Issues of KB Journal

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

Volume 14, Issue 1 Summer 2019

Contents of KB Journal Volume 14, Issue 1 Summer 2019

The Inaugural Address of Donald J. Trump: Terministic Screens and the Reemergence of “Make America Great Again”

Jim A. Kuypers, Virginia Tech
Caitlin McDaniel, Virginia Tech


Using Burke’s notion of terminological screens, we perform a cluster analysis on Donald Trump’s inaugural address. We discovered keywords that appeared to point to Trump’s stock campaign phrase, Make America Great Again: we, Washington, D.C., people, you/your, and America. Our analysis seeks to explain how the phrase's rhetorical presence in Trump’s inaugural address opened and closed possibilities for unity and division, and ultimately allowed for an inaugural speech reception on par with prior presidents

On Friday, January 20, 2017, an estimated 31 million viewers tuned in to watch Donald J. Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States (“Nearly 31 Million”).  His inaugural address, officially titled, “Remarks of President Donald J. Trump—As Prepared for Delivery,”1 was his first opportunity to approach the American people, not as a partisan and contentious political candidate, but as their president for the next four years. There is no doubt that this past presidential election cycle was among the most divisive between the two parties in modern history, especially considering the exchange of words the two presidential candidates had towards one another; President Trump’s inaugural address was an opportunity to put all of the stories, rumors, and his controversial rhetoric as a candidate behind him. Since the founding of the American Republic, presidents have delivered such addresses,2 and because of this tradition, certain characteristics overtime have emerged and coalesced to form generic expectations.  As Lee Siegelman noted, “presidents have become more and more likely to employ language that is accessible to the masses, have invoked more and more unity symbols, and have done more to establish links with traditional American values” (Siegelman 90).3  Inaugural addresses are important because they “commemorate the nation’s past . . . envision its future, and to try to set the tone for the next four years” (Siegelman 81).

During his campaign Trump had one particularly hard worked and controversial stock phrase he used to motivate his supporters and relay his message--Make America Great Again (MAGA). He used this phrase throughout his campaign as a rhetorical touchstone for the changes he wanted to make to the country if elected.  Of note is that even as the phrase’s rhetorical presence runs throughout the inaugural address, Trump used it only once.  The phrase captures the essence of his rhetorical efforts in a campaign that ultimately persuaded over 63 million Americans to support him with their votes.  Trump’s persuasiveness in capturing approximately 46% of all votes cast (Hillary Clinton capturing roughly 48%) bears investigation.  Understanding Make American Great Again, a stock phrase containing the rhetorical essence of his persuasive appeals, is especially important to this goal.  Our purpose, however, is not to understand the term in relation to Trump’s base, but to understand how Trump attempted transition from the term’s initial partisan implications to opening up its meaning to a more inclusive view of America when he became president.  Does the presence of the term open up, in Burkeian terms, possibilities for increased consubtantiality?  Or does it continue to appeal only to a partisan base, thus closing off possibilities for greater unity?

In the pages that follow, we use a form of cluster analysis as a means to discover the rhetorical workings of the phrase Make America Great Again as Trump transitioned from candidate and president-elect to president.  Moreover, through this analysis we discovered that even as Make America Great Again was technically used only once in the inaugural speech, offering a break from the campaign trail and its contentiousness, the terminological screen surrounding the phrase ran strongly throughout the speech, thus offering ideational continuity with Trump’s prior rhetorical efforts.4  For our analysis we first provide a brief history of Trump’s road to the White House that includes a summary explanation about the Make America Great Again phrase associated with Trump and his campaign. We next provide a brief overview of terminological screens and cluster analysis.  We then examine Trump’s inaugural address and offer insights into both the workings of terminological screens and Trump’s use of Make America Great Again. 

Donald J. Trump’s Road to the White House

Trump began his presidential journey on July 16, 2015 when he announced he was running as a potential presidential nominee for the Republican party (Kimble). In the months that followed, he made his stances on issues known through campaign rallies and GOP debates; he eventually won a string of primary races, landing him as the GOP candidate on July 19, 2016, surpassing the minimum 1237 minimum delegate votes required by 204 (Kimble). He continued his journey to the White House through three intense debates with the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton (“Timeline”). Throughout his run as a presidential candidate, he used the Make America Great Again phrase repeatedly, finding it quite attractive to his supporters. Although losing the popular vote (46.2% to 48.1%), Trump won the 2016 election with 306 of 538 electoral votes (“Presidential Election Results”).5

The “Make America Great Again” Campaign Phrase

MAGA hatThrough the phrase Make America Great Again, Trump in part asserts that the current state of America had declined from previous generations, and was in a diminished state at the time of the campaign due to a variety of reasons which he repeatedly stressed during the campaign.6 The slogan quickly caught on, and a signature red hat was created and worn by Trump and many supporters at various rallies across the nation during the campaign season. Far from being a quickly thought up campaign gimmick, the slogan had actually been in Trump’s mind prior to his announcement to run for office; he trademarked the slogan days following Romney’s loss to Barack Obama in 2012 (Engel). What, though, does this phrase mean? In an interview with CSPAN, when asked how he would “make America great again,” Trump explained:

we are going to bring back jobs from China, from Mexico, from all of the places that have just absolutely taken our jobs; we’re just being stripped, we’re being stripped of our jobs, we’re being stripped of our money. We’re going to strengthen our borders, we’re going to build a wall, we’re not going to have people pouring in here, we’re going to change health care, we’re going to take care of our military, we’re going to take care of our vets.  We’re going to make our country potentially better than it has ever been. (“Donald Trump”)

This was not the only time Trump made references to this phrase throughout his campaign. During a campaign speech in Wisconsin in 2016, Trump used the Make America Great Again phrase to end his campaign speech after touching on some of the similar ideals that were suggested in his CSPAN interview. During the rally he stated, “on crime, I am going to support more police in our communities, appoint the best prosecutors and judges in the country, pursue strong enforcement of federal laws, and I am going to break up the gangs, the cartels and criminal syndicates terrorizing our neighborhoods” (“Full Text”). During the same campaign speech, he also mentioned his goal to reestablish law and order in America: “We will once again be a country of law and order, and a country of great success.” He goes on to promise the American people that he will be tough on terrorism when he stated, “to defeat crime and Radical Islamic Terrorism in our country, to win trade in our country, you need tremendous physical and mental strength and stamina. Hillary Clinton doesn’t have that strength and stamina. She cannot win for you.” Trump ties these ideals and his plans regarding a greater America together at the end of this campaign speech when he stated, “Together, We Will Make America Strong Again. We will Make America Safe Again. And We Will Make America Great Again.” This campaign rally was just one of the many references expressing his ideas on what would make America once again great.

In his first speech as the official Republican presidential nominee, Trump established a vision about a less safe America created by previous administrations through focusing in on four specific areas: crime, immigration, the economy, and terrorism (Kuypers, “Presidential Nomination” 144). Through the terministic choices he made during his campaign, starting with his first speech as the official nominee, Trump suggested that America was losing against other nations in trade, and also failing to live up to each generation’s promise to leave a better standard of living to its children.  Of note is that he emphasized the use of the word “we” in these speeches, which acted to enjoin “empowered citizens, as individuals, to work toward success in a resurging America—with Trump as their voice directing a tone deaf Washington to essentially get out of the way so The People can act” (Kuypers, “Presidential Nomination” 150). The themes he focused on in his nomination address, as well as his vision for reinventing America, undergirded future mentions of Make America Great Again throughout his campaign, on election night, and following his victory.  For instance, the month before the election, in an interview with conservative talk show host Sean Hannity, Trump clarified his stock phrase while hinting at those themes once again. This time, however, he used the phrase Make America Great Again and then followed it with reasons why he felt America diminished in its current state: “I can only say we’re going to make America great again. We have so many problems. Our taxes are too high. We’re going to reduce them. Our borders are weak. Our regulations are crazy, drugs are pouring into our country. People are coming into the country that we really shouldn’t have come into the country” (“Interview”). That he associated the phrase with these ideas so late in the campaign suggests a continuity of meaning over time as he used it. Nor did this change after he won the election.

During his first speech as president-elect—his victory speech—he presented similar ideas including fixing the inner cities, taking care of veterans, and fixing America’s economy.6 As president-elect, Trump continued his focus on a unified effort by using “we” instead of “I” when he stated, “Working together, we will begin the urgent task of rebuilding our nation and renewing the American dream” (“Transcript”).  And in a post-victory rally in Youngstown, Ohio, the word “we”rhetorically acted to unite “the people” (Trump supporters and willing moderates) and to stand against the current government state. Trump in that speech asserted, “In America, we don’t worship government” (qtd in Abramson), emphasizing his camp’s belief of why America is different from other nations. He also stated in this same speech, “We are keeping our promises to the people, and yes, we are putting finally, finally we are putting America first.” Also during this rally he focused on asserting how his policies would bring jobs back, allow the rule of the law to be enforced, and restore military readiness.  All of these themes had been central to Trump’s campaign. The continuation of language suggesting how to fix and improve the country as a unified “we” was a theme common within Trump’s rhetoric prior to his first official speech as President.

The use of Make America Great Again continued even after being elected as President.  When discussing an open Senate seat in a “Make America Great Again” rally in Pensacola, Florida, on December 8, 2017, Trump stated, “we need someone in the Senate who will vote for our make America great again agenda, which involves tough on crime, strong on borders, strong on immigration. We want great people coming into our country. Building the wall. Strengthening our military. Continuing our great fight for our veterans” (“President Donald Trump”). These concepts and ideas used when describing this phrase had been consistent throughout his entire campaign, in the moments leading up to his first speech as President, and after.  Before turning to see how this phrase manifested itself in the inaugural address, we first explore the Burkeian concepts of terministic screens and cluster analysis.

Terministic Screens and Cluster Analysis

Kenneth Burke emphasized that our grammatical choices can reveal the meaning behind rhetorical artifacts, and that terministic screens can be used to understand how “what we say we know is filtered through our terms” (Blakesley 95). It is the “capacity  of language (terminology) to encourage us to understand the world in some ways, while filtering (screening) other interpretations out” (McGeough and King 148). The idea behind a terministic screen can be used with the analogy of a photograph, just as the lens of a camera is responsible for creating new perspectives with the same object, a terministic screen filters a view based on the specific terms used. Since terministic screens have that filtering affect, “our attempts to describe or interpret reality are limited initially by the terms available to us, and then further, by which ones we choose” (Blakesley 96).

How we use our language, the choices we make concerning specific words and phrases, shed light on the underlying assumptions that inform our understanding of the world.  When critics examine the choices made by communicators, they can see how key terms coalesce, interact, to form terministic screens.  According to Kenneth Burke, “even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology, it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality” (Burke, Language 45).  There is nothing inherently special about this process; the everyday words we use can show how communicators make some aspects of their reality more salient than others.  Thinking of terministic screens, “whatever terms we use … constitute a … kind of screen [and this screen] directs [our] attention to one field rather than another” (Burke, Language 49).  This directing action is an inducement of sorts, strong or weak, to see the world in a particular fashion.  These screens are also “indicative of the internal thinking of the communicator [for 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” (Burke, Language 46).  

From a dramatistic point of view, such screens work in the service of either continuity or discontinuity, depending upon the person uttering them and the audience receiving them.  For Burke, there are “terms that put things together, and terms that take things apart” (Burke, Language 49).  In other words, terministic screens can also act toward composition and division, since all “terminologies must implicitly or explicitly embody choices between the principle of continuity and the principle of discontinuity”(Burke, Language 50).

With this in mind, we can examine Trump’s inaugural address to see how his language choices “open up possibilities for unity, for consubstantial co-existence even while representing different political views . . . or, alternatively, we see how [his] terms diminish the strength of a consubstantial moment by stressing division” (Kuypers, “January 1832”).  Lawrence Prelli and Terri S. Winters made a cogent observation on this point, that 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” (226).  Of course, Burke noted that “much that we take as observations about ‘reality’ may be but the spinning out of possibilities implicit in our particular choice of terms” (Burke, Language 46), and it is here that Paul Stob observed 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).  As Jim A. Kuypers wrote, terministic screens allow

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. . . .  (Kuypers, “January 1832”)

The practical implication for such an understanding is highlighted by Sarah N. Heiss: “Rhetors’ word choices reflect, select, and deflect particular understandings of the world. In sharing that understanding, they create the communicative possibility for an audience to develop, alter, or extinguish their understanding of that same topic. In turn, rhetoric serves to influence how audiences will then experience and share their world with others” (538).

It is important to note that there are different methods though which we can examine terministic screens to look for worldviews and new meanings. According to David Blakesley, “Burke suggests that we develop methods for choosing terminologies, for elaborating their scope and circumference, and for complementing our choice of terminologies with others that might encourage alternative perspectives or express new relationships” (97). One way critics can discover this range of meanings is through the use of a cluster analysis. Using cluster analysis, a critic can develop an idea about the rhetor’s thoughts and intentions by looking at keywords located throughout the discourse. Blakesley described this type of analysis as “a much-practiced form of dramatistic analysis that reveals the repetitive nature of a writer’s associational (and terminological) logic” (103).

Cluster Analysis

It is well-known that Kenneth Burke viewed rhetoric dramatistically, and that fruitful analysis can be had “via a methodical inquiry into cycles or clusters of terms and their functions” (Burke, “Dramatism” 445).  According to Adriana Angel and Benjamin Bates, “terministic screens are vocabularies or lenses that speakers use to define and understand the world, [and] the method of cluster analysis allows researchers to study the way in which those terms group, relate, and distinguish from others.” The process of cluster analysis often involves examining common themes associated with keywords found within a rhetorical artifact, and figuring out how each cluster compares to another in order to “understand in what ways a writer’s work is an answer to his or her situation, and importantly, whether it is an answer with which we might identify” (Blakesley 104). Once the keywords are identified, a critic can map the language surrounding these keywords to form an interpretation about what is meant and how terms form the overall theme of the rhetor’s work. Doing this can map common themes among certain keywords that form relationships with others and how “these formal relationships express a logic rooted in the writer’s psychology” (Blakesley 104).

Cluster criticism is amenable to different forms of analysis. For instance, it may be used to examine one specific word and meanings behind that one word. Angel and Bates used this type of analysis in their critique of Columbian radio conversations surrounding the word “corruption.” Their analysis consisted of four steps. First, they focused on the terms that “guided the consecutive search for other terms” (Angel and Bates), meaning they found main terms that radio hosts used when they defined or described the term corruption. Second, they examined the radio talk surrounding corruption by identifying terms used by the speakers when referring to corruption. Third, they identified clusters of terms that showed patterns of meaning, which were based on similar ideas that speakers use when referring to corruption. Finally, they determined the rhetor’s motives behind the meanings associated with key terms.

Although cluster criticism can be used to look at one word and meanings associated with that one word, it can also be used to examine meaning behind multiple key words and their role in various contexts by examining multiple artifacts. Robert S. Littlefield and Andrea M. Quenette used this method in looking at media portrayals of authority figures within two different news outlets. They specifically compared different media outlets and their interpretations of authority, specifically in natural disasters to evaluate how media outlets interpret authority figures during a time of crisis.  They sought to understand whether or not the personality or actions of those authority figures were perceived positively or negatively within each newspaper based on the clusters surrounding the key words they were examining, and whether or not this  helped explain media framing of events in society. They identified mentions of authority figures in the two publications they examined and found five common authority-related key words to examine. Once they found these words they looked to the two outlets to determine how the newspapers portrayed these authority figures, based on clusters of words surrounding them, in either a positive or a negative light.

Cluster analysis can be applied in other ways in addition to the two we have provided here, such as using the method in conjunction with others, to analyze political rhetoric from prominent leaders. Daniel S. Brown and Matthew A. Morrow, for example, used a variety of rhetorical strategies including Burke’s cluster analysis, Weaver’s concept of ultimate terms, and the examination of Biblical metaphors to analyze Margaret Thatcher’s “Sermon on the Mound” speech. They conducted this analysis after discovering the criticisms behind the speech which referred to it as “a failed attempt to garner support and move her listeners toward her viewpoint” (Brown and Morrow 45). Brown and Morrow analyzed the work of Thatcher first through her use of “Ultimate Terms,” or more specifically, “god terms” and “devil terms” to determine how combining her perspective on both religion and politics may have affected her intended audience. Once they established the “god” and “devil” terms to examine, they examined ideas clustering around the god term of “Christianity” and the devil term of “politics” to analyze the speech to determine its meaning. This cluster analysis was then followed by an analysis of a Biblical metaphor Thatcher used in her speech. Through conducting this analysis, they discovered that “the effect of her sermon was considerably less than a resounding success because of her misuse of Ultimate Terms and unfortunate choice of biblical metaphor” (Brown and Morrow 52). As evident through this example, cluster analysis can be used with other rhetorical strategies to examine and provide an explanation for why certain ideals expressed by a rhetor of an artifact may not always be effective or appropriate in reaching the intended audience, and how expressing certain worldviews through word choice can affect how others perceive the meaning of the artifact.

Now that we have discussed the perspective of cluster analysis and the basic themes surrounding the Make America Great Again phrase used by Trump prior to being sworn in as president, we analyze through a cluster analysis how key words presented in his inaugural address act to constitute the phrase Make America Great Again.  We seek to discover how he used specific terms to reflect on past administrations, describe the condition of the country, and invent the future under a new Trump administration.  Additionally, we seek to understand what potential such screens held for helping or hindering the creation of a uniting vision for the country and shifting power from the politicians in Washington and returning it to “the people.”

Analysis of the Keywords

Trump’s inaugural address lasted approximately 15 minutes and contained 1433 words, which made it the second shortest inaugural address in presidential history (Rossman).


During the campaign, Trump was dissimilar both to most of the other 16 potential Republican nominees and to his eventual presidential opponent, Hilary Clinton. He had not served any terms in local, state, or national government prior to his current role as president. Instead, his world was that of business. During his campaign he stressed the phrase Make America Great Again, and our concern here is to discover how this term appears in his inaugural address.  Although Make America Great Again appears only at the end of his speech, clusters of terms exist throughout the speech that suggests a strong rhetorical presence of the term.  To investigate its terminological presence, we engage in an inductive cluster analysis of the phrase Make America Great Again, looking for terms that surround and inform its presence in the speech.

After reviewing the speech in both text and video form, we discovered keywords that, taking both frequency and emphasis into account, appeared to point to Make America Great Again: “we,” “Washington, D.C.,” “people,” “you/your,” and “America.” We analyzed and evaluated the  cluster of words surrounding these keywords; in doing so, we were able to demonstrate how the groupings surrounding those key terms lended themselves to reveal the inner workings of the Make America Great Again phrase. To begin, we examine the use of the word “we.”


“We” was among the most prevalent terms used in the address.  Trump used this word to share his vision of unity among Americans to create an “our” shared vision instead of a “my” (Trump’s) vision for the country. His first line of the inaugural address begins with the common theme expressed in his other rhetoric: a group effort is necessary to fix the country. He stated, “We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.” The first cluster of words surrounding the first use of we, (rebuild and restore), are those of promise and unity, and he used these words to exhibit potential change in America. In that first line, he continues to emphasize the group effort that will take place under his administration to change Washington, D.C. instead of emphasizing how his individual administration will enact the change. Seemingly, all actions that will be taken under a Trump administration are constructed as a “we” not “I.”

The word “we” was used to serve as an exhibition of what the American people will be doing during a Trump administration. He used this word to recognize the transfer of power from the past administration to a present, unified we, and how this we would be changing the course of America: “We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power.” Other words Trump used within the context of  we throughout the address were positive words such as: citizens, restore, rebuild, grateful, one nation, share, friendship, goodwill, rediscover, stand, one heart, one home, one destiny, and protect. These words were used by Trump to attempt inclusivity and deliver his promises about transferring power from the government back to the people, and focusing on returning America to a strong and safe state. In this manner, the slogan Make America Great Again entails a group effort, because “we share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny” according to Trump.

Washington, D.C.

Toward the beginning of his inaugural address, Trump focused on the negativity in the country caused by actions of those running the Federal Government. Words that surrounded and that were associated with “Washington, D.C.” included politicians, small group, prospered, power, reaped rewards, flourished, protected, victorious, and celebrated. These words framed Washington, D.C. under past administrations—Democrat and Republican—negatively by demonstrating how the Capitol region and those who worked the system benefited in the past; this is the “establishment,” the problem to be corrected.

Trump stated: “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered – but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s Capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.” By discussing the Capitol and those politicians associated with running Washington, D.C., Trump painted a picture in which Washington, D.C. ruled the people, and that the small group associated with it benefitted and thrived, while the people did not. Instead, they suffered while the Washington, D.C. establishment benefitted, which shows evidence of the presence of negative aspects of this terminological screen. His word choice surrounding the keyword of “people” further extends this negative view of the suffering that took place in a corrupt Washington; the people suffered under old administrations, but will succeed and be protected under Trump’s new vision of America.


As mentioned above, “the people” are closely linked with Washington, D.C.  There is a clear shift in the speech regarding the people of America; this takes place right after Trump’s shift from America’s past into the present. The people have been hurt by Washington, D.C.:

Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.  For many decades, [Washington, D.C.] has enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry….  [It has] Subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. [It has] made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon….

There are both negative and positive keywords associated with the term “people.” The negative words surrounding “people” are associated with the negative actions of the establishment politicians associated with the politicians in the capitol of Washington, D.C.  The people here are associated with a negative experience, emphasizing the people suffered and did not share in the “wealth” and “bore the cost” of the establishment politicians and their actions.  Trump’s rhetoric then shifts from a focus on past administrations to a future embracing the changes that would be made under his administration; here we see the beginnings of a shift between negative words surrounding the keyword people into more positive clusters of words, which is evident when Trump stated, “January 20th, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”

This arrangement between negative clusters being in close proximity to positive clusters surrounding the words referring to Washington, D.C. makes this a pivotal cluster term, one that is both past and future cause for the American scene.  The past/present Washington, D.C. acting upon the people is now to be replaced with a positive future: “That all changes right here, and right now, because this moment belongs to you.” Those positive words surrounding “people” throughout this speech include: rulers again, government controlled by, off of welfare, back to work, live together, good, and pleasant.


Not only did President Trump repeatedly refer to those watching and those who voted as the people, but made it more personal by using the second person, using the words “you” and “your,” and by referring to January 20th as “your day,” and stating that “This is your celebration. And this the United States of America is your country.” Once again, there were clusters of both negative and positive words surrounding the use of you/your. The majority of the words surrounding “you” emphasized the power of individuals to make changes under the new administration. Positive words that clustered around the keywords in second person include: moment, belongs, define, day, celebration, country, part of movement, ignored, voice hopes, dreams, courage, goodness, and love. Negative clusters surrounding you/your include: ignored, not victories, not triumphs. Just like the other negative clusters surrounding the key words, the majority of the negative words surrounding you/your are found in the beginning of his speech following his discussion of establishment politicians and the Capitol. In the past, “you” suffered, but this will no longer be the case under the new administration.

The positive clusters associated with you/your, just like other positive clusters from other keywords, come once the president began talking about the future state of the nation. Trump used the first positive cluster to detail who made the Make America Great Again movement to the White House possible. The first use after the transition of the word your from past to future, focused on positive words such as, “celebration, day, country, everyone listening.” He used the second person to illustrate changes that “you” will see how the power takes a shift from “them” (the establishment) back to “you,” in this case, the American people. The repetition of the word “your” seemed to be used to create a personal connection to voters, attempting to assure both supporters and non-supporters alike that a Trump White House would benefit them, just as promised: “Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams, will define our American destiny. Your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.” The fight to restore power from Washington, D.C. back to the people to which Trump alluded would not be won by him alone, but with the help of “you,” the people watching and the people who elected him.  We see at the end of the speech the clear switch from the initial clusters of negative terms to positive associations with Make American Great Again: “We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action—constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.  The time for empty talk is over.  Now arrives the hour of action.  You will never be ignored again.  Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams, will define our American destiny.  And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.”


Throughout his campaign, Trump attempted to create an image of a “greater America,” where illegal immigration would be minimized, where jobs would be recreated, and where “the people,” and not the establishment, would be the first priority. In his speech these policies emerged, most clustering around the word “America.” Except in a few areas, this word was expressed mainly in positive terms throughout the speech: united, unstoppable, wealthy, proud, safe, heart, fight, spirit, your country, oath of allegiance, first, great, and winning. There were, however, a few negative words surrounding “America”: carnage, left behind, fallen infrastructure, and expense. Once again, the negative connotations are associated with the actions by the Washington, D.C. establishment the President discussed early in his speech (and throughout the entirety of his campaign). We also see those themes involving bringing back jobs to America and Trump’s claim to make America safe again by fixing immigration policies, which were two items he referred to when using the Make America Great Again slogan in prior speeches and interviews (“Donald Trump”).

Although initially the term America had a few negative clusters of terms associated with it, once Trump shifted from the “they” of D.C. establishment to the “we” of the people, the cluster of terms surrounding America became positive and more pronounced.  The positive connotations focused on what would occur if “the people” became united, on how the country would achieve greatness again. Under his administration, Trump promised that “we will make America strong again, we will make America wealthy again, we will make America proud again, we will make America safe again and yes, together, we will Make America Great Again.”


Although stated explicitly once only, the terminological resources of Make America Great Again run strong throughout Trump’s address. Certainly cluster analysis can be used to find a rhetor’s thoughts and intentions, and can be used also to show a pattern of continuation of prior rhetorical elements in later works by the same rhetor.7 Through our analysis of key words and phrases emphasized by Trump during both the delivery of the speech and in the speech’s transcript we discovered the presence of Make America Great Again through the identification and examination of clusters surrounding the five key terms: We, Washington, D.C., People, You/Your, and America.

