual History, New York, NY; and 500+ libraries
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1989
Title of Recording: Untitled
Current Format(s): Audio Cassette, MP3
Current Location(s) of Recording: Rick Coe
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1989
Title of Recording: "'Language, Nonsense, and Poetry,' by Howard Nemerov, Gertrude Clarke Whittall, with comment by Kenneth Burke" (Poetry and Literature Fund, Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature)
Current Format(s): Audio Cassette and Reel-to-Reel
Current Location(s) of Recording: Library of Congress
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1970s/1992
Title of Recording: "KB: A Conversation with Kenneth Burke"
Current Format(s): VHS, Digital Video
Current Location(s) of Recording: Chapin Foundation, Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1992
Title of Recording: "William Carlos Williams: The Collected Recordings"
Current Format(s): unknown
Current Location(s) of Recording: Keele University
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Kenneth Burke WUSTL Reading, 4 Dec. 1970, Washington University at St. Louis

Click here for the original recording in MP3 format.

Transcribed and Edited by Adam Humes and Ethan Sproat

Editors' Note

This transcription is part of the ongoing Kenneth Burke Digital Archive (KBDA), which was initially established by a small group of KB scholars at the 2014 KBS conference in St. Louis, "Attitudes Toward Technology/Technology's Attitudes." Apropos to the location of the 2014 KBS conference, this recording and transcription also took place in St. Louis at Washington University at St. Louis (WUSTL). The transcription below is of a reading KB gave as part of the Assembly Series of invited lectures at WUSTL. At the time of the recording, KB was a visiting professor at WUSTL and a close friend of Howard Nemerov, who was a professor of poetry at WUSTL and had previously been a colleague of KB at Bennington College. During this recording, Howard Nemerov introduces KB to the audience before KB reads various poems amid his own commentary.
This transcription and the MP3 recording above appear here by permission of the Kenneth Burke Literary Trust and in coordination with the Washington University Libraries Department of Special Collections Manuscript Division. In the transcript below, timestamps in parentheses periodically precede shifts from reading to commentary or from speaker to speaker. Speakers' names appear in all caps in bold in brackets. Any portions that were unintelligible to the transcribers and editors are here represented with the word “unintelligible” in bold in brackets. If any readers have any suggested corrections to the text below based on the MP3 recording linked above, please contact Ethan Sproat, the KBDA Lead Archivist, at]


[HOWARD NEMEROV:] That's the one for René Wellek I guess I better not give the introduction for René Wellek. Okay. Hey, Burke. Kenneth Burke, from the faculty of English at this university, this year as the very first visiting professor. For the most part of Mr. Burke's work, as you're aware, is in literary criticism and the study of the ways of language in general. And I could, as an introducer, properly recite the list of the titles of his works along these lines, but Mr. Burke and I got together earlier and agreed that this introduction is under no circumstances to last more than forty minutes. With, of course, a question period. And anyhow, as a demonstration of his philosophical and critical works, and a long with, he has written fictions in both prose and verse. And it is his poetry we are to hear on the present occasion. He called one volume of it a Book of Moments. That's a kind of description and key to the art. The problem in some of the poems is how much in the road from nothing to everything or the other way, too, can be eternized in a single moment if you were still to emerge with something? There's a wonderful image on the back dust jacket of his collected poems, which I've already said it was wonderful. I suspect he designed it himself. It starts like a spiral nebula from nowhere and it fades over the edge of the page into the sides. It's entirely composed of words. Alternatively, the objects of his poetry are the six biblical characteristics he set forth when he tried, poor fellow, to write a novel. Decided he couldn't write it. A real novel, the kind with plot, so he invented something like better. It had these six biblical characteristics: lamentation, rejoicing, beseechment, admonitions, sayings, and invective. I'm permitted to give you one example before his voice is not as good as mine. It's called

"Creation Myth."
In the beginning, there was universal Nothing.

Then Nothing said No to itself and thereby begat Something.
Which called itself, Yes.

Then No and Yes, cohabiting, begat Maybe.

Next, all three in a ménage à trois, begat Guilt.

And Guilt was of many names:

Mine, Thine, Yours, Ours, His, Hers, Its, Theirs—and Order.

In time, things so came to pass That two of its names, Guilt and Order, Honoring their great progenitors, Yes, No, and Maybe, begat History.

Finally, History fell a-dreaming
And dreamed about language—

And that brings us to critics who write critiques of critical criticism. Which, in turn, brings us to Kenneth Burke.


[KENNETH BURKE:] I should first tell you my—do we need this thing? I hate those things. I like to speak to you. I don't these damn machines. Can we put that off? Can I talk to you out here? Can't we? No? Can't be done? Can't be done, okay. This is progress. This is progress, I don't know. First thing, I would like to say: now is it back? Do I have to talk low or something? I don't know. You see, I've been living for years. I don't know how to do these damn things, you know? They mess me up,

[MALE VOICE 1:] I'll take it away for you.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Yeah, take it away.

[MALE VOICE 1:] if I can figure out how to do it. There.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Thank you. Now, can you hear me? I am most grateful to Howard Nemerov. And I am absolutely so against him in one way. And that is that a poet is a critic every goddamned year. Howard's half and half. A critic has to go every year either everything he does, he has to be a new deal. Or at least he has to make it look like a new deal. But I realized the racket that poets have. That is, one day I had put over a deal. They had offered me a job at a certain place where they gave me so much, and I said, "Add two hundred bucks and I will give a poetry reading." So I put this deal over, and you know, the poetry reading, because as a matter of fact, that particular poem I'm going to read to you tonight is worth two thousand two hundred dollars. By that method. But the truth is, you have this. What these fellas can do? What these poets can do, you know? Here you are: you're in your seventies, you're falling apart. If you said something last year, they say, "But he said that last year." I found out that the first time I put this deal over, then in the evening session, which was my theoretical talk, you see, that was my critical talk. I was to give a poetry session in the afternoon, and so in the evening talk, I ask for questions. And somebody got up and says, "Will you please read again that poem you read this afternoon?" I really put the poet's hat on this poor critic. I'm just working like hell to write poetry. Anyhow, I would like to first read the poem that has that sort of angle. The poem that was in here, "Heavy, Heavy—What Hangs Over?" Remember that little thing?

"Heavy, Heavy—What Hangs Over?"

at eighty
reading lines
he wrote at twenty
the storm now past

a gust in the big tree
splatters raindrops
on the roof

That makes sense to you? You got a storm going on its way. After that's over, so it's all through, and then a little wind summons creatures. Well, you know these fellas, they can sell their poems at the age of seventeen and I'm going to sell mine at the age of seventy. Tonight? Yes, I will read you some poems that I have written at the age of seventeen. But first I want to present my major number, I think. The rhetoricians tell me that your attention span is best at the beginning of a talk, so I'm going to read my long poem at the beginning of this talk. And it has to do with a situation I think you might be interested in. Over in [unintelligible], I'm trying to work this both ways. I'm trying to read a poem and talk about the kinds of things you might be interested in just as if I was just giving a lecture. We have a problem like this in this poem. I was immobilized in Brooklyn at this time because my wife happened to be physically immobilized and I was psychically immobilized. So we sat over this place in Brooklyn, looking over from Brooklyn Heights over to the southern end of Manhattan Island. Half of it was the bay and half of it was Manhattan Island. And there's no question about it, that—I thought that I was an insomniac, I would be up at around three or four 'o clock in the morning—that place was just blazing. Incredible. And that was exactly the same place in Brooklyn Heights, where Whitman came across. And there was the bridge, still there. [Hart's Range Bridge.] That's all cleared up. Of course, the Brooklyn ferry is not any longer there, that very street that he was living on, that very street I was living on, that's all Jehovah's Witnesses now. They work another angle. I build from that. I get the notion that I get the structure of this before we start: there are there stages. Here is where Whitman crossed on a ferry. Well, same area, same place from there. He went back, but that's all gone. And here's the bridge that Hart went across, here was I—let's say here was the writer—who was immobilized because his companion was immobilized. His companion was immobilized physically, so he was immobilized psychologically. So all he could do was see, was look across, you see. So the thing is called "Eye-Crossing—From Brooklyn to Manhattan." as built that way. Now in this picture, in this story that I tell, after the poem came out I was asked who was the Olympian leper that I referred to? And why was he a leper I said, "He was an Olympian because he was a man who transcended his physical problems. He was really a transcendentalist. I mean, he was a leper, because he was a leper. A poet, a critic, a thinker, a wall. If any of you have never met, remind me to go on. He was a beauty of his ways of dealing with all these problems. So when I refer to the Olympian leper in this poem, I am referring to [unintelligible]. This poem is dedicated to Marianne Moore, Marianne Moore was one of the most astonishing experiences of my life. She even taught me, for a while, to blush. I've lost the ability since then. She really had such delicacy, such perception. She would say all kinds of things, all of the sudden, I don't know. I don't know. But she had by the time this poem was written, Marianne Moore had left Brooklyn and gone back to New York. So that's the twist there. So therefore, our relationship with the Dodgers is a little bit ambiguous from then on. I don't know, a few little spots as we go along, you see, I'm only going to do one long poem because the rhetoricians that you can only hope to hold them for so long. your attention span will run down. So this is the only long poem I'm gong to do this evening. Pleas have that attention span spare. But I have to make a few little spots along the way. You could work this out for yourselves if you had a little more time. There's a couple of spots—for instance, you have Scylla and Charybdis. So in the first two lines, I don't know why I messed that up. Why worry about it? I’ll just do it the way I do it.

Scheming to pick my way past Charybdylla
(or do I mean Scyllybdis?)
caught in the midst of being nearly over,
not “midway on the roadway of our life,”

You know, that's what I'm doing there, "mezzo del cammin nostra vita." That's the big line in Dante that I'm referring to there.

a septuagenarian valetudinarian

A ninety guy who is ailing.

thrown into an airy osprey-eyrie

I should tell you about this place where we are. We were over this whole thing. This'll build up if you might know it in the first place. We were up, looking out over that bay. It's really one of the most marvelous spots in the world. You'll find my terror of the whole situation. It will come through. But that is the most incredible place. It is actually the eighth miracle of the [unintelligible] miracle, but to see that place at four o'clock in the morning. You wake up and there it is, just big, big. It's raging. So that's what I mean by that marvelous place we were then.

with a view most spacious
(and every bit of it our country's primal gateway even),
although, dear friends, I'd love to see you later,
after the whole thing's done,
comparing notes, us comically telling one another
just what we knew or thought we knew
that others of us didn't,
all told what fools we were, every last one of us—
I'd love the thought, a humane after-life,
more fun than a bbl. of monkeys,
but what with being sick of wooing Slumber,
I'll settle gladly for Oblivion.

Second [II]
Weep, Hypochondriasis (hell, I mean smile):
The bell rang, I laid my text aside,
The day begins in earnest, they have brought the mail.
And now to age and ailments add
a thirteen-page single-spaced typed missile-missive,
to start the New Year right.
On the first of two-faced January,
"… the injuries you inflict upon me … persecution …
such legal felonies … unremitting efforts … malice, raids,
slander, conspiracy … your spitefulness …"
—just when I talked of getting through the narrows,
now I'm not so sure.
Smile, Hypochondriasis, (her, I mean wanly weep).

Let's being again.
Crossing by eye, from Brooklyn to Manhattan,
(23:30) Maybe I forgot to tell you, it's called "Eye-Crossing—from Brooklyn to Manhattan." I'm saying we only cross by eye because we're caught on this side. What we're gong to do here; we have to do two things. We have to cross, and come back and look at things on this side, Brooklyn. Then we go back and forth. We only just look across. Let's begin again:

Crossing by eye, from Brooklyn to Manhattan
(Walt's was a ferry crossing,
Hart's by bridge)—

Now get that thing I'm trying to build up three stages here. Three stages, basically. I'm trying to build up the difference between Whitman's "Sail Stock", and Hart's "Nostalgia," and where we are now. I'm just trying to build a sequence that way. That's what I'm working on here, so watch it and you want to do a [unintelligible] that's the structure I'm working on. Let's begin again:

Crossing by eye, from Brooklyn to Manhattan
(Walt's was a ferry-crossing,
Hart's by bridge)—
to those historic primi donni,

I made up a word there, if you noticed. Here I am an ideal in an eye. What would be the masculine [unintelligible]. I just figured I'd do the best I could do.

to those historic primi donni,

Here I am, an ideal in an eye.

now add me, and call me what you will.
From Brooklyn, now deserted
by both Marianne Moore and the Dodgers—

I forgot to tell you, this poem is dedicated to Marianne Moore.

an eye-crossing
with me knocked cross-eyed or cockeyed
by a maddening, by a saddening vexing letter
from a dear friend gone sour.
I think of a Pandora's box uncorked
while I was trying to untie
Laocoön's hydra-headed Gordian knot,
entangled in a maze of Daedalus,
plus modern traffic jam cum blackout.
Let's begin again.

The architectural piles,

Looking over from Brooklyn, would know what goddamned stuff they've got over there.

The architectural piles, erections, impositions,
monsters of high-powered real estate promotion—
from a room high on Brooklyn Heights
the gaze is across and UP, to those things' peaks,
their arrogance!
When measured by this scale of views from Brooklyn
they are as though deserted.
And the boats worrying

He can't see anything of them.

And the boats worrying the harbor
they too are visibly deserted
smoothly and silent
moving in disparate directions
each as but yielding to a trend that bears it
like sticks without volition
carried on a congeries
of crossing currents.
And void of human habitation,
the cars on Madhatter's Eastern drive-away
formless as stars
speeding slowly
close by the feet of the godam mystic giants—
a restlessness unending, back and forth
(glimpses of a drive, or drivenness,
from somewhere underneath the roots of reason)

I'd like to give those lines. By popular request I'm reading those lines over again.

(glimpses of a drive, or drivenness,
from somewhere underneath the roots of reason)
me looking West, towards Manhattan, Newark, West
Eye-crossing I have seen the sunrise
gleaming in the splotch and splatter
of Western windows facing East.

Now give me a chance for the next section. I'd like to give you a couple of things to prepare for. I used the fact that B-E-H-E-M-O-T-H uses two accents. you can say either beheMOTH or beHEmoth. And I used the word "boustrophedon." Now I know many of you know boustrophedon and many of you don't. I must admit that for a few years, I didn't know boustrophedon. Boustrophedon comes from a word which comes form "bous" is the ox, and "strophe" the turn. And what it refers to is when the ox went to the end of the line and turned. When you were plowing, you went back and forth and the word was used for kinds of languages. Some go from right to left and some go from left to right. Between Hebrew and English you get all these twists back and forth. So the next stanza works with that.


You see we ended up there, I was looking west and seeing the east in the reflected.

East? West?
Between USSR and USA,
their Béhemoth and our Behémoth,
a dialogue of sorts?
Two damned ungainly beasts,
threats to the entire human race's race
but for their measured dread of each the other.
How give or get an honest answer?
Forgive me for this boustrophedon mood
going from left to right, then right to left,
pulling the plow thus back and forth alternately
a digging of furrows not in a field to plant,
but on my own disgruntled dumb-ox forehead.
My Gawd! Begin again!

See, I do these studies on two sides. Some I'm doing on the side of Brooklyn. some I'm looking over to New York, in Manhattan.

Turn back. Now just on this side:.
By keeping your wits about you,.
you can avoid the voidings,.
the dog-signs scattered on the streets and sidewalks.
(you meet them face to faeces).
and everywhere the signs of people.
(you meet them face to face).
The Waltman, with time and tide before him,.
he saw things face to face, he said so.
then there came a big blow.
the pavements got scoured drastically.
—exalted, I howled back.
into the teeth of the biting wind.
me in Klondike zeal.
inhaling powdered dog-dung.
(here's a new perversion).
now but an essence on the fitful gale.
Still turning back.
Surmarket—mock-heroic confrontation at—.
(An Interlude).

You ask why I have used a surmarket as agianst supermarket. After all, they say surrealism is against superrealism, so why can't I say surmarket as against supermarket? We've got now a confrontation of bull acts and an interlude. This is a mock heroic confrontation.

Near closing time, we're zeroing in.
Ignatius Panallergicus

Panallergicus, huh? That's me, and allergic to everything? Pan allergicus No? No?

Ignatius Panallergicus (that's me)
his cart but moderately filled
(less than five dollars buys the lot)
he picks the likeliest queue and goes line up
then waits, while for one shopper far ahead
the lady at the counter tick-ticks off and tallies
items enough to gorge a regiment.
Then, lo! a possibility not yet disclosed sets in.
While Panallergicus stands waiting
next into line a further cart wheels up,
whereat Ignatius Panallergicus (myself, unknowingly
the very soul of Troublous Helpfullness) suggests:
"It seems to me, my friend, you'd come out best
on that line rather than on one of these."
And so (let's call him "Primus")
Primus shifts.
Development atop development:
Up comes another, obviously "Secundus,"
to take his stand behind Ignatius, sunk in thought.
No sooner had Secundus joined the line
than he addressed Ignatius Panallerge approximately thus:
"Good neighbor,

I'm trying to make this very realistic.

"Good neighbor, of this temporary junction,
pray, guard my rights in this arrangement
while I race off to get one further item,"
then promptly left, and so things stood.
But no. Precisely now in mankind's pilgrimage
who suddenly decides to change his mind
but Primus who, abandoning his other post,
returns to enroll himself again in line behind Ignatius.
Since, to that end, he acts to shove aside
Secundus' cart and cargo, Crisis looms.
Uneasy, Panallergicus explains:
"A certain …Iamsorry … but you see …
I was entrusted … towards the preservation of …"
but no need protest further—
for here is Secundus back,
and wrathful of his rights
as ever epic hero of an epoch-making war
Both aging champions fall into a flurry
of fishwife fury,

Honest to God, I'm just throwing this stuff out there.

of fishwife fury, even to such emphatical extent
that each begins to jettison the other's cargo.
While the contestants rage, pale Panallerge
grins helplessly at others looking on.
But Primus spots him in this very act and shouts
for all to hear, "It's all his fault … he was the one …
he brought this all about …"
and Panallergicus now saw himself
as others see him, with a traitor's wiles.
I spare the rest. (There was much more to come)
How An Authority came swinging in,
twisted Secundus' arm behind his back
and rushed him bumbling from the store.

I tried to do a suggestion that around about there that the bums rush up.

How further consequences flowed in turn,
I leave all that unsaid.
And always now, when edging towards the counter,
his cargo in his cart,
Our Ignatz Panallerge Bruxisticus

He's got a new name now, he's been through. Bruxisticus comes from bruxism is the psychological twist of gritting your teeth.

our Ignatz Panallerge Bruxisticus
(gnashing his costly, poorly fitting dentures)
feels all about his head
a glowering anti-glowing counter-halo …

Haven't I done a job with counter halos? Haven't I got it countered in two ways? The counter you're around but the counter...

Is that a millstone hung about his neck?
No, it is but the pressing-down
of sixty plus eleven annual milestones.

That was when I was seventy-one. I was just a kid then.

(It was before the damning letter came.
Had those good burghers also known of that!)

But no! Turn back from turning back. Begin again:
of a late fall evening
I walked on the Esplanade

Anybody know that place there? It's just a marvelous thing. I can't build that up for you enough.

looking across at the blaze of Walt's Madhatter
and north to Hart's graceful bridge, all lighted
in a cold, fitful gale I walked
on the Esplanade in Brooklyn now deserted
by both Marianne and the Dodgers.
Things seemed spooky—
eight or ten lone wandering shapes,
and all as afraid of me as I of them?
We kept a wholesome distance from one another.
Had you shrieked for help in that bluster
who'd have heard you?
Me and my alky in that cold fitful bluster
on the Esplanade that night
above the tiers of the mumbling unseen traffic
It was scary
it was ecstactic


Some decades earlier, before my Pap

Here's a twist in this thing here. Pap is worry, a personal concerning thing. Here I was, near the emblem. I'm looking this way, but a way back like God, first came to New York looking the other way, towards the east.

Some decades earlier, before my Pap
fell on evil days (we then were perched
atop the Palisades, looking East, and down
upon the traffic-heavings of the Hudson)
I still remember Gramma (there from Pittsburgh for a spell)
watching the tiny tugs tug monsters.
Out of her inborn sweetness and memories
of striving, puffing all that together,
"Those poor little tugs!" she'd say.
God only knows what all
she might be being sorry for.

Why did she say that thing? She'd sit up there, watching those pulling those folks around the highway. Those poor little tugs, pulling all those big freighters. Poor little tugs. I think her whole life was behind that is what I'm getting at. Now, repeatedly, we watch the tugs. Poor little tugs from here. they're over there in Brooklyn and we're on the other side.

their signals back and forth as though complaining.
The two tugs help each other tugging, pushing
(against the current into place)
a sluggish ship to be aligned along a dock,
a bungling, bumbling, bulging, over-laden freighter.
Their task completed,
the two tugs toot good-bye,
go tripping on their way,
leaning as lightly forward
as with a hiker
suddenly divested
of his knapsack.
"Good-bye," rejoicingly, "good-bye"—
whereat I wonder:
Might there also be a viable albeit risky way
to toot
"If you should drive up and ask me,
I think you damn near botched that job"?
"I think you stink."
What might comprise the total range and nature
of tugboat-tooting nomenclature?

Profusion of confusion. No, wait, don't. Am I still here? No. Am I still here? We changed the rhythm. We changed the pace.

a plunk-plunk juke-box joint
him hunched on a stool
peering beyond his drink
at bottles lined up, variously pregnant
(there’s a gleaming for you)
Among the gents
a scattering of trick floozies.
May be they know or not
just where they'll end,
come closing time.
He'll be in a room alone
himself and his many-mirrored other.
It was a plunk-plunk juke-box joint
its lights in shadow

Profusion of confusion. What of a tunnel-crossing?
What if by mail, phone, telegraph, or aircraft,
or for that matter, hearse?
You're in a subway car, tired, hanging from a hook,
and you would get relief?
Here's all I have to offer:
Sing out our national anthem, loud and clear,
and when in deference to the tune
the seated passengers arise,
you quickly slip into whatever seat
seems safest. (I figured out this scheme,
but never tried it.)
Problems pile up, like the buildings,
Even as I write, the highest to the left
soars higher day by day.
Now but the skeleton of itself
(these things begin as people end!)

Do you know what I mean there? They build a skeleton first. First they put that basic structure on, and then they put all that stuff around it. So that's what I mean by saying, "Now, with the skeleton of itself," That the basic structure, these things begin as people end.

all night its network of naked bulbs keeps flickering
towards us here in Brooklyn …
then dying into dawn …
or are our … are our what?

I'll confess to you, that last line I put in doesn't make any sense. Except, I didn't say I could positively say it without growling. Rawr rat what? I put it in for that reason.
Now the next one is an epic simile that falls apart. It's time for that, isn't it?

As with an aging literary man who, knowing
that words see but within
yet finding himself impelled to build a poem
that takes for generating core a startling View,
a novel visual Spaciousness
(he asks himself: "Those who have not witnessed it,
how tell them?—and why tell those who have?
Can you do more than say ‘remember’?")

Imagine trying to say if you haven't seen that damn thing from there, I can't tell you really what a fantastic vision it is. From there, from Brooklyn, Looking at a tree at four o'clock in the morning. And I just don't know how to handle that.

and as he learns the ceaseless march of one-time modulatings
unique to this, out of eternity,
this one-time combination
of primal nature (Earth's) and urban, technic second nature
there gleaming, towering, spreading out and up
there by the many-colored, changing-colored water
(why all that burning, all throughout the night?
some say a good percentage is because
the cleaning women leave the lights lit.
But no—it's the computers
all night long now
they go on getting fed.)

I might bring in a spot there. Years ago, about the first job I had really, well paying job, I was working down there, at 61 Broadway. you could go out that place at night, but you wanted to stay and work in your office. which is like going out into a remote village. It was, my God, that place was just simply blazing. All night now. What's the difference? Just what I said. It's the computers being fed. They've got to keep those animals fed.

as such a man may ask himself and try,
as such a one, knowing that words see but inside,
noting repeated through the day or night
the flash of ambulance or parked patrol car,
wondering, "Is it a ticket this time, or a wreck?"
or may be setting up conditions there
that helicopters land with greater safety,
so puzzling I, eye-crossing …
and find myself repeating (and hear the words
of a now dead once Olympian leper),
"Intelligence is an accident
Genius is a catastrophe."

That's the one. That's the one. Thank God it's not mine.

A jumble of towering tombstones
hollowed, not hallowed,
and in the night incandescent
striving ever to outstretch one another
like stalks of weeds dried brittle in the fall.
Or is it a mighty pack of mausoleums?
Or powerhouses of decay and death—
towards the poisoning of our soil, our streams, the air,
roots of unhappy wars abroad,
miraculous medicine, amassing beyond imagination
the means of pestilence,
madly wasteful journeys to the moon (why go at all,
except to show you can get back?)
I recalled the wanly winged words of a now dead gracious leper.
(My own words tangle like our entangled ways,
of hoping to stave off destruction
by piling up magic mountains of destructiveness.)

Do I foresee the day?
Calling his counsellors and medicos,
do I foresee a day, when Unus Plurium
World Ruler Absolute, and yet the august hulk
is wearing out—do I foresee such time?
Calling his counsellors and medicos together,
"That lad who won the race so valiantly,"
he tells them, and His Word is Law,
"I'd like that bright lad's kidneys—
and either honor him by changing his with mine
or find some others for him, as opportunity offers."
No sooner said than done.
Thus once again The State is rescued—
and Unus over all, drags on till next time.
Do I foresee that day, while gazing across, as though that realm was alien
Forfend forfending of my prayer
that if and when and as such things should be
those (from here) silent monsters
those (from here) silent monsters (over there)
will have by then gone crumbled into rubble,
and nothing all abroad
but ancient Egypt's pyramidal piles of empire-building hierarchal stylized
dung remains.
Oh, I have haggled nearly sixty years
in all the seventies I've moved along.
My country, as my aimless ending nears,
oh, dear my country, may I be proved wrong!

Now I have two stanzas here. One on Whitman, and one on a Hart and then the final. The quotations in the Whitman are from his "Crossing Brooklyn's Ferry."

"Eye-crossing" I had said? The harbor space so sets it up.
In Walt's ferry-crossing, besides the jumble of things seen
(they leave him "disintegrated")
even the sheer words "see," "sight," "look," and "watch" add up
to 33

I think that's a dirty trick. I'm not so sure. I'm afraid to try it again or anyhow.

the number of a major mythic cross-ifying.

I don't know. I think it now and again, it does that, after that, I haven't checked that again, but you get the idea anyhow.

33, the number of a major mythic cross-ifying.
In the last section of the Waltman's testimony
there is but "gaze," and through a "necessary film" yet …
"Gaze" as though glazed? It's not unlikely.
"Suspend," he says, "here and everywhere, eternal float of solution."
And the talk is of "Appearances" that "envelop the soul."
Between this culminating ritual translation
and the sheer recordings of the senses
there had been intermediate thoughts
of "looking" forward to later generations "looking" back.
Walt the visionary, prophetically seeing crowds of cronies
crossing and recrossing
on the ferry that itself no longer crosses.


That's a vision for you.

Six is the problematic section.
There he takes it easy, cataloguing all his vices
as though basking on a comfortable beach.

That's a wonderful trick, that is.

His tricks of ideal democratic promiscuity
include his tricks of ideal man-love.
In section six he does a sliding, it makes him feel good.
Blandly blind to the promotion racket stirring already all about him,
Blandly blind to the promotion racket stirring already all about him,
he "bathed in the waters" without reference to their imminent defiling
(Now even a single one
of the many monsters since accumulated
could contaminate the stream for miles.)
He sang as though it were all his—
a continent to give away for kicks.
And such criss-crossing made him feel pretty godam good.
Flow on, filthy river,
ebbing with flood-tide and with ebb-tide flooding.
Stand up, you feelingless Erections,
Fly on, O Flight, be it to fly or flee.
Thrive, cancerous cities.
Load the once lovely streams with the clogged filter of your filth.
even to the moon and beyond yet.
"There is perfection in you" in the sense
that even empire-plunder can't corrupt entirely.

That's the end of the Whitman. Now I go to the Hart-Crane one. I treat here the twist between idealistic and realistic.

And what of Hart's crossing by the bridge?
"Inviolate curve," he says. Who brought that up?
The tribute gets its maturing in the penultimate stanza,
"Under thy shadow by the piers I waited."
Hart too was looking.
But things have moved on since the days of Walt,
and Hart is tunnel-conscious.
And fittingly the subway stop at Wall Street,
first station on the other side,
gets named in the middle quatrain of the "Proem"
(Wall as fate-laden as Jericho, or now as mad Madison
of magic Madhatter Island.) Ah! I ache!
Hart lets you take your pick:
"Prayer of pariah and the lover's cry."

Here's the alternative:

(If crossing now on Brooklyn Bridge by car,
be sure your tires are sound—
for if one blows out you must keep right on riding
on the rim. That's how it sets up now
with what Hart calls a "curveship"
lent as a "myth to God."
I speak in the light of subsequent developments.)
Elsewhere, "The last bear, shot drinking in the Dakotas,"
Hart's thoughts having gone beneath the river by tunnel, and
"from tunnel into field," whereat "iron strides the dew."
Hart saw the glory, turning to decay,
albeit euphemized in terms of "time's rendings."
And by his rules, sliding from Hudson to the Mississippi,
he could end on a tongued meeting of river there and gulf,
a "Passion" with "hosannas silently below."
All told, though Walt was promissory,
Hart was nostalgic, Hart was future-loving only insofar
as driven by his need to hunt (to hunt the hart).
And as for me, an apprehensive whosis
I'm still talking of a crossing on a river

And I might say here that the reference of the thing here has to with the first time they went around the moon before they ever set foot on the moon.

I'm still talking of a crossing on a river
when three men have jumped over the moon,
a project we are told computer-wise
involving the social labor of 300,000 specialists
and 20,000 businesses.
Such are the signs one necessarily sees,
gleaming across the water,
the lights cutting clean
all through the crisp winter night.
"O! Ego, the pity of it, Ego!"

That's my most ambitious pun. "Iago, the pity of it, Iago!'

"O! Ego, the pity of it, Ego!"
"Malice, slander, conspiracy," the letter had said;
"your spitefulness …"

Just as the roads get jammed that lead
each week-day morning from Long Island to Manhattan,
so the roads get jammed that lead that evening
from Manhattan to Long Island.
And many's the driver that crosses cursing.
Meanwhile, lo! the Vista-viewing from our windows at burning nightfall:
To the left, the scattered lights on the water,
hazing into the shore in Jersey, on the horizon.
To the right, the cardboard stage-set of the blazing buildings.
Which is to say:
To the left,
me looking West as though looking Up,
it is with the lights in the harbor
as with stars in the sky,
just lights, pure of human filth—
or is it?
To the right,
the towerings of Lower Manhattan
ablaze at our windows
as though the town were a catastrophe
as doubtless it is …


Kenneth Burke Discussion with Howard Nemerov, 4 Mar. 1971, Washington University at St. Louis

Click here for the original recording in MP3 format.