In doing this, we discovered how Trump used his inaugural address as an opportunity to highlight his plans for change to the United States through the comparison of his view of past/present America with a future of the country under his presidency, one he stressed in his speech to be created by all citizens. Through the comparison between clusters around the key words we identified, and the shifts between Trump’s language when referring to the past and future of America, we were able to identify in particular why it was important for Trump to reform Washington, D.C. and how he relayed he would act with all people to create a better America. In his address, he first identified those actions that contributed to the tainted condition of Washington, D.C. and why it needed to be changed, using the speech as an opportunity to foreshadow future policy changes. We found here that the key terms pointing to his phrase of Make America Great Again were used in both a negative and positive manner. Negativity appeared when Trump referred to actions in the past, while key terms were used more positively when describing the future of America. For example, one of the key terms, “we,” acts as a pivot term, one that demonstrates both the people as hurt by Washington, D.C. (for instance, “We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon”) and the people that can come together now to “make America great again” (for example, “We will bring back our jobs.  We will bring back our borders.  We will bring back our wealth.  And we will bring back our dreams”). This repetitive use of we acted to demonstrate Trump’s belief that in both the past and in the present, Americans were suffering as a result of the current state of Washington; that Americans were being negatively impacted by the actions of establishment political figures, and were losing jobs to other countries. However, the use of we also made evident that for Trump, under his new administration, Americans would benefit, and all would have a part and a voice in a better America. This use of we showed at a minimum Trump verbalizing a potentially inclusive element, and that the promises he made in his campaign were to be achieved through a group effort, showing to those who voted and those who were skeptical that he intended keep his campaign promises and address the flaws he identified in the system.8

The suffering of which Trump spoke appeared throughout his speech, but especially near the key term of Washington, D.C. and those terms surrounding it. Washington, D.C. was used as the term of comparison between past and present; in a sense, another pivot term.  Through the clusters of words surrounding it, Trump described Washington, D.C. as a cause of a decaying America. This focus on the negative America was experiencing may have been an attempt to reach those who doubted his intentions in taking office.  For Trump, festering issues such as immigration, crime, the economy, and political corruption were harming the American people: “For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.”  During his campaign he identified flaws in the system and, in his address, he relisted those flaws, thus offering continuity with previous messages.

Part of this effort involved Trump pointing out the reasons why “the people” were weary with the government, emphasizing how “you,” the voters, led the Make America Great Again movement by taking action into “your” own hands.  “You” suffered in the past, Trump asserted, so “you” voted for change. Recognizing this in his address Trump stated, “you came by tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.” In the physical delivery of his speech, he took special pains to emphasize “our” several times with reference to all Americans and “our” country.  He also emphasized “you” as in “the people.” Throughout his address Trump acknowledged the work of the American people and how they brought change to the country and how the people would take part in “a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise to for all of our people.”

Addressing “the people” directly was important to Trump as evident in both the written version and in his delivery of the address. Successful or not, he expressed a sentiment to unite all Americans, those who voted for him and those who did not, and again exhibited his intentions to keep the promises he made during his campaign. From the start of the speech until its conclusion, “the people,” as he conceived them, even those who doubted or opposed him, were the heart of the speech. As such, power would be restored to “the people,” policies would be changed, and as a united country, “we,” not Trump alone, would Make America Great Again: “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.  When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” With this emphasis on coming together as one, concluding his speech, Trump asserted: “Together, We Will Make America Strong Again. We Will Make America Wealthy Again. We Will Make America Proud Again. We Will Make America Safe Again. And, Yes, Together, We Will Make America Great Again.”

Clearly we see the presence of Make American Great Again throughout the speech.  Moreover, we see how terminological screens can work, tapping into circumstances, generic expectations, and the prior knowledge of the audience.  Because many in the audience had closely followed Trump during the campaign, they were familiar with the terms and themes generally used when Trump mentioned Make America Great Again, thus even without even saying it, terms were able to form a screen that pointed to its ultimate use in the conclusion of his address.

As expressed by Burke, the word choices made by speakers do select, deflect, and reflect their understandings of the world. Along these lines, Heiss suggested that when speakers shared such understandings that they “create the communicative possibility for an audience to develop, alter, or extinguish their understanding of that same topic” (536). Certainly we see in Trump’s speech a particular reality expressed, one advanced by Trump both in the campaign and in his inaugural address. Importantly, we can see how Trump was able to verbally express a desire to work with the opposition while at the same time maintaining the meaning behind his campaign and thus not alienating his base.  Although Make America Great Again is a contested phrase, we are inclined to believe that Trump’s terministic screens filtering audience perception toward its ultimate use at the end of the speech did allow at least for some possibilities of a more inclusive understanding of the term than that suggested on the campaign trail.

Such possibilities are part of inaugural addresses,9 and for Trump, such possibilities take on even greater importance.  His divisiveness as an incoming president is unprecedented in contemporary memory, and he delivered his address with the lowest initial job approval rating since such records were kept.  According to Gallup: “Trump is the first elected president in Gallup's polling history to receive an initial job approval rating below the majority level. He starts his term in office with 45% of Americans approving of the way he is handling his new job, 45% disapproving and 10% yet to form an opinion” (Saad).  Such a handicap for his first major speech as president underscores the potential power of his terministic screens when audience feedback of his speech is examined.  Although we have shown theoretically through our critique ways that Trump’s speech opened up possibilities “for unity, for consubstantial co-existence even while representing different political views” (Kuypers, “January 1832”), discovering its effect in reality is difficult to measure; however, polls taken after the speech do suggest that America was uncertain about how his speech solicited unity or promoted division. Rasmussen, for example, found that a small percentage more of “voters thought President … Trump's inaugural address … more likely to drive Americans further apart (38 percent) than it is to bring them together (36 percent), [with] twenty-one percent saying it would have no impact” (Freeman).  Other polls, however, showed his speech with rather strong approval numbers when comparatively viewed.  For instance, Politico found that “49 percent of those who watched or heard about the speech [said] it was excellent or good, and just 39 percent rat[ed] it as only fair or poor. Fifty-one percent of voters described the speech as 'optimistic,' 46 percent of respondents [said] the speech was 'presidential,' and 44 percent [said] it was 'inspiring…’” (Sherman).  Moreover, sixty-five “percent of those surveyed reacted positively to the ‘America First’ message, the cornerstone of the Trump campaign and governing posture” (Sherman). Rassmussen also found that 52% of likely voters agreed with Trump’s use of America first in his speech, with 37% disagreeing (“Voters Agree”).

Although split concerning the unifying or dividing qualities of the speech, Gallup found that “Americans' reactions to the inaugural ceremonies for Donald Trump were more positive than negative. Thirty-nine percent say they are more hopeful about the next four years based on what they saw, heard or read about Friday's inauguration, 30% are less hopeful, and 30% say what they heard or read made no difference” (Jones). Of note here is that these results are “similar to what Gallup measured for George W. Bush's and Barack Obama's second inaugurations, but much less positive than it was for Obama's first” (Jones).

Certainly Trump’s terministic screens were composed of language accessible to the masses.  Perhaps he could have incorporated more unity symbols, but with polling suggesting that American response to his speech is similar to other inaugural addresses, given by presidents from both parties, and who were viewed as considerably less divisive, something other is operating here.  As Siegelman suggests, inaugural addresses are important because they “commemorate the nation’s past . . . envision its future, and to try to set the tone for the next four years” (81). Trump did meet those generic expectations, and though denounced by political elites and the mainstream American press,10 his Make America Great Again theme resonated with his audience enough to overcome his dismal initial approval rating to produce a speech generally on par with other presidential inaugural addresses.


An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Southern States Communication Association Convention, Montgomery, 2019.


1. Unless otherwise noted, quotations of Donald Trump are taken from “Remarks of President Donald J. Trump-As Prepared for Delivery.”

2. Most of these speeches can be found at the Avalon Project at Yale University:

3. See, too, for generic characteristics, Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, “Inaugurating the Presidency,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 2, 1985, p. 396, and Tammy R. Vigil, “George W. Bush’s First Three Inaugural Addresses: Testing the Utility of the Inaugural Genre,” Southern Communication Journal, vol. 78, no. 5, 2013, pp. 427–46.

4. Emma Frances Bloomfield and Gabriela Tscholl have suggested there is an enthymematic dimension to this term’s use.  See, “Analyzing Warrants and Worldviews in the Rhetoric of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton: Burke and Argumentation in the 2016 Presidential Election,” KB Journal, vol. 13, no. 2, 2018.

5. Ultimately, Trump lost 2 and Clinton 5 electoral votes due to faithless electors.

6. This is something noted by other scholars, who also note the lack of this in the Hillary Clinton Campaign.  See, for instance, Stephanie A. Martin and Andrea J. Terry, “Social Media Candidate Attacks and Hillary Clinton’s Failed Narrative in the 2016 Presidential Campaign,” The 2016 American Presidential Campaign and the News Media: Implications for the American Republic and Democracy, edited by Jim A. Kuypers, Lexington Books, 2018.

7. This is not dissimilar to detecting the presence of a “rhetorical signature.”

8. See “Trump-O-Meter: Tracking Trump's Campaign Promises,” to make an assessment of Trump’s promise keeping.  One interesting feature of Politifact’s site is that it assigns “stalled” as a judgmental category, taking into account situations all presidents must face that could impact promise keeping.

9. See Siegelman; Campbell and Jamieson; and Vigil, for examples.

10. See Mediaite for examples: Justin Baragona, “He’s Kidding, Right? Trump Thanks Media For ‘GREAT’ Reviews of Inauguration Speech,” Mediaite, January 21, 2017,

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Rotten with Consensus: Toward a Dialectic Transformation of Genocide

Victoria Houser, Clemson University


In this article, I examine a terminology of violence rooted within political consensus. Taking the Rwandan genocide as a case study, the article argues that a Burkean dialectic transformation of terms offers a way to understand violent conflicts with an agonistic approach. Arguing against consensus, the article puts Burke into conversation with Chantal Mouffe to show where merger might be possible amongst antagonistic parties.

The magical decree is implicit in all language; for the mere act of naming an object or situation decrees that it is to be singled out as such-and-such rather than as something other.

—Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form

Throughout his extensive work, Kenneth Burke points us to the inextricable link between human action and the power of language. Burke’s oeuvre gives us a beautifully complicated study of the human animal who uses words to simultaneously define and create reality. The ability to name reality contains an explicit power; it is a power that creates social and cultural understanding. A study of terminology, then, is like looking at a map of the human condition. In this article, I examine a specific vocabulary of violence centered around the terms genocide and colonization and the social realities conjured by these terms. Drawing from Hannah Arendt’s delineation of power and violence, power provides the ability to name implementations of violence, while violence in a pure form most closely resembles events like massacre (43). For example, labeling the mass killings of April 1994 in Rwanda as a genocide points to the specific power inherent in naming the implementations of violence. This power reveals a certain sovereignty of the Western hegemonic state to define and create reality in that the term genocide emerged from the aftermath of the Holocaust. The sovereignty of naming violence becomes insidious as soon as a group loses power over linguistic transformation of social reality, for in the removal of one’s capacity to create meaning through language pure violence manifests in opposition to power.

To understand the particular implementation of violence in Rwanda it is necessary to examine the power of colonization that suffocated the parliamentary “wrangle” of democracy and would have stifled dissent had the dissent been found in the minority. Dissent coming from the Hutu majority (making up over eighty percent of the population) erupted in a “pure”,1 form of violence, resulting in over 800,000 Tutsi lives being taken in a matter of months. The mass killings of the Tutsi came about as an implementation of violence in response to power. That is to say, the power of colonization. In the specific case of Rwanda, the oppression rooted in the Belgian colonization directed the implementation of violence that led to the genocide in 1994. What went wrong? A people dispossessed of power and unable to participate in their rhetorical, social, and political reality grew weary of being trapped in a binary that disavowed their identity. In the wake of colonization pure violence appeared to be the only “way out” once the dialectic process of political agonism was no longer viable.

When the mass killings erupted in 1994, a response was required from the world. Naming the violence in Rwanda as genocide positioned the country of Rwanda within the homogeneity of Western power since genocide is a term created by the West to make sense of the reality of the Holocaust. This naming hides or negates the structural linkage of power and violence (perpetrated by the colonization) while also denying any possibility of dialectical transformation or agonistic negotiation. While those in power may be able to outlaw terms by substituting others, they can’t eliminate their function or the situations they name. Burke offers dialectic and Chantal Mouffe, agonism, as methods to reveal the systematic ways violence and power are wielded without consequences for the wielder, conjured instead as if by magic rather than a direct consequence of the tyranny of words. Because closely policed linguistic consensus creates a scenario in which violence continues to manifest in a form of conflict that seeks to remove enemies rather than engage with them, the tensions inherent in Burke’s dialectic transformation are necessary for us to dwell within as a way of moving toward understanding through both identification and difference. This article explores the roles of language, power, and agonism in the Rwandan genocide, arguing that the hegemonic power of consensus involved in naming the events as genocide strips away the rhetorical function of agonism and diverts the attention away from the crimes of colonization.

In what follows, I examine moments of potential linguistic transformation in Rwanda to illustrate how political consensus quickly turns treacherous in its demands for all citizens to be in agreement about specific ideological concepts of power. Following Mouffe, who opposes the very concept of consensus as creating a false impression of a peaceful post-conflict environment, I see Rwanda’s post-genocide power implementing many of the same strategies of consensus seen in the colonization preceding the massacre. As I will demonstrate in this scene, when consensus purifies the realm of post-conflict political action, it strips any person living on the fringes of the majority of their ability to act rhetorically. This purification contributes to the very scenes of violence which the consensus attempted to root-out. Consensus, in this case, reinforces violence. Following the genocide, those who took political power in Rwanda established a particular ideological narrative of the genocide and insisted that all citizens act and re-act in relationship with the terms of this narrative. A consensus was established regarding the political identities and activities of all citizens in relationship to the national conflict. Of course, this model fails because the narrative of the genocide unfolds and reveals itself with nuance and complexity, requiring many stories, perspectives, and rich variety of terms with which to read the details of the conflict. The reduction of the conflict to a single narrative, especially one issued from the ruling political powers, constructs grounds for continued, unproductive animosity among citizens.

Agonism and the Dialectic

Although Mouffe argues that consensus derives from dialectical processes, her understanding does not derive from Kenneth Burke’s particular reading of the dialectic as a contribution of terms participating in a development of irony. In this context, agonism and dialectical process work toward the same goal, not to purify the conditions of violence, but to open up the possibilities of difference. In A Rhetoric of Motives, Burke warns that “the very ‘global’ conditions which call for the greater identification of all [people] with one another have at the same time increased the range of human conflict, the incentives to division” (34). These incentives to division contain the possibility of removing the characteristic nature of rhetoric which, at its heart, requires agonism—a wrangling of distinct human motives in which beings can be neither purely identified with each other nor purely divided from each other. Agonism’s counterpart, total unification, disallows terms to work upon each other dialectically, but requires all terms and identities to be summarized underneath a single generating principle. Consensus, then, creates a system in which members must be either purely identified or purely divided underneath the summarizing terms. When the summarizing terms, or the generating principles, represent scenes of violence, political consensus becomes particularly dangerous for many because those who do not or cannot share the summarizing terms (which could be either material or ideological) that have been established by the ruling power are quickly excised through force.

Agonism allows for conflict with the enemy without the need to destroy the enemy. It offers the option for a “wrangling” of ideas, for rhetoric to work and play within scenes of conflict as actors continuously, dialectically negotiate terms.

Burke’s dialectic and the development of terms takes a central role in the process of understanding and circumventing the derivation of consensus that disallows the heterogeneity of voices. In her discussion of Burke’s dialectic, Elizabeth Weiser writes, “Dialectic, the conversation that argues the various perspectives on any situation, produces conclusions that are ironic rather than pure” (“Burke and War” 299). The significance of moving away from “purity” for Burke suggests that the idea of arriving at a conclusion, a consensus, would necessarily remove the ambiguities of difference. Beyond removing difference, it also purifies the forms of power and violence, making them appear as the same. As Weiser points out, Burke’s dialectic does not aim at purifying or “making whole,” but rather at an engagement with identification and division as ambiguous perspectives contributing to the parliamentary wrangle of human deliberation. Consensus forms itself around the kind of purity that would situate violence as a distinct form, one unto itself, one that could be eradicated by subsuming violent acts under a single term, such as the term genocide.

 Political consensus, when held to be entirely right, not only fails to perform a dialectic development but involuntarily contributes to the conditions of pure violence that result in massacre. Arendt situates consensus as such saying, “A legally unrestricted majority rule, that is, a democracy without a constitution, can be very formidable in the suppression of the rights of minorities and very effective in the suffocation of dissent without any use of violence. But that does not mean that violence and power are the same” (42). Bringing this back to Burke’s dialectic, the ambiguities of power and violence could be found most noticeably in an “interaction of terms upon one another, to produce a development which uses all the terms” (GM 512). The dialectical development of agonism, for Burke, then becomes realized in the actual terms, in the language itself. The terms chosen to discuss the powers, the actions, the truths, the scenes, the players are in themselves the dialectic. In line with this, agonism emerges in the babel of the parliamentary exchanges of political powers and participatory citizens engaged in the project of democracy. This form of engagement, opposed to Arendt’s description of the unrestricted majority rule, most closely resembles the kind of agonism that would treat adversaries not as enemies to be destroyed, but as participants in a dialectical development of political thought and action.

In his keynote address delivered at the 2017 Kenneth Burke conference, James Klumpp works through the Burkean dialectic while unpacking the meaning of conflict and the importance of tension to human understanding. Referring to the etymology of the term conflict Klumpp explains that the word initially meant to strike together, and in order for a “striking together” to be possible two elements must be present: “(1) difference and (2) a vector that hurls the aspects of that difference into each other: to strike together” (emphasis in original, par 9). As Klumpp points out, the dialectic work of language within conflict is the work of difference moving toward merger; and for merger and understanding to be possible, tension and difference must be allowed to work through communities as well. Division and difference appear most markedly in the symbolic action of the terms working together to create meaning. While words do work to reveal the differences and agonism inherent in political and social hierarchies, terms do not ever do this simply or completely. “Words do not define through their platonic ideal,” says Klumpp, “but through their relationship with other terms. These dialectics mark tensions, and they make the case for the centrality of tension” (par 12). Terms, working together, create meaning and perform change.

In this way, the dialectic transformation that Klumpp gestures toward in his keynote becomes essential for understanding agonism as operating within the tensions between power and violence. This particular tension arises with the highest of stakes in situations where political consensus silences the dialectic counterparts to power; that is, the oppressed. When those experiencing oppression are unable to voice their dissent because the power of unrestricted consensus denies them access, violence in its pure form takes over what we would have in the merger of agonistic politics. When a consensus is drawn up over a word that is charged with inherently violent meaning, the powers dictating (literally) that term, channel the attention away from a dialectic agonism (a Burkean dialectic) that would lead toward merger and into a kind of consensus that cuts away difference, resulting in violence in its pure form.

While some form of consensus is always necessary to find the ground from which to engage in political deliberation, Mouffe argues that dissent must always accompany it. Without the possibility of dissent, consensus has the potential to induce violence and annihilation of an enemy through the reification of the rhetorical, ideological constructions of difference. From Burke’s critical rhetorical perspective, these differences and identifications take root in language, the terministic screen, channeling our attention into some places and deflecting other possibilities. This would lead us to consider how the act of naming, in itself, influences and shapes the experiences of the symbol using animal (LSA 45). Reification of these terministic screens occurs when the ideological is made to look material, making identifications and divisions appear as the natural and only possible form of any given group consciousness (Lukács, “Reification”). In this thread, Burke stipulates that ideology is, of course, “but a kind of rhetoric” since the ideas carry “inducements to some social and political choices rather than others” (88). Where consensus is at play, in the way that Mouffe outlines as the complete elimination of divisions, it constructs an ideology of identification that removes the potential for dialectic transformation and rhetorical engagement. Mouffe openly states that this elimination or ignorance of divisions removes the potential to engage in the political: “It is only when division and antagonism are recognized as being ineradicable that it is possible to think in a properly political way” (15). Division then becomes the necessary ground for agonism, or genuine political action.

In Burkean terms, the symbolic constructs and determines the conditions for agonism; it is the very nature of the symbolic that the political constructions take life and exercise power. In “The Symbolic Inference,” Fredric Jameson explicates Burke’s treatment of the nature of the symbolic as an ideological method: “The symbolic act therefore begins by producing its own context in the same moment of emergence in which it steps back over against it, measuring it with an eye to its own active project” (512). Terms not only select, reflect, and deflect realities, they constitute the world itself at the moment of their emergence. So, when the terms of consensus emerge, the construction of a scene for dissent also emerges. It is the denial of this scene, the removal of the terms for dissent or rejection of the hegemonic which eliminates the possibility for rhetorical, political action. With this removal of the necessary rhetorical dissent and divisions, consensus only operates in favor of the existing hegemonic power and always silences those who are being oppressed by this power. James Kastely writes, “For Burke, human aggression runs deep, and any effort to address its current manifestations has to contend with aggression as an essential part of symbolicity, one that is often motivating disputes about property and fueling antagonisms and misunderstandings within hierarchies” (“Love and Strife” 173). Kastely points us to the same central need that Klumpp points to in the dwelling with Burke’s dialectic as it wrestles with the tensions of symbolic moments. Consensus removes the tension, and the removal of the tension subsequently removes the possibility of understanding.

After a genocide there is of course a temptation to remove all tension by creating and serving an ideology of pure identification without difference. One of the most significant elements of the Rwandan reconstruction was the drive to articulate a complete consensus over the labeling of whole people groups as either “killers” or “victims” within the genocide. Here we see the breakdown of the dialectic development as the consensus attempts to remove all ambiguity surrounding the material events of the genocide. This kind of reductive political model is the very one instituted by the Belgian colonizing power in Rwanda in the early 1960s. During that time, the colonizing power stripped individuals of their identity and instituted a system in which ethnicity remained the only possible screen for viewing one another. The harm caused by this removal of ambiguity, the attempt at removing the grounds for agonism—or the ability to wrangle various identifications and divisions with one another—removed the capacity of parliamentary exchange and eventually led to the act of the genocide itself. Stripping people of their ability to act rhetorically leaves them with little else beyond the naked act of brutal force.

Consensus in Rwanda: The Unrestricted Power of Colonization

To get any sense of the scene in Rwanda, we must look at some of the structural violence built into the condition of the genocide. Most people in the scope of the West are aware that some atrocious massacre happened in Rwanda in 1994, and many may even be familiar with the details of the political struggle between the ethnic groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi. Still, the conditions of the socio-symbolic, rhetorical violence extending back even before the Belgian colonization in the 1930s remain rather untouched. A scholar once told me that investigating the Rwandan genocide forced him into an encounter with his unexamined and unconscious racism, because it brought to light his ideological assumption that the genocide was just a brutal display of violence committed by uncivilized people. It surprised him to learn of the political nuance and systemic oppression attached to the strife—nuance being something he would not have assumed about a “Third World” country. This same view is seen buried throughout the Western world as an inability to engage with conditions of violence that are a direct result of power intertwined with ignorance of its implementations.

Now, this brings me to one of the main staging grounds for the genocide, that is, the political wrangle over the linguistic, rhetorical, and material conditions of the genocide. The terms genocide and colonization desperately need to be placed within a dialectic transformation. Rwanda’s conflict provides a particularly poignant ground for this kind of linguistic transformation as a nation that experienced a genocide tangled up in the roots of a colonization. Genocide of course directs us to the 1940s. On December 9th, 1948, the United Nations held the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in which the connotative constructs of that term were soundly decided. Following the atrocities of the Holocaust, the convention created a powerful terministic screen, one that would be almost impenetrable once applied. The opening statement of the Convention’s document reads: “Genocide is a crime under international law, contrary to the spirit and aims of the United Nations and condemned by the civilized world” (emphasis added, 278). What of those other worlds then? Those nations outside the hegemonic power of the Western worlds are not only denied the possibility of deliberation and intervention when mass violence occurs, but they are also denied the power of the linguistic transformation of the term itself. If it is a term co-incidental with the civilized world, then only within the “civilized world” can it be employed, engaged, and agonized.

Arthur Klinghoffer argues that one of the major weakness of the Genocide Convention is that it did very little to protect people in violent situations against mass killings (121). Perhaps a bit obvious, Klinghoffer rebukes the Convention’s work because the most that the statement against genocide can possibly achieve is prosecution of perpetrators in the aftermath of the crime. Extending this view in a dialectic fashion, this also sets up a terministic screen for genocide as a possible form of pure violence. In the case of Rwanda, the United Nations refused to label the violence as genocide, annihilating the potential process of intervention even while hundreds of thousands of people were being hacked to death in their homes. In his essay, “Reading the Rwandan Genocide,” Peter Uvin writes, “The numbers [of killings] beg two crucial questions: What brought this country to that point? What has been the role of the international community in all of this?” (75). Of course, there cannot be simple answers to two questions of this size. The issues of consensus and enforcement of ideological identification situate these questions in a larger schema of political powers of colonization. While Uvin focuses on the international scene as a function of intervention in the slaughter, I want us to think about how the roots of the genocide extend into the international scene of colonization and the implementation of power that led to the genocide.