Transcribed and Edited by Adam Humes and Ethan Sproat

Editors' Note

This transcription is part of the ongoing Kenneth Burke Digital Archive (KBDA), which was initially established by a small group of KB scholars at the 2014 KBS conference in St. Louis, "Attitudes Toward Technology/Technology's Attitudes." Apropos to the location of the 2014 KBS conference, this recording and transcription also took place in St. Louis at Washington University at St. Louis (WUSTL). The transcription below is of a discussion between KB and Howard Nemerov, a professor of poetry at WUSTL. Nemerov and KB were good friends and colleagues who had worked together previously at Bennington College. At the time of this recording, KB was a visiting professor at WUSTL. During this recording, Howard Nemerov and KB discuss various aspects of KB's poetry.
This transcription and the MP3 recording above appear here by permission of the Kenneth Burke Literary Trust and in coordination with the Washington University Libraries Department of Special Collections Manuscript Division. In the transcript below, timestamps in parentheses periodically precede shifts from reading to commentary or from speaker to speaker. Speakers' names appear in all caps in bold in brackets. Any portions that were unintelligible to the transcribers and editors are here represented with the word “unintelligible” in bold in brackets. If any readers have any suggested corrections to the text below based on the MP3 recording linked above, please contact Ethan Sproat, the KBDA Lead Archivist, at]


[MALE VOICE 1:] [unintelligible] Club. Our speakers tonight are Kenneth Burke and Howard Nemerov. They tell me they have a game plan, but don't tell me what it is, so I'll leave it to them to show us what it is.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] Well we've come to improvise, and we trust our powers of it insomuch that we brought our collected works along and are prepared just to sit there and to read to you out of them, maybe antiphonally. This is really Mr. Burke's show, I got kind of added to it the last day or two. So the idea was to see how long I could read something before Kenneth interrupted, because as we have allowed to each other the essence of this good word-man is that he wouldn't let a good explanation go unexplained. If I explain something, we've got to cap it. First, I got a little document that says I'm not gonna get more than three sentences through, but I took the precaution of bringing some other little documents that I didn't show him, as well as an essay about him which he was allowed to read finally on his request when it got to stage of proof. In which he said dourly, "That's very kind of you. Preserved your own independence at the same time, didn't you?" How do you do, Doctor? You'll get your chance. Do you want to go now?

[KENNETH BURKE:] Do you want to sit down?

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] I'll stand up. I'll stand on the table because otherwise I won't have the stature.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Because I have a lot of that.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] This is on the question, "What is Man?" It's the minutes of the faculty meeting on the subject. I've been noticing that every discipline has a way of undercutting the others to say, "I am the essential where as you guys are kind of peripheral." And this never really got anywhere, but it might set somebody else off. What is man? Who professed through chemistry said that is easily answered, "A handful of chemicals and a lot of water. The whole business maybe a dollar ninety-eight, and that was only on the account of inflation. I remember in Popular Mechanics it was ninety-six cents years ago. "But the organization of all this stuff," said the professor of biology, "gives an impression of being directed and purposive that is quite foreign to the organization of the same chemicals in other relation." "But if you want to know what we are," said the professor of physics, "the fundamental thing to get straight is that we are arrangement of atoms dancing around in mostly void". And here the professor of economics got in: "If people were not paid to talk this stuff," he said, "people would not talk this stuff. Man was essentially an arrangement to ensure the steady circulation of goods and services." The professor of history sighed and said that the really interesting thing about what you were calling "man" was not his opinions about himself, but how he came over the course of millennia to hold the opinions he did. Now the professor of neurophysiology said that he would like to agree with the professor of history, but he said, from a radically different point of view. Now that we understood he said the interior of the brain to contain neither thought more words but only neurons it was truly fascinating to hear a body of learned men continue to talk as though—the professor of philosophy here interrupted to say that in that event his learned colleague in neurophysiology wasn't saying anything he was only clicking his neurons. any resemblance to thought would be recognized as purely coincidental. The professor of linguistic analysis he remarked after [unintelligible] nothing at all, that the really strange thing about man was his propensity to think of the universe and himself as generated according to the rules that generated grammar. In this instance the Indo-European ones. you want to get in there?

[KENNETH BURKE:] I want you to finish your page first

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] Whereupon the professor of English misquoted Samuel Johnson to effect that when the disputes of monarchs were discussed by grammarians they became disputes about grammar. The professor of moral theology pointed out that their question in somewhat fuller form asked by the Psalmist “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” permitted the answer to be inferred rather plainly, not much. The professor of anthropology observed that man was strikingly defined as the animal having gods, no other animal he said did that or anything like it. “One might with equal force contend,” said the university librarian, “that man is the animal who writes books. many of them about what is man. No other animal was known to do that either.” The professor of business administration suggested here that an interdisciplinary committee would be set off—
where upon the professor of political science broke in to say that man was the animal who formed committees. That just because the end of the page

[KENNETH BURKE:] well the reason i was happy to have this beginning was that i had thought i had an answer. My difficult friend here had showed me. And the idea's this: he offered a lot of definitions you see, which my definition would be among those present. Yet I have to find some way of claiming that this is the definition against all the other definitions. And the way I tried to work that out is this: all those definitions, every one of the has one thing in common, therefore we have to move to a higher level of generalization there, and note that all of them are definitions. What does it mean to be this defining animal? No other animal that we know of writes definition of itself. So therefore despite not only the differences among them, these definitions, they're all the use of symbol systems, every one uses some organized symbol system to get its statement made. So therefore, I would say that by that very situation the very internally the embarrassment of the diversity into something on my side by saying therefore we will define man as this symbol using animal. And that will cover the whole blame ground of them. Now given the symbol using animal, he can run committees; he can do all this and that but this would be the overall characterization for the lot. I ran across particularly in my definition of man, which of course I began defining man as the symbol using animal. I remember, by the way, we might keep in mind the overall logic of this discussion which doubtless get lost which we're supposed to be working on, and that is that its the matter of language in general and poetics in particular. In other words, we're going to do, what is it did you say about this whole field, our field, when you just talk about the fact that we are this symbol using animal and what do you say when you're discussing one particular problem in the analysis of the text and so on. We have to keep shifting back and forth. I've found that this has been my problem over about fifty years of teaching and that you just never quite resolved. If you talk to some people are interested say in philosophy and sociology and so on are interested in the notion of approaching this subject for the more general point of view, that would be the government of language in general. And yet when we have our special field where you're dealing with works in particular and I've tried to work out, more or less, a—I wouldn't say heroic—but a viable scheme working back and forth between those two. What would you say about a text purely from a stand point of it as a poem and what would you say about it as a standpoint of a statement of a citizen/taxpayer who has not necessarily fooled at all? in other words, he's using symbol systems. And in my definition of man, which by popular request I will now read to you, I got into this problem in discussing the third clause, where the problem really comes up in the most acute way. If I say, starting out step by step, now man is the symbol using animal and then we'll get our first definition. Then I will say inventor of the negative. We can go onto that if you want to discuss it. I've discussed it in an earlier talk here. That is the notion that the negative is a purely linguistic notion and doesn't exist in nature. The third, separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making. That had to do with all these definitions that man is the tool-making animal. It is our ability to make tools that separated us so greatly from what would be in the state of nature. So it was dealing with that particular clause that i ran across the notion some people would say well why not the tool-making animal rather than the symbol using animal. And it was there that I ran into this maybe formalistic answer. That is even defining him as the tool-making animal you still have a higher level of generalization there. In other words, you're already using symbol systems, so let's go from your highest level of generalization for your definition that's about what they [unintelligible] there, no point in going to the next two stages of the definition, I want them to see what the issue is there. In other words, I just invite you to ask about it. I'm not trying to get away with something here. The point is does this sound like a reasonable way to approach a problem like that. Can you, should you, in making a definition, try to arrive at the highest level of generalization at that stage for your definition? Therefore, should this fact, that we are the specialists in symbol using, be the characteristic element? On a basis of that, you can derive our aptitude, a lot of it rather unfortunate, with tool-making. The very fact that you can use symbol systems produces the kind of attention whereby you can actually invent things and particularly, hand on the intention. You can tell somebody else what you've done and so on. Therefore a statement that might be an act of genius under conditions otherwise becomes something where you can make the whole tribe the equivalent of genius in that sense. You can tell them how to sew or how to this or that which with mere imitation they couldn't have done. The quality of attention wouldn't be there without this prior kind of sharpening up you get from being this kind of animal. As we go on, you'll find out that that isn't by any means just an honorific thing, it is also a problematic element. Mainly because the very fact that we do have a way of bringing the non-symbolic or the external reality into ourselves, making a bridge between these two realms, also implies that we have a gulf at the bracing point. In all likelihood it is the basis alienation right there before you get to the kinds of alienation you get in problems of property structures and so on. At that stage, we have a homelessness in relation to nature that an organism presumes he would not have if it did not have this particular genius of ours. When I made this mild neologism, the ability for symbolicity. We will now give our friend a chance here for a while to read.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] Let me illustrate a point. Louis Mumford has this clever comparison when he's talking about the preeminence of language in making us what we are. He says archeologists and anthropologists tend to go for material artifacts and when they can find some flint axe heads they're pleased. But he said suppose that all the words people used left little dry husks like wing covers around, you wouldn't be able to see a flint axe head because there would be all the husks of those used words around. The moment people discovered they could talk what they must've done for millennia is talk. Great discovery, probably at first the whole damn business didn't mean anything, you just recited enormous long chants which other people had to recite back at you exactly the same way. At least if you define your temperament by saying whether you think people did it that way or whether they first said you are an axe or you are a hammer, you're a river, and stuff like that. I had a definition I wrote for Mr. Mumford after reading his book. I said, "The way people invented language was they got together and talked it over among themselves.”

[KENNETH BURKE:] There's another variation on that. Malinowski has what he calls phatic communion which he spells "p-h-a-t-i-c." Which is just communion by disusing language by speaking back and forth under random conditions. I discovered that he could also work from Latin. So people get together by just sitting around and chewing the fat.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] My wife has a find definition of a committee meeting: RE: chewing the fat.

[KENNETH BURKE:] You were going to offer a few of your statements of the other business. Do you want to do that way now or no?

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] Alright. We'll see how well planned this is.

[KENNETH BURKE:] I want to say in advance that this is an article that I think is a piece of what this fellow always does. It's a marvelous piece of work. And he keeps you on your toes all the way through. And it's a piece of luck tonight that he's going to—

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] You give me a slice of embarrassment that I keep flattering the hell out of the master who conned me to write a piece about him.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I'll move ahead. Here is the way he flatters me. (by Birch Riley)Everything is in movement and development. Everything is always being used for all its worth, and sometimes maybe more. The world's just come to an end just before he got those last four words out there.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] We thought originally that this might be a way to begin things. If you can take the shameless flattery with which I butter him up. The point being to see how many sentences I got through before he couldn't stand it and started. In one, perhaps accidental, symbolic act Burke expressed his essence. He has some of his early books reissued by Hermes Publications and indeed, it turned out afterwards he said he indeed named the publisher that. Hermes was originally a boundary stone. Just a little rock to show you where your land left off and your neighbor's began. The he grew a face and a beard, as seen in illustrations in classical dictionaries. You haven't got the beard yet, but—

[KENNETH BURKE:] This'll do.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] Alright. And he went on to become the Roman god of boundaries who was called Terminus. Rising still further, he became Hermes Trismegistus, thrice greatest Hermes who was called that way because he was a king, a priest, and a prophet or legislator all at the same time, all three. “The fabled author,” says Marcoux, “the large number of works called Hermetic books, most of which embody Neo-Platonic, Judaic, and Kabaalistic ideas as well as magical, astrological, and alchemical doctrines.” In other words, everything, preferably all at once. And the dictionary from which I got this description of Burke in his aspect as Hermes identifies him as Socrates does, too in the Pheadras with the Egyptians scribe Thoth. Who had the head of an ape, I believe. Who, above all, says created by means of words. And appears, sometimes, as exercising this function on his own initiative. At other times acting as instrument of his creator. You wanna jump now or you wanna wait a little?

[KENNETH BURKE:] Nah. I can wait.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] That is a doubt one may properly have about any scribe whose work is imposing enough to make you wonder whether he is representing the world or proposing to replace it. Something I always worried about with respect to John Milton. Put some of my colleagues through some of my experiences with John Milton last term. They were all telling me as soon as i got on to it, I would love it. I finally got back at them by explaining that they had never told me I was reading the English translation. But Milton, for instance, said when he invokes his heavenly muse, claims to merit the instruction by reason of his upright heart and pure. And yet, though it's obvious what is intended is humility, i always heard a certain obstinacy when he said "upright heart and pure," and thought of it as comparable with another of his epithets erected. Well, the doubt may be peculiarly appropriate to a philosopher who creates by means of words and the special sense that he creates words or takes over words, termed, terminologies, the business of Hermes: to set limits. The business of the philosopher, as Socrates defined it most tersely in the Phaedrus where he says, "I guess your way of translation is merger and division." Separating things out or putting things together. When the further inference to be drawn is that there is a way of doing this that is right. The anecdote is very wide-spread. Aristotle has it, too, and it's in some Chinese document I read about the Emperor's Butcher who was so good he didn't need a knife. He just divided things with his hand because he divided them where nature divided them. Then you don't need a sharp edge, it will just fall apart on you because that is right. Well, when you ask whether Mr. Burke does what he does on his own initiative or the instrument of his creator you get somewhat cryptic, though certainly comprehensive reply from his address to the logos where he ends, “For us,/A Great Synecdoche, /Thy works a great tautology.” I think I'll let you explain about synecdoche and tautology all you want from therein.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Yeah, that was a point that I used that in a poem of mine where the whole idea was to work up to those two unwieldy words at the end. Having used the poem several times in readings, I learnt by trial and error that the best way to approach that is first explain how using these two words indicated tautology. explain it along these lines: you have to begin by softening a blow; by synecdoche I here meant a part for the whole and by tautology I had in mind the dialectic fact that the if all creation is the work of the original creative word. What I'm doing here is following the step in theology and God said that there was. That is the creative fiat, which is the creative word. My whole method of working is to try to work from theology without any reference to the truth or falsity of it. But the standpoint of morphology. In other words that I can find statements about God that can be interpreted as statements about words can be used analogically in that way. And that's where the whole problem turns up here about this whole notion of the creative word. You do have a way in which this principle which is used one way in theology as God said let there be and there was and the way that same thing develops in language when you set up a particular set of terms. In terms of which you see something as far as people do see it in those terms you have created that weltanschauung, that view of the world for them. That would be the analogy. So what I did there, the actual poem, maybe I might read the poem because it would give you some general idea of the approach that I work with and this whole idea of the word. this poem is written in a quasi-pious way, but I'm just technically dealing with this problem of the logos, the creative word, and basically this whole idea of the symbol using animal. I might bring out one possible misunderstanding I find people often have about my work, and that is when I speak of the—although I think that for my particular field, the word is the primary area of symbolism that I must deal with. I don't by any means reduce the field to that. I think that dance, painting, music, they're all symbol systems; every one involves the same element. People sometimes have a feeling that there's a fundamental difference between words and these other kinds of symbols. I think we are the kind of animal that approaches the world through all kinds of symbol systems and not all of them just verbal at all. But your logos principle is a good summary for that whole idea. Particularly since in Greek, logos itself has a much wider than just word. It is the whole idea of reason and seeing things in terms of principle. I might suggest as to do with this whole pattern of moving to higher levels and lower levels of generalization which underlies our whole discussion of language in general and poetics in particular. I might read the whole thing. When I get to these last two word, you'll have that which is the only unwieldy words in the whole scheme. Just a little Plutonic dialectic here and you work up to the grand synecdoche as the notion of the part for the whole. And is that name, the great synecdoche, it is just one fragment standing for the whole of the world. and the work's a grand tautology. The idea there is that if the same principle is embodied throughout a work, then it's tautological. It's repetitious in the sense that it will be everywhere. So it carried that out in the standpoint of theology. If the whole universe is a creation of God, then of course God would be manifest in some way or other in every one of its parts. And you get the analogy of that, moving into what I call a step from theology to logology, where you say if you infuse a certain structure with a certain terminology, then of course the whole structure will partake of that one genius and therefore, in that sense, will be tautological. You'll be saying the same thing everywhere you turn.