Near the beginning of the colonization, the Belgians conducted a kind of census in which they issued ethnicity cards to every Rwandan citizen, forcing them to carry the linguistic marker of either Hutu, Tutsi, or Twa. The consensus of identification in Rwanda begins with the colonizers situating all Rwandans within the linguistic labels of their ethnicities, a move that could even be viewed as a potential “symbolic means of inducing cooperation” through fostering identity within the groups (Burke, RM 47). However, cooperation completely disintegrates as soon as one looks at the ways in which these rhetorical identifications and divisions manifested in material reality. The Hutu constituted about eight-five percent of the population, while the Tutsi consisted of approximately fourteen percent and the Twa one percent. Philip Gourevitch points to this administration maneuver to label and confine as a form of apartheid rooted and established in the myth of Tutsi superiority. Whatever the Tutsi might or might not have believed about their superiority washes into the Belgian identification of the Tutsi ethnicity as superior. Within this structured census, the Hutu were barred from administrative and political positions. They were stripped of any positions in which they would have power over Tutsi. Gourevitch writes, “Nothing so vividly defined the divide as the Belgian regime of forced labor, which required armies of Hutus to toil en masse as plantation chattel, on road construction, and in forestry crews, and placed Tutsi over them as taskmasters” (57). The colonizing power reified the symbolic construction of ethnicity, and an institutionalized racism seeped into the ground of Rwanda. So, this first form of a political consensus (carried out by the colonizers) demonstrates the early signs of the insidiousness of a consensus built upon exclusion and demarcation of the other as “less than.”

Addressing the issues inherent in these ideological identifications, Catherine Newbery explains that the colonizers wished to preserve what was left of the “traditional” roles in the old hierarchy, placing the Tutsi as rulers over the Hutu “peasants” (7). Newbury writes, “particularly onerous demands of the colonial state and its chiefs fell most heavily—if not exclusively—on rural cultivators classified as Hutu” (8). This kind of political consensus resulted in the genocide. The identification and division being “pure” in form left no possible option for the Hutu to resist the ideological form of their oppression. Under these conditions of power in its pure form (that of the colonization), the Hutu’s ideological oppression was made to look material as it took on the form of the Hutu’s identification as peasant to the Tutsi’s ruling class. When the Tutsi claimed independence from Belgium in 1962, the real work of the genocide began. “Under the guise of social justice,” writes Joseph Sebarenzi, “the Belgian government systematically took away power from the Tutsi and gave it to Hutu” (13). Now both the oppressor and the oppressed shared a common enemy in the Tutsi, and when consensus shifted to favor the Hutu there was no possibility for rhetorical engagement. The system of political consensus as a binary that continuously marks “us/them” does not allow for the ambiguities and tensions of a dialectical engagement towards agonism and merger. Here we have the conditions for genocide inherent in the initial political consensus. All that was needed to tip the scales was the shift of the hegemonic power to favor the unrestricted majority, and that unrestricted majority desired slaughter.

Perhaps more interesting than these movements toward the genocide, is what came next. Throughout the bloodshed of the mass killings, the UN opted out of naming the violence as genocide for reasons already mentioned. This linguistic decision presents a rhetorical movement toward purity of the term genocide. It cannot be used except under the most severe circumstances and only under circumstances that align with Western ideological constitutions of the “civilized world.” Part of this stems from a certain purity of the condition of genocide as it is attached to the events of the Holocaust, and this leaves little room for ambiguity within the term. Burke would have us move away from the use of pure terms and toward the dialectic transformation that allows for the possibility of many meanings. The movement away from purity or “correctness,” as Burke would have it, is a movement towards the ambiguity of language. This means that we must necessarily allow for the understanding or the examination of “incorrect” ways of co-operation. When we allow for only one totalizing and correct terministic screen, then we set up a condition in which the “incorrect” screen becomes the problem which must be excised. This is where Burke’s dialectic as terms working together in a contributory fashion—rather than as counterparts of each other—situates a response to genocide which might allow for ambiguities. In this frame, the most tragically ironic (dialectic) of divisions is that one which builds on a collection of “cooperative acts” (or a collection of identifications) for one catastrophic conflict: “We refer to that ultimate disease of cooperation: war. (You will understand war much better if you think of it, not simply as strife come to a head, but rather as a disease, or perversion of communion)” (RM 22). This is precisely what occurs within the UN’s refusal to engage with Rwanda’s massacre as genocide—a collection of identifications and co-operative acts which divided the West from Rwanda and resulted in one catastrophic perversion of communion.

Much has been said about this “opting out” of confronting the genocide (Gregory Stanton, “Rwandan Genocide”), but more important here is the deflection of reality through the terms employed by the West. This deflection positions the material violence of the genocide within a larger narrative of hegemonic forces. In this case, Mouffe’s “competition amongst the elites” shifts from the competing voices amongst the elites in Rwanda over the reified (or ossified) positions of power—those provided through colonization—into the competition among the hegemonic voices of the West. Sebarenzi describes this competition best in his articulation of the colonizing powers. Sebarenzi illustrates the scene in which Western powers sit down and draw lines throughout Africa, thereby divvying up human bodies and resources. It was there that the colonization of Rwanda began: in a competition among elites for power. In many ways, the failure to label the mass killings in Rwanda as a genocide exposes the very condition of the West’s complicity. Through the labeling of the Rwandan violence as genocide, we see a violence strictly confined to the nation’s problems. The issue with this screening lies in the understanding that Rwanda’s implementations of power were generated and imposed by Western forces. While the screen of genocide would have provided a particular way of “seeing” the mass violence (a screen which may or may not have led to intervention) it always already masks the problems of the West’s complicity in the genocide. The term genocide, in this case, is the pharmakon. It is both the poison and the cure—the catch is that the cure exists for the West as a solution for intervention in a problem it created. Only in labeling the genocide as genocide is the West now absolved of its crimes. Under that screen it is a Rwandan problem, and any intervention on the West’s part would be from a position of great “humanitarian effort.” So, perhaps a better scenario would be one in which we do not call the violence in Rwanda a genocide but a colonization. This does not quite solve the problem of pure violence, though. What occurred in Rwanda was a response to the implementations of power through the colonization, which is why an agonistic, dialectic transformation becomes essential to wrestling with the post-conflict scene.

The uniformity of consensus in post-genocide Rwanda operates as a narrative which maintains permutations of violence through the process of silencing dissent, or at least disallowing dissent. The narrative in Rwanda works like this: the political powers set in place after the genocide brand one ethnicity with a single term (killer or victim), a consensus forms around the “reality” that Hutu are perpetrators, genocidaires, and killers. The counterpart to this identification is that the Tutsi are victims, oppressed, and slain. This particular narrative of consensus removes the ability to allow for a great variety of terms to work as contributory to the development of forming a peaceful communion in the country. The consensus removes Burke’s dialectic function which would allow for co-operation of identifications and divisions. Yet the peace established by President Paul Kagame was a peace completely predicated on the consensus of division between the Hutu and Tutsi, a consensus which stripped the human agents of their ability to act rhetorically.

Susan Thomson explains that the government policy of national unity posits these identities of all Rwandans in a victim/killer dialectic, saying, “this means that survivors (read former Tutsi) and genocidaire (read former Hutu) have been cast into the essentialist categories of victim and killer, and as such have become the protagonists of the fiction of national unity” (444). Similar to the kind of reification of identity during the Belgian colonization, a consensus was enacted by the political powers to maintain an antagonistic divide between groups of people. This enactment of a consensus about the ideology of the genocide still works to mask the “competition amongst the elites.” While, as Thomson says, the political powers in Rwanda work to construct a form of national unity, the crimes of the West go largely unchecked. What then occurs within the consensus is the replacement of one violent power with another, and antagonism presides in place of a true agonistic political situation. Thomson argues that Rwanda is an army with a nation rather than a nation with an army—this idea certainly maintains the notion of complete antagonism in which, as Mouffe argues, one would need to eradicate the enemy rather than work alongside them. Here we see the need for a Burkean approach to the agonism Mouffe argues for in the political realm.

Agonism Towards Merger

Burke’s understanding of the dialectic of identification and division gives us an approach to antagonistic forces and invites a willing agonism, a wrangling of human identity, as a way to avoid the kind of “efficiency” of eradication. What Rwanda sees now is not a complete division but an obsessive over-identification with the events of the genocide. This dictates much of the meaning surrounding all political engagement, and it is this form of consensus that Mouffe strongly opposes. In this form of antagonistic consensus lies the exact ideological structure that led to the implementations of violence in its pure form of massacre. The consensus works to evade what Klumpp discussed as the “tensions of the moment,” but at what cost? Evading these tensions, insisting on pure identification, and enforcing an ideological paradigm that removes ambiguities eventually thrusts enemies together in a way that situates violence as the only possible form of evasion. Merger and understanding are not to be found in the realm of consensus.

Agreeing with Mouffe’s call toward agonism, that political engagement that allows one to meet with an adversary without needing to eradicate difference, Burke’s dialectic transformation of terms provides another way of thinking through conflict. In that rhetorical sphere, it becomes possible to do as Klumpp suggests and “strike together” rather than against in conflict. Togetherness is the base of the dialectic and the fulcrum of agonism. It does not mean that differences are eradicated or that in striking together one group must strike against another group. Instead, the dialectic work of difference and strife leads us to consider the possibilities of merger within the union of agonism. Striking out together towards understanding through tension. The agonism that Mouffe calls for must root itself in Burke’s dialectic effort. There we will be able to see and grapple with the tensions between a great many linguistic meanings, from colonization to genocide and what comes after.


1. Burke’s “Paradox of Purity” gives another way to think about the distinction between violence without power (massacre) and the violence emerging from power. He explains that a “pure” personality would be non-personality. Gesturing to Hegel Burke says, “Pure Being would be the same as Not-Being” (GM 35). In this sense, “pure” violence could be seen as the equivalent of “not-power.” It is a type of motion that occurs when people are disposed of the power of language, that is, in a construction of consensus that disallows dissent.

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Shifting Blame: C. Everett Koop’s AIDS Rhetoric of Guilt and Redemption

Darlene K. Drummond, Dartmouth College


C. Everett Koop narrated two distinctly different stories about AIDS, one for general audiences and another for black audiences. His approach demonstrated an evolution in scapegoating rhetoric from agent to scene that positioned blacks as immoral, culpable in the spread of the virus, and ultimately responsible for meeting their own health care needs.

In July 1982, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), a publication of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) revealed 34 new cases of a rare pneumonia among male and female racially Black, Haitian IV drug abusers. The disease became known as the 4-H disease as four groups of people were categorized as high-risk for contracting AIDS (i.e., heroin addicts, homosexuals, hemophiliacs, and Haitians). The CDC began tracking AIDS by race officially in 1983 with a report of two female cases –one Black and the other Hispanic, with no risk factors other than having sex with infected males. In a second report that year, the CDC detailed 16 cases of male heterosexual, non-IV drug users found in prisoners in New York and New Jersey. Seven were Black, seven White and two Hispanic.  From 1981 through 1988, Black Americans accounted for 26% of AIDS cases with Black homosexuals disproportionately affected compared to other racial groups, and with heterosexual contact and intravenous drug use as the primary modes of transmission (Sutton et al. S351).

C. Everett Koop became the most prominent and visible spokesperson on issues impacting public health in the United States in his role as Surgeon General during Ronald Reagan’s presidency from 1981–1989. His impact, documented through films, television interviews, editorials, medical publications, hundreds of speeches, and media caricatures, spanned such issues as smoking, abortion, domestic violence, disability rights, and AIDS (Schraufnagel 276). For example, he published eight scientific reports that established the addictiveness of nicotine and the dangers of smoking that led to the passage of legislation requiring warning labels on cigarettes. These warnings led to a decrease in smoking rates saving thousands of lives (Arias 396). Many believe he applied rigid scientific principles to issues of health, elevated the position of Surgeon General, and became one of the most trusted people in America (Kessler et al. 7109).

Becoming the spokesperson on AIDS was one of Koop’s most difficult challenges. He was prevented by the Reagan administration from discussing AIDS publicly from 1981- 1986 until the release of the Surgeon General’s Report on AIDS (Memoirs 194-239). Two studies exist on Koop’s AIDS rhetoric. The first assessed the 1986 report, while the second interrogated Koop’s 1988 direct mailer to U.S. citizens. Tina Perez and George Dionisopoulos in their 1995 Communication Studies article focused on the conservative politics of the Reagan administration and perceptions of the sexually explicit language included in the 1986 Surgeon General’s Report on AIDS. They argued that Reagan’s attempt to employ a strategic silence backfired as the public increasingly viewed AIDS as the major health issue of the time especially after the release of the report. They also concluded that many people probably thought that his conservative, anti-abortion, fundamentalist views would lead him to write a water-downed, vague document about immoral behavior in support of the Reagan Administration’s efforts to keep AIDS out of the spotlight. Robin Jensen and Abigail King (593-598) critiqued Koop’s 1988 “Understanding AIDS” mailer. They concluded that Koop’s portrayal of his protagonist, AIDS, in educating the American public, created comparisons that presented AIDS as an entirely unique problem requiring unparalleled preventive behavior.  His central authoritative metaphor they labeled “the surgeon’s plague,” which “equated AIDS with an unprecedented plague” based on Koop’s authority and the research of experts that differentiated it from previous plagues.  In addition, they described a second authoritative metaphor that they labeled “the general’s war.”

Both studies give us insight into the handling of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s by examining key documents written and designed for mass distribution to general audiences. However, neither informs us of how Koop addressed the subject of AIDS in person before different audiences. Since the Black community was disproportionately affected by AIDS in the 1980s, it is reasonable to assume that prominent health officials like C. Everett Koop would specifically seek out and accept opportunities to address key social, political, and educational groups within this community. Of the nearly 350 speeches delivered by Koop during his tenure as Surgeon General, only three were delivered before predominantly Black audiences – a major civil rights organization, a public forum, and high school. My essay extends the aforementioned works by examining the rhetoric of Koop before two different audiences. I compare and explain his rhetoric in his boilerplate speech, The Current Crisis in AIDS, designed for general audiences, and his Address delivered to a predominantly Black audience, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Both speeches are part of The C. Everett Koop Papers made available online to the public through the Profiles of Science database of The National Library of Medicine. I sought answers to the following questions: Did Koop’s AIDS message developed for general audiences remain the same or change before predominately Black audiences? If changed, how and why? 

To answer these questions, I examined the text of each speech to identify which, if any, term of Kenneth Burke’s pentad as presented in Grammar of Motives, --act, scene, agent, agency, or purpose, was featured “in developing a vocabulary designed to allow this one term full expression with the other terms being comparatively slighted or being placed in the perspective of the featured term” through its accompanying  philosophy: if scene then materialism, agent then idealism, agency then pragmatism, purpose then mysticism, and if act then realism (127–28). I argue that Koop narrated two distinctly different stories about AIDS, by featuring different pentadic terms for general audiences and Black audiences that demonstrated an evolution in scapegoating rhetoric from agent to scene. I assert that each approach was grounded in the invocation of science as authoritative and the conservative sociopolitical climate of the decade. Through the process of victimage Koop shamed Black audiences by distancing the moral from the immoral, encouraging moral panic, implying black-on-black crime and evoking the name of Ronald Reagan. He offered redemption through education for both audiences but advocated self-determination for Black audiences. Thus, his rhetoric of guilt and redemption positioned the Black community as immoral, culpable in the spread of AIDS, and ultimately responsible for meeting its own health care needs.

The Current Crisis in AIDS Speech: Blame the Agent

After the release of the 1986 report, Koop averaged 65 requests a day and began delivering speeches to the public in 1987. Since he could not fulfill all speaking requests, he created a video presentation on February 18, 1987 for general audiences based on the 1986 report and titled it, The Current Crisis in AIDS. Koop called it his primer on AIDS and used it as his first opportunity to voice concern about the rise of AIDS among black and brown people (Reminiscence Current Crisis). The speech was delivered orally on numerous occasions before state legislatures, public forums, schools, universities, national and international organizations.

In The Current Crisis in AIDS, Koop told the following story: there is this mysterious disease called AIDS (agent) that is transmitted through blood and semen and the use of dirty needles (agency) that is spreading (act) throughout the United States (scene) that will kill you (purpose). The dominant components were the agent, AIDS, followed by agency, its transmission through blood and semen and the use of dirty needles. Koop’s objective was to update the American people on AIDS and provide information to them about educating young people about it.

Burke suggests that cultural, social and historical periods when personified by a speaker, are generally indicative of idealism (Grammar 171). Objects exist by virtue of our perception of them, as ideas residing in our awareness (Kant). Our experience of things is about how they appear to us. For Koop the very existence of AIDS was the most important factor in the spread of its virus. He perceived AIDS as very powerful and God-like in its ability to determine who lived or died. In positioning AIDS as the central character in his story, Koop gave audiences a clear threat upon which to place blame instead of one another.

Idealist see the world through the lens of science and employ familiar analogies to account for new events (Baert 90-1). This is exactly what Jensen and King witnessed in their analysis of the 1986 Surgeon General’s Report on AIDS with Koop alluding to but not explicitly naming various plagues while creating new authoritative metaphors (i.e., the surgeon’s plague and the general’s war) in an effort to help audiences see AIDS as a uniquely different phenomenon. Koop employed a similar strategy in The Current Crisis in AIDS in alluding to plagues but did not use any authoritative metaphors. He introduced AIDS, the agent in his story generally as “a rare lethal disease,” a “very dangerous form of infectious pneumonia,” “some kind of bug” and ended with a chronology of specific names indicative of the increasing status of this invisible phenomenon. “The National Cancer Institute called it ‘the Human-Cell Lymphotropic Virus Type III’ while the Pasteur Institute called it ‘Lymphadenopathy-Associated Virus’ until 1984 when all scientists agreed to call it by a single common name of ‘human immunodeficiency virus or H.I.V.’ and in its deadliest form ‘Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome’ or ‘AIDS’ for short.”1 In ending with these scientific names inclusive of the word virus, audiences could easily envision the Godlike qualities associated with it, because they knew that a virus is an extremely complex microscopic infectious non-living parasite that is only able to multiply within the living cells of a host. This strategy also gave audiences hope. Because cures and treatments had been devised for other viruses (e.g., hepatitis B) of which they would be aware and of which Koop reminded them, they could envision its eventual defeat. In addition, he talked about experimental treatments and specifically mentioned the drug A.Z.T.

Idealism was the predominant philosophy evident in Koop’s storytelling, although pragmatism through the featuring of agency was also significant. Agency, or the means through which AIDS thrived was “two body fluids --blood and semen-- that carry the live AIDS virus in quantities sufficient to be transmissible” and from “a dirty needle borrowed from an addict who already has AIDS.”  Koop wanted people to understand that the only way the virus is passed from one person to another is through the transfer of blood or semen from one person to another through sexual activity and/or the sharing of drug paraphernalia that enabled the transfer. He did not detail or describe specific sexual practices but stated certain sex acts that occurred between men resulted in problematic bleeding This approach implies a limited threat in which one is less likely to become a victim of the disease through heterosexual activity.

Like many Reagan supporters who were part of the Religious Right, Koop was an evangelical Christian who believed homosexuality was a sin (Lord 143). However, he toned down his views to teach everyone regardless of their sexual orientation the importance of safer sex practices. As Koop articulated, he had one major responsibility as both a Christian and physician and that was to save lives by doing as Christ taught and “separate the sin from the sinner” (Memoirs 209). Therefore, Koop used impartial, scientific language that permitted listeners to set aside any emotional baggage they connected with AIDS or sexual behavior. This also served to promote the DHHS as a scientific, equitable organization. 

Koop reminded the audience over and over again that AIDS had only one purpose and that was to kill. The implicit scene in which the virus thrived and eventually killed was society-at -large or more specifically, the United States. Koop stressed the high risk of contraction and death for all Americans by enumerating the number of new cases and deaths from year to year, and by predicting future cases. He said, “As of January 1986, we had a cumulative total of 6,000 reported cases. Today [February 1987] that total is 30,000. Over half of them have already died of the disease and the rest will.” He suggested by the end of 1990 the cumulative total would be over a quarter of a million, and that on the basis of testing and epidemiological studies, between a million and a million-and-a-half Americans would have the AIDS virus in their systems. However, Koop indirectly signaled that this issue was a crisis for only a few select groups but had the potential to quickly escalate and effect the whole of America, particularly white heterosexuals. He said that there was a rise in cases among heterosexuals where “their heterosexual activity seems to be their only risk factor,” and reiterated that homosexual and bisexual men were at the highest risk. Then, in two sentences he indicated which racial groups were most at risk with, “Blacks account for 12 percent of the population, but they account for 25 percent of all AIDS cases. Similarly, Hispanics account for 6 percent of the U.S. population, but they account for 14 percent of all AIDS cases.” He did not mention specific rates among whites, Asians, Native Americans are other ethnic or racial groups in the United States. The underlying message was clear –if you are a member of one of the affected groups, then you should be concerned, and if not, then you will probably be fine.

In stressing agent (AIDS) and agency (transmission) within a scene of the United States at-large, Koop alleviated any guilt he felt for the failure of the DHHS to provide a cure for AIDS and laid the foundation for his and the DHHS’s redemption by introducing the education of young people as the primary solution to the problem of AIDS. As the rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy rose significantly in the 1980s, the Public Health Service took the lead in addressing these concerns through sex education, even though banning sex education in schools was a top priority of the Religious Right. Nevertheless, in promoting sex education, Koop was reflecting the private-public mosaic that characterized American health care in general since many Americans viewed private organizations like Planned Parenthood, and research organizations such as the Alan Guttmacher Institute (many of whom received grants or funding through the federal government) as providing the most honest, balanced and complete form of sex education available (Lord 141).

Koop articulated a sex education agenda that promoted (1) abstinence, (2) monogamy with the use of condoms, and (3) responsibility –both parental and moral. He offered reassurances that the focus would be on the facts about the threat and ways to prevent contraction. To increase his credibility, he listed key individuals (e.g., Ronald Reagan), a variety of religious (e.g., National Council of Churches) and educational organizations (e.g., National Education Association) he had consulted. To appease the religiously conservative, he privileged abstinence as the safest behavior and only endorsed monogamy “as the best defense” when one had a faithful sex partner He encouraged the use of a condom at all times unless one knew absolutely that he or she, and one’s partner, were both free of the virus. Koop pointed out that sex educators teach important biological and physiological information that parents may not be equipped to provide. He stressed, “The social and spiritual development of your children is your business. Don’t pass it up. Don’t pass it by...but pass it on.” In addition, he indicated that everyone, especially parents and educators had a moral responsibility to teach children how to protect themselves. The clear message of Koop’s boilerplate speech was that AIDS, a threat to all Americans, was a deadly disease with no current cure; and that all Americans should trust medical science to eventually find one, but in the interim, exercise moral responsibility in educating themselves and others to avoid it.

Address to the NAACP: Blame the Scene

On July 8, 1987, five months after the creation of his boilerplate speech, Koop delivered his first speech on AIDS titled Address before a predominantly Black audience at the annual convention of the NAACP in New York City. The theme for the convention was The Struggle: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. His panel included John E. Jacob, President and CEO of the National Urban League, Jesse Jackson, Chairman of the Board of Operation Push, and Reverend Leo Hamilton, President of the New York Baptist Ministers Conference (NAACP). Koop was invited to speak and introduced to the audience by Benjamin L. Hooks, a practicing attorney and civil rights leader, who served as the Executive Director of the NAACP from 1977–1992. At the time the NAACP faced major challenges with a 50% decline in membership and a severely depleted budget (Pinderhughes 118). Nonetheless, Koop believed this was his best opportunity to speak to a major organization that could address the disproportionate number of AIDS cases in the black community (Reminiscence Address NAACP). 

Varying narratives emerge when circumstances and viewpoints change (Carmack, Bates, and Harter 93). So was the case with the story Koop weaved before the NAACP that in an environment of 1980s immorality (scene) the AIDS virus was spread (act) by Blacks and Hispanics (agents) who engaged in risky behaviors (agency) intentionally or unintentionally resulting in death (purpose). Blame placed on the agent, AIDS, in Koop’s boilerplate speech shifted to the scene in the NAACP speech, an immoral environment that enabled the transmission of the virus through intravenous drug abuse, homosexuality, bisexuality, heterosexual multiple-partner activity, and infected mothers giving birth. Being Black or Hispanic became the precursor or necessary condition for the spread of AIDS through such behaviors.

Burke teaches us that actions are produced by agents and therefore provide us with information about what those agents value and represent (Grammar 15-20). The dominating scene-agency ratio in Koop’s rhetoric is indicative of a materialistic pragmatism. In advancing a materialistic philosophy, scientists explain events in terms of physical laws and downplay spiritual ones, while pragmatism focuses on the means and consequences of behavior (Grammar 131, 275). Koop accomplished this by arguing that there was persuasive scientific evidence of the disproportionate rates of AIDS within black and brown communities that could result in “greater losses,” “death due to the fatal nature of AIDS,” and the “opportunity for further discrimination.” His evidence was meant to bolster his central idea that “In containing the AIDS virus, science and morality advance hand-in-hand toward the same goal.”

Koop set the scene (a period of immorality in 1980s America) by first delineating an increase in sexually transmitted diseases specifically in the number of cases of herpes, syphilis, and gonorrhea –facts not mentioned in the boilerplate speech. For example, he stated, “As of June 20th for the current year, while there were 8,300 new cases of AIDS reported, 362,575 new cases of gonorrhea and 15,355 new cases of syphilis were recorded.” Koop suggested that the spread of all sexually transmitted diseases was due to the behavior of individuals who were sexually active, unfaithful, and had multiple sex partners. Inclusion of this information on other sexually transmitted diseases can be viewed as a good tactic.  STDs disproportionately affected the black community and the presence of STDs serves as markers of risk-facilitating HIV transmission (Sutton et al. S351).