[Dialectician's Hymn]
Hail to Thee, Logos,
Thou Vast Almighty Title,
In Whose name we conjure—
Our acts the partial representatives
Of Thy whole act.
May we be Thy delegates
In parliament assembled.
Parts of Thy wholeness.
And in our conflicts
Correcting one another.
By study of our errors
Gaining Revelation.
May we give true voice
To the statements of Thy creatures.
May our spoken words speak for them,
With accuracy,
That we know precisely their rejoinders
To our utterances,
And so my correct our utterances
In the light of those rejoinders.
Thus may we help Thine objects
To say their say—
No suppressing by dictatorial lie,
Not giving false reports
That misrepresent their saying.
If the soil is carried off by flood,
May we help the soil to say so.
If our ways of living
Violate the needs of nerve and muscle,
May we find the speech for nerve and muscle,
To frame objections
Whereat we, listening,
Can remake our habits.
May we not bear false witness to ourselves
About our neighbors,
Prophesying falsely
Why they did as they did.
May we compete with one another,
To speak for Thy Creation with more justice—
Cooperating in this competition
Until our naming
Gives voice correctly.
And how things are
And how we say things are
Are one.
Let the Word be dialectic with the Way—
Whichever the print
The other the imprint.
Above the single speeches
Of things,
Of animals,
Of people,
Erecting a speech-of-speeches—
And above this
A Speech-of-speech-of-speeches,
And so on,
Until all is headed
In Thy Vast Almighty Title,
Containing implicitly
What in Thy work is drawn our explicitly—
In its plenitude.
And may we have neither the mania of the One
Nor the delirium of the Many—
But both the Union and the Diversity—
The Title and the manifold details that arise
As that Title is restated
In the narrative of History.
Not forgetting that the Title represents the story's Sequence,
And that the Sequence represents the Power entitled.
For us
Thy name a Great Synecdoche,
Thy works a Grand Tautology.

Summing it up that way. There's one thing I might bring in there at that point because I think it's another thing that's going to underlie, I found this misunderstanding that underlies my whole relation to the word and the theory of the word. In a new edition of an earlier book of mine, Philosophy of literary form, I added this notion. It should be brought out to make this clear. I take it that the symbolically tinged realms of power, act, and order—those are the three great schemes or terms that I think have a great set of terminology that develops from a concept of the act, a great terminology that develops from the concept of order, and you have a terminology that develops from the concept of power. They overlap somewhat, but they're all grounded in the realm of motion so far as umbilical existence is concerned. And this realm is non-symbolic, as motion is not in itself an example of symbolic action. It's a symbolic act for a physicist to write about motion or to work out various schemes for analyzing motion and for making things move and so on. But motion itself is completely outside the realm of symbolism. if you don't get that, I'd wish you'd bring it up in discussion period. If you want, we can bring it up because it is a very important point about the whole thing I'm after. And this realm is non-symbolic, except in the sense that man, as the symbol-using animal, necessarily endows everything with a spirit of his symbol systems. I found it necessary to emphasize this point, because, over the years, my constant concern with symbolicity has often been interpreted in the spirit exactly contrary with my notions of reality. The greater my stress upon the roll of symbolism in human behavior and misbehavior, the greater has been my realization of the inexorable fact that in regards to the realm of empirical, one cannot live by the word-bread alone. And though the thing-bread is tinged by the symbolic action, in the sense that we have a name for it, its empirical nature is grounded in the realm of non-symbolic or extra-symbolic motion. In other words, bread makes possible certain weird digestive processes here in the body and motion in that sense?. There is a basic difference between metaphysical idealism and my concern with the word. You see, you can't talk about anything except by exemplifying the rules of talk is not identical with saying our world is nothing but the things we say about it. On the contrary, alas, there's been many a time when what we call a food should have been called a poison. And if our ancestors had but hit upon too many of such misnomers, we'd not be here now. My whole feeling is that the more you study this realm of symbolic action, of the terrific range of things that we do through being a symbol-using animal, the more you realize the last analysis, that the answers are in the realm of the non-symbolic. I think that's really the way this ties in with all these people who are worrying about ecology and so on. You can go on and sell yourself this idea or that idea, but if it's poison, it's poison no matter what you call it. And that's the way it will work out. I think that this the whole environmentalist emphasis that's coming up now just fits completely into the attitude that I have here, where you watch the comedy of human word-using. And you see it on the edges of the terrific tragedy when you do get this misnaming. Ultimately, it leads you to a little vision of crossing the jumping off place where you just realize that words be damned. The last analysis we live or die just as bodies. And that's exactly what we're facing in this whole issue now. We can go on and blow horn about doing this or that, but there is the final test. Are our names accurate or are they not? Insofar as they're accurate, they give us a chance to pull out of this thing. Insofar as they're not, we're down the drain. But the question is ultimately in realm when I mean the realm of sheer motion. Is the body being poisoned or is it not? no matter what they call it; they can call it food, they can call it the future. Is it being poisoned or not? Are we destroying our rivers or are we not? That is the element. That is what I mean by this whole feeling of the marvels of symbolism. Every single symbolic structure, every act of genius, every great drama, every great novel, and so on. there you see all this tremendous scope and mystery and genius of these works. And yet in the last analysis are these bodies being taken care of or not. And that is what I mean. That is purely in the realm of motion, not action. Now, the motion category looks like action, but that be so much in the use of the symbol-using animal, we endow nearly everything in the world with a symbolic content. But that's not intrinsic to the material itself. that's just the way we approach it, but that's the particular kind of animal that we are. You're allowed to go on, friend, if you get a chance.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] Is there some place to go? I understand that you must've bet on a bad physicist or something if you're protesting so much about believing in motion. In that same book of philosophy of literary form, you divided language up in uses as dream, prayer, and chart. I suppose what you mean is you mustn't contradict the chart so hard it kills you by dreaming or praying things that just aren't in the situation. That relation's a fascinating one. Christopher Caudwell says about the tribes that do the rain dance, says, “They do it just before the rainy season and they don't do it in the dry season.” And as I think this guy's somewhere said, “With our technology, we tend to think of other civilizations' primitive people as inferior. And yet, the odd thing is that turning it around. How much nature allows for. It won't kill you off, there's many mistakes that don't kill you.” Your chart can be wildly astray and full of psychotic influences. These people just go on living in the same manner. Whereas our beautiful notions have brought us quite close to the apocalypse. While we are saying that people thought as the year 1000 approached, they thought that the destruction of the world was immanent. and weren't they superstitious to think that? Now, as the year 2000 approaches, we think, "Well, it's quite reasonable. We're allowing the extra thirty odd years for the round numbers sake. The whole thing might blow up in our faces, then or before then." Of course there's a nice relation there because you can't expect the millennium until you have a calendar. And there you get your symbolism coming in.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Well I guess that little analogy fits in there with that part this way, too. You take the absolute absurdity of the world we're in. You give somebody a couple of dollars and they can go into a supermarket and buy some food. He feels himself so confounded superior to a primitive tribe that can make a living in the wilderness. And this ass couldn't do anything.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] That includes us, too.

[KENNETH BURKE:] I use that example is like a guy getting delusions of grandeur when every time he walks into the supermarket, the doors open of themselves. It's like, "I did that!"

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] I made up one couplet that I beg leave to intrude on this situation and thus to destroy everything. I came on with lots of couplets, just in case. This is called "Creation Myth." I've got one that's shorter than his, you see. It's on the idea of moebius band, where you can go from inside to outside without crossing an edge and back again. It says:

This world's just mad enough to have been made
by the Being His being into Being prayed.

You can have a copy and play and wrap around. Not the sort of thing you want to tell anybody. Time's for questions from the floor, I dare say.

[KENNETH BURKE:] It might be a good chance to let someone come in at this stage. Start from the other end. We can go on if we have to. Glad to get someone from the other end. That's what we're all here for. We're made to pop up. You want to say anything? Yes?

[AUDIENCE MEMBER 1:] I wish you'd to go back to the beginning and explain the relation between symbols and alienation?

[KENNETH BURKE:] Between symbols and what please?

[AUDIENCE MEMBER 1:] Alienation.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Alienation? Oh. What I was getting at there, I was saying that after you get a highly developed property structure, you can get alienation simply because of the fact that they property structure is out of align with the needs of the situation. The rational structure no longer seem rational to them. Whenever you've lost a sense of rationality to that extent you're confronting a feeling of alienation. What I was getting at is that I think that the beginning of alienation are further back. The very fact that we can develop all this elaborate departure from mere conditions of living are involved in this thing that I'm talking about. That by the very fact that we spontaneously approach everything from a standpoint of a symbolic film that is between us and those things. You might put it in this way and the simplest way in my own field: maybe you don't have a name for everything, but you think of everything as nameable. You could if you knew enough, you'd have a name for it. We just approach everything from the stand point of nameability. Go ahead.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] Here's a nice illustration that Burke had of the difference that I thought is definitive. Notice, one corner of the world is a hurricane and the newspapers report it. Buildings are blown down, lives are lost, crops are destroyed, land is inundated. And the newspapers said, "It is estimated that there'd been five million dollars worth of damage." Five million dollars lost. He says, "Next day, the stock market goes down and it is estimated that the losses total five million dollars." Now you can see that one set of losses is what you'd call natural or real. The other has something to do with a symbol system. People hadn't lost things in exactly the way that they did in the hurricane.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Yeah, to carry that out a little further, I actually saw once after a big hurricane that went through New England and I saw an article on the financial page of the New York Times where this man writing there talked about the losses due to that hurricane up there through New England. It was some terrific number, billions of dollars, and this fellow says, "After all, that's just about what we lost in the market slump of 1929." When the market slumped in 1929, every single piece of property was there, there was no loss at all, you see, from this standpoint of this real realm. The losses were purely symbolic. Just all these twists in ownership and so on. And yet every single thing was there. And people so spontaneously think in symbolic terms in our system that they can't discount things like that. This is the great lie. This is the great deception between us and the state of nature. Yes?

[AUDIENCE MEMBER 2:] Then what is the link, then, between those consequences which were very real and not symbolic of the stock market crash? How do you get from the symbolic loss to the very real consequences?

[KENNETH BURKE:] the fact is that so far as the place was not destroyed, you had the actual reality of the conditions. In other words, you still had all the resources there and that's where people could go on living. They had to do new tricks of symbolism versus the government bailing out the people who were in debt, bail them out if they had big enough debt. If they had little debts, they weren't bailed out. they could take sell apples, but if anybody, really a big railroad or something, was in trouble, got bailed out. And just the way the fence set, really. The conditions are the same, but you have all these resources, all the symbolic manipulations. Because the whole monetary structure is, of course, an example of symbolism.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER 2:] This is a good instance of alienation, right?

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] Here's an illustration for a change that's not from you, but it's funny. Sherman Arnold has a book called The Folklore of Capitalism, which used to be very popular and still worth looking at. It was written on the basis of that depression. He said, "You’d think that anybody'd know the difference between a horse and a duck. But," he says, "suppose a situation where ducks are taxable and horses aren't. Then you will find people bringing their ducks out of the barnyard and putting bridles on them and saddles. Walking them around and proclaiming that it is obvious to anyone that this animal has been a horse from all eternity."

[KENNETH BURKE:] That, of course, is the marvelous way in which that comes to a focus and leads to alienation is when the corporation is made a person. When we set up the constitution, there were no such things as corporations. The word doesn't appear. It was much later that all these rights were guaranteed to the person, in the individual human sense, were transferred to a legal person. And when you transfer them to a legal person you get a whole new bag of tricks which don't even have anything to do with the reality of the situation. I know personally a man who divided himself into two corporations. And he had the most marvelous method. He was a publisher. He would make a deal with a writer and would give them a very tempting contract. Little clauses in the contract said he could—under uncertain, not too clearly specified conditions—sell the rights to another corporation. If he did so, there were changes in the schedule of royalties and so on. He was both corporations! He signed up this handsome contract with a chap as one corporation and sold it to himself as the other corporation. And there went the royalties down the drain, just by using this symbolic action device. This is one of the resources of symbolic usage. You can see how naturally it makes for alienation. Your turn, Howard. Unless somebody wants to say something. Here's somebody.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER 3:] I wonder if you'd care to comment on your conception of man's symbolizing ability as a source of his alienation in relation of say, Ernst Cassirer on that same idea. Do you find Cassirer to be someone important to you way of thinking?

[KENNETH BURKE:] The only basic place where I would deviate from Cassirer and his idea of the symbolicum is that the whole post-Kantian line—see, I make a distinction of this. I start this theory of symbolic action, I thinks of primariliy starting from an idea of language, not primarily as a field of knowledge, but primarily as a field of action. I view this as a kind of instrumentality that was developed by a tribes' modes of cooperation and competition. In other words, it was essentially ways of persuasion and dissuasion. Getting people to help you on this enterprise, and away from that enterprise. Don't do this, do that. But basically, of that sort. The Kantian line is what I would call dramatistic because the essence of it is an action. That's the same of my whole theory of poetics, also. Because in that whole scholastic line, act and form were equated. Act equals form, and of course if you start to work with pieces of literature and poetry and so on, the first thing you're doing is asking about form. How does it go from here to here? Rather than asking if it's true or false. I don't think truth or falsity is the main test. I think that verisimilitude is a much more relevant test than truth in that particular realm. Sometimes the very fact that something is true will help it to have verisimilitude, but it doesn't necessarily have to work that way. But your Kantian line, which Cassirer is in, is a grand line and I think that Kant's "Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics" is one of the basic books. But it starts from a problem of knowledge, rather than this question of action. And to that extent, I would call it scientistic rather than dramatistic. The way that turns up in the history of the subject starts in epistemology, which is actually the question of knowledge. And I think that this whole line has this epistemological emphasis. Which is to me from the standpoint of the kind of problems that I have to deal with primarily matters of form and dramas and so on. It's a round about way of getting at the subject. I first have to ask myself, "What's going on here? How are you leading, pointing the arrows? How are you getting people to expect this and be gratified by that? And want this character to get bumped off and want this character to be saved?" and things like that. You got a whole group of dynamic questions developed that way, you see where we're going. If you start from the knowledge end, I think you do a better job. You’re much more direct there than if you're just dealing with the scientific nomenclatures primarily. This scheme starts with poetic problems, not scientific problems. Now, it becomes scientific in the sense that anything you say insofar as what you say is accurate, it's a contribution to knowledge. It's the question of where do you go into it. How do you get into that whole subject.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] I think we ought to cut down to what we agreed was your [unintelligible]. I could introduce it with something that occurred to me: that poetry is like an eccentric filing system.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Since the time is up, I have what i was telling my friend, Howard Nemerov, this is a particularly a good poem to end on, after you've been in a conference for three days. I've found then that it almost goes over extremely well. But maybe an hour will be good enough to do that. It's called "I'm Putting Things in Order"

File this, throw out that.
Alert the secretariat
Idre each claim and caveat
To better serve the cause of alphabet
Throw out this, file that
File this, throw that out.
We know beyond all doubt
How perfect order reconciles
And now, throw out the files.
Now, let's go home.


Pentadic Leaves

Steven B. Katz, Clemson University


Text of Pentadic Leaves written for and delivered at the Kenneth Burke Society Conference, Saint Louis University, 19 July 2014.


Terministic Tree:
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

It's green and moody.
Leaves rattle the air.
Trees rattle the clouds.
A breeze is moving
through the tree. 
A wind is moving
through the clouds.

But nothing happens.

There is a tension in
the leaves; there is
attention between
this tree and
the next. The leaves
pale and thicken
like cloud.

But nothing

Now a breeze
rushes through
vowels that quickly
gather at the roots
like forsaken words.
A wind
crashes through consonants
of rock and wood
(not teeth and bone).

There is motion
in the tree. There is
causality in the cloud.

But transcendence?

A branch of sentence
flickers in the cloud,
breaks off, falls
down, is absorbed
by the deaf
ground, freezes
without an attitude,
without a gesture, without
a further sound.


Consubstantial Division

(in the "Tragic Frame")

This is me in winter

a white wind which
twitches like witches, which
groans and moans, which
complains and whines

a noisy tabula rasa,
mistaken "negative capability," 
embarrassed presence and absence,
"trained incapacities"–

a green screen gone dark
and cold: a void of snow
that is me and mine,
wholly together



In time's yoked yule
when lives are jangled,
snow bells dragged
as dry as broken crystal;

when green red days
are rung in dust,
and human thought
now turns to rot;

hands thick with cold
like slabs of clay,
prepare our lives
for another day;
then comes the new year
like a god,
to cheer us on
to faith and sod.


"Counter-Statement" (also in the "Tragic Frame")

'A Mind of Winter'*

A night full of flurry and thought:
black houses, black pine trees, become depressions
in the dark, branches etched
by ghostly winds made half-
visible, stenciled in air,
the world abstracted in the snow.       

I see my reflection in the sky
with a small dull lamp behind me,
my hand moving across the void, 
inscribing what I behold and cast
in fields of glass, transparent masks
covering the land below.

The sun will clarify, show things right,
melt these altered images 
that haunt instrumental sight, these flakes
engraved on a disappearing
pane, this breath that now makes me blind,
these words imprinted in terministic ice


Hierarchy and Identification

The Spark of Being/Lost

First, one foot, then the other, begins;
then the leg, each leg, swivels
around and under, collapsing, quivers,
gives into hidden pits of oblivions.                                                                         
And in the wilds of your backyard
you are lost, stumbling through
your neighbor's grass, crawling toward a spark of dew,
rain on every blade piercing your

piety, your congruous perspectives, your rhetorical conscience
as you fall, your physiognomy interpreted, your biological base
becoming your ambiguous orientation, your dancing face
the symbolic act of an animal that grasps at language awk-

wardly, a tragi-comedy of hierarchies, a drama of attitudes providing motives
as unsubstantial as angels, talking to ourselves, a swaggering torso
movements turned into symbolic action, and so much dust, is 

Counter-Nature: Analogic Extension of Technology in "the Comic Frame"

By sheer repetition, imitation, mimesis, you will remember
your subjective routine, your technological psychosis, rising from your bed,
extending your counter-nature into the giving air
sideways transcendence to whose knows where…

one morning you'll awake without a body; —and unlike your ancestors
crawling, stumbling through the forest— reach out into space; and conscious,
trying to maintain your regimen, your linguistic nature, you'll
think yourself toward the bathroom, where . . .

you'll reach (without a hand, or a nipple)
for a toothbrush that is now a lion
and the clothes you laid out to be ironed, Orion,
that ironically have become unnecessarily supple    

where physics and language meet to form a panoply
of screens from which to view the motives of your anatomy
and analyze the material of your autonomy
as you float in the ethics of planes of incompatibility


Substance: "A Retrospective Prospect"

Where We Came From, Where We Go from Here

the forest floor is churning
quietly as the leaves
of deciduous trees are turning

into light brown ground,
soft conifers shedding
their pine needles, one by one

cover earth with stubble,  
quickly convert old leaf meal
into decay, wood crumble

whereby twigs and branches, trunks
slowly blur and melt and
whole trees become little stumps that bump

against the tiny tips and stalks
of buds that gather, grow, rot
inward, reaching down, then sprout

balsam wings like little motive arrows,
and (since "all living things are critics")
point, protect the way for sparrows

into futures whose "attitudes towards history," altitudes of hierarchies, spread, conceal
a sky so full of transformations that the slow green
lives and logologies of word-trees will rise, congeal

into a substance of ideas and sounds whose ratios are
the apparatus we create and we don't yet understand,
new symbolics of rhetoric and grammar

where language and physiognomy explode in a biology of stars,
sprouting multiple parallels, the nerve centers of universes
in bodies no longer like ours, but are

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

*Title adapted from the first line of Wallace Stevens, "The Snow Man"

When Actions Collide: Motive Constructions Spanning Different Acts

Clarke Rountree, University of Alabama in Huntsville


While Burke examined the relationships among the terms of the pentad within a single pentadic set (i.e., a single "act"), a few rhetorical critics using pentadic criticism have noted grammatical relationships that cross between pentadic sets (multiple acts). Yet no one has theorized about those multipentadic relationships. This paper provides a basic explanation of how such multipentadic relationships work in strategic constructions, using many illustrations from public discourse.

EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED TO EVERYTHING ELSE, AS THE TRUISM GOES. This idea is reflected in concepts such as "the butterfly effect" which describes how the most minor changes in a situation (e.g., a butterfly dying) can have unforeseen consequences in the future (given the connection of everything to everything else, in one way or another). The same concept of web-like relations appears in games like "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," which plays on the philosophical concept of "six degrees of separation," suggesting that people have connections through other people (either to Kevin Bacon's films or interpersonally to everyone else on the planet). That web of interconnectedness has at least two distinct dimensions: the causal connections that scientists focus upon and the human relations which cannot be reduced to mere causal relations. Of course scientists have tried to reduce human action to mere motion; however, as Kenneth Burke has noted, any such reduction loses what is unique about human action which, he insists, cannot be reduced to motion.

When we try to explain something in the world, we necessarily carve out some segment of that web in the explanation. For example, if I provide a causal explanation of how I sunk the eight ball in the side pocket in a game of pool, I don't start with the origins of the materials that make up the billiard balls, cue sticks, and table; or the construction and placement of the table in my house, or what I had for breakfast that gave me the energy to hit the cue ball. I say something like: "I kissed the side of the eight ball with my shot, nudging it into the corner pocket." Exactly what counts as relevant and proximate in such explanations is subject to debate, of course; but the whole idea of explaining circumscribes what is expected.

When it comes to parsing webs of human relationships, Kenneth Burke has given us a conceptual framework. He suggests we distinguish particular acts and their corresponding agents, agencies, purposes, scenes, and, when useful, attitudes (on this last term, see Burke, Grammar, 443). That is, he tells us to look for what is done, who did it, how she or he did it, why, when, where, and in what manner. The pentadic terms and the questions they represent are grammatically connected to one another so that a pentadic set, or pentadic "root" (Birdsell), is formed that circumscribes relevant elements. For example, if I say, "Jill drove John to the movies," I cannot say that the act of driving is something that John did, because Jill is the agent of that action in this construction. But if I am describing the action, I have the option of characterizing elements in a way that reduces Jill's agent role, such as saying, "Jill, a student driver, drove her watchful father John to the movies."

Burke was interested in the inventional resources available to rhetors in the construction of such actions. His A Grammar of Motives describes those resources and undergirds our understanding of the rhetoric of motives, where rhetors get to choose how to answer the pentadic questions with respect to a given construction of motives, stressing scene or agent or purpose or another term as dominant in accounting for motives in a given case. The relationships among the terms are considered in pairs, or ratios, to show how one element transforms our understanding of another. Thus, a scene may be shown to contain an act, an agency may be adapted to a purpose, a particular kind of agent may be said to be responsible for a corresponding kind of action (heroic, foolish, selfish, etc.), and so forth.

While this Burkean account of action and its corresponding approach to rhetorical criticism is well known, I wish to build on Burke's theory and method to account for a common but much more complex rhetorical phenomenon: the construction and strategic connection of multiple pentadic sets. Because, as I have noted, everything is somehow connected to everything else (including different actions), it is unsurprising that rhetors often construct more than one act and place those distinct acts in relation to one another. To take a simple but fateful example: President George W. Bush said that President Saddam Hussein of Iraq was constructing weapons of mass destruction (Act 1, undertaken by Hussein), he announced that the United States was going to war to stop him (Act 2, undertaken by Bush), and he claimed that Act 1 created a dangerous scene that necessitated Act 2.

To distinguish these different acts, I will use the term "pentadic sets," rather than Birdsell's "pentadic roots," because, theoretically, the same act could be constructed by different rhetors who feature different roots. For example, the "Do-Nothing" Congress dominated by Republicans in President Obama's second term might construct legislation he is proposing by emphasizing who is proposing it (agent), while a supporter might emphasize what it tries to accomplish (purpose). Each side highlights a different root. A pentadic set, by contrast, emphasizes that particular grammatical constructions serve to distinguish unique acts that have their own grammatically-related terms covering scene, agent, agency, purpose, and attitude.

Of course, as this paper will show, some of the terms of one pentadic set may be shared with different pentadic sets; however, no two pentadic sets will ever share all elements. Even the factory worker who makes the same widget day after day can be said to engage in different acts owing to the fact that, on different days, she will find herself in a different scene (a day later), a different agent (a day older, married between working days, changing party affiliations), and may have a different attitude (one day happy another sad) or may use a slightly different agency (a new wrench), etc.

Although rhetorical scholars have examined particular inter-pentadic constructions before, they have said very little about the practice in general. This essay theorizes such constructions with respect to actions that are connected for rhetorical purposes. It illustrates the forms that connections between acts may take and explains why they are rhetorically powerful. And it considers the need for rhetorical critics to take notice of this form of motive construction.

Grammars of Motives

Burke only hints at connections across different pentadic sets in A Grammar of Motives. For example, in discussing Eugene O'Neill's play, Mourning Becomes Electra, he notes: "When Lavinia instructs Seth to nail fast the shutters and throw out the flowers, by her command (an act) she brings it about that the scene corresponds to her state of mind. But as soon as these scenic changes have taken place, they in turn become the motivating principle of her subsequent conduct [i.e., additional acts]" (9-10). Burke's focus in the Grammar on providing a basic explanation of the pentadic terms and their connection in discourses about action (including much of the Western canon!) did not lead him to examine more generally how such acts may be related to another.

Rhetorical critics employing Burke's pentad have occasionally considered the relationships that prevail among different acts described by rhetors. For example, in his classic analysis of Senator Edward Kennedy's tragic accident at Chappaquiddick and its aftermath, David Ling describes two pentadic sets connected by Kennedy. The first involves the accident and Kennedy's subsequent actions, where a narrow, poorly lit bridge over cold, rushing water is blamed for the accident, for Kennedy's inability to save his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, and for Kennedy's disorientation, which, he urged, led to a failure to report the accident for eight hours. As Ling notes, Kennedy invokes the scene as controlling his actions. But, after recounting this construction, Kennedy puts his future into the hands of the people of Massachusetts, asking them to decide (in this second act) whether his actions warranted a decision that he remain in office representing them. Kennedy's constituents, in other words, were asked to act in a new scene in which their senator might be viewed in a different light. To the extent that he constructed his disoriented action as beyond his control, perhaps he could be forgiven and allowed to continue to serve the State of Massachusetts. (It also did not hurt that the agency of supporting or rejecting Kennedy was weak, involving sending letters of support or rejection to the Senator or, perhaps, to the local newspaper; and he was the ultimate judge of whether the State had "spoken" and what they "said.")

Colleen E. Kelley also conducted a study of a politician in trouble which looked at multiple pentadic sets. Congressman George Hansen of Idaho was constructed by the media as a crook after he was charged and convicted for filing false financial reports. But he managed to use that conviction as evidence of a federal conspiracy against him to win reelection. Kelley does not explicitly discuss the connections between the two other than indicating how the media's construction of Hansen required him to respond to a scene within which he was viewed by many as corrupt. She does show that he did so by actually using his conviction as a campaign point to demonstrate that the government wanted to get rid of him because he was crusading against it.

David S. Birdsell looked at two different acts constructed by Ronald Reagan following the deadly suicide bombing of over two hundred U.S. Marines in Beirut, Lebanon and his subsequent decision to invade the tiny Caribbean nation of Grenada. Birdsell notes that the two acts were framed differently, but were reconciled by Reagan "in the context of his elliptical remarks on foreign policy at the end of the speech" (267-68). Birdsell's analysis of Reagan's constructions was "complex and 'layered,' featuring a different pentadic 'root' for each portion of the speech."

My own work has featured some of the most complex constructions of multiple, related pentadic sets. In my analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court's Japanese internment case, Korematsu v. United States, I argued that "[t]he chief rhetorical work of the judicial opinion…is to embody and characterize actions" (Rountree, "Instantiating 'the Law'" 3-4). Among the most important of the characterized actions are constitutions (enactments of their founders), laws (acts of legislatures), precedents (acts of former courts), acts of litigants (such as the crimes they are alleged to have committed), and the acts of the government (e.g., law enforcement officers, prosecutors, regulators, etc.). Embodied actions, I argued, are those of judges handing down opinions. They must appear judge-like, speaking to the law, to justice, and (for appellate courts) to future interpreters of law (who may cite them). I extended my discussion of judicial constructions of action in a book on the Bush v. Gore decision, which ended the recount of presidential ballots in the 2000 election, awarding the presidency to George W. Bush (Rountree, Judging the Supreme Court). I showed how majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions connected a wide array of actions (by the Founding Fathers, the Florida Legislature, the Florida Supreme Court, the U.S. Congress, and others) to construct their disparate views of what law, justice, and good precedent requires.

None of this work, including my own, has grappled more generally with what is involved when distinct pentadic sets are constructed by rhetors and connected. This paper seeks to remedy that.

Constructions of Relationships between Acts

The most common way relationships are constructed between different acts is through a terministic bridge connecting two acts. That is, the first act constructs an element that becomes a scene, agent, agency, purpose, or attitude in a second act. Such terministic connections across pentadic sets may be very complex and rhetorically sophisticated. I will illustrate the terministic possibilities for each of the pentad's "bridging" terms.

Constructing Scenes

One of the most common inter-pentadic constructions involves a first act that creates a scene to which a second act must respond. American foreign policy is built around the idea that we only engage in defensive wars—wars ironically pursued in the name of peace. I have noted the example of President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq before, where he constructed Iraq's actions as threatening and the U.S. response as defensive and reasonable. Another example comes from President Bill Clinton's decision to launch air strikes against the same country in 1998. Clinton's scenic justification was crucial because he was embroiled in the Monica Lewinsky scandal at the time and critics saw the strikes as an attempt to distract the country from his problems. In a nationally-televised address on December 16, 1998, Clinton showed how actions by Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, created a scene that required action:

Six weeks ago, Saddam Hussein announced that he would no longer cooperate with the United Nations weapons inspectors, called UNSCOM. They're highly professional experts from dozens of countries. Their job is to oversee the elimination of Iraq's capability to retain, create, and use weapons of mass destruction, and to verify that Iraq does not attempt to rebuild that capability. The inspectors undertook this mission, first, seven and a half years ago, at the end of the Gulf War, when Iraq agreed to declare and destroy its arsenal as a condition of the cease-fire.