To further set the scene in which the act (the spread of the AIDS virus) occurred, Koop stressed the primary agents were Black and Hispanic communities “where AIDS has disproportionately taken its toll,” “have significantly large numbers of AIDS cases,” and “are disproportionately represented in infant AIDS cases.”  He provided proof through the enumeration of facts that included:

(1) One of every 8 Americans is Black, but among Americans with AIDS, 1 in 4 is Black –24% of the total cases reported, (2) Among those AIDS patients below 30 years of age, a staggering 47% are Blacks and Hispanics, (3) Among Blacks with AIDS, 35% are I.V. drug abusers, (4) The people at highest risk [are] homosexual and bisexual men. About 40% of Blacks fit into that category, and (5) More than half of the number of infants with AIDS are Black and another 24% are Hispanic.

Koop did not mention the rates of AIDS among any other U. S. racial groups, the American population in general, or other countries throughout the world. This audience-centered approach simultaneously positioned AIDS as foremost a black and brown problem while directing audience attention to the issues with which they must contend.

Guilt through Identification and Dissociation

Humans are defined by the negative, and as suggested by Burke in the Rhetoric of Motives, there is no they without we. In positioning AIDS as a black and brown problem instead of an American one, using the word “disproportionately” excessively, and never mentioning the dominant American racial group of Whites, Koop articulated a racial division in which Blacks were they –a group to which he did not belong and a silent we –Whites to which he did. Thomas Nakayama and Robert Krizek (300) indicate that an invocation of science privileges a traditional Western approach to ontology and epistemology above critical-cultural ones. I see Koop’s scientific approach as the foregrounding of whiteness as the norm within an invisible rhetorical construction to exert influence over the audience.

Society works because there are rules and laws which dictate what is right or wrong, good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable in human conduct (Engels 307). With the statement, “I am not apologizing if that sounds like a lesson in morality,” Koop continued to set the scene by tying specific behaviors he deemed immoral directly to the agents of his narrative. Although transmission through blood, semen and the use of dirty needles was at the heart of agency in the boilerplate speech, multiple-partner activity and mother-to-child transmission were not mentioned. Sexual practices associated with homosexuality and bisexuality were downplayed. Now Koop expanded agency in the NAACP narrative. Specific high-risk behaviors of black and brown people were directly linked to transmission, including intravenous drug abuse, homosexuality, bisexuality, heterosexual multiple-partner activity, and infected birthing. This blending of agent, act, and agency is apparent in such statements as:

(1) Among Blacks with AIDS, 35% are I.V. drug abusers. These are men and women who abuse drugs intravenously using dirty paraphernalia they’ve borrowed from another drug user who already carries the virus; and (2) Almost all babies with AIDS have been born to women who were intravenous drug users or the sexual partners of intravenous drug users who were infected with the AIDS virus. More than half of the number of infants with AIDS are Black and another 24% are Hispanic. Nearly all of these children received the virus from their infected mothers either in utero or during delivery.

In tying the behaviors of black and brown individuals to this scene of immorality, Koop advanced a correlation between the quality of that environment and its inhabitants.

His focus on morality enabled religious and social-status identification with this NAACP audience and disassociation from those Blacks who engaged in immoral behaviors. Koop was a highly educated, upper-class, middle-aged, evangelical Christian. The NAACP was dominated by college-educated, upper-class, middle-aged individuals (Pinderhughes 116). His fellow panel members Jackson, Hooks, and Hamilton were all Baptist ministers and Jacob was the son of a Baptist minister. Black people (87%) are the most religiously committed ethnic group in the United States. A majority are Protestant (i.e., Baptist, Methodist), politically conservative, and more likely than the U.S. population as a whole to oppose abortion and homosexuality. Those with college degrees most closely resemble white evangelical Protestants (Sahgal and Smith). This was the perfect setting for Koop to tap into these shared values. In contrast, socioeconomically, blacks at highest risk for HIV tend to have lower income and education levels, higher rates of unemployment, limited access to quality health care and are younger (CDC). We can shape community and participate in victimage together when we define ourselves in opposition to another group (Mackey-Kallis and Hahn 3). Koop defined himself and the religious within his audience in opposition to the scapegoated immoral scene effectively othering black and brown gays and drug users, thereby creating a community of the moral at righteous odds with the immoral.

In expressing a sense of urgency about the spread of the AIDS virus within black and brown communities, as Koop claimed was his intent in a 2003 reminiscence, he encouraged moral panic. Moral panics are situations in which groups come under attack by those in power because they are believed to pose a grave and immediate danger to society –a threat constructed as the threat-bearing qualities of the group under fire (Nussbaum 250). In stressing the uncleanliness of IV drug users, alluding to promiscuity through multiple-partner activity, and enumerating the rates of mother-to-child transmission (unlike the boilerplate speech), Koop portrayed homosexuals, bisexuals, and the non-monogamous regardless of sexual orientation as enemies of the family. Black and brown families were already threatened. Children born during the 1980s had a 50% chance of living in single-parent families and births to single women constituted 37% of brown and 67% of black births (Murry et al. 134-135). Koop’s inventory of threat-bearing qualities was linked to the idea of a crisis of morals whereby all that we value as humans is endangered deflecting concern or interest for the targeted group as people we should care about, to simply a symbol of what is wrong in society.  In describing a scene of immorality in which too many individuals within black and brown communities engaged in behaviors deemed deplorable by the moral or religious, Koop blemished the overall image of both.

It is impossible to talk about the actions of actors and the means through which actions are enabled without considering the intent of the actors (Grammars 289). In the boilerplate speech, the purpose of the agent, AIDS, was simple –infect and kill. However, in the NAACP narrative, the purpose was ambiguous and more complicated since the agents were apart of black and brown communities. Koop implied that if black and brown people persisted in such high-risk behaviors as intravenous drug abuse, homosexuality, bisexuality, and having sex with multiple partners or someone already infected, then they were intent on killing others. But, if they just said “no to drugs,” “abstained from sex,” “maintained a faithful monogamous relationship” and “used a condom from start to finish,” then the intent to harm others evaporated. As Burke reminded us, the choices humans make freely as indicated in the actions they undertake, denote character and though about what should or should not be done (Language 11).

Because blacks tend to have sex partners of the same race, their chances of HIV contraction are higher since the rates of HIV tend to be higher among this group (CDC). Therefore, Koop’s strategy of casting blacks as both predators and the preyed upon was linked intentionally or not to the idea of black-on-black crime. Rates in violent crimes presented a significant morbidity and mortality issue for the black community during the 1970s and early 1980s. For example, 94% of black victims were slain by black assailants in 1983 (Palley and Robinson 59-60). Black-on black crime was such a concern of the NAACP that it included the following in its 1980 policy resolutions: “The NAACP calls upon black communities, law enforcement agencies, and courts of law to recognize that crimes committed by blacks against blacks, are as unlawful, are as humanely devastating and are as undesirable in our black communities as crimes committed by blacks upon whites, or any group” (Policy Handbook 51). This indirect tie of the spread of the AIDS virus to black-on-black crime further encouraged moral panic among audience members.

Additionally, with a scene-agency ratio dominating his approach, Koop considered the social impact of AIDS and in a twisted way the political scene on the reception of his message. He stated:

The Black and Hispanic communities have significantly large numbers of AIDS cases. I’m concerned about the subsequent social impact. I fear it will provide greater opportunity for discrimination against Blacks and Hispanics in our society. To echo comments of a prominent national leader on this issue: ‘America faces a disease that is fatal and spreading. This calls for urgency, not panic. It calls for compassion, not blame. And it calls for understanding, not ignorance. It’s also important that America not reject those who have the disease, but care for them with dignity and kindness.’ That national leader is Ronald Reagan.

The president had no credibility with this audience. He was booed when he addressed the NAACP at its annual convention in Denver in 1981. Blacks overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party with Reagan receiving less than 7% of their votes (Sahgal and Smith).

No one on the panel with Kopp supported Reagan either. John Jacob, as President of the National Urban League, opposed the policies of Reagan which called for a reduction in spending on urban problems by advocating an Urban Marshall Plan (Rice). Jesse Jackson, as head of Operation PUSH and unsuccessful in this 1984 bid for the Democratic nomination, blamed Reagan’s policies for a reduction in government domestic spending, an increase in unemployment, and encouragement of economic investment outside of inner cities (Ralph). Even the Executive Director of the NAACP, Benjamin Hooks (1045), a Republican, believed Reagan was indifferent to civil rights and attempted to roll back affirmative action while touting reverse discrimination. Koop indicated some knowledge of the negative views his fellow panel participants held of Reagan, as indicated in his 2003 Reminiscence that, “Jesse Jackson told me what he had told me several times before that I was the only good thing about the Reagan Administration.”

Evoking the name of Ronald Reagan reminded audience members that they had not received support from the Reagan administration on any of the issues they deemed important and probably could not expect assistance with this issue either. Koop had successfully initiated victimage through distancing the moral from the immoral, encouraging moral panic, implying black-on-black crime, and evoking the name of Ronald Reagan. Now to complete this cycle of guilt and redemption, all that remained was for Koop to purge his own guilt and assist his moral community in purging theirs.

Redemption through Education and Self-Determination

Koop credited science for discovering AIDS and tracking the transmission of its virus through specific communities, but denied his audience hope by failing to mention the possibility of a cure or research to find one. He did not mention any available resources, arrangements underway by the DHHS to provide resources, or even the possibility of any in the immediate future. He simply stated: “I am willing to support those efforts which show greatest promise of efficiency using limited resources. We must identify resource needs and methods of securing private and public support to meet these needs.” As in the boilerplate speech, he offered AIDS education that promoted abstinence, monogamy with the use of condoms, and personal and moral responsibility as the solution. But then went further in laying the responsibility for that education at the feet of the NAACP with, “I invite the Black organizations, such as the NAACP to establish a planning committee to set strategies to meet the goal of a culturally relevant AIDS prevention for Blacks.” Koop made it clear that the AIDS epidemic in the Black community could only be solved by the Black community with:

Strategies should be developed that utilize Black community organizations, utilize Black health professionals, and most important, strategies must involve Blacks in efforts of majority organizations, connect AIDS with other STD and teen programs, and develop training programs especially for teachers and counselors. Judging from a history of success, often under very adverse conditions, I am confident that Black organizations with the support of the community, will swiftly and successfully shift into a battle mode to deal with the AIDS challenge.

With this closing, Koop was thereby redeemed and purged of any guilt he felt for his failure and that of the Public Health Service to lend support.

Koop’s directive that the NAACP create its own culturally relevant AIDS prevention advanced an ideology of self-determination that more than likely resonated with this audience both positively and negatively. In the complex sociopolitical environment in which Koop spoke, his audience was predominantly protestant and valued self-help, but belonged to congregations that were less likely to provide social services than previous decades. However, this solution allowed his moral audience to purge any guilt they felt for distancing themselves from the deplorable immoral individuals of the community while simultaneously providing those individuals with assistance. Self-determination creates suppositions about the abilities of human beings and their bond to a larger community too which they belong (McKeen 410). As a civil rights organization, the NAACP exercised self-determination in its fight to secure equal rights for people of color by using the legal system (Pinderhughes 115-117). John Jacob’s National Urban League promoted self-help including grass roots efforts to address crime, single parenthood, male responsibility for fatherhood, and efforts to improve educational and employment opportunities for Blacks (Rice). Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH advocated black self-determination by championing education through its PUSH-Excel program which emphasized keeping inner-city youth in school and assisting them with job placement. PUSH was also successful in committing companies with a large presence in Black communities to adopt affirmative action programs to hire more blacks at higher-levels and to purchase supplies from black wholesalers and distributors (Ralph).

In the United States, The Black Church adopted a self-determination tradition with slaves helping each other survive the horrors of the plantation system through self-esteem, encouragement and skills.2 The Black Church changed based on the sociopolitical context of the time but always provided social services to the black community (Lincoln and Mamiya 11). During Reconstruction and the Twentieth century, the autonomous institutions of the Black Church made loans to small businesses, founded and supported institutions of higher education, financed banks, insurance companies and other organizations (Lincoln and Mamiya 242). These acts of self-help were an acknowledgement that Whites had not and probably would not live up to their own obligations to the black community (McKeen 413).

The Black Church was viewed as accommodationist during 1877-1950s Jim Crow with an emphasis on racial uplift and assimilation to White society. However, its actions were part of a self-determination tradition that emerged as an attempt to resist stereotypes used to justify marginalization of Blacks in American society since Post-Reconstruction Republicans had abandoned the cause of racial justice for freed blacks. In resisting racial and economic oppression during the 1950s-1960s Civil Rights Movement, the Black Church provided leadership, the membership base for various organizations, meeting places, communication networks and financial support in efforts at self-determination. After numerous legislative victories such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, some churches in the 1970s espoused a liberation theology of self-determination to achieve equality with Whites through resistance rather than accommodation. During this time non-profit Community Development Corporations, affiliated with but separate from the church, were created to provide outreach in the form of economic and social resources to individuals to address structural injustices (Barber 252-54).

The Black Church fulfilled the role of a mediating structure providing a linkage between large bureaucratic organizations and individual citizens as church-state boundaries blurred and churches were able to compete for government funding for charitable services. Black churches and non-profit organizations were five times more likely than other churches or organizations to seek such funds until the early 1980s when the political scene changed. President Ronald Reagan and fellow conservatives argued that federal spending on social services was too high and advocated for less government intervention. They demanded that nonprofits and religious institutions assume a greater responsibility for social services. 

This was the sociopolitical environment in which Koop spoke. He had a predominantly religious audience who valued self-determination, but affiliated with organizations that were less likely to provide social services than previous decades, coupled with a presidency that promoted less government spending. In addition, the NAACP lacked the means to provide resources due to a depleted budget.


This essay is the first to compare and contrast addresses from the same speaker to different audiences on the topic of AIDS while simultaneously incorporating the speaker’s own reflections on the moment. It demonstrates that although a speaker can address the same topic before different audiences, the key narrative weaved can be very different. I argued that Koop presented two distinctly different AIDS narratives, one for general audiences and another for Black audiences. It was an AIDS scapegoating rhetoric of guilt and redemption. Although he shifted from an idealistic pragmatism to a materialistic pragmatism, Koop consistently exhibited an attitude that valued scientific knowledge and the need for individuals to exercise personal responsibility. Koop’s pragmatism suggests that as individuals, we have the capacity to think rationally about the facts medical science provides on the transmission of AIDS, to determine whether or not our own sexual behavior is suspect, and if found to be so, the ability to cease or modify those behaviors to the benefit of the larger community. However, scientific evidence alone cannot resolve questions of personal responsibility in healthcare, and rhetorical strategies must respond to varying constraints and require different attributions of responsibility for various audiences (Kirkwood and Brown 60).

Koop persuaded both audiences that the immediate solution to the problem of the spread of HIV/AIDS was education. The sociopolitical environment played an important role in the design and reception of his messages before both audiences. In order for general audiences of U.S. Americans, primarily Whites, to understand that AIDS education was the answer, they had to understand just how deadly this new disease was. Therefore, scapegoating HIV/AIDS served to direct attention away from the disproportionately affected in society to the threat to all by circumventing the conservative rhetoric and stances of the 1980s Reagan administration and Religious Right. Similarly, in scapegoating an immoral scene in which black and brown people were the agents, Koop’s comments served to underscore specific conditions within these communities which would focus attention on them directly. Religiously conservative and homophobic, politically anti-Reagan, and socially engulfed by high rates of black-on-black crime and single-parent households, the audience was primed for victimage. Through social-status and religious identification that created a community of the moral, Koop’s audience was able to purge their guilt, disassociate from the immoral among them, and be redeemed in adopting his education solution.

We know that Koop was instrumental in the AIDS education of the general public through the positive reception of this mass mailer, opinion pieces, and media appearances. There is also evidence that Koop’s NAACP audience may have been inspired by his message. At its 1987 meeting the NAACP adopted two resolutions. The first was a policy on teenage pregnancy that encouraged parent-child communication about sex education and the responsibilities of parenthood (Policy handbook 157). This policy went hand-in-hand with Koop’s assertion that families should take the lead in educating youth about sex.

The NAACP also called for the elimination of racial disparities in the country’s approach to dealing with the AIDS epidemic and its disproportionate rates among black and brown communities.  It called for government and private assistance in funding minority HIV/AIDS programs, and for Congress and the Administration to enact and sign laws to fund AIDS research and provide public financial assistance to AIDS patients (Policy Handbook 155-156). This provision was an acknowledgement of the facts presented by Koop about the disproportionate number of HIV/AIDS cases in minority communities. It also supported the current socio-political position of the black community that the government had a responsibility to share in providing social services to its citizens. The NAACP’s call would be answered in 1989. As Sutton et al. (S352) noted, the CDC for the first time, funded HIV-prevention organizations to provide capacity-building assistance to local and regional community-based organizations that served people of color.

The second resolution passed at the 1987 convening of the NAACP acknowledged the responsibility the black community had for its own people. It issued a national call to action to the entire black community and announced it would embark on an educational campaign to ensure the black community received accurate information about HIV and its transmission (Policy Handbook 155-156). This statement of intent was in line with the black community’s history of self-determination and the education efforts of black gay and lesbian organizations already underway. It also supported the socio-political position of the black community that although the government had the primary responsibility for providing social services to its citizenry, the affected black community should also do everything it could to prevent the spread of the AIDS virus too.

However, due to its complex bureaucratic structure, extensive mission to address political, educational, economic, social and educational rights of all citizens, and persistent homophobia, the NAACP was slow to devise an AIDS education program. In 2013 with Gilead Sciences, Inc., the NAACP committed to enlisting the Black Church as change agents in addressing the impact of HIV in the black community. It established The Black Church & HIV Initiative to bring together religious institutions, faith leaders, and community members to commit to ending the epidemic in black America. So far, the Initiative has convened stakeholders in 30 cities with the greatest HIV burden, trained more than 1,800 faith leaders across 45 faith leader workshops, committed more than 140 faith leaders to preach from the pulpit on AIDS as a social justice issue, and encouraged six denominations to issue public endorsements in support of the Initiative. In addition, the Health Programs Department and Advisory Committee of the NAACP created additional resources to assist congregations including infographics, videos, national and local fact sheets, and an activity manual entitled, The Black Church & HIV: The Social Justice Imperative. The manual advocates a four-stage social justice approach integrated with HIV activism in the Black Church. The stages include awareness, engagement, mobilization, and sustainable change (Bryant-Davis et al.). Like Koop, the manual emphasizes the importance of education, but notes political involvement is essential in influencing decisions for resources to address the educational inequality that impacts access to HIV care and treatment. The NAACP’s Initiative in utilizing the Black Church in addressing the spread of HIV is a clear indication that it views this health issue like Koop, as first and foremost an issue of morality.


1. Throughout this essay you will notice that Koop consistently in his speeches uses the phrases infectious pneumonia, the AIDS virus and the spread of AIDS and never uses the designation HIV. He conflates HIV and AIDS. However, HIV is the virus that spreads through the body destroying T cells which help the immune system fight off infections. The pneumonia he refers to is now known as Pneumocystis pneumonia and is one of a number of severe opportunistic illnesses that results from damage to the immune system. It is a flu-like illness that individuals may experience during the first stage of HIV infection. AIDS is the third and most severe stage of HIV infection in which one’s T Cells have fallen below 200 and an increasing number of opportunistic illnesses result. Symptoms mimic severe pneumonia and include a high fever, chills, weakness, weight loss, and swollen lymph glands. For more information on the differences between HIV and AIDS refer to the CDC’s website and its numerous references.

2. I use “the Black Church” to refer to churches belonging to black protestant denominations, just as the scholars Franklin Frazier, C. Eric Lincoln and W.E.B. DuBois did –not as a monolith but to highlight a common historic and sociopolitical identity of churches with predominantly black membership.

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“There’s Your Whole World”: A Critical Introduction to KB: A Conversation with Kenneth Burke

Ethan Sproat, Utah Valley University
Erin Doss, Indiana University Kokomo


As a critical introduction to Harry Chapin’s documentary about Kenneth Burke, this essay is part of the ongoing Kenneth Burke Digital Archive. This essay provides both historical and critical contexts for various subjects in the documentary, which was first released in VHS format 25 years ago.

Kenneth Burke in the Mid-1970s

In the mid-1970s, Kenneth Burke was in his late 70s and living a quiet life on his farm in Andover, New Jersey, which was his home and workspace when he was not traveling to various universities to lecture or teach. During this august phase of life, Burke's grandson Harry Chapin interviewed Burke on film with the goal of making a documentary about him. Due to Chapin's untimely death in 1981, the project remained unfinished for several years. In the early 1990s, some of Chapin’s family and friends edited together the extant interviews into a short documentary titled KB: A Conversation with Kenneth Burke.

Today, 25 years after being initially edited together, this documentary continues to provide a rare window into Kenneth Burke's world in the mid-1970s and a valuable set of summarizing statements by Burke on his theories of language. Throughout this short film, Burke touches on a wide array of topics that stem from his career as a language theorist, author, and poet. Some of these include his Definition of Human, what it means to be a symbol-using animal, the affective power of language and symbols, the relationship between literature/poetry and human motives, the role of death as a motivational force, and how the interactions of non-symbolic motion and symbolic action serve to form the entirety of human consciousness (or, as Burke exclaims to Chapin at one point in the film, “There’s your whole world!”).

At the time of filming, all of Burke’s children were already on their own, and he was still a relatively recent widower. Burke's spouse Elizabeth “Libbie” Batterham had passed away only a handful of years earlier in May 1969. The film shows Burke still keenly feeling the sorrow of her absence. Despite his personal loss and advancing years, Burke remained professionally active as he kept himself busy delivering lectures and writing essays, reviews, and poetry. Indeed, throughout the 1970s, when he was at an age when most people are winding down their lives’ professional activities, Burke continued to publish an impressive amount of material including over two dozen academic essays, seven literary reviews, a handful of new poems, and the third edition of The Philosophy of Literary Form. Though his Andover farm was still home, Burke held several temporary university positions throughout the 1970s. These positions included serving as a visiting professor at Washington University, St. Louis; a lecturer at Wesleyan University; the Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh; and the Walker-Ames Visiting Professor of English at the University of Washington. During this same decade, Burke was awarded honorary degrees from Dartmouth College, Fairfield University, Northwestern University, the University of Rochester, Indiana State University, and Kenyon College (Cratis Williams 11). He was also awarded the 1977 Award for Humanistic Studies by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Chapin’s film also captures Burke when we was still building and revising his “Definition of Man” that appeared in a slightly different form years earlier in Language as Symbolic Action. In the film, Burke suggests adding to the definition a section discussing the threat of death as a motive, "a situation that contains or rationalizes human action, particularly symbolic human action" (Whitaker and Blakesley xvii).

When asked on film if the threat of death frightened him, Burke responds into the camera that he was more frightened of death as a child than he is as an old man. Instead of fearing death, Burke asserts, he became used to the idea as he grew older, which led him to add the "acquiring the foreknowledge of death" clause to what would be his renamed “Definition of Human.” The “foreknowledge of death” addition to Burke’s “Definition of Human” has been cited in numerous books and articles and was added to a later formal version of the definition in poem form.

Harry Chapin in the Mid-1970s

Harry Chapin is the most famous of the Chapin family, and he is best known for his music, especially the songs “Taxi," "W*O*L*D," and the number-one hit "Cat's in the Cradle." In the mid-1970s, Chapin had just begun to focus solely on music and had released only two albums, Short Stories (1974, which rose to #61), and Verities & Balderdash (1974, #4), which was a success, bolstered by the chart-topping single "Cat's in the Cradle." Prior to his success as a musician, Chapin was a documentary film maker and had directed the documentary Legendary Champions in 1968, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1969 (“Academy”). In addition to music and documentary filmmaking, Chapin wanted to make Long Island, New York, a place for art and learning. Toward this end, he founded the Long Island Philharmonic, the Eglevsky Ballet, and the Performing Arts Foundation. He also served as a trustee for Hofstra University. Chapin also raised funds to help end the causes of hunger in the United States and around the world. Part of this effort involved donating the proceeds from nearly one-third of his concerts and resulted in the creation of the Harry Chapin Foundation. This foundation, directed by Chapin's widow Sandra Chapin, was responsible for originally producing KB: A Conversation with Kenneth Burke.

Family Relationships

Much of Harry Chapin's early life was spent in New York except for the summers, which he spent visiting his grandparents in Andover. Life at the Andover farm revolved around Burke, who set the timetable and rules for everything that happened at the farm. Burke wrote in the mornings and imposed a three-hour siesta every afternoon, requiring all family members—including children—to remain quiet while he napped. According to Chapin's biographer Peter Coan, when Chapin was a child he was not particularly close to his grandfather (Coan 13-15). Chapin’s mother Elspeth Hart was Burke’s daughter. She explains that Burke “loved having family around but he was not a great 'sit up on my knee' kind of a grandfather” (Grayeb and McCarty). Part of this distance came from Burke's deep involvement in his work, as the grandchildren were often told they must be quiet while he worked and napped. Although they were not close emotionally, Chapin credited his grandfathers (both Burke and James Ormsbee Chapin, a musician and scenic painter) with inspiring many family members to work hard and believe that if you wanted to do something you could find a way to make it work. Hart describes this inspiration by saying her son grew up assuming that men could be creative and that making money is not the emphasis of creative work. "You supported your family,” she said, “but it wasn't what seems to be now the emphasis on expensive cars and all that. It was a whole different emphasis" (Grayeb and McCarty).

Throughout his life, Chapin respected Burke and desired his approval and acceptance. Because of Burke's success in the literary field, Chapin looked up to him as a model for his own artistic aspirations. Although some family members, including Burke, did not support Chapin's career choices at first, the environment of Andover allowed the budding poet and musician to converse with serious poets such as e e cummings and William Carlos Williams. Admittedly, music ran in Chapin's family. His father, famous jazz drummer Jim Chapin, provided the Chapin children with an example of success in the music industry. But it was Michael Burke, KB's son and Harry's uncle, who really got Chapin interested in folk music and the guitar (Coan 17, 41-42, 308). Following Chapin's death in 1981, Burke spoke at a 1987 Carnegie Hall Tribute event in Harry's honor.

Film Location: Andover, New Jersey

Chapin's documentary was filmed in and around Burke's home in Andover, New Jersey. As described by Chapin’s biographer, Burke owned 165 acres and had been living in some building on the property since the early 1920s. The property was a magical place for Chapin to visit as a child, complete with a big hill and valley, plenty of fields to run through, a swimming pond, and a natural clay tennis court. Elspeth Hart recalls the rustic Andover farm with almost Thoreau-like nostalgia:

“We went out every summer, and originally, it was a house without plumbing. In fact, we didn't put in plumbing until Harry made money and added a wing, and we put in a furnace and running water and all that kind of stuff. . . . It was quite simple living, but for the kids it was great because we didn't have TV or anything and they played outside. We had a lake and they went barefoot in the summer months. The only things you had to look out for were snakes and crossing the dirt road. There were all kinds of games they could play. We had a tennis court, and Harry, Tom and Steve played tennis.” (Grayeb and McCarty)

Burke lived at the farm year-round, but every summer he welcomed family members to fill the numerous houses and converted barn on the property. He hosted several famous guests at Andover, including Ralph Ellison, Alexander Calder, Malcolm Cowley, Shirley Jackson, William Carlos Williams, Theodore Roethke, and many others. While Burke's Andover home as a friendly and welcoming place, Burke’s kitchen workplace was so full of stacks of books and papers that entering it was a challenge (Whitaker and Blakesley xvii). But it was in this nexus of people and books and notes that Burke did his most productive work. As Julie Whitaker describes it, Burke worked amid the comings and goings of family members and professional acquaintances, pulling words, sentences and articles together from notes scratched on scrap pieces of paper and scattered throughout the kitchen. As the site where Burke developed many of his theories of language, his home is a fitting location for Chapin's film.

Artifacts Referenced in the Film

Throughout the film, Burke reads some of his poetry and refers to pieces of art in his home and on his property. The film begins with Burke reading "Heavy, Heavy—What Hangs Over?," a poem first published in the 1966 preface to the second edition of Burke's book Towards a Better Life. Evidently, this was a favorite poem of Burke’s to read at poetry readings in his advancing years (see his discussion of this poem in a 1970 poetry reading delivered at Washington University at St. Louis). Burke's final words in the film include the postlude from "Poems of Abandonment (to Libbie, who cleared out)," a poem he wrote for his wife Libbie after her death. In addition to these poems, Burke also reads “A Special Kind of Glass,” a humorous poem from Burke’s Collected Poems: 1915-1967 about an alcoholic’s childhood dream concerning a woman "with breasts like bunches of [glass] grapes." While reading his different poems, Burke freely laughs and weeps revealing how words exercise control over him (through rhetorical affect) even while he controls those very same words (through poetry). Burke’s personal affective relationship with the power of words seems to inform a more general claim about humans as symbol-using animals that he makes elsewhere in the documentary: “our kind of animal . . . has not only done all these marvelous things with learning symbol systems, but we get pushed around by it too in the same way. We are both in it and victimized by it at the same time.”

In addition to poetry, the film features two notable art pieces. The most significant is a framed visual representation of Burke's “Definition of Human” created by a former student. The film displays each drawn section of the definition while Burke goes through the piece, explaining each element and what he intended by including it. Burke's definition of human was a continually developing work throughout the last decades of his life. He published his definition's first iteration in The Rhetoric of Religion in 1961. He developed it further in a 1963 essay in the Hudson Review, which was reprinted in Language as Symbolic Action (mentioned above). During the discussion in the film, Burke brings up the idea of adding "acquiring foreknowledge of death" as part of the definition. The final version of his definition, as delivered in a 1989 speech at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, includes this addition among other changes (Coe 353-54).

Another art piece included in the film is a toilet paper holder created by renowned sculptor Alexander Calder, who was a frequent visitor to Burke's Andover farm. In the film Chapin jokes about the toilet paper holder because it is shaped like a hand with the middle finger sticking out to slip the toilet paper over. This toilet paper holder must have made an impression on Chapin as a child, because it is discussed by Chapin's biographer as one of his summer vacation memories (Coan 16).

Finally, the song “One Light in a Dark Valley” can be heard playing instrumentally at the beginning of the film and with full lyrics during the closing credits. Burke wrote the song before 1955, and Chapin recorded a version of it on his 1977 album Dance Band on the Titanic. Interestingly, this is the only song Chapin recorded on an album that he did not have some part in writing (Coan 368). Years later, the song would continue to connect Kenneth Burke to the hearts of the Chapin family. In 1987 for instance, Kenneth Burke spoke at the Harry Chapin Tribute concert just before The Hooters played a cover of “One Light.” Also, the evening Burke died, Steve Chapin (Harry’s younger brother) arrived at Burke’s house at about the time Burke died; after viewing his deceased grandfather in the kitchen, Steve played “One Light” on Burke’s piano in the next room (Brand and Burks 24). In the film, Tom Chapin (another of Harry’s brothers) plays both an instrumental and a sung version of the song. While this song plays during the closing credits, the film displays several uncirculated photos of Burke by himself and with family and friends. The photos date from Burke's life in the early 20th century throughout his career.

Digitizing the Documentary

Although KB: A Conversation with Kenneth Burke was filmed in the mid-1970s, it was not produced by the Harry Chapin Foundation and Sandra Chapin until 1992. At that point, the film had limited distribution on VHS tape. In the fall of 2007, PhD students Katharine Tanski and Maria Granic-White of Purdue University transferred the film to digital format and created an initial transcript of the film. Their digitization project was finished in the spring of 2010 by a team of Purdue PhD students who were enrolled in a digital archives seminar taught by Patricia Sullivan and Jennifer Bay. This student team, led by [name redacted], included [name redacted], Ping Qui, and Adam Pope. Their project included producing both DVD and online-compatible versions of the film, subtitling the film, and researching various people and subjects portrayed or mentioned in the film. Most significantly, this digitization project provided the disciplinary and archival groundwork for what would become the Kenneth Burke Digital Archive (KBDA).

The KBDA invites any comments or feedback on this critical introduction to Chapin’s documentary. We are especially interested in missing information about specific scenes, people, topics, and images portrayed in the film (of particular interest is any information about the series of photographs during the closing credits—when they were taken, who besides Burke do they depict, and so forth). Please email any comments or feedback to David Blakesley (

Works Cited

“The Academy Awards Database.” The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 4 March 2018.

Birenbaum, Rob. “Legendary Drum Teacher Jim Chapin Dead at 89.” DRUM! (6 July 2009).

Brand, Ginny and Don M. Burks. “KB’s Last Day.” The Kenneth Burke Society Newsletter 9.1 (December 1993): 11, 24.

Burke, Kenneth. Collected Poems: 1915-1967. U of California P, 1968.

—. “Kenneth Burke WUSTL Reading, 4 Dec. 1970, Washington University at St. Louis.” Eds. Adam Humes and Ethan Sproat. KB Journal: The Journal of the Kenneth Burke Society 12.2 (Spring 2017).

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

—. Towards a Better Life. U of California P, 1982.

Burks, Don M. “KB and Burke: A Remembrance.” The Kenneth Burke Society Newsletter 9.1 (December 1993): 1-9.

Coan, Peter M. Taxi: The Harry Chapin Story. Citadel Press, 2001.

Coe, Richard M. “Defining Rhetoric—and Us: A Meditation on Burke's Definitions.” In The Kinneavy Papers: Theory and the Study of Discourse. Eds. Lynn Worsham, Sidney Dobrin, and Gary Olson. State U of New York P, 2000. 353-67.

Cratis Williams, David. “A Burke Chronology.” The Kenneth Burke Society Newsletter 9.1 (December 1993): 10-11.

Grayeb, Mike, and Linda McCarty. “Reflections from Harry's Mom: An Interview with Elspeth Hart.” Circle! (Winter 2005). Web.

Whitaker, Julie, and David Blakesley. Kenneth Burke: Late Poems, 1968-1993. U of South Carolina P, 2005.

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Biological Adumbrations of Drama: Deacon, Burke, Action/Motion, and the Bridge to the “Symbolic Species”

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 precursors to, and confirmations of, Kenneth Burke’s dramatism/logology. However, Deacon’s data and theory call into question Burke’s usually unnuanced distinction between symbolic “action” and nonsymbolic “motion.” This essay explores the four intersections between Deacon’s evolutionary theory and Burke’s dramatism that inform the apparent “Deacon”-struction of Burke’s action/motion claim.

. . . Sentience---without it there are no moral claims and no moral obligations. But once sentience exists, a claim is made, and morality gets ‘a foothold in the universe.’

—William James, 1897 (qtd. in Deacon, Incomplete Nature 485)

Terrence W. Deacon is Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a biological anthropologist and evolutionary neuroscientist (Tallerman and Gibson xvii). Deacon’s star as internationally famous and influential academician has been on the rise since the publication of his book, The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain (1997). With the appearance of his most recent volume, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (2012), Deacon has reached a level of importance in the study of evolution and language such that it invites interest from scholars in communication.1

Deacon posits a distinct and structured bridge connecting animal life in general to human symbolizers. The central piling in Deacon’s bridgework is a sense of negation he asserts pervades all animal life, not just the “symbolic species.” Consequently, and in particular, as I have previously pointed out, Deacon’s work appears to intersect with, or evince marked similarities to, the dramatism/logology of philosopher of language Kenneth Burke (Appel, “’Symbolic Species’”). The power of negative motivation undergirds the work of both these theorists.

As empirical science, not philosophy, Deacon’s research and findings add a dimension of insight into Burke’s rhetorical system that may problematize, as well as support, some of Burke’s ideas. It is the contention here that, as I explained (“’Symbolic Species’”), multiple facets of the biology and semiotics of Terrence Deacon uphold Burke’s conceptions of “symbol-using animal[s]” and their unique standing in the hierarchy of sentient organisms (Burke, Language 3-9). One determination, though, of Deacon’s research significantly challenges Burke’s philosophy. Burke’s famous and categorical polarity of “action” vs. “motion,” post Deacon, might require attention and review---here on the (nonsymbolic animal) “motion” side of that dialectical polarity---by scholars and critics in the Burkean tradition (Crusius, Kenneth Burke 136, 164-66).2

Deacon’s Incomplete Nature affords a noteworthy point of departure for that challenge to Burke’s default conceptualization of nonsymbolic animal “motion.” Deacon says:

Organisms are spontaneously emergent systems that can be said to “act on their own behalf” (though “acting” and “selfhood” must be understood in a generic and minimal sense . . . ) . . . In organisms, we see the most basic precursors of what in our mental experience we describe as self, intention, significance, purpose, and even evaluation. These attributes, even in attenuated form, are significantly unlike anything found spontaneously in the nonliving world, and yet they inevitably emerged in their most basic form first in systems far simpler than the simplest known organisms. (Incomplete 273-74)

The notion of single-celled living creatures “act[ing]” with “intention” for a “purpose” by way of a capacity for “evaluation” of an environment they somehow sense as “favorable or unfavorable” for survival marks off a strange landscape for a Burkean, as well as many other observers of the biosphere in general (Incomplete 273). This is the language of drama. The “Morality” [read: drama] William James said gets a “foothold” via animal sentience is here, at least, “foreshadow[ed] vaguely,” surely exceedingly vaguely, but still, if accurately described by Deacon, foreshadowed (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, “adumbrate,” def. 1 18). “Morality”-cum-drama is at minimum significantly prepared for in some “enigmatic” way (Incomplete 1). Tiny “sentien[t]” creatures, as Deacon labels them, are presumed to intuit and then “encompass” a problematic situation (Incomplete 485-86; Burke, Philosophy 1, 64). A Burkean scene-act correspondence surely comes to mind. Deacon’s dramatic phrasing, though admittedly “attenuated,” seems meant to be taken on its face, not just as gross metaphor or the typical superimposition of drama on mechanistic nature symbolizers are wont to do without reflection (Incomplete 273; Burke, Grammar 3-7; Language 54-55, 378-79; Appel, Burkean Primer 4-12).

Accordingly, this probe of Deacon’s research will focus on the four points of intersection between Burke’s dramatism/logology and Deacon’s putatively scientific theorizations that suggest a revision of Burke’s action/motion theme on the nonsymbolic motion side. Those points of connection that challenge Burke are what Deacon calls the four nonsymbolic “precursors” of human experience (Incomplete 473). These early attributes of “sentience” as the “foothold” William James theorized differ from the six pillars of support for Burke’s dramatism I found in Deacon’s depiction of the “symbolic species” in evolutionary near-formation and then fully formed (Incomplete 485; Appel, “’Symbolic Species’”). Deacon’s four antecedents to symbolism, harbingers, as it were, of the human drama yet to emerge, problematically undercut Burke’s facile and categorical action/motion polarity.

Deacon’s fourfold nonsymbolic precursors of Burkean drama here examined will include a protonegative; a protopentad of a kind (the scene-agent-act-purpose-means trajectory inherent in the grammar of language, i.e., Burke’s pentad); concepts that seemingly adumbrate Burkean terms for order (order/disorder-sin-guilt-sacrifice-redemption, Burke’s cycle of terms implicit in the idea of order), as more loosely construed, of course; and the activity or experience of that animal life as not reducible to spontaneous motion (Incomplete 1-3, 53). Deacon’s sixfold theory of the semiotic communication of emerging and ultimately fully-emergent humankind---comprised of a “bi-layered” symbolic species in thought and action, a theory of entitlement that places symbols in a separate bin from the objects they presumably name, an evolutionary explanation of linguistic origins remarkably like Burke’s, treatment of Burke’s sixth grammatical term, “attitude,” as integral to symbolic action, indeed, defining supposedly sapient men and women as the essentially symbolic and theological animals Burke construes them as---these dramatistically supportive features of Deacon’s research I have already examined (“’Symbolic Species’”; Burke, “Dramatism” 8-9). Deacon giveth, as well as taketh away, in respect to Burke’s conceptions.

To rephrase as preview the trajectory to be elaborated in this probe: If a sense of the “absential” or negative of whatever variety is assumed as inherent in any living creature, Deacon’s postulate, then a purpose of a kind must implicitly follow as motive for any living creature. An intuition to reject, say, alternatives A, B, and C as serviceable options means a likely preference for D as purpose. If not A, not B, and not C, but rather D as purpose, then restriction, an inhibition or sacrifice of a kind, a pushing back against the blind purposeless forces of ordinary physics and chemistry, in respect to A, B, and C as possibilities. And if that negative sensibility, generating a purpose and a prohibition against what does not serve that purpose, if such purpose and prohibition orients toward something beyond a materialistic, billiard-ball form of causation, then a potential incommensurability between the sought-for outcome and the mechanics of the material substrates that are being supervened. The negative calls forth Burke’s pentad, a rippling out toward all the notions that go with the term “purpose,” and the purposive pentadic terms call forth the concepts implicit in the idea of order, as described by Burke, as some sort of transcendence of the motions of inanimate nature.3

 The upshot: Four essential features of presymbolic living nature Deacon argues for and highlights, presage, intimate, sufficiently foreshow, four essential features of Burke’s symbolizing animal, to call into question Burke’s customary construction of his action/motion polarity.

First, though, by way of situating Deacon’s challenge to Burke’s action/motion pair, a review of representative studies that have troubled or refined Burke’s thought on human action may afford helpful context. A look at Burke’s inconsistencies on the action/motion binary requires attention, as well. Careful delineation of what is, and what is not, in focus in a Deacon/Burke comparison on action/motion should be made apparent, before launching into Deacon’s claims on the matter.

Symbolic “Action” the Usual Problematic in Burke Studies, Not Nonsymbolic “Motion” Elsewhere in the Biosphere

Most studies that have problematized, or refined, Burke on action/motion have taken aim at the human “action” side of the divide, how human “action” needs to be construed or modified conceptually, not the pole in which Burke usually places nonsymbolic animals. The questions include, how free is the symbol-user, or, where do nonsymbolic impulses end and human free will, expressed in symbolic action, begin? Or even, how free is symbolic action, when symbols goad or use the symbol-user as well? In his treatment of putatively free symbolic action per se, an ambiguity in Burke’s thorizations is often overlooked, Abraham Kaplan claimed. Kaplan put it this way:

Burke explicitly declares his concern to be with the analysis of language [as “symbolic action”], not “reality” [the “reality” of the tangible actions, i.e., morally purposeful motions, human symbolizations supposedly goad into being]. But it remains doubtful whether he has in fact clearly distinguished the two and successfully limited himself to the linguistic level. (“Review” 233-34)

Sociologist Michael Overington said the same (“Kenneth Burke” 133).

Additional secondary literature on Burke and action/motion has addressed this ambiguity in Burke, or such theoretical complexity in general. For example, in their probe of their concept of “pentadic cartography,” Anderson and Prelli examined the (unsatisfactory, they claimed) linguistic reduction of action to motion in the rhetoric of contemporary technological culture (“Pentadic Cartography”). They then applied their take on Burke’s critique of language to Herbert Marcuse’s putative failure to successfully “map” that terministic terrain. Anderson and Prelli’s analysis dissected the symbolic attribution of motives. It did not attribute motives itself, or undermine Burke’s stated focus on language as basis for some, if even a minimal, degree of free moral action.

Crable critiqued Burke’s language of attribution. He offered a “friendly amendment” to Burke’s axiom, “There can be motion without action.” The proposition should read, Crable said, “There can be no motion without action” (“Symbolizing Motion” 128). The dialectical polarity itself, by Burke’s own reckoning, extrudes from a distinction made possible only by symbols (Crable, 126-27; Burke, On Human Nature 139-71). Demonstrating the “fragmentation” of such a full dialectic in a truncated rhetoric, Crable showed how the attempted reduction of “action” to “motion” in Western “racist” categories “corrupt[s]” nonsymbolic motion with one-up, one-down, hierarchal symbolizations not present in human nature itself (“Symbolizing Motion” 132-35). So-called biologically heritable disparities exist only in our languaging of “race,” Crable asserted, not in the material world itself. Any such hierarchal/dialectical discrimination is to be at least suspect as a symbolic superimposition.

Other Burke scholars have probed the action/motion ambiguity with the focus thoroughly on the human “action” side, in respect to “reality,” not just talk about reality. Desilet and I briefly questioned the notion of “free” moral action in support of a “comic” attitude toward perpetrators of even the most heinous of war crimes (“Choosing a Rhetoric of the Enemy” 340-62). A “comic” extenuation of atrocity is facilitated by a scenic diminution of personal responsibility, Desilet and I suggested. Conrad and Macom deconstructed Burke-style symbolic “agency,” particularly with respect to habit as symbolic “action” turned “motion.” They claimed Burke’s “tension”-filled, “dualistic” treatment of action/motion “oscillates” between emphasis on one pole, then the other, with the symbol/action side ultimately the more privileged. Conrad and Macom argued for a more coherent “interpenetration” of the two motives, “free” action and constrained motion, as illustrated in that habitualization of “action” toward “motion,” often to be followed by the dehabitualization of “motion” in an emergency (“Re-Visiting Kenneth Burke” 12-16, 22, 25). Most intriguing in this subtle treatment is their claim that symbolic motives themselves can often be construed as “motion.” Burke’s “entelechy,” or symbolic thrust toward hierarchal perfectionism, can serve as suasive force without conscious, deliberative awareness of how terms are so “using” the symbol-user (13-15).

Engnell targeted five dialectical interpenetrations of symbolic and physical motivations that complicate a simplistic action/motion distinction. Awareness of the ways body and symbol “avenge” each other’s promptings will facilitate a fuller, more balanced, rhetoric, Engnell offered (“Materiality, Symbolicity” 1-25).

From a Burkean purview, Hawhee further explored whatever it is that distinguishes the seemingly purposeful motion of persons from the promptings of spontaneous nature. In a wide-ranging survey that highlighted Burke’s interests in music criticism, dance, mysticism, social hygiene, endocrinology, drug addiction, bodily diseases, including Burke’s own illnesses, and, finally, Burke’s excremental obsessions, Hawhee emphasized dramatism’s co-constituting relationship between body and symbol, its integral movement from body to language, concluding that those polar terms are “an irreducible pair, contiguous but distinct” (Moving Bodies 158; see, also, O’Keefe, “Burke’s Dramatism”; Jameson, “Symbolic Inference”; Schlauch, “Review.” Relevant, too, on the action/motion question are Jack, “Neurorhetorics”; Ivakhiv, “Environmental Communication”).

In summary, many if not most of Burke’s critics on action/motion take him to task, or provide nuance, with a heavy interpretive thumb on Burke’s purposive, symbolic, aesthetic, distinctively human side of the scales. They do not put in play Burke’s customarily sweeping definition of nonsymbolic motion to include animals in the wild. Burke’s inconsistent treatment of this other pole in his dialectical pair, that of nonsymbolic motion in the “lower” animal realm, requires a closer look, as well. This is the one feature of Burkology Deacon’s research, taken on its face, deconstructs.

Burke’s Inconsistencies on Animal “Motion”

It must be acknowledged at the outset that Burke did occasionally drop hints that he was aware that nonsymbolic living beings, those that are in common parlance called “lower” animals, do not function only according to the laws of physics and chemistry. Early in Permanence and Change, Burke spoke of fish as demonstrating “criticism of experience.” After a bad day in the river, fish might “revise [their] critical appraisals” to avoid “’jaw-ripping food.’” In fact, Burke conceded, “all living organisms interpret many of the signs about them.” This expression of the basic irritability that is said to distinguish living beings serves as contrast to the human facility for “criticism of criticism,” a meta-capacity to “interpret our interpretations,” transcend via a symbol-induced insight that generic irritability. Burke went on in that opening chapter of P&C to cite Pavlov’s dogs and domesticated chickens as exhibiting the same learning and interpretive instincts, only to have them backfire when the summons is to their “punishment,” not their feeding time (Permanence and Change 5-6, 18, 22).

In the same vein, Burke vouchsafed in A Grammar of Motives that nonsymbolic animals could be labeled “agents-minus,” and what they physically do “action-minus.” Burke explained:

In reducing all phenomena to terms of motion, biology is as unambiguously scenic as physics. But as soon as it encounters the subject of self-movement, it makes claims upon the areas covered by our term agent. We have improvised a solution, for our purposes, by deciding that the biologist’s word, “organism,” is Grammatically the equivalent of “agent-minus.” (Grammar 157, 237)

Whether he is altogether committed in his Grammar to such re-labeling, Burke does nicely “improvise” in the direction of nuance.

These two passages in Burke’s corpus reflect well enough the overall point Deacon seems to be making in bold strokes. Yet Burke more normally confounds the issue with statements like the following, in a long and definitive essay he entitled, and in which he specifically contrasted,, “(Nonsymbolic) Motion / (Symbolic) Action”: “If all typically symbol-using animals (that is, humans) were suddenly obliterated, . . . ,” Burke said, “the Earth would be but a realm of planetary, geologic, meteorological motion, including the motions of whatever nonhuman biologic organisms happened to survive.” Burke curiously added, “Ironically . . . [via ‘operant conditioning,’ B. F.] Skinner is able to set up so ‘rational’ a problem (‘push that lever, peck that key, or starve’) that his animals can in effect behave much more ‘rationally’ than is the case in most human situations . . . [in respect to] discriminations” (Human Nature 141, 168-71). The glaring “irony” is: Burke did not seem to sense that his illustration undermines, not his distinction between the “action” of symbolizers and whatever it is that preverbal animals do, but rather his blanket conflation of that “discriminat[ing]” animal behavior with, for example, undiscriminating “planetary” motion.

In his summary encyclopedia article, “Dramatism,” the “sheer motion[s]” of the brain Burke spoke of, on which the “action” of human thought is based, are, in part, per Deacon, expressive of “sentient” neurons operating on an admittedly “lower-level” of emergent activity, yet still living beings with a degree of intention all their own (Incomplete 509-11). In Deacon-world, Lewis Thomas’s book The Lives of a Cell comes readily and appropriately to mind.

Burke’s inconsistency on the “motion” side of action/motion is brought sharply into focus by Deacon’s theory of evolutionary self-organization. What Deacon’s theory entails, and how it critically articulates with Burke’s dramatism in complication of so-called nonsymbolic animal “motion,” is herewith examined.

Precursors to Drama in Deacon’s Evolutionism: The Protonegative, Protopentad, Order, “Irreducible” Activity of a Kind

We now address, in some detail, four of the most salient features of Burke’s philosophy, previewed, Deacon maintained, in natural, biological history. Burke devoted a famous four-part series of articles in the Quarterly Journal of Speech to the negative basis of symbolic action (“Origins of Language”; Burke, Language 419-79). His seminal work, A Grammar of Motives, explains throughout the ubiquity of his pentad of terms: act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose (introduced on pp. xv-xxiii). Burke’s climactic “logological” study, The Rhetoric of Religion, is built around the grammatically implicit terms for “Order” or guilt-redemption cycle (4-5, 184). “’Symbolic action’” as irreducible to terms for motion highlighted Burke’s summary piece in the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (see Burke, “Dramatism” 11). Deacon’s evolutionary theory resonates with these ideas as operative in reduced scale in primitive life forms. Whether appropriately labeled activity or “behavior,” apparently Burke’s term for the notion of lower “organisms” functioning in some nonmechanistic way, Deacon puts such animatedly intermediate operations in boldest relief (Burke, Permanence and Change 5).