Clinton noted that Hussein had used WMD before, on his own people, "not once but repeatedly, unleashing chemical weapons against Iranian troops during a decade-long war, not only against soldiers, but against civilians." Given Hussein's actions and his past history, the world was faced with a dangerous scene, Clinton urged:

This situation presents a clear and present danger to the stability of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere. The international community gave Saddam one last chance to resume cooperation with the weapons inspectors. Saddam has failed to seize the chance. And so we had to act, and act now.

That action, he explained, involved "a strong, sustained series of air strikes against Iraq. They are designed to degrade Saddam's capacity to develop and deliver weapons of mass destruction, and to degrade his ability to threaten his neighbors." Thus, Hussein's earlier actions created a scene that contained Clinton's act of ordering air strikes to change that dangerous scene.

Another act frequently citing as changing the scene for future actions was the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Those attacks came several months after the most contested presidential election in U.S. history in which a bloc of the five most conservative justices on the United States Supreme Court ordered that the state of Florida stop recounting ballots that might have given Vice President Al Gore a victory in the 2000 presidential election. George W. Bush's inauguration was so controversial that for the first time in history the Secret Service declared the ceremony a "National Special Security Event," which required anyone attending the inauguration to have permission from the government (Greenfield, 298). Bush entered the White House as an agent whose presidential legitimacy was in question.

However, after the attacks of 9/11, his agent status changed. As Mark Miller, writing for the National Review, noted:

[A]ll questions of legitimacy suddenly vanished. In an instant, the controversy over hanging chads came to seem remote and inconsequential. The warnings about the stability of the American constitutional order were rendered utterly beside the point as the country absorbed far greater blows and survived with its constitutional integrity intact.

Thus, Miller argues, the terrorists' acts changed the scene; that scene altered our understanding of agent Bush from one of questionable legitimacy to a well-supported commander-in-chief who was then able to wield his authority boldly in subsequent acts of retribution against our attackers and those who harbored them.

Constructing Agents

As Burke has pointed out, agents and acts are related through a status-actus relationship, whereby who one is determines what one will do. Thus, a hero does heroic acts. Of course the reverse is true as well: acts establish who someone is. Thus, an otherwise nondescript pilot, Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, became a "hero" in January 2009 after making a successful emergency landing on the Hudson River when his U.S. Airways jet was hobbled by geese sucked into the jet's engines. Subsequent to this heroic deed, Sullenberger was chosen to be the Grand Marshall of the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California in 2010. In that act of serving as Grand Marshall, Sullenberg appears as the hero leading the parade (rather than as an ordinary United Airways pilot)—an appropriately prominent figure to lead off this annual event.

Prior actions can cut both ways, however. When President Bill Clinton was accused of having an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, constructions of his prior alleged infidelities (with Gennifer Flowers, Kathleen Willey, and Paula Jones) characterized him as a "womanizer," making his alleged affair with Lewinsky seem more probable (through an agent-act relationship).

Patrick J. Buchanan, who failed to win the Republican nomination for president in 1992 after running against a sitting Republican president, nonetheless spoke at his party nomination convention. And he used a contrast of past acts of Republican George H. W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton to explain what kind of agents they are and, thereby, what kind of presidents they would be. He argued:

An American President has many roles. He is our first diplomat, the architect of American foreign policy. And which of these two men is more qualified for that great role? George Bush has been U.N. Ambassador, Director of the CIA, envoy to China. As Vice President, George Bush co-authored and cosigned the policies that won the Cold War. As President, George Bush presided over the liberation of Eastern Europe and the termination of the Warsaw Pact. And what about Mr. Clinton? Well, Bill Clinton—Bill Clinton couldn't find 150 words to discuss foreign policy in an acceptance speech that lasted almost an hour. You know, as was said—as was said of another Democratic candidate, Bill Clinton's foreign policy experience is pretty much confined to having had breakfast once at the International House of Pancakes.

Buchanan's description of Bush's past acts (many of them being something, serving in a role) suggested that Bush would be better on foreign policy (a future act).

Constructing Agencies

Agencies may be technologies, methods, policies, laws, rules of thumb, ethical codes, protocols, how-to manuals, or other types of means for doing things. In the case of technologies, their creation is an act that provides a physical means for undertaking action. For example, Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the telephone was an act making possible subsequent acts of talking on the telephone. However, it is rare that a rhetor would want to refer back to that act (except perhaps on the anniversary of the telephone's invention). But such references are not as rare as you might imagine. Consider David Pogue's review of Apple Corporation's new iPad in the New York Times:

At least Apple had the decency to give the iPad a really fast processor. Things open fast, scroll fast, load fast. Surfing the Web is a heck of a lot better than on the tiny iPhone screen—first, because it's so fast, and second, because you don't have to do nearly as much zooming and panning.

But as any reader can tell you, the iPad can't play Flash video. Apple has this thing against Flash, the Web's most popular video format; says it's buggy, it's not secure and depletes the battery. Well, fine, but meanwhile, thousands of Web sites show up with empty white squares on the iPad—places where videos or animations are supposed to play.

Here Pogue speaks of what Apple did in building the iPad (it "had the decency to give the iPad a really fast processor") then turns to what iPad users subsequently do in using the iPad (surfing the web fast; seeing empty white squares on Flash websites). Their inventional act yielded an agency that is a means for subsequent user actions—in Pogue's view, an unnecessarily compromised one.

In the case of symbolic agencies, such as codes, laws, protocols, and the like, rhetorical constructions may suggest that their development, rationale, or purposes require them to be used as guides to present action in a particular way. For example, Abraham Lincoln's "Cooper Union Address" spoke of what the Founding Fathers believed in the past about the control of slavery in territories in order to suggest that the U.S. Constitution was a legal instrument that permitted the federal government to regulate slavery in the territories. For example, he notes:

In 1787, still before the Constitution, but while the Convention was in session framing it, and while the Northwestern Territory still was the only territory owned by the United States, the same question of prohibiting slavery in the territory again came before the Congress of the Confederation; and two more of the "thirty-nine" who afterward signed the Constitution, were in that Congress, and voted on the question. They were William Blount and William Few; and they both voted for the prohibition—thus showing that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything else, properly forbids the Federal Government to control as to slavery in Federal territory. This time the prohibition became a law, being part of what is now well known as the Ordinance of '87.

From this and similar evidence of what the Founding Father's intended, Lincoln draws an agency for present legislative action, insisting:

I do not mean to say we are bound to follow implicitly in whatever our fathers did. To do so, would be to discard all the lights of current experience—to reject all progress—all improvement. What I do say is, that if we would supplant the opinions and policy of our fathers in any case, we should do so upon evidence so conclusive, and argument so clear, that even their great authority, fairly considered and weighed, cannot stand; and most surely not in a case whereof we ourselves declare they understood the question better than we.

As I noted previously, judicial opinions are replete with references to precedents, whose "holdings" are agencies that they claim to follow (another court's means becoming its own means of action). But, anywhere rules, holdings, codes, and the like are invoked, we tether together two acts through an agency bridge.

Constructing Purposes

Purposes may be derived from religious texts, planning documents, corporate charters, lists of personal goals, or other ends-related sources. Thus, the Christian who proclaims she will join Doctors without Borders to help victims of the Syrian civil war, for "God's purposes," may construct religious texts, a "calling" she felt, an admonition from a spiritual leader, or another source to explain that this is where her purpose of helping the downtrodden originated. CEOs of Wall Street firms that took incredible risks with exotic financial instruments that led to the Great Recession may point to stockholder meetings where they received a demand to increase profits.

Susan B. Anthony invoked constitutional purposes in defending her present right to vote in an election in Rochester, New York. In defending herself from the charge of having illegally registered to vote, she noted:

The preamble of the Federal Constitution says:

"We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

She interpreted what these words meant in noting:

It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people—women as well as men.

Having established that "we" meant everyone, males and females, and that the central purpose of the constitution was to secure the "blessings of liberty," she builds on that established purpose to infer a means adapted to that end for present-day women such as her, insisting: "And it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government—the ballot."

Richard Nixon used others to construct his purposes in his 1952 bid to become Dwight D. Eisenhower's vice president. He had been accused of misusing $18,000 in political contributions. He retorted: "Not one cent of the 18,000 dollars or any other money of that type ever went to me for my personal use. Every penny of it was used to pay for political expenses that I did not think should be charged to the taxpayers of the United States." He cited an independent audit by the accounting firm Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher, reading their statement:

It is our conclusion that Senator Nixon did not obtain any financial gain from the collection and disbursement of the fund by Dana Smith; that Senator Nixon did not violate any federal or state law by reason of the operation of the fund; and that neither the portion of the fund paid by Dana Smith directly to third persons, nor the portion paid to Senator Nixon, to reimburse him for designated office expenses, constituted income to the Senator which was either reportable or taxable as income under applicable tax laws.

Here, an act of auditing constructs a purpose for Nixon: using campaign contributions for things other than personal expenditures. Nixon constructs the audit as objective and credible. The audit yielded a purpose for Nixon's use of the money (or at least rejected a questionable purpose); that purpose, in turn, becomes the centerpiece of Nixon's construction of his own actions in taking and using those political contributions.

Constructing Attitudes

Prior acts may create attitudes that can bleed over into constructions of subsequent acts, shaping them. For example, unfair or tyrannical actions by a manager may lead to low morale on the part of his employees; that negative attitude may spill over into subsequent actions by those employees. On an individual level, an act may lead an agent to love, hate, envy, or have some other significant attitude towards another person; that, in turn, may be said to shape subsequent actions towards that person.

Like many sharp-tongued political speakers, Texas Governor Ann Richards sought to shape attitudes towards her party's opponent. Vice President George H. W. Bush was running against Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988 and Richards skewered him at the Democratic National Convention. She argued:

[F]or eight straight years George Bush hasn't displayed the slightest interest in anything we care about.

And now that he's after a job that he can't get appointed to, he's like Columbus discovering America. He's found child care. He's found education.

Poor George. He can't help it—he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.

Richards constructs Bush as disinterested in voter's needs, spoiled, and a poor speaker. She creates attitudes of disdain and, sarcastically, pity (with "Poor George"). The attitudes towards a presidential candidate are generally incompatible with supporting that agent's candidacy.

Constructing Acts

Even the hub of action—act itself—can be said to connect to a previous act. For acts that are constructed as emulating or following previous acts, this may involve some kind of precedent. This is most obvious in the law, where prior cases lay down a pattern for subsequent cases. This connection might be limited to an agency link, where a prior case's "holding" becomes the legal means for resolving the subsequent case, as I suggested in the discussion of agency above. But, it is not always this simple. Often, the agents, scenes, purposes, and even attitudes of a previous act are invoked, so that a complex matching of one act to the other is a more accurate description. Consider Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's dissent in Kelo v. City of New London, an infamous case in which eminent domain was invoked to take the modest homes of residents along a river and give them to a development corporation to help the city's economic fortunes. The majority claimed that prior cases allowed economic development as a justification for such takings. O'Connor distinguished two key precedents, insisting:

The Court's holdings in Berman and Midkiff were true to the principle underlying the Public Use Clause [of the Fifth Amendment]. In both those cases, the extraordinary, precondemnation use of the targeted property inflicted affirmative harm on society—in Berman through blight resulting from extreme poverty and in Midkiff through oligopoly resulting from extreme wealth. And in both cases, the relevant legislative body had found that eliminating the existing property use was necessary to remedy the harm. (464-65)
Thus, O'Connor invokes scene (harmful), agency (eliminating property), purpose (remedying a harm), and agent (legislature) in constructing what it meant to "follow" those precedents. Here a well-fleshed-out first act informs what the court should do in its subsequent act.

Other acts are invoked because they provide comparisons for critics or analysts of other acts. For example, past state of the union addresses might be compared to a current one (e.g., Barack Obama versus his predecessor, George W. Bush), past sports records may compared to current ones (Barry Bonds versus Roger Maris on the number of homeruns hit in a season), past acts of government action versus current actions (George W. Bush on Hurricane Katrina versus Barack Obama on the Gulf oil spill), and so forth. During political campaigns, comparisons of candidates' records to their opponents are common, stressing the contrast. As I have noted previously, hypothetical acts may be constructed by rhetors (Rountree, "Judicial Invention" 59-60) providing opportunities for comparing two competing proposed actions (e.g., taxing carbon emissions versus creating a cap and trade system for carbon credit), comparing an existing action with a proposed action (e.g., existing financial regulations versus proposed regulations), or a past action with a proposed action (e.g., putting a moratorium on capital punishment in the past and perhaps in the future). Rhetors may even compare fictional, mythical, or historical accounts of actions to present or future actions (such as when Christian children are told to treat others as "the Good Samaritan" did).

These are but a few of the ways in which acts can be connected. Stokely Carmichael provides a completely different approach in his speech, "Black Power," from October 1966. He references recent killings of three "Freedom Riders" in Mississippi:

On a more immediate scene, the officials and the population—the white population—in Neshoba County, Mississippi—that's where Philadelphia is—could not—could not condemn [Sheriff] Rainey, his deputies, and the other fourteen men that killed three human beings. They could not because they elected Mr. Rainey to do precisely what he did; and that for them to condemn him will be for them to condemn themselves.

How does he explain the failure of whites in Neshoba Country to condemn the killings of the civil rights activists? Through their earlier act of voting in a sheriff for the purpose of maintaining Jim Crow through any means necessary. That earlier action (with its racist purpose) shapes present action (or inaction) so that "for them to condemn [the sheriff] will be for them to condemn themselves." What they did in the past is connected to what they will not do in the present (a hypothetical act that one might expect to follow from the murders).

Rhetorical Advantages of Constructing Multiple Acts

To understand the advantages to rhetors of constructing multiple acts we must begin by considering the advantages of constructing any act. Generally, we see the construction of an act as an effort to portray the act in a particular way. For example, if I am a politician I show that my acts are good and noble and beneficial, while the acts of my opponents are bad and selfish and harmful. If I am a defense attorney I show that the acts of my client were innocent, while the prosecutor shows that they are guilty. If I am a critic I show that the acts of those I would praise are praiseworthy and those I would censure are blameworthy.

Rhetors also construct acts to shape our understanding of those acts, their agents, their scenes, their agencies, their purposes, or their attitudes. A politician may tell the story of a brutal murder to convince voters that they live in a dangerous world. If he emphasizes that the murder was committed by an illegal immigrant, he may be suggesting that immigration policies (an agency of government action) are not working. If he stresses the easily-obtained handgun that was used in the murder, perhaps he is suggesting that our gun laws are flawed. If he emphasizes where the murder took place, perhaps he is segmenting a city into "good" and "bad" neighborhoods. If he emphasizes the brutality of the murder, perhaps he is warning about a new attitude of reckless disregard for human life in our culture.