Deacon’s “Absential Feature” or “Abstential Phenomenon”

The power of negative motivation serves as core not only for Deacon’s semiotics, but also for his conception of animate being in general. In Deacon’s tale, two great dislocations, two great transformations, not just the one Burke highlighted, occurred in the evolution of our planetary home: when living animals and plants appeared, and, again, when the symbolic species arose into full self-conscious life. Both transformations give evidence of some sort of negative provocation (e.g., Incomplete 155-59, 182). Conventional evolutionists ignore the “absential” that is inherent, Deacon averred, in whatever it is that nonsymbolic life forms are doing (Incomplete 3, emphasis in original). Behaviorists like B. F. Skinner, and premier biologists like Richard Dawkins and Francis Crick, will often smuggle into their accounts “homuncul[i]” and “golem[s],” “unacknowledged gap-fillers,” that do the “teleonomic”---Deacon’s word for an apparent purposefulness short of the human---the teleonomic or teleological work of explanation that is required. But the implicit presence and purposiveness of these manipulative stowaways go unacknowledged (Incomplete 46-106, 550, 553).

Deacon’s mentor, however, did not so ignore. Deacon carries forward Gregory Bateson’s notion of a “difference which makes a difference” in the activity of all living beings (Bateson, Ecology 381, emphasis in original). Bateson, along with Deacon after him, borrowed terminology from the ancient Gnostics. In the “Pleroma,” the realm of chemical and physical mechanism, entropy rules. The Second Law of Thermodynamics drives all processes relentlessly toward a state of equilibrium, dis-order. In the “Creatura,” the arena of living beings, “work,” broadly defined, “stave[s] off” “thermodynamic decay” by feeding off of “free energy” in the environment, generating or perpetuating “order” way beyond the capacity, it would seem, of the mere physical and chemical properties of those “working” creatures (Bateson, Ecology 455-56, 481-82; Incomplete 281). What is “absent” somehow motivates that “work.” The some-way-sought-for, somehow-motivating, “ends” of that “work” are “repair” and “formation,” which is to say, “survival” and “reproduction” (Bateson, Ecology 481-83; Incomplete 281-83; Deacon, e-mail, “Re: Fw: Re: Deacon’s Neo-Aristotelian Complication”: “Bateson was a powerful personal influence on me”). Often energized by the “responding part rather than by impact from the triggering part,” “self-organization,” “self-correctivness,” “trial and error” can characterize nonverbal, as well as verbal, life forms (Bateson, Ecology 482; Incomplete 169; Kauffman, Origins of Order: Self-Organization). That absential-related “difference” cannot “make a difference” unless there is a recognition of some kind that the “difference” taken cognizance of is not correct or not incorrect in terms of some “target state” (Bateson, Ecology 381, 482; Incomplete 281-83, 326-30, 487, 553).

Colin McGinn, a philosopher at Miami University, wrote a dissenting review of Incomplete Nature. McGinn asked in the title of his piece, “Can Anything Emerge from Nothing?” His answer: No (“Emerge”). The “absential” does remain vague in Deacon. Deacon does not particularly give shape or contour to this cryptic notion. The “absential,” or protonegative, would strike one, on its face, at this preliminary point in evolutionary history, as a nonmoralizing negative. Deacon concedes the concept is a “nontechnical . . . heuristic,” a kind of exploratory assumption (“In Response”). Yet, both Deacon and Bateson appear very much to be on to something. The nonsymbolic negative can perhaps be compared to dark energy in cosmology. Astronomers do not know exactly what dark energy is, but its effects are clearly observable and measurable. Likewise, such “absential” phenomena as Deacon and Bateson postulate appear to exist. What nonsymbolic living beings do cannot readily be explained without that postulate. Adaptive change in general, to say nothing of successful training of those “lower” animals, via stimulus-response, suggests sensitivity to a difference that can make a difference. How else account for the warning signals of meerkats when danger looms on the horizon, or any animal’s defense of nest, den, or territory when invaded by outsiders. What an unacceptable difference these creatures seek to “correct” for!

 Some might call this line of reasoning argument by bafflement. We cannot yet conjure a satisfactory mechanistic explanation for such seemingly calculated, communicative, unspontaneous adaptation to a perceived threat (though some biologists are trying; see, below, “What Deacon Uniquely Adds”). The notion of argument by correlation can serve as counterstatement. We do not hear or see a symbolic auditory or gestural “no,” “not,” or “beware” when a Vervet monkey calls out or signals to its troop members, with discrimination, that a snake, leopard, or eagle is nearby. When related animals take appropriate evasive action in response to such a warning, like looking down (snake), climbing a tree (leopard), or hiding in a bush (eagle), correlative cognition would seem to have occurred. A “difference which makes a difference” in terms of survival, is, on some level, discerned. A correspondence with the linguistic “no,” even if rarefied, appears operative and plausible (Deacon, Symbolic Species 54-56).

 “Correlation” is the precise term many biologists use to link animal calls to the states and events in the environment the calls are “about.” If the resulting and correlative behavior suggests a warning has been received, is not negation implicit? The warning call is correlative to a subsequent not-doing whatever it is these animals had been doing (Deacon, Symbolic Species 54-56; Seyfarth and Cheney, “Primate Social Cognition” 61; Stegmann, “Information and Influence” 8; Adams and Beighley, “Information, Meaning” 405-406, 411-12, 416).

“Entelechy,” the Four Causes, Grammatical Terminology

The notion of a nonsymbolic “absential” negative, whatever its lineaments and motivational power, calls forth the language of seemingly purposeful action. (The “absential” implies not A, not B, and not C, in order to achieve D, the purpose.) Such, at any rate, are the grammatical requirements of the language human observers use to talk about it (Appel, Burkean Primer 10-12; Burke, Language 378-79). Deacon can and will label that presymbolic response to negative inducement “teleological,” not merely “teleonomic.” Deacon defines teleonomy (a term he etymologically traces to the late 1950s) as a “middle ground between mere mechanism and purpose, behavior predictably oriented toward a particular target state even in systems where there is no explicit representation of that state or intention to achieve it” (Incomplete, 116, 553; Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, “teleonomy” 1284). “Thermostats and computer programs are teleonomic,” Deacon said (“Re: Revision”; Incomplete 116-123). Of and by themselves, without reference to the design in their human origin, no “intention” to “achieve” some “target state” inheres in such mechanistic artifacts.

Deacon defines “teleological,” usually associated with full-bore orientation toward design in nature, ultimate purposiveness, alignment toward some consummate goal, as “purposive or end-directed (the study of such relationships); philosophically related to Aristotle’s concept of a “’final cause’” (Incomplete 553; Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, “teleology” 1284). But here is the rub: Deacon’s notion of the “teleology” that infused and infuses evolution and all living systems is an immanentized teleology, not a transcendentalized one. Deacon’s project is the “Naturalizing of Teleology” (Visual, Ginn Lecture, “Naturalizing Teleology”). In personal correspondence, Deacon put it this way:

Teleodynamics [a term for Deacon’s system as related to “teleology”] attempts to carve a path between a vitalist elan vital and the cybernetic-related conception of teleonomy. I consider Aristotle’s notion of entelechy (given its prescientific context) to be closer to my view than to teleonomy. His subsequent interpreters exaggerated the homuncular way of interpreting it, however, and this is what I would object to. (“Re: One More Time.”) 4

Once again on the homunculus: This is the “little man” in the “germ cell” in prescientific notions of procreation that was thought to grow to maturity during human gestation. Deacon extends the reference to the connotations of teleology that mechanistic theorists often surreptitiously sneak into their explanations of phenomena to illegitimately fill explanatory gaps (Incomplete 46-79; Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, “homunculus” 596).

One way or another, all this utilitarian sub-verbal behavior in animate life in general, in the direction of an entelechial target state or “purpose” of a kind, conjures up, in Deacon’s explanation, notions of Aristotle’s protopentadic “four causes.” One of those causes is purpose or “final cause,” in other words, entelechial end-directedness. And if there is a final cause or purpose, then an efficient cause or agent, a formal cause or act, and a material cause or scene inevitably follow (Burke, Grammar xv). Deacon makes those connections (Incomplete 34-35, 161, 185-86, 210-214). All grammars appear to answer, even require, the who, what, why, how (comprised of preliminary whys), and when and where. The notion of a purpose, necessarily devolved from negative motivation, will so require.

Burke explains Aristotle’s entelechy in contrast to his own conception. Aristotle’s usage is close to Deacons. It pertains to the behavior of nonsymbolic beings, as well as humans. Burke’s notion of entelechy is limited to the symbolic. The “purpose” or “end-directedness” Burke embraces refers just to symbol-users and their unique actions. Burke posits, however, two important features, as he sees them, of “entelechy” as even Aristotle conceived it. The term “entelechy,” as per Aristotle and Deacon, is, by implication, still “dramatistic” (Dramatism and Development 57). Aristotle’s four causes and the five elements of linguistic grammar Burke analogously derives from the content parts of speech (noun actor, verbal act, adverbial purpose, means, manner [Burke’s hexadic “attitude”], and scenic time and place) are irrepressibly conjured by the notion of end-directedness in either case. And that Aristotelian “entelechy,” reaching down to the most primitive forms of animal and vegetable life, is “metaphysical,” Burke clearly stresses, which is to say, at the very least: If the “purpose” of a kind the Aristotelian entelechy suggests cannot be satisfactorily accounted for within the materiality of the most basic life forms to which the term is applied, observers will be prompted, or tempted, to look for that “purpose” in some “beyond” (Burke, Dramatism and Development 57-58; Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, “metaphysical” 780, def. 2a).

No such “purpose” inheres at all within the materiality of nonsymbolic life forms in the “absential”-centered evolutionary theory of Terrence Deacon. Inadvertently and proleptically, Burke’s conception of the metaphysical quality of even Aristotelian entelechy calls into some question how successfully Deacon has actually “naturalized teleology” and its theological implications. Deacon’s “absential” most assuredly does not reside in the undiscerning physical or chemical compulsions of even living matter.

Deacon summons, as per Burke, many variants of purposive pentadic drama from the negative “absential,” however situated in the realm of animal life: “meanings,” “evaluations,” a feeling for “potentials” and “possibilities not realized,” leading to “longings,” “intentions,” “aspirations,” indeed inclinations toward “end-directed,” “consequence-oriented” actions, processes, and forms of causality that most characterize the symbolic species (Incomplete, e.g., 3, 5, 7, 11-12, 14, 16, 33). By unaccounted, “enigmatic,” but observable enough legerdemain, this goal-seeking, in some fashion, seeps downward into the nether-reaches of living organisms. By the implacable “lurking” Burke has been lampooned for, such “purpose” brings to mind all the pentadic components---even, it would seem, for those elemental, “minimal[ly]” sentient, microbial life forms (Incomplete,1, 273; Lansner, “Burke, Burke, the Lurk” 261).

Emergent “Order” by Way of “Work” and “Restriction”

Just as he adumbrates Burke’s pentad in his description of dynamical processes on varied levels of even elemental biological organization, so, too, does Deacon echo Burke’s “terms implicit in the idea of order,” or guilt-redemption cycle, in his mind-from-matter trajectory of evolutionary development. Once again, Deacon uses these “order” terms more loosely than Burke. Concepts analogous to Burke’s “Iron Law of History” are projected downward into realms of the nonsymbolic (Burke, Religion 4-5, 184). There they function as descriptives of activity or behavior that far transcend the mechanism of mere physics and chemistry.

Recall Burke’s “Iron Law” poem in The Rhetoric of Religion. The stages of drama anatomized there go from “order,” maintained by “commandments” (the thou-shalt-nots) that inevitably lead to violations and “guilt,” the resulting disorder rectified and “redeemed” through “sacrifice” by way of “victimage” directed at self or other. Later in the book, Burke elaborated this moral drama in his famous diagram that proceeds from the “Bless[ings]” and “Curses[es]” the commandments that maintain order inspire, to ”redemption by vicarious atonement” that restores order disrupted by things gone amiss (Religion 4-5, 184).

Deacon’s roughly equivalent terms construct “order” in the biosphere generally via “constraint” and “restriction,” which is to say, by rules or commandments, so to speak, that resonate across living nature. The intuited “absential,” that sense of a “missing” element in both minimally and fully sentient life, constrains the “restriction,” much like the hortatory negative in the human drama. The feel for that complicating “difference which makes a difference” brings resolution, order recovered or retained in the face of threat, by way of “work,” a concept within hailing distance of Burke’s “self-sacrifice” (Incomplete 24, 191-98, 326-70; Bateson, Ecology 381; Burke, Permanence and Change 286-91; Burke, Rhetoric 260-74).

Unpacking his version of the terms for order, Deacon said, “Order and constraint are intrinsically related concepts.” He calls his approach a “negative way of assessing order.” Deacon explains:

The nature of constraint (and therefore the absent options [read: potential “purposes” of a kind]) indirectly determines which differences can and cannot make a difference in any interaction. . . [In fact,] by recasting our understanding of habit [from Charles Sanders  Peirce] and order in negative terms, we can begin to disentangle ourselves from the “something more” fallacy of traditional emergence theories. . . . Emergent properties are not something added, but rather a reflection of something restricted and hidden. . . . (Incomplete 198, 203)

What is shunted to the side by living “work” is the multifarious and random events of spontaneous nature (Incomplete 195, 197-98, 190-205).

Deacon defines that “work” thus: “In general terms, then, we can describe all forms of work as activity that is necessary to overcome resistance to [goal-directed] change. Resistance can be either passive or active, and so work can be directed toward enacting change that wouldn’t otherwise occur or preventing change that would happen in its absence.” Which is to say, “work” is activity that thwarts the “spontaneous” drift toward the “entropy” the Second Law of Thermodynamics says “mechanism” is “naturally,” if fitfully, careening toward across billions of years of the mostly un-“teleonomic,” very definitely un-“teleological,” processes physicists and chemists study and account for by way of their experiments and observations (Incomplete 330). “Work” is also activity that thwarts, or attempts to thwart, the “working” aggressions of other sentient life forms.

“Terms for order” of a distinctive kind devolve essentially from the “incompleteness” Deacon finds in the operations of all beings in living nature.

An“Irreducibility” at the Heart of the Matter

Following Talcot Parsons, Burke said, “Action is not reducible to terms of motion” (Dramatism” 10). Something “novel,” creative, inheres in a symbolic act, inexplicable in reference to material scene, actor, purpose, or means (Burke, Grammar 65-66, 68). True, “There can be no action without motion,” according to Burke. Electrochemical brain waves are happening when human thoughts and words lead to interference with the kinds of causes that would otherwise be taking place, minus those negatively-charged symbolic inducements (those electro-chemical discharges authored by living brain cells, “motion” for Burke, not altogether so for Deacon). At the very foundation of the hierarchy of sentient activity in the human brain, “motion” is apparently taking place, as Burke sees it. The resultant symbolic meanings cannot, however, be read from, or reduced to, those neurological discharges (Burke, “Dramatism” 10-11). Nor can one speak to such physical and chemical interactions in and of themselves and expect to persuade them to do one’s bidding. The relationship between biochemistry and symbolic action is mysterious enough that the notion of language as “magic spell” is not foreign to Burke’s dramatism (Philosophy 1-8).

Deacon uses the term “magical,” too (Incomplete 10). His project, though, is to dispel that mystery as much as possible. The subtitle of his recent book is, after all, “How Mind Emerged from Matter.” Still, Deacon admits to an irreducibility in his scheme as well, and the primary locus of that enigma is not surprising: “Absence has no components, and so it can’t be reduced or eliminated. Or, to be a bit less cryptic: Constraint is the fact of possible states not being realized, and what is not realized is not subject to componential analysis. Reductive analysis can thus irretrievably throw away information about the basis of higher-order causal power” (Incomplete 204, emphasis added).

Equally irreducible for Deacon is each level of living “sentience” to a lower-level of sentience that serves as support. Deacon asserted:

Although there is a hierarchic dependency of higher-order forms of sentience on lower-order forms of sentience, there is no possibility of reducing these higher-order forms (e.g., human consciousness) to lower-order forms (e.g., neuronal sentience, or the vegetative sentience of brainless organisms and free-living cells). This irreducibility arises for the same reason that teleodynamic processes in any form are irreducible to the thermodynamic processes [as per the Second Law of Thermodynamics] that they depend on. (Incomplete 508)

Put more generally, Deacon said: In Incomplete Nature, “I repeatedly show why we cannot reduce either life or mind to material substrates” (207, 508; Deacon, “Response”). Science cannot satisfactorily probe the absential via physics or chemistry.

On the other side of the coin, “action” is not possible without “motion,” Burke maintained (“Dramatism” 10). Deacon said the same thing, differently phrased: e.g., animal activities are “not . . . independent of thermodynamic change”; they “still have these [mechanistic] processes as their ground” (Incomplete 347, 361, 370).

Summary Review

Based on his biological and neuroscientific investigations, Deacon has posited four features of even single-celled living beings that function, in effect, as precursors of the dramatic action Burke warranted as the distinguishing traits of the “symbol-using animal” (Burke, Religion 40; Burke, Language 16). More to the point, Deacon has homed in on one characteristic of these primitively sentient life forms from which the other three attributes devolve. That protean sensibility is a feel for the “absential,” as he calls it, an “enigmatic” orientation toward what is “incomplete” about itself, what is “not there,” that generates “order” through “constraint,” “purpose” of a kind, and an incommensurability with anything material, tangible, or “componential.”

The trajectory of implications can go something like this: If self-organizing and self-perpetuating living “order,” then a capacity for “constraint” or “restriction” of a kind built into the organisms in question, that factors out all sorts of otherwise possible results, were “spontaneous” nature in control. If “constraint” or “restriction” in the way such living organisms operate, then of necessity a negative sensibility, a taking note of a “difference which makes a difference” in terms of generating conditions “favorable” or “unfavorable” to continued existence, a tropism toward “correction” of circumstances not right. If such an active sense of the negative, then “purpose” (Burke, Grammar 294-97; Deacon, Incomplete 23, 273). There can be no “constraint,” leading to “order,” indicative of “purpose,” without an overarching intuition of the what-is-not. Negative sensibility of some variety, awareness of the vitally “missing” or the “absent,” is thus the lynchpin of orderly living being. Burke appears, normally, to place that informing negative intuition only in the symbolizing animal. Deacon puts some form of the negative, enigmatically attenuated in the nonsymbolic to be sure, in all sentient life forms, and defines all living organisms as sentient (Incomplete 485-507).

The upshot: Nonsymbolic animals, with or without brains, certainly do not “act” like symbol-users. Just as certainly, and brought boldly into academic awareness by Terrence W. Deacon, nonsymbolic animals do not “move” like stars, clouds, tides, or geologic plates. Burke’s action/motion distinction, inconsistently articulated to be sure, may stand in special need of revision in light of Deacon’s “absential[ism].”

What Deacon Uniquely Adds to Current Research on Animal “Activity”

Much contemporary biology touches on what “lower” animals do that looks different from spontaneous physical mechanism. Does any of it approach Deacon as nascent dramatic precursor? Only in part: First, concepts of negation are mostly missing from this research. That is one notion Deacon introduces. Second, complex avians and mammals are the focal concerns in the biology of “agency-minus,” not single-celled organisms. Deacon appears to move the discussion about nonsymbolic animal activity and communication in the direction of negation-based discriminations across all living nature. That broadening of reference is another of Deacon’s contributions.

The concept of “information” illustrates the way Deacon’s formulations both articulate with and differ from those of standard study of nonsymbolic animals and their behavior (Incomplete 371-91). “Information” is a generative principle, or focus of debate, in this field of research in general. “Information” is, for Deacon, a “relationship” term. The “sign medium” itself is not of central import (Incomplete 379, 374). An animal’s warning signal or mating call has “meaning” only in respect to an “irregularity,” or potential irregularity, that has teleodynamic significance. It is not just a “difference” in expectation. It is a “difference which makes a difference” in terms of perceived purposes of survival and/or reproduction. The “significan[t]” difference is not “something missing” that merely “stand[s] out with respect to a tendency.” That missing tendency “must also stand out with respect to another tendency that interprets it . . . which is the ground of this expectation; a[n] [end-directed, consequence-oriented] projection into the future” (Incomplete 377, 392-420, emphasis in original).

In studies of animal communication in the large, a debate over the concept of information is at the fore. Some biologists give the notion credence. Some do not. The focal dialectics are “information” vs. “manipulation,” “information” vs. “signaling,” “linguistic metaphor” vs. “nonlinguistic metaphor,” “cortical” vs. “non-cortical” or “subcortical,” “cognitive” vs. “non-cognitive,” “mutualistic” vs. self-serving. Those who claim information’s conceptual utility often use terms that echo part of Deacon’s theory. Terms like “referential signals,” “mental representations,” “prediction,” “correlation,” and, in particular, “cognitive” activity, correspond with Deacon’s account (Stegmann, “Information and Influence” 4-25; Font and Carazo, “Animals in Translation” 1; see, in Stegmann, Animal Communication Theory, the five chapters under “Varieties of Information” 41-148; e.g., Scarintino, “Animal Communication” 53-88; Wiley, “Communication” 113-32).

The advocates of “manipulation” and mere “influence” in animal relationships emphasize “automatic reflexive reactions” and “affect induction,” not cognition. This is “an explicitly noninformational approach.” “Signals evolved in order to prompt receivers to behave in ways beneficial to the sender,” as per the “selfish gene” hypothesis of Richard Dawkins. Even in respect to primate vocalizations, the “unsophisticated nature of signal processing” is asserted. Information theory overall superimposes human language and thought processes on nonsymbolic living nature, illegitimately, the “non-cognitive” side in the debate contends (Stegmann, “Information and Influence” 15-25; Dawkins and Krebs, “Animal Signals”; Dawkins, Selfish Gene; Owings and Morton, Animal Vocal Communication, “emphasiz[ing] the role of motivation and emotion more than . . . the role of information-processing systems” 40; Johnstone, “Evaluation of Animal Signals” 155-78; Font and Carazo, “Animals in Translation” 1-6; Randall, Owren, and Ryan, “What Do Animal Signals Mean?” 233-40).

In nonsymbolic animal research in general, questions are occasionally asked about hominid “protolanguage” precursors to homo sapiens, concerning “communication about absent objects/events” (Gibson, “Language or Protolanguage” 57). Very little terminology related to “absentialism” surfaces directly, though, in research on avians or subhuman mammals, much less single-celled creatures. Uniquely, it would seem, the negative, with its many echoes of drama, infuses all living operations in the evolutionism of Terrence Deacon.


Despite the many corroborations it affords Burke’s thought in respect to what Deacon calls the “symbolic species,” a ponderable point of contention exists between Terrence Deacon’s evolutionary theory and Kenneth Burke’s dramatistic philosophy of language. At its core is Deacon’s potent demonstration, or postulation, of a negative ubiquity, as it apparently suffused and suffuses the behavior of all nonsymbolic life forms (Incomplete 480). To borrow Aristotle’s term, even if Deacon would explain the machinations of that term differently, an “entelechial” purposivness of a kind extrudes in animate beings in general, not just in the symbol-using animal, Deacon’s fundamental claim. As a result, four “precursors,” as Deacon calls them, of symbolic action in such animal life anticipated in some “enigmatic” way the full-blown drama of human striving: that negative “absential” and the agent-act-to-purpose trajectory negative inducement originated, 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, not always but usually, unqualified contrast between symbolic action and nonsymbolic motion may therefore necessitate some revision on the motion side of this dialectical pairing. Too often, Burke’s dichotomy places nonsymbolic animals, plants, and the processes of inanimate physical nature all in the same “motion” bin. Deacon’s postulate of two dislocations, two discontinuities, in evolutionary history puts Burke’s customary formula in some doubt.

 Hence, Deacon’s claims about the “absential,” the “teleological,” the veritable “end-directedness” of preverbal living nature that, it appears, profoundly changed the natural history of planet Earth, might require Burke scholars to revisit the action/motion theme, perhaps thusly: In his treatment of Darwin’s evolutionism, Burke’s makeshift notions of “action-minus” and “agent-minus” may serve as a good start to such a revision: Not “action/motion,” but rather “action/action-minus/motion” would, in light of Deacon, afford a more accurate and serviceable encompassment of “recalcitrant” living reality (Burke, Grammar 157, 237; Burke, Permanence and Change 255-61).

“Action” minus what? Infinite goading, eternal longing, guilt-cum-morality, all implicit in the human intuition of an infinite negative, a negative that extends in space and time without limit---still but distant intuitions at the end of a yet-evolving trajectory in the natural history of animate beings? Of the symbolizer’s negative, Burke has said, “You can go on forever saying what a thing is not” (Religion 19, emphasis in original; Appel, “Implications” 51-52; Appel, Burkean Primer 44-51). Surely, the nonsymbolic negative will remain difficult for symbolizers, drawn into metaphysical speculations by a negative that knows no bounds, to get entire hold of.