As Burke has shown, rhetorical constructions of motives work within the grammar of motives, drawing upon the power of act, scene, agent, agency, purpose, and attitude. Because of the grammatical relationships between each term, the characterization of one term will affect our understanding of them all; thus, there are limits to what a rhetor can do in constructing motives, since pulling a construction one way limits how far the other terms can be pulled in another direction. So, for example, as Ling has shown, Senator Edward Kennedy relied on scene to explain his failure to report the deadly accident at Chappaquiddick in a timely manner. But, having constructed himself as an agent victimized by a scene where a narrow, unlit bridge over cold, swiftly moving water led to an accident and the near drowning of the junior senator from Massachusetts, Kennedy could not promise voters that he was a heroic figure capable of overcoming all obstacles (since he obviously had succumbed to one in a moment of crisis). Kennedy sacrificed a better agent construction to explain his action, hurting his image as a candidate in subsequent presidential races, where Chappaquiddick was regularly invoked to question his presidential timbre.

When rhetors construct more than one act, they increase their inventional opportunities. Consider the Iraq War example from above: Bush could play within the grammar of motives of his "Saddam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction" pentadic set (playing up agency, such as the report that Iraq had bought yellowcake from Africa), then use that to bolster his "The U.S. needs to invade Iraq" pentadic set. The Bill Clinton critic could draw on the most credible acts of alleged infidelity by the former Arkansas governor, then use that construction of Clinton as a "womanizer" to conclude, "Of course he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky!"

Judges are among the most sophisticated rhetors constructing multiple acts. In the Kelo case cited earlier, the Supreme Court's majority opinion constructed the Berman and Midkiff precedents cited by Justice O'Connor (Acts A and B) to support their construction of the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment "Takings" clause (Act C, undertaken by the founding fathers) and applied that construction their own act of allowing New London, Connecticut to seize the property of home owners (Act D). They also noted that such takings were permitted by Connecticut law (Act E, by the state's legislature). It was obviously useful for the court to construct the Constitution, federal statutes, and state statutes as supporting their own action in deciding this controversial case. Such constructions build a web of inter-pentadic relationships around judges, entangling their decision strategically to "force" their hand in acting. Once the groundwork is done, they can simply proclaim: "I was following the law in handing down this decision."

Another advantage of rhetoric that draws upon the power of the grammar of motives is that it can be indirect, subtle, and sophisticated. The woman who wants to get her sister to stop dating some guy doesn't have to come right out and say, "He's a womanizer"; instead, she can say, "I think I saw Joe's car when I passed the strip club last night." This scenic reference does the rhetorical work of constructing the agent as a womanizer by (grammatical) implication.

Given grammatical relationships between different acts, such rhetorical strategies can be quite sophisticated, deployed the way a chess master sets up the board several moves ahead to prepare the way to spring a trap. As I have argued elsewhere, the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund deployed a sophisticated, long-term strategy to put in place the elements for overturning the "separate but equal" doctrine laid down in Plessy v. Ferguson (Rountree, "Setting the Stage"). They worked for forty years to develop litigants, litigators, receptive courts, and precedents. They strategically focused on cases where African-American applicants to state graduate schools had been rejected solely because of their race. That allowed them to sidestep problems in public K-12 schools, where states could argue that, indeed, black schools were equal to white schools. There were no graduate schools for blacks in segregated states, so "separate" could not be "equal." A 1914 precedent established that states could not simply argue that too few black students wanted graduate degrees making it economically unfeasible, because the High Court found, equal accommodations is an individual right (McCabe v. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe R. Co.). When states began to throw together graduate programs for a handful of black students, it was easy to show that these extremely limited programs (limited in faculty, resources, course offerings, etc.) were not equal to those of hundred-year-old, esteemed programs such as that at the University of Texas Law School (Sweatt v. Painter). Constructions of state acts of not providing graduate education, of providing poorer education to African Americans, and of showing racial animus in these efforts, were easy to develop by the LDF's lawyers, setting the stage for a reversal of Plessy's doctrine for all public schools in Brown v. Board of Education.

This last example adds an interesting twist to the construction of multiple acts: that rhetors may actually become involved in creating the acts, scenes, agents, agencies, purposes, and attitudes they later construct, doing things that materially change conditions that they later would invoke symbolically. As I have noted elsewhere, Burke accounts for such nonsymbolic strategies coupled with the symbolic in his discussion of Machievelli's "administrative rhetoric" in A Rhetoric of Motives, noting: "[t]he persuasion cannot be confined to the strictly verbal; it is a mixture of symbolism and definite empirical operations" (158). I illustrated this form of rhetoric with President George H. W. Bush's rhetorical strategy to move the United States to war against Iraq's occupation of Kuwait in 1990-1991 (Rountree, "Building up to War").

Bush already had sent 100,000 troops to Saudi Arabia to prevent Iraq from moving its invasion into the territory of this oil-rich U.S. ally. But Congress was balking at Bush's plans to move from a defensive force to an offensive force and place American troops into combat. Senator Sam Nunn, the Democrat from Georgia who chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee, favored giving time for sanctions to work. Bush's strategic move was to wait for Congress to recess and then to order a doubling of the troops in case an offensive force was needed. Grammatically, Bush's actions changed the scene dramatically: members of Congress heard complaints as National Guardsmen were called up to service for an unknown period. News stories of mothers in the Guard separated from their young children played up the sacrifices, placing pressure on Congress to do something. But Bush's actions had upped the ante in the war and made backing down nearly impossible. As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told "This Week with David Brinkley": "Once 200,000 troops were sent there, we could not withdraw these troops without achieving our objectives without a collapse of our entire position in the Islamic world and the high probability of a much more damaging war."

By the time Bush addressed Congress in January 1991 to ask for their approval to engage in war with Iraq, the table had been set. He could describe a scene he himself had created as one requiring action.

Developing scenes that one later invokes is one possibility. Rhetors also can create agencies, such as weapons to be used later or precedents to be invoked; they can create purposes, as JFK did in calling for a mission to the moon; they can establish agents, such as appointing people to positions where they are poised for action; they can help create attitudes, as Reagan did over years in calling "big government" our biggest problem; and they can engage in, or encourage others to engage in, acts that may be invoked as precedents, examples, counter-examples, and so forth. Bringing such administrative rhetoric into the mix opens to the door to some complex and often long-term strategies of persuasion.


I have argued in this journal previously that Burke's pentad offers a literal description of how humans think about action, insisting: "No recognizably human society ever existed that was not able to draw the distinctions we draw in answering the questions Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why. In other words, these questions and the answers they call for are universal in human societies" (Rountree, "Revisiting the Controversy"). If I am correct, then how we think and talk about action necessarily works within the grammar of motives described by Burke. Thus, if rhetorical critics want to understand the logic undergirding the strategic constructions of motives that pervade human discourse, such analyses should yield an understanding of the inventional possibilities of the rhetoric of motives.

Even if we set aside my position that Burke's grammar of motives is universal, we at least should concede its heuristic value in framing analyses of particular constructions of action. Whether our use of Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why is implicit in the very idea of action or not, these questions undeniably pervade and usefully frame our discussions of action, as this essay has illustrated through a variety of texts.

Of course identifying the grammar invoked by a particular discourse alone is only a starting point for rhetorical analysis. What Anderson and Prelli call "pentadic mapping" reveals the structures of meaning in talk about action, showing that some discourses are privileged while others are marginalized. It is for the critic to explain why it matters that it is easier to talk and interpret some ways than others, whether that involves ideological hegemonies, muted voices and groups, preferred ontologies, favored constructions of knowledge, or something else. Pentadic mapping may ferret out more than strategic constructions of motives, getting at language practices that think for their users, leading them "logologically" through the verbal telos of a terministic screen of which they may scarcely be aware.

For those of us who are interested in strategic rhetoric, pentadic analysis reveals inventional choices and the constraints placed upon those who would lead us to view particular actions in particular ways. As I have suggested here, those choices and constraints become much more complex when more than one pentadic set is constructed. But, again, to identify those choices and constraints is the starting point for rhetorical analysis, rather than the end of it. So, for example, I show above (and in much of my research) that appellate courts strategically construct lots of acts in their judicial opinions; the rhetorical benefit, as I note above, is that constructions of such acts (including laws, constitutions, lower-court decisions, precedents, etc.) serve to constrain the appellate court's decision making, "forcing" their decision to "follow the law" rather than their own personal predilections (which unelected judges are supposed to avoid). That is, judges forge legal manacles for themselves, allowing them to claim that they are chained to the law and, as a result, that their conclusions are inevitable. Other rhetors also fashion "outside" acts to detract responsibility for their actions, such as in the war examples I note above where the (constructed) scene is said to constrain presidential action.

The examples I use in this paper of the ways in which rhetors strategically connect different acts stress their efforts to limit the ways their audiences are likely to interpret actions. That is not to say that their efforts will succeed, since language is normally flexible enough to yield different meanings. However, effective constructions suggest a preferred reading, closing the "universe of discourse" as Anderson and Prelli might say. Some preferred readings are quite closed, as I noted in the opening example of Jill driving John to the movies, where it becomes difficult to say that Jill is not the agent of the "driving" action.

On the other hand, as I pointed out in my essay "Coming to Terms with Kenneth Burke's Pentad," differences in interpretation are to be expected in light of cultural differences in audiences (and, I would add now, in personal and other differences as well). In particular, my essay distinguished those differences as reflecting general and specific dimensions of pentadic relations, noting: "General dimensions are described and amply illustrated by Burke in his Grammar of Motives: The scene 'contains' the act; means (agencies) are adapted to ends (purposes); agents are the 'authors' of their actions; and so forth." In contrast,

Specific dimensions of terministic relations are normative, established by a discourse community's shared beliefs about "what goes with what" at a given point in time, underlying expectations that one will or should find certain types of agents engaging in certain types of actions, using certain agencies, within certain scenes, for certain purposes, evincing certain attitudes.
For example, in the United States of the early 19th century, women were not thought of as public speakers. As Karlyn Kohrs Campbell notes: "Quite simply, in nineteenth-century America, femininity and rhetorical action were seen as mutually exclusive. No 'true woman' could be a public persuader" (9-10). Yet, as I write this in 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton is crisscrossing the country in her bid for President of the United States. The interpretation of which agents can do what has changed. While there is some lingering anti-woman sentiment in the electorate, the shock and novelty that abolitionist Angelina Grimké confronted on the public stage in the 1830s is gone. Culture matters to the construction of motives, whether those cultural differences derive from changing times or divergent audiences.

Beyond such specific terministic relations, words themselves can be vague, ambiguous, or freighted, leading audiences to interpret motive constructions differently than a rhetor intends. And, of course, there is the problem of the world itself threatening to impinge on a rhetor's constructions—Burke's recalcitrance. For example, 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that he never supported the Iraq War that began in 2003. A recording of him with talk show host Howard Stern in September 2002 shows that he did support the invasion, rather unenthusiastically. What many fact checkers have called a lie has apparently been dismissed or ignored by many of Trump's supporters who do not care about the lie or who take his own construction at face value (Caroll and Greenberg).

Constructions of motives, like other rhetorical discourses, always are shaped and understood in view of the communication situations where they are deployed. While analyses of the grammar of motives in particular statements about action can be quite rigorous—explaining general and specific dimensions of the relationships among pentadic terms and revealing rhetorical opportunities and constraints—the rhetorical work those motive constructions perform in a given case take the critic's analysis beyond the comforts of the speech transcript or the written appellate court opinion. Indeed, if we assume that visual images can be part of a text, as Blankenship and her colleagues did in studying Ronald Reagan's television image as one element of the construction of motives, the analysis can get quite messy. Going one step further, as I have suggested, to scrutinize changes in the material condition strategically wrought by far-seeing rhetors opens a whole new context-as-text to the rhetorical critic. Small wonder that rhetorical critics using the pentad have typically focused on words on a page in a relatively contained rhetorical act, such as a single speech.

Certainly there are justifications, beyond a critic's comfort, for such a focus. In my own work on U.S. Supreme Court opinions, the words of their written opinions carry the greatest rhetorical impact in most cases, telling litigants, lower courts, their own bench's future membership, and the public at large what the law is and why they think it is what they say it is. But facing up to the challenges of rhetorical analysis should remind critics—including those using what otherwise seems a straightforward and simple pentadic method—that teasing out what is interesting in rhetorical discourse is hard work. As this essay has argued, even analyzing a contained text can be complicated when multiple acts are constructed.

Of course not all rhetors engage in inter-pentadic constructions of motives. And even if they do, they do not always open up a prior pentadic set for significant grammatical construction. They may simply select a prior act as an example, counter-example, illustration, and so forth, without deploying the power of the grammar to construe it this way or that. However, when rhetors do take advantage of the connections between everything, they have the opportunity to work within more than one grammatical relationship to yield a relationship between acts that is sometimes easy and obvious but occasionally cunning and stealthy. Indeed, they may even engage in material actions that set the stage for those later constructions, either felicitously or strategically. Rhetorical critics ought to take note of such inter-pentadic constructions to better account for the rhetoric of motives. And rhetorical theorists might take this essay as a prolegomena to the study of the forms such inter-pentadic relations may take and the functions they serve.

* An earlier version of this essay was presented to the Eighth Triennial Kenneth Burke Conference in Clemson, South Carolina in May, 2011.

Works Cited

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Birdsell, David S. "Ronald Reagan on Lebanon and Grenada: Flexibility and Interpretation in the Application of Kenneth Burke's Pentad." Quarterly Journal of Speech 73 (August 1987): 267-79.

Blankenship, Jane, Marlene G. Fine, and Leslie K. Davis. "The 1980 Republican Primary Debates: The Transformation of Actor to Scene." Quarterly Journal of Speech 69 (1983): 25-36.

Buchanan, Patrick J. "Address at the Republican National Convention." Houston, TX. 17 August 1992. Downloaded from

Burke, Kenneth A Grammar of Motives. 1945. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969.

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Campbell, Karlyn Kohrs. Man Cannot Speak for Her, Volume I: A Critical Study of Early Feminist Rhetoric. New York: Praeger, 1989.

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Greenfield, Jeff. "Oh, Waiter! One Order of Crow!" New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2001.

Kelley, Colleen E. "The 1984 Campaign Rhetoric of Representative George Hansen: A Pentadic Analysis." Western Journal of Speech Communication 51 (Spring 1987): 204-17.

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Lincoln, Abraham. "Cooper Union Address." 27 February 1860. New York, NY. Downloaded from

Ling, David A. "A Pentadic Analysis of Senator Edward Kennedy's Address to the People of Massachusetts, July 25, 1969," Central States Speech Journal 21 (1970): 80-86.

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Richards, Ann. "Democratic National Convention Address." 18 July 1988. Downloaded from Gifts of Speech website at

Rountree, Clarke. "Building up to War: Bush's 'Administrative Rhetoric' in the Persian Gulf Conflict," The Speech Communication Annual 10 (Spring 1996): 5-19.

—. "Coming to Terms with Kenneth Burke's Pentad." The American Communication Journal 1, no. 3 (May 1998). Reprinted in "Kenneth Burke." Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Vol. 286. Layman Poupard Publishers, LLC. 215-220.

—. "Instantiating 'The Law' and Its Dissents in Korematsu v. United States: A Dramatistic Analysis of Judicial Discourse." The Quarterly Journal of Speech 87 (February 2001): 1-24.

—. Judging the Supreme Court: Constructions of Motives in Bush v. Gore. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State UP, 2007.

—. "Judicial Invention in Cases Contributing to the Development of Corporate Criminal Liability: A Multi-Dimensional Dramatistic Analysis," Diss., University of Iowa, 1988, 59-60.

—. "Revisiting the Controversy over Dramatism as Literal." KB Journal 6.2 (Spring 2010).

—. "Setting the Stage for Brown v. Board of Education: The NAACP's Litigation Campaign Against the 'Separate But Equal' Doctrine," in Brown v. Board of Education at 50: A Rhetorical Perspective, Clarke Rountree, Ed. (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004): 49-90.