Where the preliminary purposefulness, or teleological tendencies, of Deacon’s theory may have come from, in the case of nonsymbolic living beings, also poses a dilemma. Deacon argues for an intermediate “morphodynamic,” or “form-generating,” step. Morphodynamic regularities mark a stage of development between the basic homeodynamic, or billiard-ball, causation of unfeeling, uncaring, entropic physics and chemistry, and the teleodynamics of sentient, nonsymbolic animal life. This level is intermediate to the appearance of those living beings. Inanimate 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, or nonliving, systems (Incomplete 235-63, 305, 462, 550; Deacon, “Emergent Process of Thinking” 3). The crystals and convection cells display pre-teleonomic, teleonomic, or pre-teleological dispositions, it would appear, as precursors to life. Such operations fall under the heading of “self-organization” as theoretical addendum to, and modification of, the standard, one-sided, Neo-Darwinian emphasis on natural selection as driving evolutionary force. How convincingly Deacon closes this divide between inanimate and animate is for scientific peers to assess.5

However it emerged from brute matter, primordial life as Deacon describes it came trailing clouds of “agent[ial]” mystery, if not the glory of Wordsworth’s poem (Incomplete 479-80, 509; Wordsworth, “Intimations of Immortality” 232-34). That primitive life seems protoactive, protoaware, at least protosensitive to something not there that functions as telos. Deacon most emphatically underscores this supramaterialism at the core of the case he makes in a climactic and profound reversal: In the last sentence of the last chapter of Incomplete Nature, Deacon confessed that his book should actually have been subtitled, “How mind . . . emerge[d] from [those absentially-charged, or negatively-charged] . . . constraints on matter” (538, emphasis added).

“Incidently,” Burke said (actually not so “incidently”), “Logology would treat Metaphysics as a coy species of theology” (Religion 24n). As I offered before, speculation along those metaphysical lines leads to the possibility that “coy” theologian may apply to Terrence Deacon, as well as to Burke (“’Symbolic Species,’” “Coy Theologian”; Booth, “Kenneth Burke, Theologian and Prophet”; Booth, “Kenneth Burke’s Religious Rhetoric” 25; Booth’s Plenary Lecture at the Third Triennial Conference of the Kenneth Burke Society, May, 1996, which served as basis for these two publications). Arthur N. Prior cited establishment philosophers who have called even the linguistic negative “metaphysically embarrassing,” let alone one as ostensibly unexplainable and ontologically confounding as Deacon’s (“Negation” 459). 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). In The Symbolic Species, Deacon speculated that, when all is said and done, the “universe . . . is . . . nascent heart and mind” (484). Here, the birth metaphor speaks of something normal, inherent in the nature of things. If heart and mind are thus “potential” enough in “totality[‘s]” “’nonverbal’ ground,” can the “verbal” itself be far removed (Burke, Rhetoric 290)?


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


1. It is acknowledged that this inquiry serves more as conduit and application of Deacon’s scientific anthropology, than criticism of it. I, the author, claim no expertise in the disciplines by which Deacon reached his conclusions. The distinguished chair Deacon holds in academe, and the considerable evidence of his international standing as stellar scientist and theorist, are the ethical foundations for the assertions here made about his comparative relevance to Burke’s thought.

As for Deacon’s academic bona fides, Incomplete Nature in particular has been called a “tour de force,” “stunningly original,” “a huge breakthrough,” “the missing link between mind and brain,” a “cutting edge . . . complete theory of the world,” its analysis “Kuhn[ian] . . . revolutionary science,” promising, in fact, “a revolution of Copernican proportions” and “a profound shift in thinking . . . [to] be compared with . . . [those of] Darwin and Einstein” (Incomplete, i-iii).

Since the appearance of Incomplete Nature, Deacon has been accorded distinguished lectureships at various universities and professional schools in both Europe and the U.S., including venues in Holland, Norway, Denmark, and Atlanta, Georgia (e.g., Deacon, “On Human (Symbolic) Nature”; Deacon, “Naturalizing Teleology”). Deacon delivered four lectures in Norway and two in Holland in December, 2014 (Correspondence with the author, February 15, 2015, “Re: Update on Incomplete Nature”). The Symbolic Species Evolved, edited by Schilhab, Stjernfelt, and Deacon, considered The Symbolic Species a seminal work on the origins of language and human nature (see 9-38).

2. Crusius called 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. In his typically elliptical style, Burke makes the same connection between the pentad and the terms for order, as he calls the guilt-redemption cycle: “There is a gloomy route, of this sort: If action is to be our key term [implying the other pentadic terms that go with “act”], then drama, . . . But if drama, then conflict, And if conflict, then victimage [i.e., “sacrifice,” and all the other terms of that guilt-redemption cycle implied by it, including “conflict”]. Dramatism is always on the edge of this vexing problem, that comes to a culmination in tragedy, the song of the scapegoat” (Language 54-55, emphasis in original).

4. Deacon’s post, personal correspondence, of 29 Sept. 2018, continues as follows:

“I try to exemplify the distinction between teleodynamics and teleonomy with the Old Faithful geyser example. A geyser exemplifies accidental teleonomy to the extent that it regulates water temperature and pressure within certain precise parameters. But this regulation has no constitutive bearing on its form or material details.

“In the same sense, a missile guidance system might enable the missile to track a target and even compensate for the evasive maneuver of a target plane, but this behavior does not contribute to the organization, construction, or maintenance of its mechanism. Its behavior only appears to exemplify final causality, because this is something entirely imposed extrinsically by design and observer interpretation.

“The term ‘teleonomy’ can be glossed as ‘behaving in a way that appears end-directed,’ but is not intrinsically teleological. It is purely descriptive of the dynamical tendency that can be produced by an algorithm or thermostat.

“In contrast, even a virus is organized so that its effect on a host will be to generate the work of making and perpetuating this viral form. . . . Its end-directedness and normativity are intrinsic, not an observer-imposed gloss.

“Thus a virus is teleodynamic, even though there is some debate about whether to call it alive. Teleology (and to some extent entelechy) envisions an explicit representation of an end state and implies a tendency to achieve it.

“Again, considering the virus, there is no explicit representation of itself or its form, but its every feature has evolved to help produce it. Aristotle somewhat ambiguously imagines that entelechy is something like an oak-tree-target-tendency that is represented in an acorn. I would be happy to consider my concept of teleodynamics to be a modern refinement of entelechy, without the connotations of a plan or representation. And teleodynamics is not an essence. It is just a kind of ontologically circular causal organization. I suspect that people tend to collapse my notion of teleodynamics and teleonomy because both are consistent with materialist chemistry and physics, and it is assumed that if I am not making a vitalist claim, I must be making a reductionistic claim. Indeed, I am denying both” (“Re: One More Time”).

5. Inorganic self-organization as precursor to life and modification of the Neo-Darwinian reliance on random genetic variation dates, at least, to physicist, engineer, and astronomer Erich Jantsch, The Self-Organizing Universe; the Santa Fe Institute (founded in 1984); and University of Pennsylvania biochemist Stuart Kauffman’s book, The Origins of Order.

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The Hand of Racism: A Dramatistic Analysis of Nelson Mandela’s Rivonia Trial Speech

Michael Rangoonwala, California State University, Sacramento


This essay promotes the use of dramatism to better understand racial narratives and enhance critical race scholarship. This essay demonstrates the utility of pentadic and dramatic framing analyses on Nelson Mandela’s famous 1964 Rivonia Trial speech. In this paramount speech, Mandela advocates for a pragmatic transformation through agency and uses a comic frame to address the problem of racism in Apartheid. This essay concludes with a heuristic discussion of various pentadic approaches to address racism.


The issue of racism is a relevant and important matter to address. Far from just being a historical artifact, according to critical race theory (CRT) racism is still present in the United States. Racism is defined by Solórzano and Yosso as a group socially constructing superiority, having power, and benefiting from being superior based on the notion of race (24). Delgado and Stefancic point out the persistent racial gaps between whites and nonwhites in numerous indicators such as infant death rates, school dropout rates, income, and life expectancy since the 1980s (41). These facts counter the mainstream story that racial gaps have been closing since the civil rights movement (Delgado and Stefancic 40). Indeed, the 2016 Pew Research Center Survey indicates continued racial disparities, such as white persons reporting to have thirteen times greater median net worth in house ownership than black persons in the United States (Stepler). With both diversity levels (Chappell) and racial tensions increasing, these statistics are concerning. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to continue examining the issue of racism.

Communication scholars have an important role to play in combating racism. Through rhetorical criticism, the socially constructed words of a rhetor can be analyzed to reveal the full magnitude, and not just the tip, of ideological icebergs colliding among racial tensions. This essay contends that the methods afforded in dramatism are effective toward understanding the implicit messages inside racial narratives. Indeed, this essay demonstrates the utility of pentadic and dramatic framing analyses on Nelson Mandela’s famous 1964 Rivonia Trial speech. In this speech, Mandela advocates for a pragmatic transformation through agency and uses a comic frame to address the problem of racism in Apartheid. A discussion follows offering novel theoretical, practical, and methodological implications. Of note, this essay articulates various strategic ways racism can be addressed rhetorically using the pentad. To provide a rich analysis, this study draws upon the theoretical framework of critical race theory (CRT), which is explained in the following literature review.

The Intersection of Race and Rhetoric

Before explicating CRT and the communication literature on racism, qualifying notes must be made on the definition of race and the scope of this essay. Conceptualizing “race” is a slippery, debated, and complex endeavor. In the United States, the term race has varied over time. Race used to refer to ethnic groups, such as the Irish or British races, but it later shifted to refer to biological differences based on color (Ratcliffe 14). This association was accompanied by oppressive economic and social hierarchies, with whiteness presumed at the top (Ratcliffe 14). Presently, the very nature of whether race is a legitimate category is still debated. A recent national survey of anthropologists’ view on race and genetics conclude, “Results demonstrate consensus that there are no human biological races and recognition that race exists as lived social experiences that can have important effects on health” (Wagner, Jennifer K., et al. 318). On the other hand, in a 2018 op-ed piece in the New York Times, David Reich, a Harvard geneticist, is wary of the orthodoxy of race as only a social construct. Reich argues that scientists and anthropologists should be open to the possibility of biological differences across racial populations, citing studies using modern genetic research. While important, this debate is outside the scope of this rhetorical study.

Rather, this essay is concerned with addressing discrimination resulting from racial prejudice. Regardless of one’s view on the legitimacy and definition of race, the negative social consequences of prejudice springing from racism is undeniable. As such, one can examine race as a trope, as “It signifies socially constructed ‘common-sense’ attitudes and actions associated with different races” (Ratcliffe 12). Ratcliffe outlines four major cultural logics which views the trope of race in different ways, namely the logic of white supremacy, color-blindness, multiculturalism, and CRT (14). A white supremacy logic views race as a hierarchy based on biological differences. A color-blindness logic eliminates the concept of race both culturally and biologically. A multicultural logic values the use of ethnicity, or cultural heritage, over race. Finally, a CRT perspective posits race as a social construct but mandates the study of race to bring about social justice (Ratcliffe 14-15). In this essay, I utilize the CRT perspective as only a useful heuristic for examining and exposing racism. As Burke and dramatism are generally skeptical of categorical assertions, CRT is used with the assumption that racial prejudice still exists in sufficient magnitude to reflect CRT’s tenets.

As an emerging multi-disciplinary theory in academia, CRT seeks to oppose racism found in the dominant discourse and structures of a society. CRT finds it roots in critical legal studies in the 1970’s which questioned the fairness and neutrality of the laws following the civil rights movement. Since the mid 1990’s, CRT has primarily focused on reforming education in the United States (Brayboy 428). At its core, CRT is composed of a variety of tenets addressing the issue of racism. CRT maintains that the dominant culture in the United States is Eurocentric, which normalizes and privileges being white (“Critical Race Theory” 5; Bernal 111). One tenet states that racism is endemic in all parts of society, particularly against people of color (“Critical Race Theory” 6-7). CRT is thus activist in nature, pursuing research that advocates for political and social change to support minority groups experiencing racism (Bernal 110; Solórzano and Yosso 26). Another main tenet calls for challenging dominant ideology. Indeed, CRT “confronts and challenges traditional views of education in regard to issues of meritocracy, claims of color-blind objectivity, and equal opportunity” (Brayboy 428). Another main principle is the validation of experiential knowledge. Stories, narratives, biographies, and testimonies are viewed as authentic data for critical race scholars (Brayboy 428; Solórzano and Yosso 26).

This emphasis on experiential knowledge informs the main methodology employed by critical race theorists: storytelling. The first step is to expose the master narrative which represents the normative view of the majority or powerful (Solórzano and Yosso 27-29). In response, critical race theorists resist the mainstream story by crafting a counter-story. Counter-stories illuminate the perspectives of oppressed groups through autobiographies, biographical analyses, composite stories, or narratives (Solórzano and Yosso 32-33). In order to create an informed composite story, scholars utilize focus groups, interviews, existing literature from multiple disciplines, and their own professional and personal experiences (Love 233; Solórzano and Yosso 34). A common, critical, rhetorical apparatus is lacking to inform the development of these counter-stories though. Not only would a rhetorical analysis give further depth to the research process for storytelling, it would also provide a common terminology for the variety of sub-divisions of CRT such as TribalCrit, AsianCrit, and LatCrit. Having a common, critical methodology that can span across the variety of stories would be useful to allow for comparing, contrasting, and analysis.

In the communication studies discipline, there is some research utilizing CRT. Several studies use CRT to deconstruct racial ideologies in late-night comedy shows, films, and court rulings (Griffin 5), to explicate environmental racism in New Mexico (Dickinson 5), or to examine events such as Chris Brown’s 2009 assault on Rihanna (Edgar 138). Yet the reverse relationship, in which communication studies informs critical race theorists, is even more sparse in the literature. There are a few notable examples. Calvert demonstrates in his research how a court’s mode of communication affects their understanding of hate speech (4). Hasian and Delgado also advocate for the relevancy of the field of rhetoric to CRT in their formulation of racialized critical rhetorical theory (245). They call for a combination of rhetoric and CRT to “move beyond simple and reductive ways of essentializing race and race relations” (246). The advantages rhetorical criticism brings is sensitivity to the nuances and complexities in language. Additionally, Olmsted recommends critical race theorists to incorporate persuasion in their work given that the voices of minorities are silenced (330). Furthermore, Ratcliffe encourages the practice of rhetorical listening, or a stance of openness, to assist cross-cultural identification across racial differences (1-2).

In summary, while CRT offers theoretical and methodological frameworks to illuminate the problem of racism, it is scarcely utilized in communication research (Griffin 1-2). It is also observed that rhetorical analyses have a useful role in developing CRT but are underutilized. To contribute to the dearth of research at this intersection, I propose the methods afforded in dramatism are effective toward understanding the implicit messages inside racial narratives. This essay demonstrates the utility of a dramatistic analysis through examining the drama of racism in Nelson Mandela’s 1964 Rivonia Trial speech. Before the analysis and discussion, dramatism and its components of the pentad and dramatic framing will be explicated. The term racial narrative is also defined followed by a description of the speech artifact.

Dramatism as a Method of Rhetorical Analysis

Given the large scope of Kenneth Burke’s work and the theory of dramatism, this essay focuses on using the pentad and dramatic framing, as they are pertinent to Mandela’s speech. Burke begins his seminal book, A Grammar of Motives, by addressing this question: “What is involved, when we say what people are doing and why they are doing it?” (xv). In essence, dramatism is a study of human motivation by studying action, which is inherent in language (Foss et al. 195). To Burke, language is not just a reflection of the world but is a form of action. When Burke mentions the word “action,” he is distinguishing it from “motion.” Motion is merely a blind force, unmodified by what a symbolizer can uniquely do (Foss et al. 195). Burke describes the human, though, as “the symbol-using (symbol-making, symbol-misusing) animal” (Language as Symbolic Action 16).Burke elaborates that action must be made in freedom, have a purpose, and is grounded in motion (Foss et al. 195-196). It is with this understanding of action that Burke introduces the pentad.

Applying the Pentad

In the quest to discover motivation and the best ways to create persuasive action, Burke created the pentad methodology. He emphasized five grammatical terms, rather than questions or answers, to promote a dialectic criticism (Weiser 294). Dialectic is defined here as “the competing voices of diversity whose combined perspectives can best achieve unity” (Weiser 289). These terms are act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose. All the terms are connected to each other and are not mutually exclusive (A Grammar of Motives 127). Burke gives the metaphor of the five fingers on a hand to describe the unity of the five terms (Anderson par. 1). If one term is emphasized above the others, it becomes the lens through which all the other terms are viewed. Hence, Burke describes a school of philosophy for each term: “each school features a different one of the five terms, in developing a vocabulary designed to allow this one term full expression…with the other terms being comparatively slighted or being placed in the perspective of the featured term” (A Grammar of Motives 127). In summary, the pentad is useful in understanding both how a rhetor names the situation and his/her accompanying worldview. The following paragraphs will define the pentadic terms, identify their idiosyncratic philosophies, and explain how to apply the pentad.

Act is defined as any purposive action (Foss et al. 199). In other words, it answers what happened. Burke claims that act is the central, beginning term that develops the pentad since it creates a situation to examine in the first place (Brock 100). Its corresponding philosophic terminology is realism (A Grammar of Motives 128). Realism, in contrast to nominalism, can be defined as “the doctrine that universal principles are more real than objects as they are physically sensed” (Foss 389). With realism then, language is utilized to understand objective reality and universal truths. However, while Burke identifies realism as the philosophical school for act, he further describes action in ways connotating freedom, choice, and essence. For instance, he states the “act itself alters the conditions of action” (A Grammar of Motives 67), implying an existentialist philosophy in which actions form essence.

Scene answers the question of when and where the action occurred. In addition to physical environments, scene can represent ideas such as cultural movements or communism. The scope of the context assigned to the scene, such as the difference between a city and a continent, is termed the circumference of the analysis (Foss et al. 199; Rutten et al. 637). Lastly scene has the philosophic terminology of materialism (A Grammar of Motives 128). Materialism as a system “regards all facts and reality as explainable in terms of matter and motion or physical laws” (Foss 389). Fay and Kuypers describe it another way as determinism (202).

Agent, or who is performing the act, has the philosophic terminology of idealism (A Grammar of Motives 128). Idealism is “the system that views the mind or spirit as each person experiences it as fundamentally real, with the universe seen as mind or spirit in its essence” (Foss 389). With this philosophy, a human’s mental capacities form reality. Fay and Kuypers also associate idealism with self-determination (202). In idealistic discourse, agents appear rational and empowered (Tonn et al. 254), using “an individual’s inner resources to overcome adverse circumstances” (Fay and Kuypers 202).

The term agency refers to how an act occurs, and its matching philosophic terminology is pragmatism (A Grammar of Motives 128). In pragmatism, “the meaning of a proposition or course of action lies in its observable consequences, and the sum of these consequences constitutes its meaning” (Foss 389). In other words, the means to an end is featured and goodness or truth is indicated by the outcomes. Burke describes the school of pragmatism in an example with science: “Once Agency has been brought to the fore, the other terms readily accommodate themselves to its rule. Scenic materials become means which the organism employs in the process of growth and adaptation” (A Grammar of Motives 287). This example illustrates how a focus on agency causes a focus on processes.

The fifth term, purpose, describes the agent’s reason for doing the action (Foss et al. 199). Foss et al. clarify that purpose should not be confused with motive, which is only discovered using all five terms (200). Purpose has the philosophic terminology of mysticism in which “the element of unity is emphasized to the point that individuality disappears. Identification often becomes so strong that the individual is unified with some cosmic or universal purpose” (Foss 389). The accentuation of purpose emphasizes the ends, rather than the means, as the focus of discourse (Fay and Kuypers 202). Finally, Burke added a sixth term later in his work titled attitude, but it will not be elaborated in this essay.

To apply the pentad to a rhetorical artifact, the first step is to name or define each of the terms. The next step examines the ratios, or relationships, between the terms. Twenty possible ratios can be created with the terms. The ratio is thought of as potential to actual; the first term creates possibilities for the second term to actualize (Tilli 45). For instance, a teacher teaching would be a predictable agent-act relationship (C. Rountree and J. Rountree 354). Pentadic pairs do not need to stay consistent with their pentadic expectations however. A term can act unpredictably to upset the ratio and transform or reverse the relationship (Tilli 45).

After systematically pairing and evaluating the second term in light of the first, a pattern of dominant terms should emerge (Rutten et al. 636). The central, dominating term will define the other pentadic terms and represent a worldview or orientation (Foss et al. 201). Burke explains that analyses of the ratios are “not terms that avoid ambiguity, but terms that clearly reveal the strategic spots at which ambiguities necessarily arise” (A Grammar of Motives xviii). Developing the critical skill of noting ambiguities is central to interpreting the pentad and thus the motive. Additionally, a pentadic analysis is not limited to just within an artifact, but it can also examine the artifact itself as the act in a larger context (Foss et al. 201).

Using the pentad method is useful for analyzing a rhetor’s motives, understanding their orientation and interpretations, and identifying alternative perspectives (Foss et al. 201). Burke created dramatism to inspire a dialectic view of rhetoric (Weiser 294). The pentad is a method in which to discover the motive and philosophy amid the dialectic conversations.

Dramatic Framing

Dramatic framing is another significant form of analysis from Burke. Burke identifies the impact of literary art forms and how it frames the attitudes of an event. They act as what he terms “equipment for living,” which enables people to deal with the complexity of an event and establish an orientation (Ott and Aoki 281; Rutten et al. 634). According to Burke, symbolic forms can be organized into frames of rejection or acceptance (Ott and Oaki 281). The frame of rejection takes the “literary forms of elegy, satire, burlesque, and grotesque,” but “By ‘coming’ to terms’ with an event primarily by saying ‘no,’ frames of rejection are unable to equip individuals and groups to take programmatic action” (Ott and Oaki 281). Alternatively, frames of acceptance focus on obtaining resolution and are often enacted in the literary forms of epic, tragedy, and comedy. For instance, using a scapegoat mechanism to reveal guilt and call for redemption is a tragic acceptance of the situation. The problem with this frame, though, is that it does not encourage ethical learning (Ott and Oaki 281) and can be described as fatalistic (Smith and Hollihan 589). Burke further clarified two forms of tragic framing in a footnote in Attitudes Toward History (188-189). A factional tragedy, typically seen in war rhetoric, externalizes all guilt by attributing evil to another party. In contrast, in a universal tragedy, guilt is internalized and shared by everyone, as the audience is invited to identify with the protagonist. A universal tragedy is similar to comic framing in creating a sense of “humble irony” and “the role of double vision” (Desilet and Appel 349). The difference is that a tragedy names one a villain, while a comedy labels one a fool: “Like tragedy, comedy warns against the dangers of pride, but its emphasis shifts from crime to stupidity” (Attitudes Toward History 41).

Burke encourages people to use a comic frame to achieve peace. A comic frame, not to be confused with comedy as hilarity, encourages self-reflection and the advancement of social knowledge to avoid future mistakes (Ott and Oaki 280-281). It stands in opposition to victimage by encouraging redemption for the perpetrator and focusing on the causal conditions of the grievance (Smith and Hollihan 589). For example, Gandhi’s movement of civil disobedience in India illustrates the comic frame, as his focus was on “evil deeds” and not the “evil doer” (Carlson 450).

Another important, related concept to dramatic framing is terministic screens. Burke defines terministic screens saying, “Even if a 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). In other words, the terms and vocabulary one uses is the lens or ideological system through which they view reality. For example, if medical terminology is used to describe a disabled person, the lens the individual is viewed is through a pathological understanding (Rutten et al. 635). Foss et al. note that a person’s terminology is often related to their occupation or career (206). In sum, noting terministic screens reveals the rhetor’s dramatic framing of reality and biases.

Defining Racial Narratives

Since this essay examines a racial narrative, it is necessary to provide a brief definition and overview. The use of the term racial narrative simply means a narrative, story, or testimony that features discourse centered on race. Such a narrative is relevant for critical race theorists since “Epistemologically, CRT places race and racism at the center of analysis…It privileges and makes central the experiential knowledge of subordinated people” (Love 226). The speech Nelson Mandela gives at the Rivonia Trial can be considered a racial narrative and may have transferable insights into racism in general. In this trial Mandela gives a testimony of his own life, of the actions of the African National Congress (ANC), and the experiences of Africans. Thus, it is both an autobiography and biography. Mandela’s speech fits the category of a counter-story showing the perspective of black Africans in South Africa.

The study of narratives is not limited to critical race theorists. In the last 45 years, the study of narratives has flourished in multiple disciplines such as history, ethnography, psychology, communication, and more. Additionally, “Whereas the focus used to be primarily and exclusively on the form and content of stories, there is now an increasing attention for the political, ideological, cognitive, and social function of narratives” (Rutten and Soetaert 328). The pentad is both suitable and effective for studying narratives. Scholars have applied the pentad to a variety of narratives ranging from personal experiences to fictional stories (Rutten and Soetaert 337). Bruner, an educational psychologist, claims that “narrative imitates life, life imitates narrative” (692), and applies the pentad to narratives to discover where the tensions are in the story (Bruner 697; Rutten and Soetaert 330-331). In a similar spirit, this study applies the pentad specifically to a racial narrative.

Nelson Mandela’s 1964 Rivonia Trial Speech

Nelson Mandela has placed his stamp upon history and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his efforts in eradicating the Apartheid system in South Africa (“Nelson Mandela”). The Apartheid was a violent period in history from around 1950 to 1994 in which the white minority in South Africa created legislation to racially segregate South Africans in all aspects of society (“Apartheid”). For instance, through the Land Acts, 80 percent of the land became owned by the white minority and was used exclusively for their residential or business practices. Additionally, pass laws required nonwhite people to carry documentation to travel (“Apartheid”). Eventually, international pressure and internal reform brought about national elections in 1994 in which Nelson Mandela became the first black president (“Apartheid”).

The artifact under consideration in this analysis is the last 10 minutes of Nelson Mandela’s pivotal Rivonia Trial Speech in June 1964. Before the trial, Mandela was a nonviolent activist with the ANC, a black liberation group. However, since the government increased its violence and nonviolent protests gained little, Mandela and other activists responded with sabotage (“Nelson Mandela”). Alongside nine other accused ANC leaders, the presence of international jurists, and a biased court system, Mandela defended himself against charges of treason and supporting communism (Nicholson 123-125). In the end, he barely avoided a death sentence and was sentenced to life in prison until he was released in 1990 (Nicholson 126). As for his four-hour speech, it was later published and achieved global fame in its eloquent resistance against Apartheid (“Listen: Two Mandela Speeches”; “Nelson Mandela”; Nicholson 125).

An important consideration is that this dramatistic analysis will focus on the last 10 minutes of the speech, which contain Mandela’s most emotional and epic components and his concluding remarks (see “Listen: Two Mandela Speeches” for audio and transcription). Additionally, it is a manageable selection from his four-hour speech to analyze. Another important consideration is that the pentadic analysis will be done in isolation, or within the speech. The alternative way of utilizing the pentad is to examine the artifact itself as the act in a larger context (Foss et al. 201), but this is not the case for this study.

Transforming the Hand of Racism

Nelson Mandela’s Counter-Story

The first way to uncover the implicit messages inside a racial narrative through the pentad is to identify the pentadic terms. Indeed, identifying the pentadic terms reveal Mandela’s rhetorically nuanced casting of the situation.

First, naming the terms shows that Mandela creates a juxtaposition of an oppressive present and a hopeful future. For his present situation in South Africa, Mandela describes a scene of political racialism through white supremacy. He says, “The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy” (see NPR’s “Listen: Two Mandela Speeches That Made History” for all quotations of Mandela’s speech). He later states that the “ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism.” Mandela is critiquing the one-sided political monopoly of the white minority. The white minority are implied as the agents in this drama. Mandela implies their purpose as preserving white supremacy when he calls for equal voting: “I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.” The fear of losing control motivates the ruling white minority to preserve their situation. In order to do this, they enact an agency of racist legislation. Mandela goes into detail describing “legislation designed to preserve white supremacy.” Mandela critiques menial work assigned to Africans, pass laws, and the absence of equal political rights. Finally, Mandela depicts the consequence of racist legislation, or act, as the lack of human dignity for Africans. Mandela attributes poverty, the breakdown of family life, “a breakdown in moral standards, to an alarming rise in illegitimacy, and to growing violence which erupts not only politically, but everywhere” as ultimately stemming from racist legislation such as pass laws. In summary, there is pentadic coherence to explain the situation Mandela describes of an oppressive present as follows: for the purpose of preserving white supremacy,white minority agents create an act of abusing the human dignity of Africans through the agency of racist legislation in a scene of political racialism.

Mandela then strategically juxtaposes the oppressive present with a hopeful future. Thus, Mandela is creating two sets of pentads. The second pentad contains terms that are exactly opposite of the oppressive present pentad. This nuanced casting of two situations illustrates Mandela advocating for a complete transformation of terms. Mandela states, “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.” This quote succinctly demonstrates Mandela describing a scene of democracy and equality, for the purpose of racial harmony and freedom for all. To accomplish this, Mandela proposes a new agency: “Above all, My Lord [the judge], we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent.” Mandela says voting is “the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all.” Having equal political rights through voting is accomplished by the agents of all people regardless of color or race. Consequently, the new agency of voting will produce an act of the restoration of human dignity. As Mandela states, “The only cure is to alter the conditions under which Africans are forced to live and to meet their legitimate grievances.” He then elaborates on all the wants that Africans are denied of. These wants, such as good pay or the ability to work or travel anywhere, are in direct contrast to the oppressive conditions Mandela describes under racist legislation. In overview, Mandela paints a hopeful scene of democracy and racial equality for the purpose of racial harmony and freedom for all, in which all people as agents can perform the agency of voting to create an act of restoring human dignity.

In summary, the juxtaposition of an oppressive present and a hopeful future is illustrated through the first step of naming the pentad. The implicit, rhetorical message revealed from Mandela’s nuanced casting of the situation is Mandela’s exhortation for complete transformation. See Figure 1 for a visual of the pentadic analysis.

Figure 1.

Second, the arrangement of pentadic terms illuminate Mandela strategically crafting a counter-story. Recalling from CRT, a counter-story presents the perspectives of the oppressed to “shatter complacency, challenge the dominant discourse on race, and further the struggle for racial reform” (Solórzano and Yosso 32). It is significant how Mandela arranges the pentadic terms because it shows his perspective. For instance, an alternative view—and perhaps the white minority’s view—could feature the violent situation, poverty, and breakdown of moral standards in South Africa as the scene. With this point of view, a variety of interpretations of the causes of the scene could be made, such as placing the locus of blame on the black South Africans. Instead, Mandela posits the turmoil in the country as an act. Naming the problems as an act removes the conversation from abstraction and makes it personal, indicating an intentional agent, agency, and purpose at work. Mandela provides a line of logic that unjust pass laws ultimately cause poverty and violence. Overall, Mandela is explaining a counter-story on behalf of the oppressed African people that racist legislation is the root cause of the societal problems. Clearly, through examining the arrangement of pentadic terms, a window is created to peer into the conversation inside the racial narrative.

Rights Realize Reality – A Pragmatic Worldview

The second step of the pentad method is to analyze the pentadic ratios or relationships. Analysis of the ratios shows a rhetor’s implicit, key motives. First, it is demonstrated that Mandela features agency as the dominant term through a process of elimination. Next, it is explored how agency as the dominant term reveals Mandela’s ultimate message and worldview.

At first it appears scene would be the dominant term in Mandela’s speech. Indeed, scene fits logically in controlling the other terms. The scene of political racialism could be seen to control or cause the act (lack of human dignity for Africans), agency (racist legislation), or purpose (to preserve white supremacy). However, Mandela presents the scene in subordination of agency when he states “The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy [emphasis added] of white supremacy.” The policy is the root cause while white supremacy is a descriptor. Granted, it may be unclear which preposition, “of the policy” or “of white supremacy,” is more significant in this sentence. The rest of the speech confirms a focus on agency, though, as Mandela centralizes issues in legislation, pass laws, and voting.

One could also argue that purpose is the dominant term in this speech. The purpose of preserving white supremacy could logically enact an agency of racist legislation, a scene of political racialism, or an act of abusing the human dignity of black Africans. Yet similar to scene, Mandela subordinates the purpose term when he says, “Legislation [emphasis added] designed to preserve white supremacy entrenches this notion.” Once again, Mandela highlights legislation. Furthermore, the rhetoric employed by Mandela in this speech is not characteristic of dramatistic purposive rhetoric. For example, in Fay and Kuyper’s analysis of John F. Kennedy’s (JFK) Berlin speeches, they claim JFK emphasizes purpose by using a prophetic and moralistic tone and employing the unconditioned future tense (207). Mandela does not employ similar wording. For instance, Mandela passively uses the present perfect tense in the last paragraph of his speech saying, “I have dedicated my life to this struggle,” “I have fought,” or “I have cherished the ideal.” Mandela’s tone is more so somber than prophetic, offering a description of the oppressive present and hoping for change. This is not surprising considering his context—a prisoner on trial defending against the death penalty.

The term act, or the lack of human dignity for black Africans, does not logically realize the potential in the other terms in this case. Instead, it is often explained as a result of the agency of racist legislation. Similarly, the term agent, or the white minority, could not control the other terms except for maybe the purpose of preserving white supremacy. Mandela only mentions “the white man” twice and focuses his discourse more so on agency, act, and scene.

After examining the relationships in all the ratios and “the strategic spots at which ambiguities necessarily arise” (Grammar of Motives xviii), it becomes convincing that agency is the dominant term. Previous examples have illustrated how Mandela desires transformation through agency by emphasizing key terms such “legislation,” “policy,” “pass laws,” and “equal political rights.” Additionally, Mandela’s counter-story positions unjust legislation as the ultimate cause of poverty and violence in the country. Since Mandela’s discourse mainly addresses aspects of agency, act, and scene, the main ratio pairs are Agency:Act and Agency:Scene. It can be concluded that Mandela’s main exhortation is to transform an oppressive present to a hopeful future by changing the nature of legislation or agency (refer to Figure 1). “Above all,” Mandela states, “we want equal political rights.” To transform a situation, a pentadic term can act unpredictably to upset the ratio and transform or reverse the relationship (Tilli 45). In this case, though, the pentadic term of agency is not being used to reverse a pentadic ratio; rather, it is acting as a pivot to transform into a whole new pentad. Through changing agency, all the other terms will be changed as well. This is evidenced in that agency remains the dominant term in both pentads. It is the definitions of the terms that are changing. Clearly, using the pentad is monumental in understanding the course of action Mandela recommends and thus his key message.

Lastly, the dominant term reflects the rhetor’s motive or worldview through a corresponding philosophic terminology (Foss 389). Since agency is featured in this speech, Mandela is implying a pragmatic worldview to change the circumstances of Apartheid. Mandela’s discourse focuses on processes or means, which is caricature of a pragmatic philosophy. For example, Mandela calls for a democratic voting process, the elimination of pass laws, and less governmental regulation of daily life for Africans. Mandela’s argument is that by examining the consequences of legislation, one can determine the political direction South Africa should take. In making the case for the direction of democracy, Mandela first presents the dire consequences of the present racist legislation: poverty, violence, and inhumane treatment of black Africans. Afterwards, Mandela describes the positive consequences of having just and racially democratic legislation: human dignity and equality. Clearly, Mandela is exhibiting a pragmatic worldview in which truth or goodness is to be assessed by the consequences of processes.

Furthermore, one can elaborate on the main ratios, Agency:Act and Agency:Scene, in relation to their philosophic worldviews. The Agency:Act ratio translates into pragmatism defining realism or existentialism. In terms of Mandela’s speech, the message is that enabling just processes of legislation will create a reality or essence that is just. More specifically, equal democratic elections will create acts that restore and maintain human dignity for all. Equally so, unjust processes lead to oppressive acts. The Agency:Scene ratio translates into pragmatism shaping materialism. In the case of Mandela’s speech where scene represents an idea (political racialism or democracy), the implicit message is that legislation will ultimately shape the political landscape of the country. Just legislation will realize true democracy, not the other way around. Likewise, unjust legislation will realize a racist climate. Overall, analyzing the pentadic ratios demonstrates that Mandela is exhorting to change the unjust scene and dire acts of the oppressive present through changing the dominant term of agency, and hence implies the philosophical worldview of pragmatism. Through dramatism, these implicit messages have been explored inside the racial narrative.

The Comic Foolishness of Racism

By examining Mandela’s discourse through a dramatic framing lens, it can also be argued Mandela uses a comic frame. Throughout the speech, his tone and words are educational and not derisive. As Carlson notes in his essay on Gandhi’s movement, “The comic frame identifies social ills as arising from human error, not evil, and thus reasons to correct them” (Carlson 448). In a similar manner, Mandela’s discourse focuses on reasoning versus accusation. While very similar to the tragic universal frame, the comic frame may be more suitable to describe Mandela’s approach because of his focus on foolish human error versus shared guilt. Mandela’s comic spirit is shown through how he addresses a terministic screen to build universal identification, emphasizes impartiality, and focuses on agency to solve societal problems.

First, Mandela establishes universal commonalities by exposing and critiquing the terministic screen of white supremacy. In the first paragraph of the speech, he states, “White supremacy implies black inferiority.” Mandela then describes the consequences of viewing blacks as inferior such as expecting them to do only menial tasks. “Because of this sort of attitude, whites tend to regard Africans as a separate breed. They do not look upon them as people with families of their own; they do not realise that we have emotions—that we fall in love like white people do.” Mandela cites more examples and ends with “And what ‘house-boy’ or ‘garden-boy’ or labourer can ever hope to do this?” In this last sentence, Mandela is pointing out how labeling Africans with economic-like-terminology selects a reality that Africans are inferior and deflects their hope to live with dignity. This is a representative example of a terministic screen at work, and Mandela exposes it clearly. By appealing to the universal human traits of love and family, Mandela builds identification with his wider audience.

The comic approach is also apparent when Mandela appeals to impartiality. In the last two paragraphs of his speech, Mandela states that race is an artificial construct and that the goal of the ANC is “fighting against racialism. When it triumphs as it certainly must, it will not change that policy…I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.” This excerpt shows Mandela is more concerned with eliminating racism than with casting blame or guilt to a perpetrator. Mandela said he desires a “free society in which all persons [emphasis added] will live together in harmony.” It is clear Mandela is not using a rejection frame, for he suggests programmatic action for a democracy. Mandela is emphasizing a comic frame to advance social knowledge and avoid future mistakes.

Furthermore, Mandela’s focus on agency complements a comic approach. Instead of labeling the white South Africans as inherently evil, vicious, or criminal, he focuses on the foolishness of the policy of white supremacy and its negative societal effects. Through crafting a counter-story, Mandela provides a line of logic that unjust, racist pass laws ultimately cause poverty and violence, which affect both blacks and whites as “violence is carried out of the townships into the white living areas.” Arguably, keeping the focus on legislation and the problem of racism averts the speech from slipping into a factional tragic frame of blaming and polarizing. Indeed, Mandela rarely mentions the agent of white man in the speech artifact, which may indicate he is trying to focus on the causal problems and long-term solutions.

In summary, Mandela’s attempts to reason through building identification, emphasizing impartiality, and focusing on agency exemplifies the comic frame to address societal issues and hope for an ideal society. These rhetorical moves may serve to create what Burke termed “maximum consciousness,” or self-reflection (Attitudes Toward History 171). Ironically, Mandela is seriously comic, and concludes his speech with his famous words: “it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Discussing the Hand of Racism

This essay sought to expand the rhetorical toolbox used by scholars and orators in combating racism. Indeed, the results from the pentadic and dramatic framing analyses offer theoretical, practical, and methodological implications. Since racism is a universal issue, insights from analyzing Mandela’s discourse may be applicable to combating racism in South Africa, the United States, and globally. In the following discussion, Mandela’s discourse is first compared to CRT, allowing a unique pentadic conversation on various ways to rhetorically approach racism. Next, practical suggestions on how dramatism enables production communication about racism are shared. Finally, the phenomenon of the transformational pivot pentad is highlighted.

On a theoretical level, the pentad can ironically provide a serious conversation by being playful with the terms. By comparing Mandela’s discourse with CRT, an interesting pentadic conversation occurs on how one should approach racism. For instance, which pentadic term should be the focus of a rhetor to effectively combat racism? From Mandela’s perspective, changing the agency of racist legislation is the key to end domination. He states, “Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another.” This hopeful belief could be explained by the context of Mandela’s speech. When he gave the speech, he was still in a pre-civil-rights context in South Africa. Democratic elections were only held thirty years later in 1994 (Nicholson 126). Amid oppression, Mandela was searching for practical steps to achieve the ideal of harmony. Although South Africa is now a democracy, South Africa still struggles with the “entrenched social and economic effects” of racism (“Apartheid”). Proof of this struggle is very evident in a South African town hall debate show in 2014 (“Big Debate on Racism”). In the show, opinion leaders across a variety of industries and races, not just black and white, debated why the dream of the “rainbow nation project” has seemed to fail. The debate shows a plethora of standpoints and accusations about present and historical experiences of racism, and it emphasizes the continued need for finding productive ways to discuss racism.

In contrast to centralizing agency, CRT might recommend focusing on the ideology itself—the scene of racism. CRT criticizes “issues of meritocracy, claims of color-blind objectivity, and equal opportunity” (Brayboy 428), as CRT maintains that racial gaps have not improved in the United States since the civil rights movement (Delgado and Stefancic 41). CRT posits racism in scenic language when they describe it as “endemic, permanent” (Solórzano and Yosso 25), at the institutional, cultural, and individual level (Museus and Park 552), as the “center of analysis” (Love 228), and central to other forms of subordination (Bernal 110). Viewing racism as the scene could also explain the subordination of minority groups—making them depowered agents, rendering their agencies noneffective, disregarding their purposes, and encouraging abusive acts. Essentially, CRT may critique Mandela’s focus on agency as inadequate and suggest attacking the ideological scene of racism itself.

So far, the pentadic conversation on how to rhetorically address racism has assumed a singular approach of debating which pentadic term should transform the rest. However, other combinations can exist such as viewing pentadic terms as complementary in a scaffolding approach. For example, a scaffolding strategy would first change one pentadic term in order to change another in a step-wise process. For instance, Mandela’s focus on transforming agency may have been an appropriate first step to allow all voices to be heard, and subsequent efforts in South Africa should now attend to the scene of racism through educational efforts. Another strategy could be termed the simultaneous approach, in which all terms of the pentad are attempted to be transformed on the same occasion. Further research is encouraged to assess the possibilities and results of these different approaches. Overall, the terms of the pentad allow a heuristic conversation on various approaches rhetors can use to address racism.

Additionally, CRT may question the effectiveness of the comic frame in addressing the historical effects of racism. One critique of the comic frame in general is its inability to address “situations justifying warrantable outrage,” such as Hitler’s actions or the bombing of Pearl Harbor (Desilet and Appel 356). Similarly in South Africa, the tension of wanting rectification—while desiring a unified country—is quite evident (“Big Debate on Racism”). In situations of warrantable outrage, Desilet and Appel discuss the potential of combining frames, by initially using tragic framing of conflict within a broader strategy of comic framing (356). Scholars should explore how multiple modes of framing may be used to combat racism.

The tools afforded in dramatism can also have practical implications for enabling production communication about racism. For critical race theorists, dramatism could be applied in several ways. One way is as the primary methodology for analyzing a specific racial narrative and presenting the implications of the study, especially since using the pentad “provides grounds for critiquing specific relationships” (C. Rountree and J. Rountree 355). Another way is to use the pentad for understanding and recognizing patterns within data of experiential stories to inform the composition of counter-stories. Also, dramatism can provide a common language to compare findings across the different groups within CRT such as TribalCrit, AsianCrit, and LatCrit.

Dramatism can also assist communication about racism by encouraging the practice of rhetorical listening. Central to rhetorical listening is understanding cross-cultural standpoints, identifications, and historical and social contexts (Ratcliffe 26). As demonstrated in this essay, dramatism allows the mapping of one’s counter-story. The way Mandela frames the agent, purpose, agency, scene, and act shows his perspective of what is occurring in South Africa. Thus, naming the pentad is an enactment of rhetorical listening. Scholars and students can benefit from analyzing racial narratives using dramatism, as CRT calls for praxis and listening exercises to raise awareness of racism in higher education (“Critical Race Theory and the Next 20 Years” 87).

Finally, a methodological point of discussion is about the uniqueness of how agency acted like a transformational pivot between two pentads. Most pentadic analyses feature one pentad and explicate the ratios within the singular pentad (e.g., Fay and Kuypers; Rutten et al.; Tonn et al.). Foss et. al describe the goal of a pentadic analysis as finding the dominant term (201), but they do not mention a situation of two pentads. Additionally, one form of analysis is to analyze a term acting unpredictably to upset the main ratio and reverse the relationship (Tilli 45). Yet in Mandela’s speech, the central term of agency acts like a pivot between two pentads. If agency is redefined, then one pentad swings into becoming another pentad. Perhaps this phenomenon occurs mainly in situations of “chained rhetoric,” defined here as discourses spoken amid oppression.


Through rhetorical criticism, communication scholars have a role to play in the fight against discrimination from racism. This essay suggests the methods afforded in dramatism are useful to that end, as they are effective toward understanding the implicit messages inside racial narratives. Through the case study of Nelson Mandela’s 1964 Rivonia Trial Speech, it is argued that identifying the pentadic terms, analyzing the pentadic ratios, and conducting a dramatic framing analysis aid in understanding Mandela’s key, implicit messages. It is seen that Mandela creates a juxtaposition of an oppressive present and hopeful future, crafts a counter-story, advocates for a pragmatic transformation through agency, and uses a comic frame to address societal problems. The results afford a heuristic discussion on various pentadic approaches to addressing racism. Future research using dramatism is encouraged to continue the dialogue on how to address the pentadic hand of racism in today’s society.

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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.

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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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 — . and Helen Kennedy. “Mistaken Mercy for Killer Whose Vics Got None.” Daily News (New York), 21 Aug. 2009. Lexis/​Nexis. 27 July 2010.

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Lyall, Sarah. “When Doing the Scottish Thing Backfires.” New York Times Online, 25 Sept. 2009.

MacAskill, Kenny (Scottish Secretary for Justice). “Decisions on the Applications for Prisoner Transfer and Compassionate Release in Relation to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi.” 20 August 2009.

Macaskill, Mark. “UN Observer Says Scots Law Is Flawed.” The Sunday Times (London), 7 October 2007.

Macleod, Angus. “London and Edinburgh ‘Did Lockerbie Deal.’” The Times (London), 1 Sept. 2009. Lexis/​Nexis. 27 July 2010.

 — . “MacAskill ‘Misled’ MSP’s Over al-Megrahi Release; Doubt Cast Over Minister’s Security Claim Police Deny That They Could Not Have Dealt With Scottish Release.” The Times (London), 26 Aug. 2009.

Maddox, David. “How MacAskill’s Claims ‘Unravel.’” The Scotsman, 27 Aug. 2009. Lexis/​Nexis. 27 July 2010..

McGee, Michael Calvin. “’The Ideograph’: A Link between Rhetoric and Ideology,” Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 66, 1980, pp. 1–15.

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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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The Art of Living in the Age of War

Ann George
Texas Christian University

Keynote Address
2017 Kenneth Burke Society Triennial Conference
"Conflicts and Communities: Burke Studies in a Divided World"
East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania

A Conversation with the Burke Family

Moderated by Elvera Berry

Featuring Michael Burke, Julie Whitaker Burke, and Tom Chapin

With reflections by David Cratis Williams, Florida Atlantic University

Keynote Address
2017 Kenneth Burke Society Triennial Conference
"Conflicts and Communities: Burke Studies in a Divided World"
East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania

Introducing Kenneth Burke’s The War of Words

Jack Selzer, Penn State University
Steven Mailloux, Loyola Marymount University
Kyle Jensen, University of North Texas

2017 Kenneth Burke Society Triennial Conference
"Conflicts and Communities: Burke Studies in a Divided World"
East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania

2018-08-15 09:47:37 -0400

Conflict and Communities: The Dialectic at the Heart of the Burkean Habit of Mind

James Klumpp, University of Maryland

2017 Kenneth Burke Society Triennial Conference
"Conflicts and Communities: Burke Studies in a Divided World"
East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania

Memories of Kenneth Burke

Featuring  Michael Feehan, David Cratis Williams, Elvera Berry, Richard Thames, Ed Appel, Clarke Rountree, and James Klumpp

2017 Kenneth Burke Society Triennial Conference
"Conflicts and Communities: Burke Studies in a Divided World"
East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania

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.

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—. 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.

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—. 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.

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

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

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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.

—. "Towards Helhaven: Three Stages of a Vision." The Sewanee Review 79:1 (1971), 11-25. JSTOR. 20 Jan 2014.

—. Dramatism and Development. Worcester, MA: Clark UP, 1972. Print.

—. "(Nonsymbolic) Motion/(Symbolic) Action. Critical Inquiry 4:4 (1978), 809-838. JSTOR. Web. 16 Jan 2014.

—. Letter to Walter Ong. 9 September 1978. Walter Ong Papers. St. Louis University.

—. "Afterword: In Retrospective Prospect." Permanence and Change. U of California P, 1984. 295- 336. Print.

—. "Archetype and Entelechy." On Human Nature : A Gathering While Everything Flows, 1967-1984. Ed. William Rueckert, and Angelo Bonadonna. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003. 121-138. Print.

—. "Realisms, Occidental Style." On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows, 1967-1984. Ed. William Rueckert, and Angelo Bonadonna. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003. 96-119. Print.

—. "Why Satire, With a Plan for Writing One." On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows, 1967-1984. Ed. William Rueckert, and Angelo Bonadonna. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003. 66-95. Print.

Chesebro, James W. "Preface." Extensions of the Burkeian System. Ed. James W. Chesebro, Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1993. vii-xxi.

Doyle, Richard. Wetwares: Experiments in Postvital Living. U of Minnesota P, 2003. Print.

Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Tr. [from the German]. Bantam, 1959. Print.

Guattari, Felix. "The Three Ecologies." Trans. Chris Turner. new formations 8 (1989). Web. 30 May 2014.

Hill, Ian. "'The Human Barnyard' and Kenneth Burke's Philosophy of Technology." KB Journal 5.2 (2009). Web. 03 Jan 2014.

Hopkins, Rob. The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience. Green, 2008. Print.

Lapide, Larry. "Is Your Supply Chain Addicted to Oil?" Supply Chain Management Review 11.1 (2007). ProQuest. Web. 06 Jun 2014.

Ong, Walter. "Technology Inside Us and Outside Us." Faith and Contexts. Ed. Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup. Atlanta: Scholars, 1992. 189-208. Print.

Rueckert, William and Angelo Bonadonna. "Introduction." On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows, 1967-1984. Ed. William Rueckert, and Angelo Bonadonna. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003. Print.

Sedaris, David. "Stepping Out." The New Yorker 30 Jun 2014. Web.

Thompson, T. N., and A. J. Palmieri. "Attitudes toward Counternature (with Notes on Nurturing a Poetic Psychosis)." Extensions of the Burkeian System. Ed. James W. Chesebro. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1993. 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, Newar