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This Week with David Brinkley, ABC, 11 November 1990.

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The January 1832 Debate on Slavery in Virginia: Clashing Scenes and Terministic Screens

Jim A. Kuypers, Virginia Tech


Following the Nat Turner rebellion, the Virginia State Legislature held a debate in early 1832 over the abolition of slavery in the state. Two sides, pro-abolitionists and traditionalists, sparred over a two-week period. Using dramatistic analysis, I undertake a case study of the debate, looking specifically for the terministic screens used by each side to ascertain their worldviews that ultimately led to a narrow defeat of the pro-abolitionists.

FOR TWO WEEKS, RICHMOND WAS AWASH WITH CITIZENS OF ALL CLASSES AND SLAVE-HOLDING STATUS.1 They came to witness a spectacle new to the American South; in January 1832, members of the State Legislature formally debated the abolition of slavery in Virginia. Newspapers described the momentous event, claiming, "we have never heard any debate so eloquent, so sustained, and in which so great a number of speakers had appeared and commanded the attention of so numerous and intelligent an audience. . . . Day after day, multitudes thronged to the capitol, and have been compensated by eloquence which would have illustrated Rome or Athens" (Dew 8). Governor John Floyd wrote in his diary that, "Nothing now is talked of or creates any interest but the debate on the abolition of slavery" (Ambler 172). The openness and candor of the delegates, coupled with the intense public and press scrutiny, produced an attention the likes of which Virginia never again lavished on the charged subject.

The deliberations represent only a footnote in history, overshadowed by the growing abolitionist movements in the North and the Nullification Crisis in the South. It is, however, a defining moment in the history of Southern oratory. Political oratory on the slavery issue, particularly the urgent calls for gradual emancipation, presaged many of the arguments and debates that constituted the "Rhetoric of Desperation" characterizing the South up until the War Between the States (Eubanks 19-72). The catalyst for this event, however, remains more than a historical note.

It occurred in late 1831, when Virginia witnessed the bloodiest slave insurrection in American history. Nat Turner, a slave and self-proclaimed prophet, met with six other slaves on August 22 ("The Confessions of Nat Turner"). That night he and his followers tore through Jerusalem, Va., leaving fifty-seven whites—mostly women and children—shot, axed, and bludgeoned to death (Pleasants 64). Rumor of the uprising spread quickly, fueled by grisly reports such as that published in Richmond's Constitutional Whig on August 22, 1831: "It was hardly in the power of rumor itself, to exaggerate the atrocities which have been perpetrated by the insurgents: whole families, father, mother, daughters, sons, sucking babes and school children, butchered, thrown into heaps, and left to be devoured by hogs and dogs, or to putrify on the spot. At Mr. Levi Waller's, his wife and ten children, were murdered and piled in one bleeding heap on the floor . . ." (Pleasants 64).

Fear of similar revolts from slaves viscerally gripped the outlying slave states Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky through to the Deep South. Virginians dreaded a second rebellion, and no attempt by politicians and newspapers could soothe the public's apprehension at the thought of approximately 470,000 slaves (almost 40% of the state's total population) in open revolt ("U.S Census Office" tables 10-13).2 Joseph Robert wrote that until Nat Turner's capture on October 31, the whites living in heavily black populated sections of Virginia "hung dangerously near the panic stage," ready to spring to action at the slightest provocation (Robert 7). In the following months, other slave states took action to curb growing slave populations, attempting to avert rebellions. Georgia and Louisiana passed resolutions forbidding the importation of slaves from other states, and other regions considered similar measures (Robert 13). Virginia was a slave exporting state, and with a rapidly shrinking export market, Virginians realized that the black population would continue to grow faster than the white.

On December 5, 1831, Governor Floyd declared his commitment to ending slavery in Virginia ("The Diary of John Floyd" qtd. in Whitfield 63). The House of Delegates responded promptly, creating a committee of thirteen members to discuss the "insurrectionary movements of the slaves, and the removal of the free persons of color" (qtd. in Robert 15-16). After laborious proceedings, committee chairman William Brodnax requested that eight additional men join his ranks; thus, the final composition of the committee was sixteen easterners and five westerners (eastern Virginia had more representatives because it was more populous and heavily dependent upon slave labor). As discussion continued, the delegates coalesced into two main factions, labeled here as traditionalists—those who believed that slavery should remain in place—and the activists—who urged change, generally in the form of gradual emancipation. On January 10, 1832, traditionalist William Goode inquired after the progress of the committee. Brodnax replied that "any apparent tardiness…consisted of two main problems: the removal of the free Negroes and gradual emancipation" (Robert 18). On January 11, Goode, feeling the interests of his slave-holding constituents threatened, designed a resolution that he believed could keep the issue from reaching the floor (Robert 19). Thomas Jefferson Randolph moved immediately to amend the resolution, which, contrary to Goode's intention, opened the floor to debate. For the next two weeks, the delegates engaged in a historic sparring match over the merits and morality of slavery, its open discussion, and abolition.

Rhetorical Insights

Historians have been long aware of the 1832 slavery debate, and traditionally held that the results of the debate confirmed Virginia's acceptance and defense of the "Deep South's pro-slavery philosophy. . . . Supposedly, only the westernmost portions of the state seriously proposed emancipation in some form. The eastern areas with ease defeated the proposals and henceforth closed all further discussion of the issue" (Campbell 322). This traditional view has not gone unchallenged, with some, notably Alison Goodyear Freehling, writing that the debate was actually one act in a long struggle between conservative planter class aristocrats and democratic reformers who wished for more equitable participation in state and local affairs. Freehling stressed that the debate was "part of an ongoing contest between a white community irrepressibly divided by slavery. The struggle for political power . . . centered on slavery. Again and again, as democratic reformers challenged aristocratic conservatives for control of Virginia's government . . . a fundamental question recurred: Is slavery compatible with majority rule? Or must Virginia, to safeguard slavery, forever deny white men equal political rights?" (Freehling xii).3 Although these works focus on the historical and sociopolitical contexts, they do not engage in close rhetorical reading of the texts of the orations (Root; Aptheker; Curtis). A rhetorical analysis complicates some historical claims, notably one made by Freehling that the debate was but an additional act in a continuing struggle between democratic reformers and their aristocratic enemies. Viewed rhetorically, however, no such struggle ensued during the debate; instead, we find that many slave owners participated in substance with the activists and voted for emancipation. Viewed rhetorically, we also discover that "acceptance and defense of the 'Deep South's pro-slavery philosophy . . .'" was not as widespread or homogenous as some historians believed. The activists took great pains to identify with slave owners, and attempted to create a new vision of shared substance; traditionalists actively participated in the creation of this vision. Both sides expressed nuanced understanding of the issue, and acknowledged slavery's evil and impractical nature.

Through the analysis that follows, I reveal the historical moment's predominant attitudes and beliefs, as rhetorically expressed through the delegates' public discourse during the slavery debate. The aftermath of the Turner rebellion left Virginia in a complex and fragile state, one calling for bold yet delicate responses to the sociopolitical, material, and rhetorical dynamics. However, the way in which the speakers in this situation, the traditionalists and the activists, created their responses shows a very different understanding of the nature of the crisis, one that, when viewed rhetorically, transcends historical accounts of the debates.

A fruitful way of exploring the different understandings expressed during the debate is through the analysis of the terministic screens used by the delegates. Explaining terministic screens, Kenneth Burke wrote, "even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology, it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality" (Language as Symbolic Action 45). Certainly, a speaker's choice of words and phrases orients listeners' attention to some aspects of reality over others. Importantly, "whatever terms we use … constitute a … kind of screen…." This screen "directs [our] attention to one field rather than another." Within that field there can be different screens, each "directing attention in different ways." According to Burke, "there are two kinds of terms: terms that put things together, and terms that take things apart" (Language as Symbolic Action 49). In short, continuity and discontinuity; composition and division; for Burke, all "terminologies must implicitly or explicitly embody choices between the principle of continuity and the principle of discontinuity" (Language as Symbolic Action 50).

Looking at the debate, we see how terms open up possibilities for unity, for consubstantial co-existence even while representing different political views on emancipation; or, alternatively, we see how terms diminish the strength of a consubstantial moment by stressing division. According to Lawrence Prelli and Terri S. Winters, the "notion of terministic screens enables us to scrutinize how efforts to come to terms with problematic situations often involve similarities and differences about what meanings to reveal and conceal, disclose and foreclose. At stake in efforts to 'screen' meanings terminologically is the adequacy of underlying perspectives in depicting a situation's reality" (Prelli and Winters 226). Along these lines, Burke stressed that "much that we take as observations about 'reality' may be but the spinning out of possibilities implicit in our particular choice of terms" (Language as Symbolic Action 46). Expanding on this notion, Paul Stob wrote that terministic screens "speak to the point at which language and experience move together. They emphasize the way that terms push us into various channels and fields, which continually shape and reshape our vision and expression" (146). Terministic screens allows us to infer the various means whereby identification occurs, so we can see how they open up or close down possibilities for consubstantiality.

Burke ascribed a strong influence to terminological screens; not so much in the sense of once uttered that they impose or compel a particular way of viewing the world, but rather they are indicative of the internal thinking of the communicator. These screens potentially have an influence upon those hearing the discourse: the nature "of our terms affects the nature of our observations, in the sense that the terms direct the attention to one field rather than to another.

Also, "many of the 'observations' are but implications of the particular terminology in terms of which the observations are made" (Language as Symbolic Action 46). Thus, these words and phrases can deflect, reflect, and select attention toward or away from a particular element of the Burkean pentad (Bello 243–52). Just as descriptions of acts, for instance, when viewed as representative anecdotes for a situation, are terministic screens, so too can we view descriptions of other elements of the pentad (Burke, A Grammar of Motives 199). Thus, discovering terministic screens allows us to track pentadic elements—act, scene, agent, agency, purpose—and better understand the larger, and sometimes background understanding of a situation expressed by the communicator. By examining the key terms and phrases used, we can answer very real questions concerning the nature of the observations "implicit in the terminology" chosen (Burke, Language as Symbolic Action 47). We can discover how the terminologies direct attention to affect a particular quality of observation. Moreover, by determining the nature and inner workings of the terministic screens operating, we can shed insight into the Motives, or underlying worldviews, operating to shape the delegates' understanding of the situation.

In our present case, there is a strong underlying current of scenic elements throughout the debate. Scene is essentially a container of sorts for all the action in a situation; it is both context and physical location, encompassing both time and events. With a focus on scene, we have a link to the philosophy of materialism. In describing materialism, Burke cited Friedrich Paulsen, who wrote that the "reduction of psychical processes to physical is the special thesis of materialism" (Baldwin 45). Of note, texts that emphasize scene, thus having a materialistic influence, "emphasize the power of the surrounding environment or the coercive power of circumstance . . ." (McGeough and King 153). Thus, by examining the discourse, we can assess the degree to which scene, which exists outside of an agent or an agent's act, influences the actions and thoughts of that agent. Ryan Erik McGeough and Andrew King stressed the potentially deterministic nature of such discourse:

Texts that emphasize scene downplay free choice and emphasize situational determinism. They tend to emphasize the power of circumstances over individual choice. Clarence Darrow excused the behavior of many criminals by arguing that they were victims of bad heredity and merciless environment. Supporters of social welfare programs point to bad schools and failing local economies as reasons that such programs are needed. Speakers who advise accommodating to circumstances emphasize the deterministic power of scene. (156)

As will be shown later, scene is an important element in the slave debates, yet even with such a deterministic influence, the delegates were able to work against it to stress their own moral action and agency.

I demonstrate in the pages that follow how the debaters' construction of past, present, and future scenes framed their perspectives and accounts for the differences in their deployment of terministic screens. Marguerite Helmers suggested that traditional notions of Burkean scene are temporally bound (77-94); in so far as this is true, the present case study extends our notion of scene since it highlights shifting constructions and interanimations of past, present, and future scenes. As will be shared, the terministic construction of scene is central to understanding the debate's outcome, and allows us to better understand the terministic strategies used within the four distinct themes addressed by the delegates, ultimately contributing to an understanding of scene that is supportive of competing views and, ultimately, policies. Moreover, the examination of the debate shows how even in the face of an overwhelmingly coercive power of scene, willful agent-centered moral action is attainable.

The Virginia debate offers a unique opportunity to view the clashing of terministic screens on a stunningly important topic. By examining the screens used, we can see just how close the sides came to a truly consubstantial moment; additionally, identifying these contending screens allow us to see how the political actors viewed the situation, and imbued it with meaning. Such an examination of the debate can reveal the speakers' thoughts and assessments of the political climate, latent feelings, attitudes toward slavery, and a multitude of related issues. Because the activists had the larger rhetorical burden in this debate, I focused primarily on them. I began this study by examining each speech for major themes, and then determined which themes were conveyed terministically throughout the debate.4 There are four themes, each with contrasting screens: discussion of slavery, the economy, public safety/property, and morality.

The Debate

The Discussion about a Slavery Debate

For traditionalist members of the Legislature, the debate itself seemed unwise, a foolish endeavor they needed to curtail as quickly as possible. Ironically, it was traditionalist William Goode's resolution to bar the discussion of any plans for manumission that inadvertently allowed members of the Legislature to spar. The activists' first order of business, then, addressed this issue: should the Legislature even discuss slavery? Some of the activists dwelled on this subject for large portions of their orations, making it a focal point in the debate, and an issue with which they easily attacked traditionalists. James McDowell offers a telling example in his forceful introduction:

And, sir, I would not break [the silence] now; I would not open the lips which discretion should seal, were it not that the question which we are discussing, and the discussion itself, have brought a crisis on the country; have brought up a measure for decision here, of such eventful influence over the social structure and condition of the State, as to demand . . . that, guided only by his judgment and his conscious, he should stand forth, firmly and deliberately, and take his position upon it (McDowell 3).
McDowell claimed that the debate had "long been repressed by unmanly apprehensions or smothered as the dream of impracticable benevolence" (4). Like many others, he argued that every representative—by the nature of his position—had a right and obligation to fully address an issue of such great concern to the populace. The activists appealed to a common sense of duty, patriotism, and manliness, all virtues lauded in antebellum Southern rhetoric.5 Robert Powell cried: "Sir, a crisis is at hand; this great question is obliged to be met; it can no longer be evaded; and it becomes to us, as men, and as patriots, to meet it with firmness and decision, yet with caution and circumspection" (1). William Summers called the debate a "duty to ourselves"; William Roane claimed it was the "bar of patriotism"; Philip Bolling demanded "open, bold and manly" discussion (Summers; Roane; Bolling 3). Further, Bolling claimed that, "No man, who is firmly convinced that he is sustained by reason and justice, hesitates to confront his adversary," because that was "a tacit admission that reason and justice are against him" (3). Thomas Jefferson Randolph, the grandson of Thomas Jefferson, chided the representatives, claiming they had the "sagacity of the Ostrich who, if it hides its eye behind a pebble, imagines its huge body concealed from its enemies" (2). Stressing norms of virility, James Chandler acknowledged the attending females, noting the "mirth and happiness in their eye." He then goaded the men, proclaiming: "And shall man, fearless man, whose boast and pride it is to be regardless of danger, shrink from the discussion of that, which woman, lovely woman, with all her tender sensibilities and timid apprehensions, smiles at?" (Chandler 4).

Appeals to manly virtues did serve as motivational leverage, but did not squelch the opposition. The traditionalists wished to avoid discussion because they felt it would lead to widespread malcontent, and possibly incite additional slave revolts. William O. Goode described this position: The debate "is creating great pain and anxiety